Shiraz, the place not the wine. (November 2014)


After spending some time taking snaps around the Caravansarai Zein-o-din we drove back to Yazd to pick up another car and a driver, Hamid, for the trip to Shiraz.

We stopped off to see a cypress tree at Abarqu that is reputedly 4,000 years old. The cypress is sacred to the Zoroastrians and is also highly regarded by the Shiite Muslims. In fact the symbolic coffin of Imam Hussain, that we had seen in the Ashura ceremonies in Yazd, was based on the shape of the cypress tree.

The roads in Iran are a pleasure to drive on, especially compared to Turkmenistan. The bitumen is smooth and goes the full width of the road.

Most of the pick-up trucks in Iran are either branded Zamyad or Saipa, they are everywhere and they are blue. Their drivers are notoriously bad. There is a saying about them that goes: “There are two things to fear in life, God and blue trucks.”

These pick-ups are manufactured in Iran by Saipa and the current model is based on the 1970-1980 Nissan Junior.

Just outside of Pasargadae and not far from Shiraz, is the Tomb and Palace Complex of Cyrus the Great, founder of the First Persian Empire. The palaces were constructed around 546BC and were set amidst an expansive Persian Garden. They are set in an area of 1.6 square kilometers and regarded as the earliest known example of the Chahar Bagh or Fourfold garden design.

There is some conjecture as to whether the tomb at Pasargadae is that of Cyrus the Great. The tomb was believed to have been visited by Alexander III of Macedon (Alexander the Great to those who weren’t defeated by him) around 334BC.

Due to our forced abstinence, Shiraz was a slightly frustrating place to visit. That’s when you consider that the wonderfully peppery grape that we know as shiraz has the same name.

By the 9th century the city of Shiraz had a reputation for producing some of the best wines in the Middle East. Ironically these wines from Shiraz were white, not red and have no connection to the shiraz wines produced in Australia.

Unfortunately most of the vines were ripped out following the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Putting personal frustrations aside, this area is more importantly the birthplace of the First Great Persian Empire.

Our hotel in Shiraz, as with Yazd, was a traditional style built within an old house.

These old homes were nothing but a blank wall from the outside but inside there was a cool spacious courtyard, with all the rooms openening onto this communal area.

Because they are in old homes, this style of hotel is usually found in the historical part of town and within walking distance of many sights.

Just round the corner from our hotel was the Nasir-Ol-Mol or Pink Mosque. Completed in 1888, it has hands on top of the minarets instead of crescent moons – this is the sign that it’s Shiite.

It is called the Pink Mosque due to the use of pink tiles in the interior. For me the most striking feature of the mosque was the stained glass windows.

We visited the mosque early in order to get the morning light streaming through the brightly coloured glass.

Many of the Iranian buildings we had visited use stained glass. These aren’t representational designs, as you find in Christian churches, but abstract.

The Nasir-Ol-Mol Mosque was the the most stunning so far.

The fort of Karim Khan or Arg-e-Karim Khan was built between 1766-1767. It’s shaped like a medieval fortress with one of the towers having a distinctive lean. In the past it has also been a prison, now it’s a museum.

As had been the case with our Iranian touring so far, we were set a blistering pace by Rasoul. Now made even more efficient by having Hamid drive and drop us off close to the sites.

Naranjestan and Khan-e Zinat ol-Molk was built between 1879 and 1886. The Naranjestan is set in a beautiful garden, planted with rows of orange and palm trees. The entrance hall was adorned with mirrors and there were painted ceilings throughout. The upstairs ceilings are painted in a rather European style with Alpine churches and busty German fräuleins.

Just around the corner are the twenty rooms of the Khan-e Zinat ol-Molk, all with beautiful mosaic floors. This was once the Qavam ol-Molk family home.

The Vakil Bazaar, originally built in the 11th century, is regarded as one of the best places Shiraz to pick up your Persian rugs.

We were there just to look.

The Eram Botanical Gardens are another beautiful example of Persian landscape archiecture. They were completed during the middle of the 19th century but probably started in the 18th. Not surprisingly they have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Later in the day we also visited the Mausoleum of Saadi and Mohammed Taghi. Two more of the revered Iranian poets. The fish pond below Saadi’s Mausoleum is said to be imbued with magical qualities.

Then it was off to the Aramgah-e Shah-e Cheragh Mausoleum, where it is believed that one of Imam Reza’s 17 brothers was martyred there in 835 AD.

Ever since our arrival in Iran we have been witness to an outpouring of religious grief and emotion. The Iranians place their faith and heroes on a very high pedestal. At the heart of this piety is an almost medieval belief in the superstition and mysticism that these historical figures hold. From what we have learned the more intensely you believe, the better you will be rewarded.

This belief in the ‘magic’ of people, places and events goes beyond religious figures, as even the great poets of Iran are placed high above mortal man.

One of the larger crowds was at the Mausoleum of Hafez. It was a Thursday night and there was a festive atmosphere as family groups, couples and gangs of young men came out to pay homage to their hero.

Just as fans flock to Graceland in Memphis or Abbey Road Studios in London, Iranians visit mausoleums in Mashhad, Yazd and Shiraz.

Leave a Reply