Gholamreza Sahab was born in 1948 in Tehran. He studied in Bouali and Roozbeh and received his diploma in literature. Accomplishing the military service, Sahab got married. He entered Shahid Beheshti University to study history in 1974 and graduated in 1978.
Gholamreza Sahab was born to a cultural family, his father and grandfather were among the literati. His grandfather, professor Abul-Ghasem Sahab Tafreshi was the deputy of National Library in 1938, moreover he had penned more than 80 books on religions, history and biographies. In addition he had worked on subjects as "Orientalists' culture", "Imam Hasan al-Askari", "Quran's history" and "History of painting in Iran". He was the head of Tehran's training collage and a great scholar of his time. Prominent figures as Dehkhoda and Mohit Tabatabaee lived during that era as well. Authoring notes for dailies and press he rendered Carpenter's Geographical Reader into Persian which was published in the press as footnotes.
Abbas Sahab (Gholamreza Sahab's father), known as the Father of Cartography", was born in 1921 and he loved painting and sketching. He drew his first map which was the map of France when he was 13. Around 70 years ago Abbas Sahab alongside his father visited printing houses in order to typeset and edit books and compilations; the matter formed a basic for him to establish Cartography and Geography Institute which is famous internationally. Considering the facilities his maps were designed by pencils and ink. The maps were produced as Ozalid and painted manually.
Gholamreza Sahab says: "The first map was painted in 1953 in Majlis printing house. In order to draw it, I traveled a lot. I named the aerial maps and drew the map with simple tools. With all the problems around, I drew the map of Iran's northern beaches." He was 20 when he drew Gorgan and Sistan and Balouchesan's map. He had a specific method and his maps usually had illustrations; resemble to 17th century's cartography.
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The following text is Gholamreza Sahab's interview with IBNA:
• When maps were drawn in Iran, how far the other countries were?
Unfortunately Iran suffered a lot during Qajar dynasty. In those times they were much more developed; since they had motives and motives have been great encouragements throughout history. One of the motives since the 15th century was geographical explorations, identifying countries and dominating other nations, for instance Spanish and Portuguese, with sailing and shipping power, explored lands and Islands so they needed a map which was the most important motive. By the 19th century Muslim cardiographs really progressed in Iran including Ibn Houghel, Kharazmi, Odreisi, Jeihani and etc…
About printing them, evidence reveal that in 1450, when Gutenberg invented print, some 500 years ago- printed maps existed which were painted.
- In those times were maps available for every one?
In Qajay dynasty, following the establishment of Dar-Al-fonoon school, professors like Najm Aldoleh(Abdul Gafar), Gharache Daghi and Abdul Razag Khan Boghayeri had drew maps of Iran, Tehran and continents which were published and handed over to literati. My father was the work's inventor and the one who introduced maps. Before 1921, Britishers had drawn Iran's map which was rendered into Persian by the military and in 1935 Geography Organization was established.
In fact since 1936, when my father began working, maps were available for everyone and before that it was individually used for the government, military and army purposes. My father sent Tehran, Iran, Europe and Asia's maps to schools.
- How the borders were identified before maps?
From 1000 years ago borders were identified in 2 ways; mountains and rivers. No barbed wires existed as well. When colonies were formed hypothetical lines were created as well. Taking a look at the United States' map you will see that the lines are mostly straight and geometrical. But their basic were nature based too. Not bordering the countries or provinces according to nationalities is a big mistake.
- Why bordering should be based on nationalities?
Because our work is based on it, a tribe is expanded through an area. For instance if Turks or Lors reside in a region they should be considered as bordering basics. Different tribes have various traditions, manners and customs so they have to have a common border.
- If the borders are based upon nationalities, will home ruling threat the region?
Absolutely not, in Iran when people chose a region to live and expand according to their nationality, they seek security which strengths through Islam: Whatsoever creates unity is not merely nationality but enjoying a common religion and ideology is more important. In countries like Yugoslavia the matter occurs within them but in Iran beside nationality religion is important as well.
- Why you are interested in the filed?
Usually families, based on their arts, impress their children. In our family I was always beside my father who indeed loved maps. Moreover I was interested in history as well. Basically, I was professional in 3 fields; graphic, print and cartography in which I have many works including teaching a group to draw maps and then titling them scientifically.
- When did you start and what did you generally do?
I started since 1961 and from 1978, when I was 30 I had 12 students of which 2 were very professional. I taught them practically and it differed from its theory subjects. In 1978 we drew Iran's raised-relief map with the most elementary tools which was praised throughout the world.
When it came to Iran's history I worked with my father. The other work which was honored likewise was drawing Azerbaijan's raised-relief map which was accomplished in 1984 moreover we drew Tehran and Iran's north region raised map as well.
- What kind of sources did you usually use?
It differed from time to time. During the past recent years I mostly use satellite but before that we used Pakistan's satellite and during Iran and Iraq's war our needs were fulfilled through satellite pictures which were received via Australia or other places as we drew Isfahan's map through satellite pictures. During Iran-Iraq's war we worked on Abadan's map which was very important in the specific period of time. Totally the sources were divided into several categories since the maps are grouped according to their subjects. Educational, subjective, regional, provincial, civic maps and etc…
For instance for drawing in 1983 when I decided to draw Qom's map, I toke out photographs from its historical sites and handed them over to professors as Aslan Asadi in order to convert them into graphic designs. Then I dotted them and pointed Hazrat Masoumeh and other holy shrines. As the titling process concluded I sent it to several exhibitions in Germany, Italy, Australia and Mexico.
Since the maps were prepared during Iran-Iraq's war many were surprised and I told them that despite the war no one has left work and every body is working according to their profession. The 1984 Australia Fair was house to many great cartographers' works as well as my father's maps which I was very proud of. Moreover Azerbaijan and the continents' raised maps.
- Please tell us about the continent's maps?
Europeans had already prepared Asia, Africa and Europe's maps and we exactly mapped them but surly with some changes as we used many other sources and translations and changed the usual European names with Iranian ones and etc…
- How much did your and the satellite's calculations differ (when it was calculated via satellite for the first time)?
Before satellite, the pictures were taken via aerial photographs. Every frame was set beside the other and a map was the result.
- How much did the maps differ?
Aerial photos were more accurate in details. Aerial and satellite photos don’t define geographical borders, the only things they reveal are mountains, seas and the earth. As a matter of fact we don’t use aerial and satellite photos for geographical bordering but they are very useful for civic and provincial detailed maps.
- How particular were you on sources?
It is a very considerable point. Maps' accuracy is based on their scale. For instance on a certain map only villages are worked out, which requires more attention for a smaller map. Sometimes titling needs attention and so on.
Thus on a map if we need to enter the villages' names and phonetics we should refer to many sources. Some of the pronunciations are difficult so we prefer to ask the regions' civilians. This is the thing we do for foreign countries as well.
- Please tell us about the role of historical information?
Maps and historical information have correlative ties. Geographical factors form history. Both of them enjoy vital importance; picturing historical events is possible via geographical conditions.
- Do you draw maps according to orders or your own will?
Some of them are ordered for example a shipping company demanded the map of Iran's shipping lines which move in oceans and seas. Or sometimes we should draw tourist maps and etc…
If we don’t receive orders we produce maps according to the society's requirements.
- Do you receive orders from other countries as well?
No. we don’t receive such orders. Although we produce the same map which Germany does but due to political issues and foreign countries' stance on Iran we don’t get foreign orders. Once, we printed a maps for the Arabs, which was more rich in quality and cheaper than European countries' maps but they didn’t purchase it because of the name of Persian Gulf which was titled with the same name. However following the imposed war and as more people travel around, the maps are released in great copies.
- How much does the country's Geography Organization endorse your work?
We have several governmental organizations. One of them is military's Geography Organization, the other one is National Cartography Center and etc… during these years Sahab Institute and the Cartography center launched their work concurrently. In the private section Sahab Institute and Gitashenasi Institute worked.
Throughout the world governmental section operate for the private section as mother organizations. For instance the private section lacks airplanes in order to photograph the cities and the governmental section accomplishes the task.
So approving is vital since we are a part of them. Thus I work as an advisor in a governmental section as well and the matter would not have happened if they hadn’t approved me. On the sidelines I have to tell you something which I learned during the recent years; many of our published maps are scanned by unauthorized figures and controlling the matter is very difficult. We only approve maps which feature are own signatures.
- Do you edit others' maps as well?
Yes, sometimes the Home Ministry, Road and Transportation ministry and etc… send us letters in order to get our opinion on certain maps. I assess the map and edit its mistakes. The work should be done scruples.
- How the scruples should be created?
Youths should be brought up with scruple and sensitive to geographical borders. I love the young generation. Iranian youths can impress the world since they are very clever, needs create growth and glory.
- How much you insist on your children to work in the same field?
They should decide to study whatsoever they like although all 3 of them are studying the same field as they are interested in it.
- How much do you supervise the work's quality and price?
Since 2005 my brother is the manger of Sahab Institute. I don’t interfere in prices and only manage the works. In fact currently I work as an adviser. Moreover I work in several centers including great Islamic encyclopedia center, national library and Iranology foundation. So I don’t have enough time for executive works.
- According to what basics do you draw maps?
Through several ways, one of them is the incidents that occur in the world. For instance due to a flood or earthquake people get sensitive and ask Geographic Organization to present the maps of those points. I ask the press to cooperate with the Geographic Organization and provide an archive of whatsoever they give news on. Most of the maps which the press holds are copied from different websites and some of them aren’t in Persian. We should have those kinds of maps which people need including political and disasters. Thus some of the needs require immediate maps. Some of the needs are academic or school needs. These are educational maps. Some others are provided according to trips, for instance Malaysia enjoys more passengers it will need more maps which is a tourist's need.
- Does the field suffer from any deficiencies?
One of our problems is distribution including books and other things like maps. Currently many provinces and villages don’t have Iran's maps. We have a weak distribution system.
- Are the maps available via internet?
Yes. Nowadays Tehran's maps are available in mobile phones. Several other maps exit in the internet as well.
- Do you produce your maps as books, posters or magazines?
I have innovated something new; I have made a box which is located in the library as a collection, since if the maps are provided as papers they will destroy. Moreover various atlases exist as well including library atlases, tourist atlases or reference ones which are about Iran and the world as well as Persian Gulf atlases, countries' atlases and etc… which are released in any type. However the map's influence should be preserved.
- Do you have any plans for the future?
Nowadays every thing is based according to internet and satellites though books and papers have their own value. But access to websites and digital information are much easier and cheaper. Most of the works could be done digitally in which using papers and print seems difficult so we have to turn towards a digital world.
- Have you made any mistakes which made you to collect the maps following their print and publication?
We have collected them after distribution but sometimes some parts weren’t printed for instance the name of Damavand which we had to write manually.
- Have you compiled any books so far?
I have penned a book about my grandpa which was authored with Mohammad reza Zamani's cooperation. As my father passed away I wrote about his life as well. Moreover I have written about the world's geographical culture.
- What does "World's geographical culture" hold?
The book was a team work and has presented information about all the countries. Providing geographical information requires a team works and the book may differ from this point of view.
- How much do you read in a day?
I receive many newspaper, magazines and book samples. During the past recent years I read books and presented explanation on the margins where needed. I read history works as well as geographical ones as well. Moreover I work on documents too so I read a lot.
- What factors do develop the culture of reading and studying?
This is a very easy work. We have experienced many different ways. Some 45 years ago Amir Kabir publication sold a selection on installment. When books were sold on installment precious books were sold as well. Sometimes they were sold with a great discount sometimes subsidies were presented by the Guidance Ministry and etc… however none of them had fruitful result. There is one more useful method which is useful; in 1963 when I was student in Abu Ali Sina my professor believed that all students should be a member of national library. And until getting the membership card we couldn’t attend the classes. I think that was a great idea. On the other hand some purchase books in order to adorn their library and those who are rich buy precious books moreover those who are interested in science and knowledge don’t buy expensive books since they aren’t rich enough. A solution to reduce the prices is to donate money so cheap books are distributed and thus the culture of reading will develop.
The other mistake is our wrong educational system. The books should be read to learn not to receive degrees. Moreover books should be sold in varieties so it will respond different tastes.
- Do you publish your own maps or you order them to other publishing houses?
We print them ourselves since providing them needs professionalism and requires a lot of attention.
- How much does your family help you?
They have helped me a lot and I have always loved them.
1. Attending ICI International Cartography Conference in Italy
2. Attending Fair of Islamic Arts in Malaysia
3. Attending International Cartography Conference in Austria
4. Attending Iran-Spain Tie's Conference and delivering a speech in the Foreign Ministry
5. Attending Iran-Portuguese Tie's Conference and delivering a speech in the Foreign Ministry
Scientific abroad trips
1. Visiting Spain's Library for historical documents of Islamic Gulf and Islamic Art
2. Visiting Istanbul Library for documents related to ancient Iran and Persian Gulf Map
3. Visiting Singapore Library and different galleries for finding ancient Iran's maps
4. Visiting Libraries of Malaysia, China, Shanghai, Beijing for Books and Maps related to Iran