Water Pipes Prompted Iranian Governemnt to Shut Down Tea Houses

by VR Sreeraman on Nov 5 2007 7:00 PM

Iran has shut down several traditional tea houses popular with Iranians and foreign tourists alike in historic cities because they offer water pipes, a newspaper said on Sunday.

The reformist Etemad Melli newspaper said five famous tea houses had been shut down in the historic cities of Isfahan and Shiraz, the most popular urban destinations for foreign tourists in Iran.

The newspaper said the closures were in line with a government drive to discourage all kinds of smoking, which has prompted local authorities to shut down tea houses that offer water pipes alongside food.

"Eateries, tea houses and restaurants are not allowed to provide tobacco even in the traditional form," said Mohammad Ali Najafi, a police commander tasked with monitoring public places.

"The violators are confronted by law. Traditional does not mean they have a permit for water pipe," he said, adding the initiative was not limited to Shiraz and Isfahan and would be implemented across Iran.

The report said that tea houses in the tourist sites of Chehel Sotoun palace and Manar Jonban in the historic imperial city of Isfahan had been shut down for "restoration and conversion."

"At the moment these tea houses do not have proper hygienic conditions and they also need serious restoration," said Abdolhamid Akochakian, a cultural heritage official in Isfahan.

In Shiraz, the authorities closed down tea houses at the tombs of Iran's renowned classical poets Hafez and Saadi -- which are hugely popular with foreign tourists -- and plan to convert them into cultural centres, it said.

The authorities have also closed another tea house in the Vakil Baths, in the southern city which is the nearest jump-off point to the ancient Achaemenian city of Perseopolis.

The teahouses are known as places where tourists and locals could relax on wooden couches covered in Persian rugs smoking shishas and drinking tea from small cups.

Although public mixing of the sexes is frowned upon in Iran, such tea houses are often the site of meetings between unrelated girls and boys.

Iran is currently in the midst of its toughest moral crackdown in years that has seen thousands of women warned for dress or behaviour deemed to be improper in public.