(Persia Digest) - Sefid Chal (white hole) Cemetery which belongs to the 14th-16th century CE in northern Iran, with its altar-like gravestones and symbolic patterns is one of the oldest and most mysterious Muslim cemeteries, which according to local people, does not allow the dead bodies to decay due to its white soil.
The cemetery is located in Mazandaran Province in northern Iran in Sefid Chal village, which dates back to the Timurid dynasty from 14th-16th centuries CE.
Two things are most noticeable at the historical Cemetery of Sefid Chal. The first is the existence of about 15 to 20 thousand pieces of gray stones, and the second is the symbolic patterns that are found on the edges and backs of the headstones and over the gravestones. The patterns probably represented the deceased person’s profession.
Experts say the oldest gravestone obtained in this cemetery belongs to the Timurid rule in these areas. According to studies conducted, most of Sefid Chal gravestones belong to the 15th and 16th centuries CE.
The mausoleum of Imāmzādeh Mansour, Imāmzādeh Ibrahim, and Imāmzādeh Rahman, sons of Imam Mūsá ibn Ja‘far al-Kāzim one of the Shiite Imams, is also near the cemetery a the center of the village.
According to the latest findings, the oldest gravestone found in the cemetery belongs to 1430 CE. Given that the cemetery is located in the drainage basin of the Neka area, older stones are likely to be hidden under alluvial layers.
The existence of around 15 to 20 thousand pieces of headstones and symbolic patterns engraved on them which are mostly anchored and Mihrab-like, is among the interesting features of this cemetery.
Old stones belonging to the early Timurid era in this cemetery usually have simple engravings such as flowers, Arabesque leaves, and Mihrab-like patterns; and gravestones of the late Timurid era, along with beautiful patterns, have inscriptions such as the great Salawat, Qur'anic verses and sometimes poetry on the top of the stone. The gravestones belonging to the Safavid period and the 16th century are more diverse in terms of designs and beauty, and there are decorations with symbols of the sun and multi-petal flowers on it.
Another factor which adds to the attractiveness of this cemetery is the symbolic patterns which indicated the deceased person's profession; patterns based on the belief in the resurrection, the course of evolution, and development of the thought of post-death life among Iranian people were carved on gravestones.
Geometric patterns of the cemetery are composed of circles, squares, and triangles. These geometric images are the symbols of important elements such as life and resurrection after death in Iranian beliefs. Also, among patterns, the pattern of two-sided combs for women and one-sided combs for men are engraved on stones which in addition to indicating the gender of the deceased person, meant cleanness in presence of God on the judgment day.
Local people believe that the white soil of the cemetery does not allow dead bodies to decay. However, experts say that since the region has a more arid climate and lower humidity than other areas of Mazandaran, it is likely that the bodies are preserved longer.
The cemetery was inscribed on the National Cultural Heritage List of Iran in 2000.
Photographer: Seyed Vahid Hosseini / Ana