This is my third and last week in Iran. So far with my tour group of 12, we have traveled 3,300 kilometers by bus from Yazd, where we came by plane from Tehran, crossing deserts and mountains (Zagros Mountains), passing by fields of wheat and orchards of pomegranate and figs to Isfahan.
Yazd is an oasis city that was once a capital, and is still part of the ancient trade route from Asia to the Middle East and beyond. Marco Polo stopped here. It was a center of Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion whose prophet Zoroaster (unknown dates but now judged to be around 1200 BC) promoted monotheism (one God) and the fight against evil, the afterlife and the day of judgment. It was a state religion in pre-Islamic times.
Despite being in a desert, Yazd is green and shady with a noted Persian garden, an 11th century mosque with tall towers and a famous gold bazaar. Fittingly we were billeted at a former residence cum garden which is now a famous Yazd garden hotel with tessellated or honey-combed ceilings, hand-painted tiles, and a garden with pomegranate trees, canals with running water and two parrots where we took our meals.
Our next stop was Kenmar where we visited two 11th century mosques, each stunning us with their artistry of hand-painted tiles, towers, courtyards of enormous size and carpeted prayer rooms. The Kenmar Bazaar was a distinct complex that comes from centuries ago. Incorporated in its huge building of four wings were a water reservoir, baths, a mint aside from commercial stalls. We had tea in part of the baths now converted into a tea room. It has elaborate marble floors, beautifully decorated entrances with hand-painted tiles. While in Kenmar, we visited an 11th century citadel. It had a knife/scissors workshop at work. I bought a knife with a sheep horn handle. In the middle of the desert that we were traveling we stopped by another Persian Garden, one of the ten true Persian gardens left in Iran. It was impressive with its size and ascending order of canals, fountains, cypress trees. It is a wonder how in the middle of desert conditions water is available from the mountains through subterranean canals that provide water for pistachio fields, and pomegranate and fig orchards that we saw along the way, and herds of large dark brown sheep. We also visited a carpet workshop in a small town where we met a weaver who was working on a six meter wide carpet, with a weft on a large loom over six feet tall and a substantial finished product that had taken two years to put together and was still going. In a sing-song voice she described her work expressing spirituality, identity, craftsmanship as she elaborated on how they weave. Indeed, the place with its barrio-type atmosphere of a labyrinthine walk to her home, the number of women involved in carpet-making and the elation they felt at our visit as well as the quiet pride and identity they exuded as weavers reminded me of our own weaving communities here.
Next city was Shiraz, where we visited Persepolis, the capital built by Darius the Great and his descendants, carved into a mountain. It is still not clear what it’s purpose was, if it was beyond ceremonial or a ritual place.
But it is huge with ruins of palaces and temples, workshops and military avenues overlooking a vast valley. In carved stone it tells the history of the Persian Empire and the people who were part of it. It was the Greeks under Alexander the Great (who came and destroyed it in revenge against Darius, an enemy) who named it Persepolis, City of the Persians. In 1971, Persepolis celebrated 2,500 years of Iranian civilization. The structures for the huge tents set in the valley below the complex can still be seen. Nearby are tombs built into the mountains with elaborate rock carvings depicting kings and their victories from ancient times. The carvings are larger than life and depict the spectrum of historical events of the time of Persepolis.
Shiraz is known from the past as the city of roses and nightingales. I may not recognize a nightingale if I saw one but roses there certainly were – in live gardens and in hand-painted tiles of the mosques. We visited the tomb of the famous Persian poet, Hafez, set in a beautiful Persian garden. His tomb is in carved marble with his verses on it.
The Shiraz Bazaar was the usual exciting conglomeration of people, goods and workshops. Painted boxes, backgammon sets, silver jewelry, textiles from brocade to stamped Persian cloth, ceramics, Iranian signature items like pistachios, saffron, pomegranates, spices, electronics even. While walking around, a family spotted me as an obvious tourist and asked me to pose for a photo with them which of course I was flattered to do. Next, they asked me to hold their baby for another photo (with grandmother, parents included). My traveling companion was so fascinated by this hospitable, spontaneous and warm interaction, she forgot to take a photo and record it.
Shiraz is an iconic city in both history and legend.
The final chapter about this exciting journey through one of the world’s great countries next week.