Shiraz - The Heart of Persia


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February 29th 2016
Published: February 29th 2016
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Yazd to Shiraz


PersepolisPersepolisPersepolis

Xerxes Gate
Day 36 Tuesday 23rd February 2016



Well our time in Yazd has been great (except for me being half dead) but we now need to move on. The hotel we are staying in has been fabulous but what is weird that there has been hardly anyone else staying here, and on this last morning we were the only ones in the hotel and they made up a special breakfast just for us. The hotel (being an historical home) actually has lots of tours walking through and on this last morning it was no exception. After brekkie we packed our bags, checked out and got a taxi to the bus station. We had to redeem our voucher from yesterday for real tickets and at the bus company counter we encountered perhaps the most apathetic and unfriendly staff we have ever come across, after encountering endless lovely people in Iran it actually came as a real shock; maybe we got them on a bad day? The bus was supposed to leave at 10.15, but we couldn’t board till 10.30 and then they had to do some running repairs on the dashboard and shortly after leaving the terminal we
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Statue of Shapur
pulled over again for more work, but this time on the motor. Was going to get out and offer some help but didn’t really want to discover what holds Iranian buses together. It was another 30 minutes before we were underway again and thankfully our trip today was relatively uneventful.



The interior of the bus was a bit shabby but we had the biggest seats we have ever seen on a bus and the leg room was incredible, with my legs fully stretched my feet were barely under the seat in front; why can’t travel on planes by like this? The only downside from this trip was that the driver had the air con on heat and it quickly turned the bus into an oven to the point passengers were going up and complaining to the driver, who would flick it to cool for a while and then back to heat and back again all the way through the trip. The scenery was fairly spectacular as we left Yazd with lots of snow peaked mountains around and we passed over a couple of high passes near the snow line.



Despite leaving an hour late
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Stained Glass Interior
from Yazd, we managed to arrive at the city of Shiraz at 4.30 and got dumped at the bus terminal and left to the mercy of the taxi drivers. The second question any taxi driver in the world will ask you after “where do you want to go” is “have you a booking at that hotel”. Despite us lying and saying that we had a booking when we didn’t they still wanted to talk us into staying at another hotel which they obviously get a commission from. Got through that badgering okay and managed to organise a ride to the hotel but a group of them wanted to take us on tours around the area tomorrow, so straight away we know we are in more of a tourist town.



Got dropped at the Eram Hotel where we are staying and as we got our back packs on Shelley’s scarf fell of her head and she got some pretty shocked looks from the locals. We managed to snag a cheap room for 4 nights, but before getting to the room they gave us a pot of complimentary tea which was lovely and after that had a talking to
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Bas Relief of Shapur
from the hotel tour guide who wanted to sign us up for tours; just give us a break. He scribbled a few names of sites on a scrap of paper and a price, but it was illegible and then did not even give us that so we could discuss it. I don’t think they understand how after a long bus trip the last thing you want to be doing is hearing long winded spiels about tours. We dropped our stuff of in our room and then went for a walk down the road for dinner, I still wasn’t feeling well and so we didn’t walk too far. Our only choices for food was hamburger joints so chose one that turned out to be a big mistake, I still don’t have any taste but Shelley verified that it truly was tasteless.



Went back to our room to relax afterwards and enjoy some WiFi. At 9.45 at night the tour guy from the hotel rang to ask us again if we wanted to do a tour and that was despite us telling him we didn’t want to do one tomorrow but would talk to him in the morning about
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Shelley waiting with our bags
the following day; I guess we won’t now.





Day 37 Wednesday 24th February 2016



We are guessing you don’t come to this town for food, and breakfast proved it, the saying a hot mess comes to mind. Just a quick sample of the culinary delights grey cubed meat (not sure), fried eggs mashed up and thrown in a serving dish and the pot of tea we got had a big crack in it so most of it leaked on the table – yum yum. Thankfully there was feta and tomatoes which were good.



We walked straight to Pars Tours to organise the trips to sites outside the city and got great information and one of the guides was in the office and explained all the different sites. We already had an idea of what we wanted to see and they had it covered, we booked two full day of tours and contemplating a third day, (but in the end we left it at two).



Happy we are sorted for the next couple of days we started our walk around the town, the entry prices
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Scenery from our bus
to museums and historical sites have gone up considerably as everywhere in Iran, so some places we just looked from the outside. We walked passed the Arg-e Karim Khan which is a fortress built in 1766 during the Zand period, time is starting to play havoc on one of the towers which is on a big lean as it is subsiding into an underground cistern. The city is not overly attractive but then you turn and see a square with colourful shops and through a doorway to an ornate mosque, in this case it is Masjed-e Vakil, it is undergoing major renovations but you can still see its beauty. The mosque was built between 1751 and 1773 also in the Zand period, the prayer hall has 48 ornate columns holding up the vaulted ceiling. The 14 step minbar was carved from one giant slab of marble that came from Azerbaijan, glad I was not the camel who had to carry that. The tiles are mainly floral in design with a lot of pinks and blues, it must have been something in its day.



We kept our feet going, walking past the Madraseh-ye Khan built in 1615 which
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Leaning tower on fort
is a theological college only looking at the exterior portal unfortunately the original building was badly damaged by earthquakes and the entrance is all that has survived from this period. Onto the Masjed-e Nasir-al Molk (why are all the names so long) which is down a side street but it was closed till 2.30pm so walked till we found somewhere to have a rest and a banana milkshake. Iran does not have café where you can sit down in a quiet space, food places are usually tiny and if they have tables and chairs you are just about sitting in the next person’s lap or there is a few chairs on the footpath. We chose the footpath in the shade and did the people watching thing, continually saying hello and a quick word to the passing crowds. All day we have been talking to locals who all want to know where we are from and if we enjoying Iran, some are would-be guides but most are just curious and want to practise their English. Finally it was time to head back to see if the mosque was opened, waited a short time and the doors where opened. Masjed-e Nasir-al Molk
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Marble Minbar from Azerbaijan
was built in the 19th century and on one side of the prayer hall the wall is covered with stained glass arches which reflect light into the hall, it is very pretty. Outside there is a pond in the centre of the courtyard and in a building on the underside is the Gav Cha (Cow Well) it is a deep well with a tunnel at the side which a cow walked downhill to raise the water.



Our feet were starting to ache so headed back to the hotel to rest before the delights of dinner and our big trip tomorrow. While resting the call to prayer started the one near our hotel is beautiful and soulful, its dark outside and the sound fills the night almost making you forget the traffic noise.







Day 38 Thursday 25th February 2016



Another bad night’s sleep for me (Scott), spent half the night wheezing and coughing and of course when I had to be up I was asleep. Shelley let me sleep in while she got herself ready and then kicked me out of bed in time for a
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Interior columns
quick breakfast. Today we are off on an organised tour and our driver Reza was right on time to pick us up and take us back in time to the Sassanid period of Persian History. Never read much about Persian History and what I have seen seems fascinating but it is just all those complicated names and evolving timelines that seem too hard and so I have steered away from it.



Median Empire (728-549BC)



Achaemenid Empire (550-330BC)



Seleucid Empire (312-63BC)



Parthian Empire (247BC-224AD)



Sassanid Empire (224-651AD)



This was all followed by the Arab Conquest and another 9 Empires with names that are just too hard for an Aussie tongue. Each empire was distinctly Persian and yet uniquely different, with the Sassanid Empire being regarded as one of the strongest and most famous. Under their leader “Shapur”, the Sassanid not only held off the Roman Empire but also managed to push them back and in one stunning military action actually captured a Roman Emperor, the only people to do so. In the west little attention is given to this rich history and today
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View from Shapur Cave over the Chogan Gorge
we were hoping for a small look at it.



We started the day with a 2 hour drive across the Zagros Mountains, which offered some incredible vistas, and then it was down the mountains to the Chogan Gorge and the start of the day’s adventure. Reza sensibly stayed with the car while Michele and I took to the trail that led up a steep mountain to a cave. Today was fairly hot and the walk steep so we didn’t do too bad to get to the cave in the prescribed 1 hour 15 minutes, the last stretch up endless stairs was a killer. Inside the cave is the Tang-e Chogan a 7m high statue of Shapur himself. Some believe that he was a Zoroastrianand so therefore couldn’t be buried or cremated and that his body may have been left at the foot of this statue to rot. Some (including the LP) say that the statue was cut from a stalactite but the guide and the local stonemason say this is highly unlikely. The statue was discovered on its side in pieces and the Shah sometime in the 1970’s cast him new ugly concrete legs and propped him
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Scott with Captain pegleg
up. It’s good to see him standing but I sure wish they had done a better job on his legs, he sort of looks like a pegleg pirate. The statue isn’t monstrous, and is looking a bit worse for wear but it was well worth the effort to climb there and see a small piece of history.



The walk down took only half the time and Reza was waiting for us with a cup of tea and a quick look through a local stonemason’s workshop. Tempted to buy some of his pieces, but seriously do we need to be carrying stones around in our backpacks.



From here we drove down through the Chogan Gorge and stopped to examine the large rock carved murals that depict the life of Shapur. Particularly liked the mural depicting the transfer of power from Shapur 1 to his successor which looked so heroic with the two kings on horseback passing a wreath from one to the other. Probably wasn’t quite so romantic and more than likely blood was spilled. The murals again were fantastic but unfortunately have been damaged by a severe flood in the 1960’s.


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Close up of Shapur

The final stop on the day was the town of Bishapur, which was built by the Roman Soldiers captured by Shapur. This was also where the Roman Emperor Valerian spent the last of his days and you sort of would love to know if he was treated like garbage and worked next to his troops, was he stuck in a cage and made fun off, or was he treated like royalty, well there are conflicting theories. Sort of reckon it would have been a mixture of the first two. The Ancient town of Bishapur was large for its day and sat on an important trade crossroad, but today most is just piles of rubble. Some buildings like the Ceremonial Hall and the Temple of Anahita have been cleared and presented in a way that gives you a small idea how grand this place once was but unfortunately all work stopped here a long time ago and a lot of what is fixed is sadly disappearing again. There was also some great Roman/Persian Mosaics discovered here but sadly for Iran they are now in the Louvre Museum in Paris. On the site is a small museum (and I mean small) that
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Xerxes Gate close up
charges an additional 150,000 Rials ($7) each to visit. Just forked out 200,000 Rials ($10) to walk the site which we felt was way overpriced so we skipped the museum. We think Iran may need to tone down some of these admission prices a bit.



Regardless of the cost, it had been a great day and we continued our talk with Reza on the way home and really enjoyed his intelligent insight into ancient and modern Iran life. As an added bonus of recommendation for Reza he was perhaps the safest driver we have ever had in the Middle East and we both felt very safe in his careful hands. If you are ever in need of a driver in Shiraz ask for Reza at Pars Tours.



We got dropped back at our hotel at 5.30, which gave us enough time to wash ourselves down and head out for a feed. Shelley has started to feel like she is coming down with a sore throat and a cold so before we ate we found a chemist and got some more tablets and cough medicine so at least she can start dosing herself up. Got
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Some of the remaining columns
a great falafel roll for dinner tonight and then went down to Pars tours so we could get bus tickets for Sunday. Had to wait behind another customer for 30 minutes while he haggled a price down on a tour and then proceeded to put in a thousand and one extra demands and when all was finalised wanted to pay in another currency that is not common. The poor staff at Pars took it and helped him while I would have gladly shown him the door, with a size 10 boot to help him on his way. I still do not understand why some people have to be so difficult. Thankfully we got our tickets without any fuss and then wandered home to prepare ourselves for another tour tomorrow.







Day 39 Friday 26th February 2016



Out of bed early once again and preparing for yet another tour. A big day in history for us today as we go to Iran’s Premier tourist spot Persepolis, and a big day in history for Iran as they head off to the polling booths to vote. After our “lovely” breakfast we wandered down the road to be picked up for our tour, our tour bus today was a tiny Mitsubishi van that crammed in 10 people, which wasn’t so bad because it can seat 11. Michele with her claustrophobia thankfully got the front seat, and to make up for her prime position I got the back in the corner. Today we had a driver, a guide, a French couple, a guy from Finland, an American woman, an Iranian woman from Tehran, and Iranian man who now lives in the US, and of course us Aussies. The guide’s English wasn’t perfect but it was good enough for us and he always ensured we understood.



First stop today was at Persepolis which is located about 60 kilometres north of Shiraz. Persepolis was the main ceremonial heart of the Persian Empire during the Achaemenid period (550-330BC) and it is where the legendary Persian leaders like Darius I, Xerxes I & II held court and created magnificent palaces. It was from here that the leaders sent forth their armies into Greece and started a war that lasted for a hundred years and only ended when the Greeks invaded Persia. In 330BC Alexander the
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Persian Lion attacking a bull
Great, defeated the Persian Armies and captured Persepolis and after residing in the town for 4 months burnt it to the ground. Historians still argue to this day as to the reason for the fire and if it was accidental or deliberate, we will never know but most Iranians still hold a huge grudge against the guy, and really don’t like calling him Alexander “the great”.



Had been preparing myself to be disappointed today as I know not a lot was left standing, but it is an incredible site. Most of the palaces were constructed of stone columns up to 20m high with timber roofs, with one of the palaces having 100 columns. In places some of the columns have been re-erected but generally only the base remains. When the place caught fire it was really just the roof and as the timber burnt they came crashing down dislodging the columns. The most impressive sights are the numerous bas reliefs and the huge Xerxes Gateway. We were given a tour around the site for over an hour and then given 40 minutes to look around ourselves, which was never enough time. The place isn’t huge and doesn’t
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Tomb of Cyrus the Great
cover a large area, but you do need more time to pause and “take it all in”. We wanted to come here because of the connection with Alexander the Great as we have been to many places he has “touched”, but today we were glad to be here because this is Persia. Rather than a disappointment Persepolis was a real Gem.



Next on the tour was the Naqsh-e Rostam, which was where some of the great Persian leaders were buried. The tombs are carved from the face of a cliff similar in fashion to Petra in Jordan and here was where they laid to rest Darius I (The Great), Darius II, Xerxes I and Artaxerxes I. Scholars are still arguing over these tombs as well as to their exact purpose and how the leaders were contained inside, but apart from that they are bloody impressive. The Sassanid Empire came along 800 years later and added some extra bas reliefs below in an effort to get some added glory, and they sort of look a little out of place.



Two of our passengers left the group (which gave me more room in the back seat
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Bas relief of exchanging power
of the van) before we moved onto the last site today which was 50 kilometres further north and another 200 years back in time. Pasargadae was the Persian capital started by the first Achaemenid ruler, Cyrus the Great in 546 BC, and unfortunately time has not been kind to the place. Pasargadae as a capital was superseded when Darius the Great built Persepolis, but it was still a functioning and beautiful city when Alexander came through. Alexander may have destroyed Persepolis but he retained Pasargadae, and in fact repaired damage that his troops did to the town. Today however little is left standing other than a few columns and a couple of walls. The real reason to visit however was for the tomb of the great man himself Cyrus. His tomb was once inside a mosque that was built from stone plundered from the fallen palaces but the Shah back in the 1970’s had the mosque torn down so the tomb can now be seen in all its glory.



It had been a fantastic day of walking back through history and we had all built up an appetite, so for a late lunch we were taken to a traditional house and given a great feed of traditional Iranian food. The one thing every Iranian has said to us about Iranian food is that you will not experience proper Iranian food till you eat in an Iranian house, and how true it is. The food served to us today was not only the best we have eaten in Iran but the best feed we have had on this trip so far. At the end of the meal we were given the chance to buy some handicrafts and a short talk about where the money would go. The people in this house are part of a group trying to save the Iranian (Syrian) Brown Bear from becoming extinct. At the moment they think there is about thirty bears in the nearby mountains and want to establish a protected area that has adequate water. Iran is starting to have problems with the general water supply, the average rainfall is decreasing and with the rivers drying up the bears are roaming further. Despite the bear being protected any encounters between bear and human normally ends with the bear killed. Not sure how legitimate the operation is but we were convinced enough
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Group having lunch
to buy a handmade bear from them and a calico bag. It had been a great ending to a fantastic day.



It was a one hour drive back to Shiraz and we arrived around 5.30. Had a late dinner of Falafel rolls and a drink for less than $2.50 each and then sat back and watched the Iranian elections on TV at night; yes it was the only English TV Channel. Was speaking to an Iranian today and he told us how Shiraz is the Cultural centre of Iran, While Esfahan is the religious centre of Iran. Today we had the cultural, tomorrow we are off to the religious centre.


Additional photos below
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29th February 2016

So no wine was had then? :)
Thanks for the historical details...I've heard many of those names and terms bandied about, but haven't been able to put them into context. Hope you get to eat in more Iranian homes, and for the sake of the poor bears I also hope the Save the Brown Bear group were legit.
1st March 2016

The Brown Bear
They gave us a web address but it seemed to deal more with ecotourism and other stuff and not much about the bears, so we are not to sure and didn't bother putting it on our blog. We have our fingers crossed that it is legitimate.
1st March 2016
Masjid-e Vakil

The Heart of it
Wouldn't it be great if we actually knew how many miles we had walked while traveling. Wouldn't it be great if taxi drivers believed us when we lied to them. You peaked our interest in the locations. We will have to give that some thought.
1st March 2016
Masjid-e Vakil

small white lies
We only lie to taxi drivers so as not to hurt their feelings, and it is also fun. You may need to get to Iran before November as the international political scene may change.
1st March 2016
Masjid-e Nasir-al-Molk

Persian rugs
Bit of a sucker for Persian rugs so this pic makes me wanna take my shoes off and roll around in there
1st March 2016
Persepolis

Persepolis
How encouraging that Iran is embracing restoration and conservation of it's ancient sites. Gotta be mind blowing to be there.
2nd March 2016
Masjid-e Nasir-al-Molk

Incredible sites!
What lessons in history and beautiful sites to make it come alive! Love monumental Persepolis and the beautiful mosques (many more on your next stop, for sure). So glad people were friendly and interested in you, you finally had some delicious, real Iranian food and got to meet a family--a proper cap to Shiraz!
2nd March 2016
Masjid-e Nasir-al-Molk

Thanks Tara, it was so great to eat proper Iranian food, travelling on a budget doesn't give you a lot of opportunities.
7th March 2016

Shiraz....Save the Bears!!!!
Absolutely fascinating!!! Shiraz and its surroundings look and sound incredible. Just beautiful, loved the pictures and the information, thank you guys!. So good to hear that the locals are warm and you got to sit and eat in a traditional home. Yeaaahhhh!!! Lets save the bears! xx

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