The small town of Nain, located at the crossroads to Yazd (162 kilometres), Esfahan (145 kilometres), and Tehran, was once famous for its carpets and handicrafts. Nain has been an important crossroad on the trade routes across the province since Sassanid times. In the past it was known for its ceramics and textiles; these days it is primarily known for its carpets and camel-wool cloaks, many of which are sold in Yazd.
Na’in lies at an altitude of 1545 m above sea level. Like much of the Iranian plateau, it has a desert climate, with a maximum temperature of 41°C in summer, and a minimum of -9°C in winter.
More than 3,000 years ago the Persians learned how to construct aqueducts underground (qanat in Persian, or kariz) to bring water from the mountains to the plains. In the 1960s this ancient system provided more than 70 percent of the water used in Iran and Na’in is one of the best places in all the world to see these qanats functioning.
Unique to Na’in are some of the most outstanding monuments in all of Iran: the Jame Mosque, one of the first four mosques built in Iran after the Arab invasion; the Pre-Islamic Narej Fortress; a Pirnia traditional house; the Old Bazaar; Rigareh, a qanat-based watermill; and a Zurkhaneh (a place for traditional sport).
Some linguists believe the word Na’in may have been derived from the name of one of the descendants of the prophet Noah, who was called "Naen". Many local people speak an ancient Pahlavi Sasani dialect, the same dialect that is spoken by the Zoroastrians in Yazd today. Other linguists state that the word Na’in is derived from the word "Nei" (“straw” in English) which is a marshy plant.
It has one of the earliest remaining mosques in Iran, and has a Sassanid era fort, now in ruins, called Narin Ghal'eh.
Just across the small square is the local Ethnographic Museum. One display contains the shalvar ve qamis (trousers and tunic) as worn by Zoroastrian women in the XIX century, which are comparable in quality to items in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; those tiny motifs are not printed but hand-embroidered. The best is yet to come: the rooms on the right of entry are stunning with their mid-XVI-century plaster decoration intact. The small sitting-room next door is just as beautifully decorated. There is a striking correlation between this work and designs and compositions on famous Safavid court carpets in major Western museums, and of course Persian paintings of the same date.
At Nain it is also possible to visit a private house of the Safavid period, built in a style once typical of town houses here but which has become only too rare today. The centre of the house is its rectangular courtyard, planted with trees and in which stands a water fountain. Around it, are two floors of vaulted chambers some of which (on the first floor) still bear the original painted decorations: panels with hunting scenes; miniature-style representations of garden parties with dancers and musicians; and star-shaped medallions of phoenixes and dragons. The latter are a good example of the way in which painting styles in Persia were modified after the Mongol invasion and the introduction of Chinese designs. The dragon and the phoenix are ancient motifs in China where they are frequently represented together, as they are here, with coiled bodies.
Masjid-e Sar-e Kucha is a small building looking like a shrine for it has no courtyard, which is unusual for Iran. Both it and the alleyway may date from the X-XI century, because entry is through a side chamber into a tiny prayer room, with another side chamber on the other side. Its real claim to fame is the fine Kufic inscription painted along the interior walls and the base of the dome. Some of it, especially around the mehrab, has now disappeared, but it has a specifically Sunni rather than Shia emphasis; that supports a late XI-century dating, given that the Seljuks, the champions of Sunni Islam, were then in control.
Some 3km away in a northeasterly direction is Mohammediyeh, now virtually absorbed into Nain. It is known for its wind towers (badgirs), some of which serve to ventilate small weaving shops producing camel-hair and pure woollen fabrics, exported to Syria and Lebanon. The whole suburb seems to be actively engaged in some form of textile manufacture.
Campers can pitch their tents in the open ground near the Hosseiniyeh (building used during the rituals to commemorate the death of Imam Hossein), located close to the Masjed-e Jameh. The nearby public toilets are open 24 hours.
Get to/from Nain
Buses and minibuses run between Nain and Esfahan's Jey terminal every hour between 9am and 5pm; you can also take the Yazd services from Jey or Kave terminal and ask to get off at Nain.
Three buses per day travel to Tehran via Kashan. Two of these travel between Nain and Jonub and one between Nain and Beihaghi (Arjantin). There are regular services to/from Yazd as well.