Reviews

A comprehensive survey on the history of saffron cultivation and consumption in Iran and throughout the world (with special interest in Andalusia), this impressive work offers complete information (1) on the natural history of saffron through its successive denominations; (2) on the historical geography of its cultivation; (3) on the history of its varying utilisations (in cooking, in medicine, in manuscript painting, in magic—with captivating paragraphs on the making of amulets [ta‘wiz] and on the writing of orisons [du‘as] with saffron essence—, etc.); (4) on the utilisation of saffron’s properties in medicine from ancient time till our days, and on these properties’ invocation in traditional beliefs and prophylactic practice; (5) on the cultivation and commerce of saffron throughout history, with significant paragraphs on the current agriculture of saffron in and outside of Iran.  Particularly relevant to the Central Eurasian Reader’s audience are paragraphs on the medieval history of saffron cultivation in Transoxiana (pp. 149-52, on Chaghaniyan and Qubadiyan, based on data from medieval Arabic- and Persian-writing geographers) and on the medieval, modern and contemporary developments of this specific crop in historical Khurasan (pp. 152-75, with detailed information, enriched with numerous telling statistical data, on the recent and spectacular expansion of surface areas devoted to saffron cultivation in the Torbat-e Heydariye district, in Eastern Iran).  The recent extension of these surfaces in semi-arid Sunni-peopled areas of Iranian Khurasan—most particularly in the Khwaf, Taybad, and Torbat-e Jam areas—is also well illustrated.  Unfortunately, the author, basing his work for the most part on published materials, does not show interest in an essential, but still undocumented phenomenon, viz. the recent appearance and rapid expansion of new rural towns in formerly arid areas of Iranian Khurasan (e.g. in Khayrabad, west of Taybad, that is absent from the very detailed geographical index) thanks to the ever-growing diffusion of the technology of Artesian wells.  Neither does the author seem to feel very concerned by the direct association between this phenomenon and the concomitant development of privately financed important Sunni religious schools in the same formerly arid, now rural areas (the newly founded school at Khayrabad claims some three hundred students of various levels and geographic origins, including talaba from former Soviet Tajikistan—in particular from the entourage of the Naqshbandi shaykh and madrasa teacher Ishan ‘Allama of Regar).  These reserves notwithstanding, this considerable book, the result of a patient, complete and precise erudition work, provides geographers and historians of medieval, modern and contemporary Middle East and Central Asia with an invaluable tool for further research on the most varied aspects of these regions’ environments and human societies.  The precise table of content, the detailed indexes and the large bibliography in Persian and European languages at the end of the work permit the reader a very convenient utilisation of this truly encyclopaedic work—in the best meaning of this denomination.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-2.1-112