In a recent posting about the , that many women (and invalids) used to get around Persia, I said that I thought that Figueroa – the Spanish ambassador in 1617-19 – did not use the undignified cages. So what might he have used?
Another litter that is well documented as being used is the takht-i-ravan or “moving throne”. These, at least in the nineteenth century, were carried by two mules – one fore, one aft – and looked like a sedan chair, although they were actually “no more than a flat board on which you squatted slung between two shafts, with sides to hide you from prying male eyes”. Like the cages, this does not sound very dignified or comfortable for the Ambassador.
Figueroa transported a huge Spanish mastiff called Roldan, a present for Shah Abbas, in a third sort of litter. Mastiffs were known in Persia as far back as the Achaemenids (click here for a picture of a statue of a mastiff at Persepolis); but the Persians all along the way were fascinated by Roldan. The poor dog walked to Lar (over 200km from the Gulf coast) but after that, he “had tired his feet” and he was carried in a “Palanquin, or Indian litter” by men Figueroa hired expressly for this. Although Figueroa gives no description of this, perhaps it was like the special “Indian palanquin” used by Lady Ouseley, the heavily pregnant wife of the English ambassador in 1811: this was “taken on board at Bombay with twenty stalwart Indian bearers who took turns, in relays of four, to carry the memsahib”.
As with the cages, Figueroa’s litter was surely different from this: not only did the two have dissimilar names; but Figueroa makes much of it when his own litter was exceptionally – in very mountainous terrain – carried “à force des bras (by the strength of men’s arms)”.
Perhaps Figueroa had something like the very splendid litter that constructed for his beloved wife, Maani. Nothing like this contrivance had apparently previously been produced by the Persian carpenters, so Pietro made a card model to explain that he wanted something large enough “that two camels carried it, and so spacious that four people could sit there, not on elevated chairs, as with us, but [on a] good silk mattress”. Two or three people could sleep here. There were four little windows and two doors, each of which could be lowered or raised. The whole confection was multi-coloured, so “one could distinguish it perfectly from afar”. The two camels could be ordered to kneel down in unison, so it only required one man to lead it. When the route was narrow, or if another traveller was encountered coming in the opposite direction, there might be a problem – though Pietro said that there was really there was “scarcely any difficulty to surmount in the end, with a little precaution and patience”.