Friday, July 06, 2012

Shiraz and Persepolis

The overnight bus to Shiraz took 8 hrs, none of which allowed me any sleep so when I finally got to my next hosts' place early in the morning, we all immediately went back to sleep, introductions delayed for a few more hours. My hosts, a couple my age, were really easy-going and while Shiraz was also a busy stop for me, it was probably the most relaxing place I stayed as well. Esfahan and Shiraz are the 2 most famous cities in the country for tourists, and there is something of a rivalry between them as to which is better but everyone in Iran agrees that the Shirazis are the most laid-back (lazy) and fun people in the country.
Shiraz and surrounding area have a very long history with many peaks in importance. I'm still fuzzy on all the different Iranian dynasties and what was going on when, but there are a few that stand out. First, the oldest discovery of wine, a flask dating back to 7000 years was found in the area. That's a bit ironic considering that alcohol is now illegal in the country.
Internationally the most famous archeological site in the country is Persepolis, the old capital of Darius the Great from about 2500 years ago. It was the capital of one of the biggest and most influencial empires the world had known until it was destroyed completely by Alexander the Great ~300BC.
I went with my host and a Dutch couple (that my host knew through couchsurfing) to Persepolis early in the morning to try and beat the heat and tourists. I needn't've worried. There are not many tourists these days and at 35C the temperature was much more reasonable and bearable than Ahvaz. In fact, starting the trip at 50C turned out to be a very good idea because it never got close to that hot again and everywhere else seemed pleasant afterwards.



Some ancient writing.

More ruins.

Overlooking the central part of Persepolis.

Persepolis is very nice. Perhaps not the most intact site in the world, but quite a lot still remains of the pillars and reliefs and the setting is pretty impressive, with a large staircase carved into the stone leading up to a flattened area at the base of a hill still elevated over the surrounding plain. The ruins of Persepolis are only the remains of the majestic capital buildings and palaces of the city which would've stood out above the rest of the city below. There are also a couple of tomb facades carved into the hill behind. We spent a couple hours walking around before continuing to Naqsh-e Rustam, 12km away.
In a way it's just a continuation of the whole thing because it is a site where the kings of Persepolis were buried. You can see the facades of their tombs carved into the side of a hill and some more impressive reliefs as well. It was a great day.

The tombs at Naqsh-e Rustam.

Back in Shiraz there was also lots to see and do. Shirazis say that their city is the centre of Persian culture because it was home to 2 of the greatest poets in Persian history, Hafez and Sa'di. Both of them have large tombs set in nice gardens and a visit there is akin to a pilgrimmage to many Iranians. Gardens and poetry are big things in their culture and the people are very proud of both. It's always interesting to see how my visits to different far-flung and seemingly unrelated places can connect and as another example, I was constantly told that Hafez was reverred by Goethe, who I had been learning about not long before in Germany.

Hafez' tomb.

Sa'di's tomb.

Shiraz citadel with it's crooked tower.

Shiraz is considered the 3rd most holy city in Iran (despite being so liberal) in large part because of the Shah Cheragh Shrine which was built to commemorate the brother of Imam Reza, whose shrine is in Mashad, the holiest city, up in the northeast of Iran. My visit to this shrine was my first in depth look at the religion here in Iran and I was blown away. I generally like mosques and find them relaxing and have visited many so have come to recognize the various aspects and styles common to different areas. Iran has a completely different style. Some of it is simply the Persian style and others related to the Shia sect but I'm not sure which is which. For one thing they love tile-work and some of the decoration is extremely ornate and gaudy, especially some of interior domes, which are completely covered with small glass mirrors and reflect the light in ways that make you get dizzy and feel like you're about to be sucked into outer space. Unfortunately most of these shrines and mosques (and quite a few museums too) don't allow you to take photos inside.
I knew Shiites were different from Sunnis but I wasn't sure how exactly because Iran is really the only country that is completely Shiite. Historically they diverged early when they decided to follow the bloodline of the prophet Mohammed instead of the Caliphs, as everyone else did. There were 12 Imams (religious leaders) that followed before the 12th disappeared and is believed to be waiting to come back again like the 2nd coming of Christ. They only pray 3 times a day instead of 5 and also do their prayers and ablutions differently as well. The ablution is a simpler and quicker one and when they pray they press their head onto a small disc instead of directly to the floor. I'm still discovering differences all the time but it's difficult as most of the people I've met and have been hanging out with do not pray or consider themselves religious.

Entrance to the Shah Cheragh shrine.

Vakil Mosque.

Detail of the "Red" mosque.

Shiraz also served as the capital of Iran during the Zand dynasty and a citadel was built as well as some other historic buildings. The bazaar is quite large, clean and hassle-free and I found it nice to just wander along the covered lanes discovering caravansarais and mosques tucked away in corners of the market. Shiraz is a nice place but the city is very spread out and I never managed to figure out where I was in relation to anything else and had to heavily rely on my hosts for directions. It doesn't help that I have no maps to start with. I needed a lot more time to explore but after a few days it was back on the road again. Next stop, Kerman.

I had to laugh at this air conditioner in the bus for the driver.



At 1:03 PM , Blogger marjan said...

Good post about Shiraz and Iran... hope you come back one day to land of Persia! Miss you!


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