BBC Radio 4

    In Our Time newsletter: The Safavid Dynasty

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    Editor's note: In yesterday's programme Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed The Safavid Dynasty. As always the programme is available to listen to online or to download and keep - PM.


    Sometimes when you finish a programme, you really do think "How did we get through it? How did they - the contributors - manage to put so much into so little with such accurate scholarship?"

    That was what I felt after we had - or rather they had - somehow covered almost 300 years of the Safavid dynasty.

    We had the Sunni and the Shi'a; we had the Jews, the Christians, the Armenians, the Ottomans, the Uzbeks and the Afghans; we had Abbas I and Ismail, the boy wonder; we had Isfahan and architectural beauties and the silk trade; and more, much more, and in my view they managed to make it coherent and exciting.

    Of course, when we finished Robert Gleave spoke for all of them and said "We didn't get round to..." It would take a day to get round that amazing swirl of the Middle East at that time.

    All the time we were doing it, I kept clocking off what the Tudors and Stuarts were doing back home. That was when our Reformation began; that was when Elizabeth I came to the throne; that was when we had our Civil War; that was when William of Orange came in; and still the Safavids blazed on.

    Robert Gleave also praised their propaganda. They embraced everyone. A leading Portuguese Augustine came to the court - "He is one of us!", they declared. Everyone, it seemed, was one of us.

    This did not stop them torturing to death the Georgian queen because of her Christianity. Persian became the language not only of a country but of an entire region through these people, and architecture and art took a step forward. And yet we also witnessed the parallel development of a civilisation which did not embrace the Enlightenment or seed the Industrial Revolution. It was high excitement throughout.

    Tom Morris and I went across the road to do a post-mortem on The Written World and fill in a few gaps over the next two or three months of subjects that we wanted to bring on to In Our Time.

    And then I stepped out into the world called the South of England. Such blue skies. They've been like that for weeks. The flowers are confused. The birds are bewildered. People flap around in sandals and open-necked shirts.

    Don't they realise it's the middle of winter?

    We certainly did in the North where I spent Christmas and New Year. Northern Britain was a weather battle zone. The winds blew and cracked their cheeks, they raged, they stormed; it was as if there were dreadful portents going across the land.

    We felt quite a bit of it in the North West of England. Horizontal hailstones. Sudden gusts of wind that blew you off your feet. But, nevertheless, it was the time for family walks and on family walks we went.

    On the New Year's Eve walk, by the time we had got from the pub to the lake, we were pretty well soaked. Nevertheless, we walked the length of the lake and turned back to find some woods for a bit of shelter. It had never stopped raining.

    We came on an open space which was open because big trees had literally been uprooted. Tall pines had been snapped in two by the force of the wind. It looked like the set for one of those apocalyptic Hollywood movies. It was here we had our picnic. Turkey sandwiches, of course.

    And so back to London to the surreal tranquillity of St James's, with the ducks a-ducking and children throwing pieces of bread, and persons of many nationalities lolling on seats and not a branch stirring. It was a walk in the park.

    Best wishes

    Melvyn Bragg

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