Witness the Prowess of Pahlavans: 10 Ancient Zurkhanes in Iran
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Zurkhaneh sport, also known as ancient sport or pahlavi, refers to a collection of physical exercises, both with and without equipment, along with associated customs and traditions that have been prevalent in Iran’s history and culture for centuries. Physical activity and the performance of Pahlavi movements were integral to the daily lives of ancient Iranians, and society held a special reverence for athletes who exhibited physical prowess and inner courage. Old sports were closely associated with masculinity and etiquette, underpinned by various principles. For instance, all movements, performed with permission from religious leaders and recognized masters, are conducted with the utmost humility and selflessness.
The motto of ancient sports is cultivating both the body and spirit. Shia Muslims believe that the Zurkhaneh is the second mosque for Shia Muslims. However, these customs and traditions have gradually faded in modern times, and religious elements are less prominent in this sport. One of the core principles of Zurkhaneh is for athletes to practice virtues such as humility, selflessness, modesty, chivalry, hospitality, cleanliness, and helping people experiencing poverty and people in need, among other qualities, which are essential to the realm of pahlavi. On this basis, many zurkhanehs across Iran have persisted for centuries, bearing witness to the antiquity and enduring value of the ancient sports among the Iranian people. In the following section, we will introduce you to some of the oldest zurkhanehs in different cities of Iran.
According to the inscriptions on the old Zurkhaneh Pahlavanpour gate, Pahlavanpour Cultural and Sports Club (Bazarjeh) is one of the oldest Zurkhanehs in old Tehran, established by Hamzeh Ali Pahlavanpour in 1925 CE. After Hamzeh Ali Pahlavanpour, ownership of this Zurkhaneh was transferred to Asghar Bazarjeh, a renowned wrestler of old Tehran. In the late Qajar and early Pahlavi periods, Hamzeh Ali Pahlavanpour, famously known as the Skilled Hamzeh, purchased this Zurkhaneh from Asghar Bazarjeh, who had relocated the Zurkhaneh due to financial difficulties. Hamzeh Ali Pahlavanpour also owned several bakeries across the city, several shops adjacent to the Zurkhaneh, and the “Kal-Abbas Ali” water reservoir. Since he was a benevolent individual who used all the income from these businesses to support athletes and those in need, he and a few other wrestlers in Tehran were named “Dar Khaneh Bazha” (House of Generous People). Years later, when the Zurkhaneh suffered a fire, Pahlavanpour sold his house and some of his shops to fund its restoration.
After Pahlavanpour’s passing, his heirs sold the Zurkhaneh, and the purchaser removed the old Zurkhaneh’s paintings and inscriptions, leaving the building abandoned for years. However, in line with the revival of Zurkhaneh sports, the Tehran Municipality in 2009 CE reconstructed and reopened the Pahlavanpour Zurkhaneh. Over nearly a century of its existence, Zurkhaneh Pahlavanpour has seen many wrestlers in its pit (Zurkhaneh), and the names of “Haj Mustafa Tousi,” “Kal-Esmail,” “Haj Ali Tektek,” and “Haj Baqer Mahdieh” can still be found on the doors and walls of the Zurkhaneh Museum.
Zurkhaneh Pahlavan Ali Mirza is one of the ancient Zurkhanehs in Hamadan. Pahlavan Ali Mirza Hamadani, the owner of a wrestling armlet and a sportsman, had a deep passion for Zurkhaneh and old sports, including Pahlevani wrestling and Varzesh-e Bastani. He was fondly called “Pahlavan Shater Hamzeh” or “Clever Hamzeh” and was recognized as one of the heroes of the Kolanche and Baneh Bazar Zurkhanehs.
Pahlavan Ali, given the title “Mirza” (due to his literacy), was born in Hamadan in 1826 CE. He became famous for defeating renowned wrestlers during his lifetime, earning the honor of having the Zurkhaneh bell rung when he entered. This tradition continued in Zurkhanehs across Iran, signifying respect and a special ceremony reserved for him. This distinguished athlete became Iran’s Pahlavan when he was around sixty years old, wrestled until eighty, and continued practicing ancient sports until he was ninety-five, living for over a century.