Doc sheds light on devices Iranian engineer Hafez Esfahani invented 500 years ago
Art and Experience:
Iranian filmmaker Farhad Bordbar has recently completed a documentary that studies the life of the prolific Iranian engineer Hafez Esfahani and the devices he invented during the 15th and 16th centuries.
“Things that Time Took away” focuses on Esfahani’s scientific life and inventions, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) announced on Tuesday.
It took Bordbar and his crew about 18 months to study and make the documentary. He has also used animation techniques to illustrate how the devices he invented work.
The documentary is scheduled to be broadcast from various channels of IRIB.
Molana Mohammad, known as Hafez Esfahani, left a treatise entitled “Se Resaleh Dar Ekhteraat-e Sanati” (“Three Treatises on Industrial Inventions”) that calls him the inventor of 14 devices, however, only three of his works are described in detail.
The three inventions are a special water mill, a hydraulic oil-mill, and a weight-driven mechanical clock built following a European model.
Other inventions are mentioned only in passing. Among them is a house security lock designed in 1483, a paper-smoothing device made in 1506, a hydraulic machine to card cotton, a mechanical device to produce an ink of a higher quality, a device that catches a thief and holds him until the arrival of the proprietor, two different time-keepers, a special water elevator wheel, and other non-mechanical inventions.
Considering the dates of two recorded inventions, i.e., his house lock in 1483 and his paper smoother in 1506, Hafez Esfahani’s productive life must have covered at least a time span of about 23 years from 1483 to 1506.
He was active even after the rise of the Safavids to power in 1501. He was certainly a Shia Muslim as he invented his 14 devices in remembrance of the 14 infallibles of Twelver Shiism.
The famous historian Khavand Mir is the only one of his contemporaries who mentions him. In his Maather al-Moluk, he states that Molana Mohammad Esfahani considers himself an engineer and that he has built a timekeeping device.
However, it is evident that Khavand Mir had not realized the real value of Hafez Esfahani’s work. The timekeeping device that this historian refers to was the first weight-driven mechanical alarm clock ever made, not only in the Islamic world, but in the whole Orient.
Hafez Esfahani was not attached to any particular royal court, but he must have been a well-known engineer to be summoned by the Timurid court of Sultan Hussein Bayqera to build a clock along the lines of a European model.
Hafez Esfahani relates that in order to save the high esteem of Islam, the Ottoman Sultan, Bayazid II (1481-1512), whose engineers and artisans had failed to reproduce an essentially European type of mechanical clock, sent one of these clocks to Iran to be built there.
The European clock reached Tabriz and then Herat, but nobody seems to have managed to figure out how it operated.
The Timurid court then asked Hafez Esfahani to fulfill this task, and not only did he solve the puzzle and describe it in his treatise, but he also made both a portable and a fixed kind of the originally European clock.
According to Zinat al-Majales, written in 1595, one of his reproductions, then out of usage, was installed in the tower of a hospital in Kashan.
His hydraulic oil-mill is proof of his mechanical knowledge. He also invited his contemporaries to build the new oil-mill by enumerating the advantages of his new invention.
The invention provided better hygiene in comparison to animal-driven mills where the oil was in contact with the dung and urine of animals, higher efficiency compared to traditional methods of oil extraction, the possibility of uninterrupted operation, and thus higher production of oil, lower costs of maintenance compared to other oil presses and mills.
In addition, it needed only a single operator and finally it was less dangerous than the traditional oil presses whose huge beam could cause irreparable damage.