Arts & Entertainment

Ancient Persian wrestling lives on in Iran

By Jaime León

Tehran, Nov 18 (EFE).- Once a form of training for Persian warriors, today the Unesco-listed pahlevani and zoorkhaneh wrestling rituals survive in Iran as a discipline combining physical strength and religious fervor.

The practice melds gymnastics, aerobics and wrestling and for at least 600 years has taken place in traditional gymnasiums called zoorkhaneh, which translates to English as “house of strength.”

At the Shir Afkan zoorkhaneh in the south of Tehran, over a dozen men swing large clubs weighing several kilos in an octagonal pit, a characteristic design at the heart of these traditional gyms.

Shortly after, one man begins a type of dance, moving on the tips of his toes and spinning to the rhythm of a drum while the others watch on.

“This is an exercise to warm up before battle,” Majid Masumi, owner of the zoorkhaneh, which was opened by his father over a century ago, tells Efe.

Now 73, Masumi started out in the sport when he was just four.

The former athlete explains that the props used at the gym were ancient weapons: maces and heavy shields that participants lift off the ground as if weight training and metal objects resembling bows.

“This sport was training for the warriors,” he says.

The first reference to the zoorkhaneh gyms can be traced to the Safavid era between (1501-1736) although it is thought to date back much further and perhaps has roots in Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion that prevailed in the country until the 7th century.

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