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Published: February 3rd 2019
Masjed-e Nasir-al-Molk, Shiraz
With the morning light flooding in, the mosque's main prayer hall is a kaleidoscope of colour.
Just like the irony of there being no beef madras
, there is no shiraz
to be found in Shiraz. A place that once produced some of the finest wine in the world, Iran's 300 pre-revolution wineries have now been reduced to zero. We are in the Islamic Republic after all and as such, there is not a drop of alcohol to be (legally) found in the country, outside of the small Iranian Christian communities that live here.
Not that this should put anyone off visiting Shiraz, of course - my next destination has many a sight worth seeing. Oh, does it just.
Now when I think about every place I have been in on New Year's Day over the years, the list is a microcosm of all my travels; London, Dubai
, Berlin (twice), Dahab
. This year, it was Yazd, Iran. Where will I be next year?
Like it was a couple of years ago, New Year's Day this time around was a travel day and I had company on my bus from Yazd to Shiraz in the form of Kristina and Konstantinos. I had hung out with Kristina in every place I had visited so
The ruins of the old Apadana Palace in Persepolis.
far in Iran, while I only met Konstantinos for the first time the previous night during our random foreigner's New Year's Eve 'celebration'
. It's always nice to be able to talk to people and exchange stories to break up a journey, one that was pretty uneventful. The passing countryside was beautiful though, encompassing snow-capped mountains and vast desert.
As we rolled into Shiraz, my first impressions were that it was a bit of a crusty place. It seemed dirty and busy, choked with that infamous Iranian traffic. It reminded me of a dusty Indian town.
The area around the hostel was quite old, quite poor and looked a little sketchy.
Waiting for us at the hostel, was Jasir and Niccolo, both originals from our crew in Tehran
. Also waiting for us, was Jirawat, who has also pretty much followed me all the way through Iran as well.
It was Jasir's last night in Iran, so he took us out for a celebratory meal at a traditional restaurant that had some rather loud live music. We ordered a range of dishes to share, of which the seafood stir fry was amazing. It was so good that we ordered a second one!
Kristina, Konstantinos and
Aramgah-e Shah-e Cheragh, Shiraz
The quite magnificent and underrated shrine dedicated to Sayyed Mir Ahmad.
I were up early the next day as we went to check out the first of the two main sights that people come to Shiraz to see; the ancient city of Persepolis.
The city was established more than 2,500 years ago in 515 BC as the ceremonial capital of the First Persian Empire. All that is left are its ruins and I was keen to see how it would stack up to other ruined cities I have seen over the years, such as Knossos
To be honest, it probably wasn't as impressive as other ruins I have visited but it was made up for by a very informative tour guide and VR goggles which brought the place to life.
The guide was well worth it as she explained everything we were seeing, bringing meaning to all the structures and slabs of rocks that we were looking at. In particular, she spent a lot of time at the main bas-reliefs that depicted people from all over the empire bringing gifts to Persepolis, identifying where all the various figures on the wall were from by their clothes, gifts and characteristics. She was also able to translate some of the ancient
Pink Mosque, Shiraz
The beautiful vaulted ceilings - which are of course, pink - which are just off the main courtyard at the Pink Mosque is often overlooked with many visitors going straight into the prayer hall.
inscriptions for us too. It was just a shame that it was freezing cold while we stood attentively trying to absorb all the information she was giving us.
The VR goggles however, were something else. At designated points of the site, putting them on would allow you to experience a digital simulation of what your surroundings would’ve looked like in their heyday. I was really surprised by the scale, elaborateness and the colour of the city, back in its pomp. It was quite the spectacular experience. It was funny too, seeing tourists looking into pairs of goggles and shouting "Wow!", as they twisted their necks up, down and around to experience the simulation from all the different angles.
And for a blockbuster sight, it was ridiculously cheap; 2€ entry fee, 6€ for a guide (just 1.50€ each between four people - we also had a Japanese girl from the hostel in our group) and a further 6€ (1.50€ between four) for the two pairs of VR goggles.
After our visit to Persepolis, our taxi driver then took us to Naqsh-e Rostam, which is the ancient city's necropolis. Although the tall, refined carvings into the cliffs were impressive, one would find
Hafez's Tomb, Shiraz
The resting place of the old poet is a site of pilgrimage for many Iranians and is also a great place to relax.
them rather average if one has been to Petra
The trip out to Persepolis only took half the day, so we still had the rest of it to walk around the city a bit once we got back into Shiraz.
Bumping into Niccolo as we got into our cab, we went out to Hafez’s Tomb. Hafez - full name Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī - was a 14th-century poet who is revered as a national hero by Iranians and this was in evidence at his tomb, where locals were queuing up to get inside. It is set in some lovely gardens full of orange trees with the tomb located underneath a marble rotunda. It is a tradition for one to visit Hafez's tomb to ask for guidance at a difficult point in one's life, before opening up and reciting a random Hafez poem in order to receive an answer. The handsome surrounds and the pleasant din of chatter makes it a great place to come and relax, chat or ponder.
We then walked through the Vakil Bazaar on the way back to the hostel; I have to say that Shiraz's bazaar wasn't too different to the other Iranian bazaars
Still Shiraz's main commercial hub.
I had already seen, apart from having higher ceilings. Despite it being in the early evening however, the bazaar still serves as a community hub and was still quite busy despite the hour.
The bazaar is a great insight into local life, as was the local fresh food market just around the corner from the hostel. Selling fresh fish and fruit - I wonder where they source the fish from given that Shiraz is fairly far from the sea - the place was lively and it reminded me of markets I saw in India.
I have to say that I quite enjoyed strolling around Shiraz that afternoon and evening - chatting with my German, Greek and Italian friends was rather fun.
We had been told by all and sundry that the
place to go and have dinner was at Haft Khan, so Konstantinos, Niccolo and i decided to go check it out. A massive eating complex, it had four different floors; on the top floor they served barbecued meat, the first floor served international cuisine and the ground floor was a buffet. We opted however for the basement, which served traditional Iranian food.
Walking into the restaurant I was
Haft Khan, Shiraz
The swankiest restaurant that I ate at in Iran.
a little blown away - it was by far the swankiest restaurant I’ve eaten at in Iran. Walking in there was like walking into some sort of exclusive, modern harem. With the modern yet traditional curtained day beds to sit crossed-legged on - a real challenge for me - but with a stylishly white colour scheme, it perfectly blended old and new and the setting was luxurious. A traditional band and dancers kept all the punters entertained.
I’m not sure if it was the fact that my lamb tahchin
was heavy fare or if it was the uncomfortable eating position I was in - lying on my side like an Roman emperor being fed grapes - but I wasn’t able to finish my meal. The rose soda I had however, gets full marks. In all honesty the food wasn’t the best I’ve had in Iran but it was definitely my most memorable Iranian dining experience.
It was another early start for Kristina, Konstantinos and I, as timing is everything in terms of the second of the two main sights that everyone comes to Shiraz to see; the Masjed-e Nasir-al-Molk, or more colloquially, the “Pink Mosque”. It is without exaggeration,
Madraseh-ye Khan, Shiraz
The portal of this theological college is stunning.
one of Iran’s most spectacular sights and a photographer's dream. The indoor courtyard is elegant, but nothing special - it is inside the main prayer hall where things get decidedly colourful.
On one side of the hall, are several arches of stained glass windows and when the morning sun filters through them, it gloriously illuminates the room, the carpets, the columns and the walls - it is simply a stunning photograph to take. We were among the first lot of people to arrive at around 7.45am and people were very respectful of where they were, sitting in almost complete silence while we waited for the sun’s first rays to shine through. Everyone stayed on one side of the room, so that everybody could get a clean shot of the beautiful colours without any tourists spoiling the picture. Clouds blocked the sun as more and more people arrived but at around 8.20am, the sun returned and lit up the room in all its glory. Only then did people start showing their narcissistic side by taking selfies in the stained glass shadows. I mean, if you don't post a selfie on Instagram, were you even there? In any case, it was definitely
Probably the most well kept and elegant of the gardens I visited in Shiraz.
worth getting up early for.
Konstantinos and I then decided to visit the nearby Bagh-e Naranjestan, since we were in the area. Highly acclaimed, it was the probably the best garden I visited in Shiraz and the Naranjestan-e Ghavam Pavilion inside it was very elegant with its impressive mirrored balcony. We had the entire place to ourselves which was surprising, given how close it was to the Pink Mosque and its hordes of morning tourists.
After some helva
for breakfast and some chill time at the hostel, Konstantinos and I then checked out Shiraz’s remaining sights of interest; the Bagh-e Nazar and the Pars Museum which were both average, the Vakil Mosque which was elegant and provided some great photo opportunities with its 48 columns in its prayer hall, and the Hammam-e Vakil which gave a pretty good idea of what a traditional Persian hammam
would’ve been like, with lighting and mannequins.
That night, my crew then split up for the last time. I really enjoyed the company I had in Shiraz; I mentioned in my previous blog entry that it takes a certain type of person to travel to Iran solo over the Christmas and New Year
Eram Gardens, Shiraz
The old palace within the gardens was probably the best thing about them.
holidays so it was easy for us all to find common ground and we were all pretty chilled. Kristina, Niccolo and I had tracked each other all the way from Tehran and it was really cool to keep bumping into them. We had some good laughs! Konstantinos was fun to hang out with too. I'm sure I will be seeing some of them again soon - Kristina also lives in Berlin and Konstantinos is going to visit in three months so we don't have any excuses not to, really!
While everyone else left Shiraz, I still had a full day left in the city.
My plan was basically to eat and relax; but it turned out that none of the restaurants I wanted to go to are open on a Friday and I ended up walking all over the city between them. Inside the bazaar, didn't recognise it while walking around inside, as looks and feels so different, like some ghost town, with all the shops closed. .
After finally finding somewhere to have lunch, I ended up being pretty close to the Eram Gardens so thought I might as well go and visit them. They were nice, particularly
The old gateway into Shiraz.
in front of the garden's palace where locals were loading up on selfies. The gardens were busy, as it seemed that everyone else in Shiraz thought that having a relaxing stroll in elegant surrounds was the perfect way to spend a day off.
Therefore I decided to get out of there and try to get rid of some of the stacks of Iranian rials
that I still had on me by taking a taxi to the Quran Gate. Chatting to the driver also allowed me to meet yet another friendly local, of which there have been many in Shiraz.
This was no exception at the Quran Gate - a set of arches through which one would traditionally pass before embarking on a journey - as a number of locals approached me for a chat, wondering where I was from, trying in very broken English to ask me my thoughts on their city and welcoming me warmly to Shiraz. I felt humbled by the people of Shiraz - while not my favourite city in Iran, it definitely had the country's friendliest people, which in a country full of honest and welcoming folks, is saying something.
There are parks to chill in
Masjed-e Vakil, Shiraz
The main mosque inside the bazaar has this forest of 48 columns which really lends itself to a picture.
at the Quran Gate (unfortunately divided by a very wide and busy road) and two hills that you can walk up to get decent views over the city.
In my taxi back to the hostel, the taxi driver was very chatty despite being barely able to speak English and it turned out that the place I told him to take me to was not the place I wanted to go. Using Google Maps, I then manage to direct him back to the hostel. He kept wanting to ask me a question all the way there however and I had no idea what he was trying to ask; my attempts at clarifying his question didn't seem to help whatsoever. There was an urgency behind his question however, which was enough for me to invite him into the hostel reception when we arrived so that I could get the guys working there to translate.
After speaking to the guys at the reception, I ask them what he was trying tell me.
"He thinks you are lost", I am told, "he just wanted to help you."
Awww, bless him. I tipped him generously for his trouble. I thought the whole episode summed
Not A Bad Front Porch
The front porch of Aramgah-e Shah-e Cheragh in Shiraz.
up Iranians, really.
I was told to visit the Aramgah-e Shah-e Cheragh at night so that was what I did on my final evening in Shiraz. Aramgah
means “shrine” in Farsi and this particular one is dedicated to Sayyed Mir Ahmad, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, who was martyred on this site.
From the outside, I deduced that it was a reasonably large complex and that it was important too, as security was tight for anyone entering. While it was free for anyone to enter, I had to leave my camera in the depository.
Once inside, it is fair to say that I was blown away - the complex’s courtyards are vast and the scale of the place was completely unexpected. There are two main shrines - non-Muslims aren’t allowed inside them apparently but I could see their mirrored interiors and the tomb inside the main shrine from the outside - and they are both beautiful. The porches of both shrines and the complex’s mosque are gorgeous and some of the tile work is stunning. The complex really should rank as one of Shiraz’s top three blockbuster sights along with the Pink Mosque and Persepolis. It certainly helped
Arg-e Karim Khan, Shiraz
This old citadel dominates the city centre. You might notice that the tower in the foreground is sunk into the ground a little and is therefore at an angle.
Shiraz to endear itself to me.
Walking past the Karim Khan Citadel - where one of the citadel’s four towers is sunken a la The Leaning Tower Of Pisa
- I have to say that in contrast to my first impressions of the place, Shiraz’s city centre is actually quite nice. While it has nothing on Isfahan’s Naqsh-e Jahan Square
, it does have its own character.
In terms of neighbourhoods, Eram would be Shiraz’s wealthy residential district while the area just northeast of the citadel would be the upmarket, non-residential area with a little bit of ‘nightlife’. This was where I found Ghavam, the restaurant in which I would have my final meal in Shiraz.
For starters, I ordered the koofteh holoo
(Persian meatballs) which came with a delicious sauce, although the meatballs themselves were slightly weird - they had a slightly powdery interior texture which was strange but I liked the raisins put inside them. I then had a juje kebab
that had been marinated in lemon and saffron - I would rate it just above average.
As for the restaurant itself, this tiny joint seemed quite fashionable, the homemade cooking drawing a younger crowd as well as tourists.
And like everywhere else in
Shiraz has quite a few pleasant pedestrian areas in the city centre, such as this one outside the Aramgah-e Shah-e Cheragh.
Iran, the wait staff were super-keen to take your finished plates and cutlery away, even before you have finished! Iranian restaurants in general are often like Chinese ones; very much get-‘em-in, get-‘em -out operations with food that is served just a little bit too
quickly. In saying that, Iranians don't tend to muck around when it comes to food and they chow down their meals pretty swiftly.
Overall, I'd say that Shiraz is probably my least favourite city of the four I have visited; it hasn’t been as much of a pleasure to walk around as Isfahan, it lacks the character of Yazd’s old town and it doesn’t have the big city buzz of Tehran. I didn’t find the sights particularly spectacular apart from the Pink Mosque although this may have been down to the fact that I was now almost at the end of my trip by which time I had already seen a few mosques, gardens and bazaars. I was pretty much over it all.
The city did eventually grow a little on me however, the extra day doing a good job of exposing me to different areas of the city rather than just the crumbling neighbourhood
Hammam-e Vakil, Shiraz
The mannequins inside were a little hilarious but otherwise this old hammam cum museum gave you a good feel of the atmosphere that once existed here when it still served as a bathhouse.
in which I was staying.
Shiraz is the last city I am visiting on this particular tour so it makes sense for me to give my thoughts on Iran overall.
For me, the thing that sticks out the most when I look back on my time in Iran, has to be its people. Unlike many other countries, the locals here are genuinely welcoming and curious and no-one is really trying to hard-sell you anything either. Even the ones who do have something to sell you under their sleeve, back off politely once you have declined their offer.
They are also honest people, which made it easy for me to trust them. Having your mind at ease in this respect makes a world of difference in terms of how much you enjoy a country. They're super-chilled too, not necessarily a trait you associate with those from the Middle East.
And Iranians are also the friendliest people in the Middle East; I had been told by just about everyone who has been here that this was the case and it is completely true.
Yet sadly, after all my experiences on the road it’s difficult to shake off being instantly suspicious or
In arguably Shiraz's most popular restaurant, I went for lamb tahchin; basically a rice cake that is mixed with lamb on the inside and is crispy on the outside.
cynical about any local stranger approaching you wanting a chat. This is an unfortunate by-product of having being hassled so much by locals when travelling all these years, that I don't think I will ever shake off. I sometimes act like a real arsehole when I suspect someone just wants my money, which is regrettable.
After two weeks in Iran it felt like a good time to be leaving. I think the amount of time I spent in Iran has been perfect; staying any longer will have been too long.
It is not quite over yet however, as I still have a few hours to kill in Tehran on the way back to Berlin - enough for me to bring you one last entry from this wonderful country.
زود میبینمت (zood mibinamet),
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