Peter's Story

Natanz Ceramics

RPCV:  Peter Van Deekle

Iran, 1968-1970


After living in two relatively cosmopolitan cities during my first four months in Iran, the Peace Corps office transferred me to Natanz, (نطنز ), a remote mountainous village in Isfahan province.  Today, Natanz is more modern and strategic; in fact, it is the current site of Iran’s most substantial major nuclear installation. In 1968, however, I was the only Westerner in the village.

My new assignment, teaching EFL (English as a Foreign Language) in the boys’ high school, presented several challenges.  There were more than 60 students in each of my classes, far from an optimal scenario for teaching a language. Winters in Natanz were severe, with months of heavy snowfall.  Moreover, electricity was limited to a single line and generator on the main street, which supplied power only from dusk to midnight.  As a result, I often used kerosene lamps for heat and light. 

After my first month, the government assigned me a roommate, Ali, an English-speaking college graduate from Tehran.  He was from a prominent family, and (I later learned) was a member of the Shah’s secret police.  Although Ali’s position placed me under constant surveillance, his presence ensured that we had a village woman to cook for us, and an ample supply of kerosene.

As I would come to learn from my time there, Natanz has for centuries been famous for its brilliant blue glazed pottery.  In fact, a common Persian expression of appreciation for the receipt of any beautiful gift is to acknowledge that it must be from Natanz.  As I prepared to leave Iran at the end of my assignment in 1970, I purchased a ceramic vase in the bazaar.  The vase will always remind me of my time living and teaching in Natanz.

A six-minute video, produced by Iranian government media, provides further background on Natanz ceramics, including examples of different styles.