Semnan (pronounced [semˈnɒːn]; Persian: سمنان, also Romanized as Semnān and Samnān) is a city in and capital of Semnan Province, Iran. At the 2011 census, its population was 153,680 in 36,298 families. Semnan is located 216 kilometers east of Tehran.
Semnan (Semnani name: Seman) is located in the central northern portion of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The city of Semnan is a beautiful and unique municipality filled with recreational activities, historical and religious sites, festivals, gardens and parks, colleges and universities, and Semnani culture. The city serves as the cultural and political capital of the Semnan Province. The city's main souvenirs are daffodil flowers, Shirmal pastry, Kolucheh cookies, Glim rugs, and shortbread.
The name "Semnan" in Persian calligraphy.
There are several theories which seek to explain the origin of the name Semnan.
According to the first theory, Semnan was an ancient pre-zoroastrian city in which the locals practiced idol-worshipping. Their religion was called samīna, hence the name Semnan.
According to the second theory, Semnan was an ancient civil establishment by the Scythians, an Iranian people who named their settlement Sakanān.
According to the third theory produced by the local people themselves, the first settlers of Semnan were two of the Prophet Noah's children, Sim An-Nabi and Lam An-Nabi, and that their settlement became known as Simlam; the local people believe that over time the name Simlam turned into "Semnan."
According to the fourth theory, Semnan was established by the mythical character Tahmuras, and that he named his city Saminā.
The fifth known theory simply states that the ancient regional language was known as Sa ma nān, and that the city of these people took on the name of their language.
According to the sixth known theory, the name Semnan comes from the phrase "sa ma nān", which is supposed to be a corrupted Persian way of saying "Three Months of Bread." This phrase traces back to the Semnani women's tradition of cooking three months worth of bread in one day.
Typical terrain and geography of the region
The city of Semnan is situated at 1,138 metres above sea level just south of the foothills of the Alborz Mountains, bordering the Kavir Desert to the south of the city. However, the Golrudbar River, which begins to the north of Shahmirzad, and other creeks have historically provided a reliable supply of water for a civil establishment; irregation methods since ancient times have allowed the people of Semnan to drink clean water, to raise livestock such as cattle and sheep, and to adopt agricultural practices. Unlike modern day Tehran, the city of Semnan is relatively flat.
The city of Semnan enjoys the traditional four seasons of spring, summer, winter, and autumn each year.
The rain season starts in December and lasts all the way into May, however, precipitation throughout the winter months generally falls in the form of light snow, and the rest of the precipitation throughout the rain season is generally very light to moderate. During some winters, moisture-abundant blizzards make their way down from the Alborz Mountains from the north of the city and dump several centimeters of snow in a single twenty-four hour period. These blizzards force the closure of the airport, schools, small streets, and alleyways. As a result of the city's position in a semi-arid plain, many winter days are dominated by a cold and gusty wind that often produces a potent wind-chill factor which makes the city feel much colder than the actual air temperature. According to Iranian Meteorology reports, Semnan experiences around 48 days in which the temperature falls below freezing each year.
Spring is characterized by mild to warm day temperatures and cold to cool nights along with a reduction in precipitation as the season transitions into summer.
Summer is often characterized by hot daily temperatures and warm nights. Summer months remain dry with trace amounts of rainfall. Occasionally, moisture from the Caspian Sea files through the Alborz mountains; the updraft of warm and moist air up the high mountain sides produces partly cloudy skies dominated by cumulus clouds. With the right amounts of heat and moisture, thunderstorms may develop during the afternoon and evening hours. Though the amount of precipitation is light, these thunderstorms often produce strong and gusty winds with freq. History
Coinage during the Parthian Era
The city of Semnan has historically been one of the fourteen civil establishments of the ancient, Avesta-era province of "Vern." Semnan remained an important city throughout the era of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. After the invasion of Alexander the Great, which resulted in the fall of the Achaemenid Empire, and the establishment of the Seleucid Empire, the region which hosts the city of Semnan became known as Komesh. The beginning of the prosperous era of the city arrived with the rise of the Arsacid Dynasty of Parthia. The Parthians are an Iranian people. The Arsacid Dynasty of Parthia was very interested in the importing of Hellenism, or Greek culture. This resulted in the pioneering of sculpting and other forms of Western art in the city of Semnan. One of the capital cities of the Parthian Empire was Hecatompylos, and its ruins and numerous historical sites remain between the modern day city of Semnan and Damghan. With the fall of the Parthian Empire, and the rise of the Persian Sassanid Empire, Zoroastrianism was chosen as the state religion, and the city of Semnan was once again brought under the reign of Persian customs and traditions.
Semnan within the bounds of the Shi'a Alavid Emirate
After the Muslim conquest of Persia, the religion of Islam was established within the city of Semnan. Though, unlike modern day Semnan, the people of the city originally practiced Sunni Islam, similar to the rest of early Islamic Persia. However, the institution of Sunni Islam did not last very long. The Alavids of Tabaristan had established a Shi'a Islamic emirate and upon conquering Semnan, brought the Zaidi Shi'a sect of Islam. Then, in the year 427 AH, the Seljuq Turks invaded and devastated the city. Nevertheless, it was the very Seljuq Turks that built many of the historical monuments and infrastructure of medieval Semnan. As the Seljuq Empire grew weak, the Abbasids managed to assert their sovereignty over Persia. The people of Semnan suffered severely under the Abbasid Caliphate. It is possible that the years of Abbasid rule traumatized the people of Semnan, and even to this day, the Semnani people despise the color black because of its utilization for the black flags of the Abbasid Caliphate. The Abbasid rule was ended by the brutal, devastating invasion of the Mongols in the year of 618 AH. The Mongol hordes massacred the people and burnt much of the city to the ground. Semnan would not recover until the rise of the Turco-Persian Safavid Dynasty. The Safavids brought the Twelver Shi'ism sect of Islam to Semnan, and contributed to the reconstruction of the city.
Imperial Emblem of the Qajar Dynasty
With the rise of the Turco-Persian Qajar dynasty, historical Semnan witnessed great strides of progress in her economical, cultural, infrastructural, and political sectors. The very tribe that rose into becoming the Qajar dynasty was based in the mountainous terrain between the modern day provinces of Semnan, Mazandaran, and Golestan. The Qajars turned Semnan into a civil fortress, from which they controlled the major trade route to their capital in Tehran and the holy city of Mashad. Semnan was proclaimed as Darol Hokumeh, or The Dominion of Government for the historical state of Qomess, roughly occupying the same boundaries as the modern day Semnan Province. In addition to infrastructural growth, some Qajar royals built their castles in the city. Semnan was also an important medical center for members of the Qajar Imperial Family and was home to many notable physicians and doctors of the era. Throughout much of the Qajar era, Semnan operated under a feudalistic model organized as listed below:
Imperial Coat of Arms of the Pahlavi Dynasty
The Pahlavi era marked the transition of Semnan into the industrial era. Semnan's original loyalty to the Qajar dynasty and the city's importance under the Qajars prompted a lot of anti-Pahlavi sentiment with the rise of Reza Shah. Reza Shah Pahlavi's government began the immediate construction of modern infrastructure and paved roads throughout the city, however, this called for the destruction of the citadel of Semnan and the artistic monuments of the Qajars. Upon attempting to destroy the Gate of Semnan, the locals chained themselves to the building and stopped its destruction. Many prominent families in Semnan were also restricted from attaining high political posts as a result of their previous connection with and service to the Qajar Imperial Family. This resulted in the exodus of many prominent Semnani families to Tehran during the early Pahlavi era. Despite the tension and confrontation, the Pahlavi dynasty was successful in transforming Semnan into a more modern city. Throughout the early Pahlavi era, Semnan experienced several rounds of extreme drought, famine, crop devastation, and poverty. Prominent Semnani language poets such as Nosratollah Nouhian encouraged the Farmers and General Labor class to rise up and demand their rights from the unjust, well-fed landlords who were carelessly watching the very farmers who grew the food starve and deteriorate into ruin and agony:
دیگه صبر و قناعت وسه پی با
دیگه ظلم شقاوت وسه پی با
Patience and contentment is no more, rise up!
Oppression and atrociousness shall be no more, rise up!
Historical sites and places of interest
Due to the relatively small size of Semnan when compared to other major Iranian cities such as Tehran, Tabriz, and Mashad, Semnan's rich historical monuments and scholarly figures are often forgotten. The following are some of the city's historical sites and places of interest:
Jame' Mosque of Semnan - built nearly 1,000 years ago by the Seljuq Turks over what used to be an ancient Zoroastrian fire temple. This ancient mosque also includes the famous Seljuq minaret with archaic carvings and designs.
Imam Mosque (Soltani Mosque) - built under the Qajar dynasty, this mosque is a rare four-terrace mosque. The design of the Imam Mosque utilized the expertise of Iranian architecture of the time, providing all sectors of the complex with equal acoustic sound systems.
The Shrine of Sheikh Ala'ed-dowleh Semnani - This shrine was constructed by the Safavid dynasty in honor of Sheikh Ala'ed-dowleh Semnani, a major Sufi mystic and poet of Iran.
Threshold of the Alavids - A memorial shrine to the Alavid sayyids that administered the affairs of the city during the reign of the Alavid dynasty, centered in the ancient region of Tabaristan. The shrine also has religious value, being that the Alavids were the direct descendants of the second Shi'a Imam, Imam Hassan.
Imamzadeh Yahya Mosque - Aside from the mosque's aesthetic tile work and architectural design, this is a designated place of Ziyarah, or Islamic pilgrimage. The mosque is characterized by its massive entrance, stained glass windows, glossy marble flooring, and unique interior design.
Imamzadeh Ali ibn Jafar Mosque - Another place of Ziyarah, or Islamic pilgrimage, with aesthetic tile work and architectural design. The mosque is characterized by its green domes and a massive adobe dome that towers above the complex.
Imamzadeh Ali ibn Ashraf Mosque - A beautiful mosque and place of Ziyarah, or Islamic pilgrimage.
Memorial of the Martyrs (Mezar Shohada) - this building was constructed as an interior cemetery for the soldiers of Semnan that were martyred in the brutal Iran-Iraq War of 1980–1988. The building consists of a glossy marble flooring, elegant chandeliers, murals, and stained glass windows.
Historical entrance to the Semnan Citadel at night
Pehne Hot Springs - a public bath house which uses hot therapeutic waters. These waters are utilized for relaxation as well as hydrotherapy.
The Gate of the Semnan Fortress - built by the Qajar dynasty under Prince Bahman Mirzaye Baha'ed-dowleh, the son of Fath Ali Shah Qajar. Unfortunately, Reza Shah Pahlavi destroyed the other three entrances and the walls around the old city under the pretext of road construction.
Semnan Bazaar - the place to buy the souvenirs, handicrafts, appliances, food items, and etc.
Pehne Bazaar - a large and vast center of commerce with multiple wings. Similar to most bazaars in Iran, Pehne Bazaar has almost all the necessities as well as local products.
Sheikh Ala'ed-dowleh Bazaar - a traditional center of commerce that carries all the basic necessities as well as tourist items.
Tadayyon House - A mansion style home of the wealthy class in the Qajar era of Semnan. This multi-story complex consists of a stable, a massive kitchen, a traditional cistern of water, along with a towering windcatcher, signature of Iran's arid cities. The complex also features a unique Azerbaijani architectural design, signature of Qajar era buildings.
The Interior Gardens of Semnan (Baghat Dakhil Shahr) - These massive gardens cover the entire southwestern portion of the city in a green, lush, and forested environment. The main trees that dominate the landscape are walnut and pomegranate trees. Within the gardens are numerous creeks trickling along the irregated paths, as well as traditional adobe brick homes which provide much of the housing for the "Maleh" district of Semnan.
The Garden Restaurant - This is by far the most traditional restaurant in the city of Semnan. The Garden Restaurant offers a traditional Iranian cuisine, including local dishes, and a beautiful outdoor dining experience. The restaurant features an entrance arch decorated with stained glass mosaic windows leading into a large courtyard filled with fountains, trees, flowers, and running water.
Example of a badgir attached to a cistern of water in Yazd, Iran similar in construct to the ones in Semnan
Semnan's proximity to the Kavir Desert has provided the city with the opportunity to construct numerous facilities in order to cope with the dry climate. As a result, Semnan has numerous ancient, traditional irregation systems known as qanat. In addition, the roofs of many buildings are decorated with windcatchers known in Persian as badgir. These badgirs were normally attached to a small cistern of drinking water known in Persian as Ab Anbar. These ancient, traditional, and clever designs and systems helped Semnan grow and prosper before the introduction of modern plumbing and appliances. Within the vicinity of the city, ancient caravanserais from the active era of the historic and legendary Silk Road can be found.
The city of Semnan has traditionally been an important center of commerce along the historical Silk Road, and is still an important agricultural, industrial, and cultural center today.
The production of textiles and carpets were the most important industries in the history of the city. But nowadays, in relation to its population, Semnan has very powerful industrial sectors, with special regards to its automobile industry (cars and bikes). Another major industry is the production of cement from the nearby cement plants. The mountains and foothills around Semnan also hold major deposits of minerals used in the production of plaster; these mines are known in Persian as ma'dan e gach. Other minerals that are mined around the city consist of gypsum, salts, zeolite, bentonite, and celestine. Some heavy industries of Semnan consist of the Iran Khodro Semnan Production Plant (producing 100,000 Samand cars per year), Oqab Afshan Production Plant (largest bus production plant in the region of Asia), the Semnan Sodium Carbonate Company (largest in the region of Asia), and the Semnan Rolling Mills Group (major producer of piping and profiles). One of the largest industrial zone in the city is the Semnan Industrial Town, which features 2,100 hectares of land and 900 industrial units.
Agricultural traditions still persist around and within the city of Semnan. The Golrudbar river, which starts in the Alborz mountains in the north, runs through the western side of the city. With proper irregation, the municipality has managed to convert the entire southwestern portion of the city into green and lush pomegranate gardens. Around the city, further irregation of the Golrudbar river and the surrounding creeks and tributaries have provided the proper environment for the cultivation of herbs, eggplants, potatoes, walnuts, and cotton.
Semnan also produces handwoven rugs called Glim. These rugs consist of naturally dyed wools, woven into beautiful tribal and local designs.
Demography and ethnic influences
Majority of the city dwellers are Persians. Older Semnan was made up of four main districts: Shaji (Shahjoo), Naasaar, Latibaar and Espanjon (Esfanjan). These four districts still exist today, but the city has grown and become much larger including some new districts. To the west of the city is "Maleh" which used to be a separate settlement but was not a part of Semnan. In the local language the inhabitants are known as Malezh. "Maleh" consists of three parts: Koery (Kodivar), Koshmeni (Kushmaqaan) and Zaveni (Zavaqaan). "Maleh" is now part of Semnan.
As a result of the Qajar dynasty's heavy influence on the city of Semnan, especially under Fath Ali Shah's reign, some families in Semnan can trace their lineage back to the Qajar dynasty. Furthermore, much of the city's most important monuments have been built under Turkic dynasties. For example, the Jame' Mosque of Semnan, constructed nearly 1,000 years ago, was built by the Seljuq dynasty. The famous Imam Mosque, originally known as Soltani Mosque, was constructed by the Qajar dynasty. The Gate of Semman, or Arg e Semnan, which is the representative symbol of the city of Semnan, was also constructed by the Qajar dynasty. Many other historical sites within the city and the surrounding villages demonstrate a strong Turkic and Ilkhanate influence in their architectural designs.
Also, much of the city's Sayyid population tends to descend from the Alavids of the Caspian region to the north of the province.
The people of the city of Semnan are almost all entirely Shi'a Muslim. The Shi'a Islamic faith dominates the culture, norms, traditions, and beliefs of the city, and continues to dictate the style of life in city. As a result, the celebrations, rituals, and days of religious mourning play a major role in the life of a Semnani city dweller, and are for some families, more important that the national Iranian customs and holidays. The majority of the people of Semnan observe Shi'a Islam quite conservatively; hence, the martyrdom and birthdays of Shi'a Imams are very important days on the calendar.
Artistic impression of a historical Ashura mourning ceremony, by Fausto Zonaro (1909)
Muharram is the first month of the Islamic Calendar, and also the month which marks the brutal and tragic martyrdom of the third Shi'a Imam, Imam Hussein and 72 members of his household. The people of Semnan observe Muharram and the overall 50 days of mourning by refraining from worldy pleasures, such as music and joyful gatherings, wearing dark clothes to show intimate grief, and participating in outdoor rallies consisting of massive mourning accompanied by sorrowful chants which recall the events of the tragedy in Karbala, the place of Imam Hussein's martyrdom. In addition, the mournings on the tenth day of Muharram, known as Ashura, consist of self-flagellation rituals in which the participants attempt to symbolically inflict pain upon themselves. Another major event held in Semnan during the month of Muharram is the reenactment of the tragedy of Karbala. Participating locals would wear the armor and clothing of the armies of Imam Hussein and his enemies, as well as decorating the local horses in the cavalry uniform of the era. Thus, the battle would be reenacted. During this month's sorrowful rituals, it is custom to cook a community meal (usually a stew). This is done by placing colossal cauldrons outside upon a source of heat, then, people would take turns stirring the stew until it is ready to be consumed by the community's mourners.
Common clothing for Western Imitation
Being a city in the Islamic Republic of Iran, all styles and clothing trends in Semnan must meet the Islamic standards of Hijab. The styles of clothing within the city of Semnan are categorized within the Western, Rural Semnani, and Modern Iranian styles.
Western Imitation: Regardless of religious beliefs, a large number of Semnanis prefer to wear Western clothing. For men, this style of clothing usually refers to a t-shirt and a pair of jeans, or an informal dress shirt tucked into a pair of jeans or slacks. For women, this style of clothing usually refers to a pair of jeans, a blouse, and a tight, thin overcoat in order to meet Islamic standards of dress.
Rural Semnani: The rural Semnani style of clothing is the traditional clothing of the people of Semnan, however, this style of clothing is rarely seen within the city, and is mainly worn during ceremonies held by the rural people living in the villages around Semnan. For men, rural Semnani clothing refers to a vest like garment worn over an informal long-sleeved dress shirt along with a pair of slacks. Also, the men tend to wear a wool cap or prayer cap. For women, this style of clothing usually refers to a vest worn over a long, loose shirt, along with a long and colorful skirt. The vests worn by the women tend to be decorated with numerous coins dating back to the Pahlavi dynasty and the Qajar dynasty. When the rural-styled women leave their homes, they would wear a colorful or flowery designed chador, or a long cloak that covers the body entirely except for the hands and face.
Modern Iranian: The modern Iranian style of clothing reflects a mixture of Iranian and Western styles of clothing that are worn by the people of Tehran and other major Iranian cities.
There are also a few additional accessories worn by individuals to distinguish their rank or social standing. For example, the majority of Sayyid Semnanis distinguish themselves by wearing a green cap, which symbolizes their descent from the Prophet of Islam and his Ahl al-Bayt, or holy household. Furthermore, the women of Semnan tend to wear the chador as the preferred form of hijab.
While the validity of the following has not been verified, some Semnani families have reported that the traditional norms and customs of the city called for a high level of respect and prestigious treatment towards the Sayyid population; in return, the Sayyids were expected to demonstrate a dignified source of emulation and guidance for the citizens. If such norms and traditions existed, it is not clear to what extent they are practiced and carried out in today's Semnan.
It has also been reported that the people of Semnan have historically refused to wear black clothing for the mourning of the dead, this does not include the religious mornings of Muharram or the deaths and martyrdoms of Shi'a Imams and figures. The foundation of this refusal appears to be rooted in the hatred of the people of Semnan towards the Abbasid Caliphate and its utilization of black flags.
Superstitions are highly intertwined with the religious beliefs amongst the older generations in Semnan. One example would be the historical refusal of the local people to travel near the Rig-e Jenn or Dunes of the Jinn while leading trade caravans south towards the Province of Isfahan in the past. The local people believed that evil, demonic spirits lived and dwelled near the sand dunes.
Traditionally, the women were tasked with baking the oven-baked bread of the city. It is reported that in historical times, the women could make three months worth of bread in one day. Over time, the women responsible for the baking of the bread developed several folksongs that they would sing as they baked. Two famous folksongs are "môr siyô" and "nün bışkán."
Sample of samanu
The celebrations of Nowrouz are slightly different in the city of Semnan. Since the beginning of the Iranian (Islamic) solar month of Esfand, a man dressed in red with a charcoal-blackened face known as Hajji Firuz sits on top of a wooden horse, decorated with beautiful textiles, in the bazaars of Semnan. He congratulates the people and takes part in the establishment of the holiday environment. He sings in the Semnani language: arbaab e mani somboli baleikom, arbaab e mani sarbalaayii hei kon, arbaab e mani bozboz e qandi, arbaab e mani chera nemikhandi. Also, as the celebrations approach the Nowrouz, many celebrators blacken there faces with charcoal and join the celebrations. Another interesting aspect of the Nowrouz celebrations are the massive gatherings of the womenfolk in which they make covenants with God (Allah) to cook large batches of samanu for the poor.
Unique foods and dishes
Popular Kolüçe cookies (right) demonstrate the Caspian region's culinary influence on Semnan
The people of Semnan have many foods and dishes that are specific to Semnan. Some of the common ingredients used in Semnani dishes consist of pomegranate extracts, fresh walnuts from Shahmirzad (şômırzé), a variety of greens and herbs known in Persian as sabzijat, and more recently, potatoes. Semnani food tends to be slightly sour and spicey when compared to the general culinary preferences of Tehran. In fact, there is an old proverb among the local people that says, "Semnan has so many foods, that a wife from this city can cook a different dish for every night of the year."
Some of the famous dishes are: Chelo Gousht, Sabzi polo, and Khoresht e Esfanaj va Gerdou (espenôj vu yüz). The Semnani people are also quite fond of a variety of breads such as shirmal, shortbread (kamôç), and Kolüçe pastries. In the Semnani language, bread that is baked in an oven is referred to as "nün," while bread made by other means is referred to as "sôdjí."
The following are the names of some foods in English and Semnani: chicken (gırká), pomegranate (nôr), grapes (engír), cucumber (djürüng), walnut (yüz), eggplant (vıngun), and apricot (şillık).
The Persian language is the official language of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and thus within the city of Semnan. Every literate person in Semnan knows how to communicate in the Persian language.
Main article: Semnani language
The city also has its own language known as "Zaban e Semnani" in Persian or "Semani Zefön" in the Semnani language of the locals. The Iranian Constitution recognizes the use of regional dialects and languages, and permits their usage second to the Persian language.
According to the book "Dictionary of Semnan Ancient Dialect", Semnan traditionally has had its own language. The book collected more than 12,000 words belonging to this language. The local people call their language Semani. Most of the older generations and some among the younger generations of the city still know and maintain communication in this language. However, the majority of the younger generations do not communicate in Semani as a result of schooling and education in Persian.