The Zayande River (Zayanderud) is the largest river in central Iran’s Iranian Plateau. Its genesis is in the Zard-Kuh subrange of the Zagros Mountains, near the southwestern corner of Iran. It ends in the Gavkhouni swamp, east of Isfahan.
The river flows for 249 miles (400 kilometers).
People have lived along the Zayande for over 50,000 years. The Qaleh Bozi cave complex was home to our Neanderthal cousins, as evidenced by their bones, stone tools, and animal bones. They had a marvellous view of both the river and the plain from their caves.
They were attracted to the area by the permanent river, good sunlight, and a variety of landscapes offering many different types of game and edible plants.
Copyright Alireza Javaheri
Next on the scene was the Zayande River Civilisation, which flourished in the 6th millennium BCE. They lived concurrently to other great ancient civilisations, such as Sumeria and the Indus Valley Civilisation.
Further archaeological expeditions are planned to uncover more details about both this civilisation and the Neanderthals. They’ll focus on two historic hills, in the Gavkhouni swamp and midway alongside the Zayande.
Copyright Alireza Javaheri
Many historic bridges from the Safavid era (1501–1736) cross the river. Isfahan alone has four—Siosepol, Marnan, Joui, and Khaju. There’s also a much-older bridge, Shahrestan, whose foundations date back to the third century BCE. Its top was renovated in the 10th and 11th centuries.
Khaju, Copyright Saeed Majidi
Siosepol, Copyright آرش
The Zayande used to flow through many parks, but much of the river has sadly dried up in recent years. Isfahan was an oasis settlement for centuries, and got its wealth and fertile lands from the Zayande, whose name means “life-giver.”
The water wasn’t used for much outside of agriculture till the 1960s, but a higher cost of living, increased population, and the creation of large steel plants and other modern industries changed everything.
Chadegan Dam, Copyright Meghdad thrust
Chadegan Dam (formerly Shah Abbas Dam), built from 1967–71, has helped to stabilise water flow, create electricity, and prevent seasonal flooding. During Nowruz, the Persian New Year (20, 21, or 22 March), water discharge is upped so as to let the Zayande flow through Isfahan for the holiday.
Today, 80% of the Zayande is used for agriculture, 10% for human consumption, 7% for industry, and 3% for miscellany.
Sadly, the river’s lower reaches are dried-up. Humans caused this drought by poor planning and populist politics which led to overuse and misuse.
In Isfahan, where the Zayande still flows, there are many nearby cafés, teahouses, restaurants, parks, and paddle boat rentals.
The Zayande is on Iran’s Natural Heritage List, a project of their Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organisation.
My characters Inna Zhirinovskaya and Mrs. Brezhneva escape to Isfahan with 40 children and 10 other employees of their orphanage in 1937, during the Great Terror. Inna also takes her little niece Velira, and is soon joined by her younger brother Vitya.
Also in Isfahan is Arkasha Orlov, a former prince whom they met during a brief stop in Aden. Arkasha is smitten with Inna almost from the start, and makes no secret of his romantic interest in her.
On Inna’s 31st birthday in October, they go for a walk along the Siosepol at night, and Inna lets Arkasha kiss her. Arkasha has awakened something inside her, and made her rethink her conviction that she’s meant to be a spinster.
I’m still planning to visit Iran to do firsthand research for the final draft of Journey Through a Dark Forest. Americans can apply for Iranian visas through the Pakistan Embassy. It’s a beautiful country, with wonderful people, in spite of how the media portrays it.
The protests which began in December 2017 prove how deeply many Iranians want change. They’re tired of living under a repressive theocracy, and want to return to being a modern, democratic country.
Many protestors have been killed, arrested, or tortured, but that hasn’t stopped them from taking a stand. Change never happened because people sat down and just accepted the status quo. Freedom is never free.