1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mazandaran

MAZANDARAN, a province of northern Persia, lying between the Caspian Sea and the Elburz range, and bounded E. and W. by the provinces of Astarabad and Gilan respectively, 220 m. in length and 60 m. in (mean) breadth, with an area of about 10,000 sq. m. and a population estimated at from 150,000 to 200,000. Mazandaran comprises two distinct natural regions presenting the sharpest contrasts in their relief, climate and products. In the north the Caspian is encircled by the level and swampy lowlands, varying in breadth from 10 to 30 m., partly under impenetrable jungle, partly under rice, cotton, sugar and other crops. This section is fringed northwards by the sandy beach of the Caspian, here almost destitute of natural harbours, and rises somewhat abruptly inland to the second section, comprising the northern slopes and spurs of the Elburz, which approach at some points within 1 or 2 m. of the sea, and are almost everywhere covered with dense forest. The lowlands, rising but a few feet above the Caspian, and subject to frequent floodings, are extremely malarious, while the highlands, culminating with the magnificent Demavend (19,400 ft.), enjoy a tolerably healthy climate. But the climate, generally hot and moist in summer, is everywhere capricious and liable to sudden changes of temperature, whence the prevalence of rheumatism, dropsy and especially ophthalmia, noticed by all travellers. Snow falls heavily in the uplands, where it often lies for weeks on the ground. The direction of the long sandbanks at the river mouths, which project with remarkable uniformity from west to east, shows that the prevailing winds blow from the west and north-west. The rivers themselves, of which there are as many as fifty, are little more than mountain torrents, all rising on the northern slopes of Elburz, flowing mostly in independent channels to the Caspian, and subject to sudden freshets and inundations along their lower course. The chief are the Sardab-rud, Chalus, Herhaz (Lar in its upper course), Babul, Tejen and Nika, and all are well stocked with trout, salmon (azad-mahi), perch (safid-mahi), carp (kupur), bream (subulu), sturgeon (sag-mahi) and other fish, which with rice form the staple food of the inhabitants; the sturgeon supplies the caviare for the Russian market. Near their mouths the rivers, running counter to the prevailing winds and waves of the Caspian, form long sand-hills 20 to 30 ft. high and about 200 yds. broad, behind which are developed the so-called múrd-áb, or “dead waters,” stagnant pools and swamps characteristic of this coast, and a main cause of its unhealthiness.

The chief products are rice, cotton, sugar, a little silk, and fruits in great variety, including several kinds of the orange, lemon and citron. Some of the slopes are covered with extensive thickets of the pomegranate, and the wild vine climbs to a great height round the trunks of the forest trees. These woodlands are haunted by the tiger, panther, bear, wolf and wild boar in considerable numbers. Of the domestic animals, all remarkable for their small size, the chief are the black, humped cattle somewhat resembling the Indian variety, and sheep and goats.

Kinneir, Fraser and other observers speak unfavourably of the Mazandarani people, whom they describe as very ignorant and bigoted, arrogant, rudely inquisitive and almost insolent towards strangers. The peasantry, however, are far from dull, and betray much shrewdness where their interests are concerned. In the healthy districts they are stout and well made, and are considered a warlike race, furnishing some cavalry (800 men) and eight battalions of infantry (5600 men) to government. They speak a marked Persian dialect, but a Tūrki idion closely akin to the Turkoman is still current amongst the tribes, although they have mostly already passed from the nomad to the settled state. Of these tribes the most numerous are the Modaunlū, Khojehvand and Abdul Maleki, originally of Lek or Kurd stock, besides branches of the royal Afshar and Kājār tribes of Tūrki descent. All these are exempt from taxes in consideration of their military service.

The export trade is chiefly with Russia from Meshed-i-Sar, the principal port of the province, to Baku, where European goods are taken in exchange for the white and coloured calicoes, caviare, rice, fruits and raw cotton of Mazandaran. Great quantities of rice are also exported to the interior of Persia, principally to Teheran and Kazvin. Owing to the almost impenetrable character of the country there are scarcely any roads accessible to wheeled carriages, and the great causeway of Shah Abbas along the coast has in many places even disappeared under the jungle. Two routes, however, lead to Teheran, one by Firuz Kuh, 180 m. long, the other by Larijan, 144 m. long, both in tolerably good repair. Except where crossed by these routes the Elburz forms an almost impassable barrier to the south.

The administration is in the hands of a governor, who appoints the sub-governors of the nine districts of Amol, Barfarush, Meshed-i-Sar, Sari, Ashref, Farah-abad, Tunakabun, Kelarrustak and Kujur into which the province is divided. There is fair security for life and property; and, although otherwise indifferently administered, the country is quite free from marauders; but local disturbances have latterly been frequent in the two last-named districts. The revenue is about £30,000, of which little goes to the state treasury, most being required for the governors, troops and pensions. The capital is Sari, the other chief towns being Barfarush, Meshed-i-Sar, Ashref and Farah-abad.  (A. H.-S.)