Shiraz

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The Splendors and Surprises of Iran

iran-esfahan-imam-detail-geoex

iran-esfahan-imam-detail-geoex

Everyone says you’ll be surprised by Iran (except for those who say, you’re nuts for going — and they’d probably be the most surprised of all). So I went in expecting to be surprised, but I still wasn’t prepared.

I was surprised by the red poppies bursting out all over the landscape, the snowcapped mountains where I’d expected desert, and the national commitment to mystical poetry and song. The most profound surprise of all was the genuine warmth of the people. From Tehran to Tabriz to the smallest village in the desert, people went out of their way to express appreciation at our visit. In Yazd, a restaurant owner went so far as to place an American flag on our table and blast “The Star-Spangled Banner” from the speakers, causing the other patrons to rise from their seats out of respect. Now, that’s surprising.

Below are a few of my favorite memories:

 

Our "Treasures of Persia" group examines the tomb of Nasser al-Din Shah at Golestan Palace in Tehran. The 19th-century Persian king was famous for his courtly visits to Europe, his large harem, and his assassination by a revolutionary in 1896.

Our “Treasures of Persia” group examines the tomb of Nasser al-Din Shah at Golestan Palace in Tehran. The 19th-century Persian king was famous for his courtly visits to Europe, his large harem, and his assassination by a revolutionary in 1896.

The palace was a pleasant surprise — an equivalent place in Europe would be overrun with tourists and selfie sticks. Instead, it was magnificently quiet; you could hear the babble in the fountains and the chattering of parrots overhead.

iran-jess-silber-geoex

iran-jess-silber-geoex

I had my picture taken by a young Iranian couple who were also strolling around Golestan, being tourists themselves. They were thrilled to see a group of Americans touring their capital.

iran-tehran-street-art-geoex

iran-tehran-street-art-geoex

One thing that surprised me about Iranian cities was the fun public art. I expected to see lots of sober portraits of the Supreme Leaders, Khomeini and Khamenei, and yes, I did see those. But I didn’t expect colorful murals and whimsical sculptures, and I saw lots of those, too. I think the picture above is actually an advertisement, but it’s a nice reminder of how Iranian cities can be joyful places, not just somber ones.

On Iran's rural border with Azerbaijan, set within a canyon and reachable only by a steep walk, the centuries-old St. Stephanos Church feels like it's in a different world from cosmopolitan Tehran.

On Iran’s rural border with Azerbaijan, set within a canyon and reachable only by a steep walk, the centuries-old St. Stephanos Church feels like it’s in a different world from cosmopolitan Tehran.

 

Iran’s Islamic architecture is dazzling, no surprise there. But there are other religions in Iran, and exploring sites sacred to Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism was a surprise highlight. Saint Stephanos Church is a long drive from the closest major city; perched just across the border with Azerbaijan, it holds court in a canyon of red rock that feels like one of the archives of time.

The Iranians that we met on the "Treasures of Persia" trip were always eager to have their picture taken with us. Same goes for this group of guys who ran into us at St. Stephanos Church.

The Iranians that we met on the “Treasures of Persia” trip were always eager to have their picture taken with us. Same goes for this group of guys who ran into us at St. Stephanos Church.

We visited Saint Stephanos on a weekend, and it was busy. At each corner and courtyard of the church complex, we were approached by people who wanted to welcome us and chat with us — or take their photo with us. Kathie is pictured here with a group of gentlemen who wanted to immortalize the visit.

A spring fills this volcanic crater at Takht-e Suleiman, Iran - it's easy to see why it was considered a sacred site to different civilizations throughout Iranian history.

A spring fills this volcanic crater at Takht-e Suleiman, Iran – it’s easy to see why it was considered a sacred site to different civilizations throughout Iranian history.

At first I was a bit skeptical as we walked up to Takht-e Suleiman, a windy mountaintop UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’d driven hours through mountain landscapes to get there, and as you approach, you can’t see much except the crumbs of ruins. But the opaque, blue-green pool in the center of the site, formed in a volcanic crater, brought into focus how magnificent and spiritual it was. “One of the most sacred places in Iran,” our trip leader, Sylvie, said, and it was pretty easy to see why.

 

A group gathers around the National Guide at Takht-e Suleiman, a remote, ancient ruin and sacred site in northern Iran.

A group gathers around the National Guide at Takht-e Suleiman, a remote, ancient ruin and sacred site in northern Iran.

As with so many other places in northern Iran, we pretty much had the whole site of Takht-e Suleiman — all of its chambers, tunnels and temples — to ourselves to ponder and explore. Here, our national guide, Peyman, is explaining the Zoroastrian fire temple that once burned here.

The atmospheric ruins of Takht-e Suleiman, a sacred site in rural Iran.

The atmospheric ruins of Takht-e Suleiman, a sacred site in rural Iran.

There was just one other group of tourists visiting the ruins at Takht-e Suleiman that day, an older couple strolling with a young man. The woman asked me to take a photo with her. After the young man had taken the picture, the woman squeezed both of my hands in hers and kissed both of my cheeks. I don’t think anyone has ever been so happy to take a picture with me in any other country I’ve visited.

Military service is compulsory for young men in Iran. These two soldiers serve their time as guards at the crumbling Anahita temple, a pre-Islamic ruin in the town of Kangavar.

Military service is compulsory for young men in Iran. These two soldiers serve their time as guards at the crumbling Anahita temple, a pre-Islamic ruin in the town of Kangavar.

Military service is compulsory for most young men in Iran. These two soldiers serve their time as guards at the crumbling Anahita temple, a pre-Islamic ruin in the town of Kangavar, dedicated to the Zoroastrian goddess of water.

An Iranian woman in Kangavar offers warm bread to a traveler and GeoEx Trip Leader Sylvie Franquet.

An Iranian woman in Kangavar offers warm bread to a traveler and GeoEx Trip Leader Sylvie Franquet.

An Iranian woman in Kangavar offered warm bread to some members of our group. At first we declined, trying to adhere to the Iranian custom of taarof, which governs etiquette, but as you can see, eventually the aroma of warm bread overcame us.

Lions, gryphons, and bulls are represented in the capitals of columns and other ruins at Persepolis.

Lions, gryphons, and bulls are represented in the capitals of columns and other ruins at Persepolis.

Persepolis! Ancient cities haven’t always been my thing — in the Roman Forum I was preoccupied by the scrawny cats begging between the columns — but this site is magnificent from the very first approach. The city was a ceremonial capital for the Achaemenid kings, built on these tremendous stones that heave it toward the sky like an altar, and decorated with astonishing carvings and reliefs. It was more recently famous for being the site of the last Shah’s final big party in 1971, which lavishly celebrated 2,500 years of Persian civilization and provoked the outrage of then-exiled Khomeini.

This third-century relief at Naqsh-e Rustam, just a few miles from Persepolis, depicts the beginning of an empire: Ardashir, the first Sassanid king, is receiving a ring of kingship from the Zoroastrian deity Ahuramazda. The empire only ended four centuries later with the arrival of Islam in Iran.

This third-century relief at Naqsh-e Rustam, just a few miles from Persepolis, depicts the beginning of an empire: Ardashir, the first Sassanid king, is receiving a ring of kingship from the Zoroastrian deity Ahuramazda. The empire only ended four centuries later with the arrival of Islam in Iran.

The highway from Shiraz to Yazd follows historical trade routes, passing the same desert mountains as the camel caravans of previous centuries.

The highway from Shiraz to Yazd follows historical trade routes, passing the same desert mountains as the camel caravans of previous centuries.

The highway from Shiraz to Yazd follows historic trade routes, passing the same desert mountains as the camel caravans of previous centuries.

This man has greeted travelers to the Towers in Silence, a Zoroastrian ruin on the outskirts of Yazd, for years - maybe decades. "Over the years I've come here, he's gone through three different donkeys," the guide explained, "but it's always the same man."

This man has greeted travelers to the Towers in Silence, a Zoroastrian ruin on the outskirts of Yazd, for years – maybe decades. “Over the years I’ve come here, he’s gone through three different donkeys,” the guide explained, “but it’s always the same man.”

I’m posing here with a gentleman who has greeted travelers to the Towers in Silence, a Zoroastrian ruin on the outskirts of Yazd, for years — maybe decades. “Over the years I’ve come here, he’s gone through three different donkeys,” our guide explained, “but it’s always the same man.”

iran-tile-work-yazd-geoex

iran-tile-work-yazd-geoex

Kathie admires the tile work and calligraphy at the Friday Mosque in Yazd.

Only 20 columns support the ceiling of the Chehel Sotun, or Forty Column Palace. The other 20 are created by the reflection in the pool at the entrance to the palace.

Only 20 columns support the ceiling of the Chehel Sotun, or Forty Column Palace. The other 20 are created by the reflection in the pool at the entrance to the palace.

Only 20 columns support the ceiling of the Forty-Column Palace. The other 20 are created by the reflection in the pool at the entrance to the palace.

Esfahan's Forty-Column Palace has an impressive variety of mustaches depicted in the artwork on its walls. On the day we visited, they honored their mustache heritage with a make-your-own-Persian-'stache station.

Esfahan’s Forty-Column Palace has an impressive variety of mustaches depicted in the artwork on its walls. On the day we visited, they honored their mustache heritage with a make-your-own-Persian-‘stache station.

The Forty-Column Palace might have only had 20 columns. What it had in excess was mustaches depicted in its artwork and frescoes — an impressive variety. On the day our group visited, the palace happened to have a temporary exhibit dedicated to this mustache heritage, including a “make your own historical Persian mustache” station that we took full advantage of.

The exterior of the Imam Mosque - known as the Shah Mosque before the 1979 Islamic Revolution - features master calligraphy and tile-work. Here, it is covered in ornamental red bulbs to honor the birthday of the Hidden Imam, a Messianic leader believed by some Shia to be living in secrecy among the people.

The exterior of the Imam Mosque – known as the Shah Mosque before the 1979 Islamic Revolution – features master calligraphy and tile-work. Here, it is covered in ornamental red bulbs to honor the birthday of the Hidden Imam, a Messianic leader believed by some Shia to be living in secrecy among the people.

The exterior of the Imam Mosque, in Esfahan, is covered in ornamental red bulbs to honor the birthday of the Hidden Imam, a Messianic leader believed by some Shia to be living in secrecy among the people.

Esfahan's Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque was built in the 17th century as a private mosque for the women of the Shah's family. The pious women were invisible while at prayer thanks to a long, curving hallway that twists away from the entrance doors.

Esfahan’s Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque was built in the 17th century as a private mosque for the women of the Shah’s family. The pious women were invisible while at prayer thanks to a long, curving hallway that twists away from the entrance doors.

Lots of people have written about the beauty of the Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque in Esfahan. I am happy to confirm that they were all correct. It’s a masterpiece. The mosque was built in the 17th century as a private mosque for the women of the Shah’s family. The pious women were invisible while at prayer thanks to a long, curving hallway that twists away from the entrance doors.

Abyaneh, a rural village in the Karkas mountains north of Esfahan, is beloved for its red-brick historical houses and its dried fruit.

Abyaneh, a rural village in the Karkas mountains north of Esfahan, is beloved for its red-brick historical houses and its dried fruit.

As our trip wound to a close, we stopped in the village of Abyaneh, in the Karkas Mountains north of Esfahan. It’s beloved for its historic red-brick houses and its fruit leather (it tastes better than it sounds).

 

 

Nasir ol Molk Mosque

Karim Khan Arg

Naqsh-e Rajab

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Visit Arg-e-Karimkhani (Karim Khan Citadel) at Shiraz during

Citadel of Karim Khan e Zand

Citadel of Karim Khan e Zand

While reading and preparing to take a trip to Iran, you will easily notice there are a lot of historical sights and monuments to visit in each part of the country. Shiraz is also an ancient city with several old monuments still standing in good conditions. What you read here is an introduction to one of the most outstanding structures remained from Zand Dynasty, 2nd half of 18th century, Arg-e-Karimkhani .

Arg-e-Karimkhani (Karim Khan Citadel)

This structure can be easily found at a corner of Shahrdary Sq close to Shiraz bazaar. The appearance of the building resembles a solid fortress entirely made from bricks with military as well as residential functions. The construction of Karimkhan Citadel goes back to the second half of 18th century when Karimkhan-e-Zand was ruling in Iran from Shiraz, his capital city.

The structure reminds you of the plain brick-made buildings of 11th and 12th centuries when Seljuks were ruling in Iran. The corner bastions are very robust and decorated with bricks. One won’t realize how delicate some of the details inside the building could be without exploring it. At the south eastern corner of the citadel, a bastion is leaning like it’s going to fall down! It’s been like that for years and has been reinforced to stand on its place.

Above the entrance gate, you will notice a sizable tile-worked scene of Rostam’s battle against a demon. Rostam is the protagonist character of Shahnameh, the epic poem book of Ferdowsy, the most well-known Iranian poet of 10th and 11th centuries. After entering the vestibule a corridor leads you into the large courtyard with an astonishing orange garden!

The garden inside the large courtyard of Arg-e-Karimkhani takes approximately up to 80% of the area. The rest, courtyard floor, is all covered by marble stone from the time of construction. A pathway from the center of the garden leads to the middle of each side of the courtyard opposite a portico leading to some of the rooms of the building.

Main Rooms of Karimkhan Citadel

As you enter the courtyard from the vestibule, at the opposite side of the courtyard, under the large wind catcher, there’s a portico that could be seen right away. Inside the beautifully decorated rooms of this section, attractive wax statues revive the setting inside the court of Karim Khan where he met with officials and ruled over the territories under his domination.

The fresco embellishment of the walls and ceilings are fabulous examples of how beautifully Zand art vitalized official and non-official buildings of that period. A combination of gold leafs with relatively dark red colors were used to give elegant taste to the interior walls of the royal buildings.

Adjacent to this mail room, sometimes a couple of other rooms are opened to the public to see the local costumes of Iranian women of various ethnic groups. The colorful gowns seen here are still worn by local people when you travel to different parts of Iran.

Bathhouse of Arg-e-Karimkhani

On the very south eastern part corner of the courtyard, there’s a door that leads to the Arg-e-Karimkhani’s bathhouse, Hammam. This handsome bathhouse has got all the architectural sections of any similar structures, which make it worth a visit. The simple yet likable plasterwork decorations on the walls of this hammam, imply the love in flowers and nature, what Shirazi artists have always been inspired by.

Marble floors and seats, insulated pools for hot and cold water, clay-made pipes for heating beneath the floors and transferring water, and so forth are all observable and the echo returning your voice inside the big hall of this hammam reminds you of the lively setting of old bathhouses where royal family met and had themselves washed and massaged by the servants.

Visit Pars Museum of Shiraz While Traveling in Iran

Pars Museum of Shiraz inside Nazar Garden

Pars Museum of Shiraz inside Nazar Garden

 

Pars Museum is a relatively small yet magnificent building constructed inside Nazar garden during late 18th century when Karim Khan Zand was in power in Shiraz, his capital city.

It’s part of a royal project where several buildings were built for the administration of Zand court and the public use of Shirazi people. Other buildings at this project include Arg-e-Karimkhani (Karim Khan Citadel), Vakil Mosque, Vakil Bazaar, Vakil Bathhouse, etc.

Location & Appearance of Pars Museum

This museum is a pavilion located inside Nazar garden, which goes back to Safavid period. While traveling in Iran and visiting historical monuments of Shiraz, you can find this site relatively opposite Karimkhan’s Citadel at a corner of Shahrdary Sq.

The garden used to be larger than what it is today, but it’s large enough to accommodate the building of this museum. The pavilion was called Kolah Farangy (foreign hat) building, a name attributed to similar buildings constructed after the influence of European arts in Iran.

The building itself is octagonal in shape from outside. The exterior of Pars Museum is decorated by beautiful tiles decorated with floral patterns and tree-of-life design where lots of birds and flowers are depicted in delicate harmony. The multi-sided design of this structure makes it look like burial buildings.

Since 1934, it was decided that it should be used as a museum. Therefore, some very exquisite items have been displayed inside the showcases of Pars Museum. The interior walls are elegantly embellished with Zand style frescoes and specific color combinations of the period, dark red and gold.

The inner space of the museum resembles a cruciform plan where showcases are arranged. On the walls, there are also, small items inviting art-appreciating eyes to themselves.

Karim Khan received dignitaries, officials and other VIPs at this building. As a matter of fact, it was a small hall for particular meetings.

Attractive Items on Display at Pars Museum

Some of the fascinating water-color paintings of Suratgar-e-Shirazy, the well-known Zand period artist, are on display here. There are beautiful calligraphic styles on old Qorans, spells, etc with high levels of artistic value. Also some very interesting armors and cold weapons (daggers and swords) are on display.

The burial place of Karim Khan Zand is also here at this pavilion. His tomb stone can be seen inside as well.

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Visit Mausoleum of Saadi | The Persian Poet in Shiraz

Mausoleum of Saadi Shirazi, The Persian Poet of 13th Century

Mausoleum of Saadi Shirazi, The Persian Poet of 13th Century

The mausoleum of Saadi, known also as the tomb of Sa’dy or Sadiyeh, is one of the major tourist attractions of Shiraz. Huge number of Iranians and non-Iranians pay a visit to this burial place and show their respect to Saadi and interest in his works, prose and poems. This Iranian poet is a globally known scholar whose words have touched many hearts across the world and wakened up many minds to take new steps in their lives to reach higher levels of humanity. The ambiance of this location is much more attractive than its architecture although it has got interesting character by itself.

A Few Words about Saadi

Saadi lived in 13th century, but he’s a man for all centuries. The rich depth of his writings and ideas with social and moral values have gone beyond time. His words have been quoted by Persian speaking people inside Iran and outside alike. Even Western sources have quoted him and continue to do so. He’s  widely recognized as one of the great masters of classical Persian literature. Some even title him second only after Ferdowsy whose position for saving the Persian Language is unparalleled and no one could even do what he did.

The reputation of Saa’i in Persian literature is because of his eloquence in using the language. After 8 centuries, his works are still easy to understand and his ideas are still admirable for the speakers of the language. His style of Farsicizing borrowed words from Arabic in Persian made it a lot easier to use those words in everyday use and understand them although Arabic was not a language of the same origin as Persian.

Saadi was a man of learning. Spending infancy and childhood without a father and going through youth in poverty and hardship never stopped him from pursuing learning. Therefore, he left his birthplace to Baghdad where Nezamieh university was the center of knowledge and many studied there in the Islamic world. Among various subjects that he studied there, he proved to be excellent in Arabic literature, Islamic sciences, history, governance, law and Islamic theology.

Saaadi was a man of traveling. Mongols invasion and unstable situation in Iran led him a lifetime of living abroad in various countries like Anatolia, Syria, Egypt,Iraq, Sindh (Today’s Pakistan), India, Central Asia, Hijaz (Today’s Saudi Arabia), etc. Eventually, after 30 years, he returned to his birthplace as an elderly man and was welcomed and highly respected.

He was titled “Sheikh” because of his knowledge and found followers who pursued his values and words.

Saadi’s Literary Works

Saadi’s Mausoleum inside a Persian Garden, Shiraz, Iran

Saadi’s Mausoleum inside a Persian Garden, Shiraz, Iran

Within two years after his return to Shiraz, Saadi wrote his two most famous books: Bustan, also known as Bostan (The Orchard) in 1257 and Golestan, known as Gulistan (The Rose Garden) in 1258. Bostan is entirely in verse introduces moral virtues and Gulistan is mainly in prose containing stories and personal anecdotes.

His works in forms of Lyrics and Odes are also well-known by the enthusiasts of Persia literature. He has created some works in Arabic as well.

I’d like to quote one of his most famous works. There are several translations of his works, but I’d rather use the one by M. Aryanpoor as below:

Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you’ve no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain!

The Construction & Architecture of the Mausoleum of Saadi

Tiles Decorating the Entrance of Saadi Mausoleum

Tiles Decorating the Entrance of Saadi Mausoleum

 

Saadi was buried in a village outside Shiraz which is now part of the city although it’s at the outskirt in a relatively poor neighborhood. Under Karimkhan-e Zand, the 18th century ruler of Shiraz, the present Saadi’s mausoleum was built to further honor him. It’s in form of a multi-sided building with a cupola on top. From outside it may look like a square structure due to its flat facade decorated with Shirazi tiles depicting tree of life in various colors. Inside, you can see the 8 corners of the building and large lamp hanging from the ceiling. His grave is beautifully carved in Persian.

Later this building was connected to another tomb of a Shirazi poet, Shurideh Shirazi by a colonnade portico. Under Reza Shah, the father of the last Shah of Iran and founder of Pahlavi dynasty, the mausoleum was restored and annexed by some newer parts. Andre Godard, the French architect had been assigned the task of restoring several historical monuments in Iran and so forth.

The Mausoleum of Saadi is located inside a garden where beautiful flowers and several cypress trees are planted to make the setting even more beautiful. A fish pond in an underground reached by some steps lead visitors to some water channels that has been in use since the time of Saadi at this place. Today there’s some fish crossing channels and coming to the center where people can see them.

Recently, as more and more people come to this place to visit Saadi’s Mausoleum and show their respect to the poet, the garden has been enlarged and can accommodate three times more visitors in it.

 

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Visit Mausoleum of Hafez the Persian Poet in Shiraz

Mausoleum of Hafez in Shiraz, Iran

Mausoleum of Hafez in Shiraz, Iran

You should visit the mausoleum of Hafez if you go to Shiraz. Hafez is the 14th century poet of Iran who was born, lived and died in Shiraz. Iran was ruled by Ilkhanid era. Shiraz exceptionally escaped the devastation and massacre of foreign Mongol invaders. Yet, living was tough and difficult for the intellectuals who wanted to express themselves and criticize the ruling system. This led Hafez to use figurative language in his works, a feature that has added to the beauty of his poems.

Father of Hafez was a wealthy merchant who died and left him and his mother in poverty. Therefore, he had to work hard and spend some time working in a bakery. However, he proceeded in learning literature and soon proved his proficiency in composing Persian poems. Many were attracted to his poems and since then he’s considered the master of Persian ghazals and no one else has been able to create such literary works.

Despite all dreadful restrictions when nobody could violate from the authority rules, Hafez used his tactfulness and brought his ideas to the public in the language of poetry without being a victim of his bold action. This quality is called “Rendy” in Persian.  He mentioned several concepts of human life in his works, but one concept has always been continually present in his works – love.

The reputation of Hafez went beyond the borders of Iran and found some followers in India. Gute, the German poet was later inspired by him. When Hafez died, he was buried in the graveyard of Shiraz. That area has been the cemetery of the city. That’s why even today there are lots of graves in that area and some family tombs can be seen in the vicinity of the mausoleum of Hafez.

The Architecture of Hafez Mausoleum

Colonnade Portico divides the garden into two parts between the entrance and the tomb itself

Colonnade Portico divides the garden into two parts between the entrance and the tomb itself

Under Karimkhan-e-Zand, a mausoleum was built to honor Hafez at his burial place with eight pillars supporting a roof made of copper. The ceiling of the mausoleum of Hafez  is decorated with mosaic works that shines in lively colors. This structure is located in a garden with family tombs on one side and a wall decorated by arches on the other side. Lots of flowers are planted and always kept in good condition by the organization in charge of maintaining the garden.

Under Reza Shah, the founder of Pahlavy dynasty, the last ruling monarchs of Iran, beginning with 1925, more redesigning of the mausoleum occurred. Andre Godard, the French architect was assigned the task of expanding and replanning the garden to make it more beautiful. As lots of visitors from inside and outside Iran go to this mausoleum everyday, more pace is needed. Therefore, the adjacent gardens have been connected through new doors recently to provide more space for the people.

A foundation of Hafez enthusiasts has got an office in the mausoleum of the poet. It’s located in a beautiful building to the west of the the main tomb. Together with the office of the mausoleum, this foundation hold exhibitions, provides information, etc to make this famous Iranian poet and poetry-related traditional arts more known to the public.

How Iranians Visit The Mausoleum of Hafez

Iranian woman praying at Hafez tomb

Iranian woman praying at Hafez tomb

 

For Iranians, visiting the Hafez tomb is like going to a relative’s tomb. The feelings, of course, are more with respect than grievance. Some bring rosewater to wash the tombstone and put some flowers on the grave. Then, they touch the tombstone with few fingers praying by reciting a chapter of Koran to ask for blessing of his soul. Some proceed to request Hafez to talk to them through his poems and tell them about the state of their lives or give them some wise advice through the words in his poems. Then, they open their eyes and open the book on any page it randomly opens and continue to read it enthusiastically.

The concepts and topics mentioned in Divan-e-Hafez, his complete works, are so life-related and overwhelmingly attractive that one connects to them easily as if the poet is living at this time and offers us his wise words in a friendly manner to enrich our lives. That’s why man y love him and keep reading his poems on a daily basis.

 

A Walking Tour of Shiraz in Half a Day

arg-e-karimkhani-citadel

arg-e-karimkhani-citadel

If you’re interested in walking and if long-distance drives have made you tired enough to long for a walking tour in Shiraz, you will enjoy this sightseeing excursion. It takes half a day and you visit 6 major sites before ending up in an enjoyable local restaurant where traditional food is served.

What I’m introducing to you at this post is the Zand Quarter that was initially built in the second half of 18th century when Karimkhan-e-Zand was ruling over most parts of Iran from Shiraz. This is the flourishing era of Shiraz when a lot was constructed and economy was thriving. The king, who preferred not to be called as such and named himself Vakil-o-Roaya (Attorney of Servants), had chosen to build a citadel in the heart of the city and ruled form there. So, you can begin your sightseeing from this spot.

1. Arg-e-Karimkhany (Karimkhan Citadel)

When you’re taking your tour to Iran, you rarely come across such a thing as an old citadel of huge size and quality in the center of a city. This is a rectangular brick-made fortress with bastion at all its corners located at the North East of Shahrdary Square. Karimkhan used to live inside this structure and ruled from this point. The stronghold appearance of this arg may make you think of anything but a presidential palace, but it has actually been such a building inside for him.

Karimkhan’s residence has got a decorative panel of glazed tiles on top of its Eastern entrance depicting Rostam, the protagonist of Shahnameh, the epic poems of Ferdosy, Iranian poet of 10th and 11th centuries. It resembles fighting against demonic forces. Inside, you’ll find a garden with orange trees and four major sections in the middle of each wing. In addition, there’s a private bath at the South East of this large courtyard that’ worth a visit.

2. Pars Museum

A View of Pars Museum Facade in Shiraz

A View of Pars Museum Facade in Shiraz

Around Arg-e-Karimkhani, there is a little park these days and the pedestrians’ street, which is in fact a roof on top of an underpass for cars driving under Zand quarter. On the other side of this street and almost at the south of the citadel, there can be seen a mall but elegant octagonal building inside a garden called Nazar.

This mansion used to be called kolah farangy (foreign hat) building too, because it seemed to be like what people used to know as a foreign hat. It has been converted into what is called Pars Museum today.

Karimkhan used to meet with the dignitaries both inside and outside Iran who came to his court for official visits. Now, it is the exhibition of exquisite Qorans, lacquer-painted boxes, beautiful paintings, etc among other stunning objects that invite visitors to spend some time there to appreciate the art of Iranians.

3. Vakil Mosque

A View of Vakil Moque in Shiraz

A View of Vakil Moque in Shiraz

Walking along the fences of Nazar garden toward East and a little before the main entrance to the bazaar, on your right-hand side, you will see a relatively broad street leading to the entrance of Vakil Mosque.

From far distance, it easily invites you to its colorful celebration of striking glazed tiles bearing beautiful floral patterns. After passing across a wide-open courtyard, you will enter the Southern Shabestan where a columned hall is hidden behind its tall entrance portal.

This hall is generously filled with pillars set in precise order and distance. They are so monochromatic that you will immediately notice the tiled ceiling leading you from the entrance to the mehrab. You won’t hues there’s such an elaborate mehrab and menbar (preacher’ seat) somewhere in this mosque when you were strolling at the courtyard.

4. Vakil Bathhouse

Inside Vakil Bathhouse in Shiraz during a Carpet Exhibition

Inside Vakil Bathhouse in Shiraz during a Carpet Exhibition

 

This public bath is a few meters to the West of Vakil Mosque. You will find interesting architecture of Zand Era as well as tasteful decoration of cultural authorities of Shiraz in it.

The vax statues of people from all walks of life living during that period, tells you more about life in 18th century Iran. You will learn about different parts of a typical public bath as it used to be.

This bath used to had been converted into a restaurant and then an exhibition of Persian rugs. Eventually, it’s been decided to use it as a museum in which traditional bath ambiance is introduced.

5. Vakil Bazaar & Sara-ye-Moshir

Just go back to the main street where you were walking from Pars Museum toward East and walk a bit further on the same direction to get to the main entrance of the bazaar. You will reach a point where on both Northern and Southern sides of the street, you will find entrance to Shiraz bazaar. Which one is the more exotic for most of the visitors? The Southern one does. It’s got very colorful shops and aromatic atmosphere thanks to the herb shops at the beginning of its passageway. The Northern one is the section where most of the local people go to for shopping necessary items of an ordinary lower middle-class family. It has its own charm as well. If your time allows, you may want to explore this one as well.

You will be amaze by the fascinating high-arched ceilings of Vakil Bazaar at the Southern section. Soon after you enter, there’s a chaharsoo, a dome with four directions underneath. It gives you an idea of the passageways crossing the main one offering similar items, workshops, warehouses, etc. Proceed to the end of this passageway and you will see dozens of fabric stores selling glittering materials usually Qashqai nomads go to Shiraz to buy to make their traditional costume.

At the end, turn left and walk less than 10 meters to find an entrance on the left that leads to the astonishing set of stores offering Iranian traditional handicrafts from carpets to enamel works, from inlaid wood-works to copper-made items, etc. This colorful place I called Sara-ye-Moshir.

This section is an impressive part of the bazaar easily distinguishable for its charming tile works and the pool in the middle of its courtyard. Several types of handicrafts from Fars province can be found here.

6. Eat in Sara-ye-Mehr Restaurant

This is a traditional restaurant inside Sara-ye-Moshir. The ambiance and decoration are like Iranian teahouses in the past couple of centuries. Traditional food is served including kebabs, stews as well as Dizi, traditional broth. The food is delicious and your dining experience will keep you in the same traditional mood of the past. You may feel you eat during Zand period!

Half Day Tour Ends Here!

This walking tour is very appealing to most of the foreign travelers. You will enjoy it and feel you’ve seen plenty of Iran in the 18th and 19th centuries. You will be immersed into the local culture so much that you may forget this country has changed! I’m sure you will get a strong impression of the pat as well as today’s traditional Iranian lifestyle. So, take this walking tour of Shiraz in half a day and get acquainted with what’s out there.

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Visit Shapur Cave and Get Hugely Surprised

Shapur Statue inside Shapur Cave

Shapur Statue inside Shapur Cave

This cave is located on the heights overlooking Chogan Valley, about 6 km from the ancient city of Bishapur in the south of Iran. Shiraz is one of the cities from where you can start your trip to get there.

Now imagine you’re up there. What appears in front of your eyes is a huge statue standing in front of you not far ahead. He’s Shapur I, the second king of the Sassanid Empire. Yes, it’s really surprising to see such a huge statue in a cave at the top of a mountain. But it’s not the only thing that can surprise you.

Sculptures and rock reliefs have formed an outstanding part of Sassanid art. Although such carvings benefited less popularity at those times as compared to the other ancient periods, they’ve done the best in depicting some significant figures and events.

What You Need to Get to Shapur Cave

  • Because of the steppe climate in this region, you’ll need cotton clothes in light colors if you want to be there in spring or summer. But if your trip is in fall or winter, you’ll need warm clothes. The annual precipitation is very low in this region but to be assured of your comfort, have a raincoat with yourself.
  • You’ll need suitable and comfortable footwear because you have to go up the carved stairs with about 230 treads to get to the entrance of the cave. Or you can hike the steep slope of the mount if you wish. It can be challenging but you don’t need to be a professional mountain climber.
  • Have a bottle of water with yourself. There’s no access to drinking water in the cave. It takes about an hour and a half to get there. It’s rather a long way and makes you tired and thirsty.

Now It’s Time to See the Real Surprise

Shapur Statue inside Shapur Cave

Shapur Statue inside Shapur Cave

So, to see the real surprise, you have to reach a cave which is located at a height of about 800 meters above the mountain foot. The entrance of the cave is about 30 meters wide and 15 meters high, and its length is about 450 meters from the entrance to the end. It’s called Shapur cave because the enormous statue of Shapur I is there.

Yes, this remarkable manifestation of Sassanid art is so impressive. The height of this statue is about 7 meters and the shoulders are more than 2 meters wide. It’s carved out of a stalagmite in this limestone cave and dates back to about 17 centuries ago. It’s the only sculpture this large remaining from the ancient times in Iran.

Shapur I was one of the most powerful Persian kings who achieved great victories against the Romans. In his last war with the Romans in early 260 A.D., he arrested the Roman Emperor and imprisoned him in the ancient city of Bishapur, 6 km from the cave, and therefore, the Roman Empire was dominated for a long time. This victory attracted attention of the civilized world of the day to the power of the Sassanid Empire.

Other Attractions in and around Shapur Cave

  • There are two pieces of stone inscription cut in the wall of the cave. One of them dates back to the ancient times in Sassanid period. It is the translation of a piece of inscription attributed to Shapur. The other one belongs to the contemporary times and talks about how the statue was raised again after about 14 centuries in 1957. It was pulled down after the Arabs invasion of Iran and the collapse of Sassanid dynasty.
  • As you go further into the cave, you can see two water reservoirs dug in stone. They are about one meter deep and have stairs for access to water. Water dripping from the ceiling of the cave was collected in these ponds. The locals used to provide drinking water from these ponds.
  • There is a beautiful flowstone by the reservoirs on the left. At the back of this flowstone, you can see some of most eye-catching stalactites and stalagmites.
  • As you explore in depth of the cave, you encounter a very large hole in the floor with a diameter of about 100 meters. It reminds you of dry lakes. It’s about 30 meters deep from the front hall floor.
  • Passing the hole, on the left, there’s a flat area partially created by locals. It seems it was used as a spot for ceremonies or offering sacrifices. The height of the ceiling in this hall is about 40 meters. It’s the highest point of the cave’s ceiling.

It’s said that the dead body of Shapur I is buried somewhere in this cave. There is also another legend narrated by the locals about this issue. It says that Shapur, being defeated in a war, took refuge in this cave. Since then he has been disappeared and his body has never been found.

These are not the only wonderful attractions in the region. You can take a tour to visit the other ancient spots near Shapur cave. Among them all, I suggest visiting the ancient city of Bishapur and Chogan Valley rock-reliefs. There you can learn much more about Sassanid art and get hugely surprised, too.