Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Zoorkhooneh: House of Power

Sasan Afsoosi prefaced his photo essay on Iranian public baths with this statement: "These are some photographs from Tehran public baths. I'm not sure if all of them still exist. Also, not sure if after a US military attack, any of these locations will be available again."

His last sentence made my heart hurt, but his work also reminded me of an Iranian phenomenon I love very much: the zoorkhoone, which literally translates into the "house of power" or "house of force".

I think the traditional art of bodybuilding practiced in the zoorkhooneh is one of the best reflections of the richness and often times contradictory nature of Iranian culture and heritage. The athletes excercise under the leadership of a coach/musician/singer/preacher whose repetoire includes, among other things, tales of pre-Islamic Iranian heros, the sayings and stories of the Shi'a Imams, as well as references to living and legendary Iranian athletes.

One of the major highlights of my recent trip to Iran was that I got to go to a well-known Zoorkhooneh in Isfahan. My friend and travel companion Terri Register made me a copy of the home-made DVD that she bought from the Zoorkhooneh, and I thought the footage was too cool not to share.

It took half of the day to upload it, but here it is.

I'm pretty sure that the men usually carry out their activities while wearing very little clothing, but I think these men wear shirts in cases when their audience includes women.

If you can read Persian and are interested in learning more about the Zoorkhooneh you may be interested in downloading this book on its history and culture. English speakers can check out this site for some general information.

I also highly recommend the historical Zoorkhooneh related pictures taken by the famous Armenian-Iranian photographer Antoin Sevrugin which you can find here and here.