10 things not to miss in Shiraz!
We arrive at the airport in Shiraz full of expectations at 4am on a Sunday morning. It is a short drive into town and we drive in the dark on broad and lighted avenues into the city center. We will stay at Eram hotel right in the center of town. A somewhat gloomy reception greets us and we are shown to our rooms. We must try to get a few hours sleep before we are going to explore the city of Shiraz the next morning.
A few hours later in the breakfast room, the first impression is gloomy and depressing. Silence prevails despite the many guests. It is mostly women and they are all dressed in black with scarves covering their hair and they talk quietly with each other. A trip out on the sidewalk in front of the hotel after several cups bad coffee gives the same sad impression. The women, both young and old, pass quickly dressed in black chadors, a black, semicircular cloth that they whirr around them so that it covers them from head to toe. Faces peeks out from all this darkness and peeping curious on us. Some also come up with a smile and a hello! Not long after, we find that the ordinary man and woman on the street is helpful and curious, they want to have a chat and welcome us all to Shiraz.
Shiraz is the capital of the province of Fars. The city has over 1.5 million inhabitants and is considered one of the oldest cities in ancient Persia, probably older than 4,000 years. The city was invaded by the Mongols under Genghis Kahn, but was spared destruction because the local leaders offered valuable gifts and treasures. The city was through history defeated by various ethnic groups. Maybe that’s why the city is so marked by influences from many different cultures?
Shiraz is known as a lively and artistic city, the city of poetry, art, wine and flowers. Wine belongs to the past, after the revolution, alcohol is totally forbidden in Iran and you will not be served wine anywhere in Shiraz today. Shiraz is also a holy city for the Bahai religion. One of the founders of this religion, Baha`i Faith was born in Shiraz. His house, The house of Bab was for many years a pilgrimage, but was in 1979 razed by the government. Bahai religion has difficult circumstances in Iran today.
We meet our female guide, Saba, in the hotel reception and soon we’re all ready for a city tour. In most cities in Iran you will see large posters along many streets and roundabouts with pictures of young men. These are portraits of those who fell in the war against Iraq. Some cities have photographs others have painted portraits. Here they honor their war heroes. We get a good overview of the city’s many avenues before the first stop on our tour. So here’s a list of attractions you should visit while staying in the cultural city of Shiraz.
Karim Khan citadel:
Also referred to as Zand complex and Arg of Karim Khan. This is a fortress consisting of museums and palaces located in the central city of Shiraz and it was built during the Zand dynasty. Karim Kahn Zand proclaimed Shiraz his capital in 1762 and the city prospered under his rule. But Karim Kahn Zand`s descendants were unable to save Shiraz when Agha Mohammed Khan conquered the city and tore down the fortifications. Shiraz lost its status as the capital and Tehran took over. But nevertheless, Shiraz continued to be a rich city because of its location in relation to important trade routes and the Persian Gulf. After the Iranian revolution Shiraz has regained its leading position as Iran’s Cultural city number 1!
The first thing that catches our attention on the way to Karim Kahn citadel is a mosaic over the entrance. It is a rather grotesque scene, but we find it quite enjoyable and rejoice that they have taken care of such treasures. In the midst of the citadel is a beautiful garden and parts of the plant serves as a museum. At the head of the corner you will find art and craft workshops and outlets and we let ourselves be inspired by the gorgeous woodwork and decided quickly to buy us a casket. It is always easier to choose a souvenir when you get an introduction to how things are made and get to experience all the knowledge and patience required to make the item.
We visit the old bath located within the leaning tower that is so evident from the outside. Our guide tells us that around 1920 to 1930, the entire complex was made into a prison. The fountain in the front room was used as a bath for the prisoners. The imbalance in the tower comes mostly of all the water spill from the prisoner’s bath. There have been many attempts to rectify the tower, but without success. The last Shah moved the prison to a new location.
Karim Kahn citadel is located opposite Vakil Bazaar. It is our first visit in an Iranian bazaar and we note quickly that, unlike bazaars in Morocco and Turkey, there is not much pressure and bustle to get you to do some shopping. It is pleasant and kind to walk around in the bazaar. Product selection is typical of this part of the world, colorful fabrics and carpets, fragrant spices and a plethora of more or less old stuff.
We found a very charming teahouse at the very edge of the bazaar. On all the walls and even in the ceiling, sheets with poems by the great Persian poets were hang up on cords or just pinned to the walls. On the second floor with views down to teahouse, are some craft shops and a woodcarver workshop. To this teahouse people of all ages comes to enjoy a tea or smoke a water pipe.
The Vakil Mosque is located at the entrance to Vakil Bazaar. The mosque was built between 1751 and 1773, during the Zand dynasty. It was restored in the 1800s. The mosque is huge and has beautiful archways that may remind of the archways in the Spanish city of Cordoba. This was the only place during our journey where we female visitors had to take on a chador. We borrowed one each in floral fabric and I must admit that it led to a few laughs and I regretted almost that I had not bought my own black chador; it had probably been more flattering!
The ancient Persia was famous for its beautiful gardens. To day they are grouped under the term “Persian gardens” and is now on UNESCO heritage list. A chief from Qashqai tribe built Eram Garden, along with the building, in the mid 1800s. It’s almost winter or very early spring when we visit Eram Garden and we probably do not exactly get the right impression of how beautiful it is here when everything is in full bloom. The building is lovely, but it was not open to the public when we were there. Today the plant is part of Shiraz Botanical Garden.
Most Iranians appreciate their many poets and worship them as national shrines. We can clearly see this when we arrive at dark to Hafez tomb. The tomb is lit so that the beautiful mosaic really comes into its own. Around the tomb stand people of all ages, quietly and in deep contemplation.
Hafez (Shams al-din Hafiz) was born in 1320 in Shiraz and died in 1390. He was a Persian poet and mystic. He is regarded as the Persian / Iranian national poet and his poems are still alive and widely cited and used as a kind of oracle answers. Iranians makes arbitrary lookups in his poetry collections to consult the future or to seek advice.
His shrine was built in 1453 and surrounded by a beautiful garden. A new monument was built in 1773 but demolished in 1899. Today`s monument is from 1931 and designed by the French architect Andre Godard. Hafez’s poetry is also used extensively in calligraphy and most of his poems are set to music as well. You can read some of his poems her: http://www.hafizonlove.com
Saadi tomb: (Tomb of Saadi).
Tomb of Saadi or Saadi Shirazi is the burial place of the famous poet Saadi. He lived in the 1300s. He is recognized as one of the major Persian poets. He traveled extensively and studied among others in Baghdad, India, Syria, and Egypt. He returned to Iran and Shiraz after 30 years on the road and was greeted with great respect. He wrote his two most famous books two years after he came back to Shiraz; Bostan (The Orchard 1257) and Gulistan (The Rose Garden in 1258).
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!
Translated by M. Aryanpoor
Saadi was originally buried in a village outside Shiraz, but today this place is within the city limits. Later, another Persian poet, Shurideh Shirazi, was buried nearby and the two cemeteries were joined together with a covered walkway. The tombs are located in a beautiful garden with flowers and cypress trees. A fishpond is part of a duct that is as old as Saadi`s grave. Here is also a well where people throw coins and makes a wish!
Shah cheragh shrine:
Shah cheragh shrine translates into King of light. The burial site, with a large dome, is built to honor many important people within Shia Islam. It is a huge space surrounded by prayer places. The place is the most important pilgrimage place in Shiraz. The inside is richly decorated with mirror mosaic in the big dome.
We visited Qur`an Gate, a historic portal in the northern part of town. Here you will find a statue of Khajou Kermani. Qur`an Gate was formerly a part of the great city wall built during Buyid Dynasty. Today it forms the northern entrance to Shiraz. Around the Gate is a modern park and the place is much visited by city residents.
There is a tradition among Muslims in Iran to go under the Koran before leaving on a trip. In old times the Koran was kept in a room above the arch. Each side weighed 70 grams. This is 1000 years ago and today’s port is a replica of the old and the Koran is not there anymore. From Qur`an Gate there is a great view over the city of Shiraz.
Haft Kahn Restaurant Complex:
We checked on Trip Advicer where to eat in Shiraz and Haft Kahn was listed as number 1. So we choosed this the first night and had dinner in the traditional way, seated on a deck around a tablecloth where the food was placed. The restaurant in Haft Kahn Restaurant Complex, was one of several in a stunning building designed by Iran’s most famous architect: Mehrdad Iravanian. The name refers to “The house with 7 tables”. The front door was put together by old Mercedes parts and parts like that were also used in much of the rest of the interior. A great modern architecture, both outside and inside, a little Japanese inspired.
We went back when we came to Shiraz on the way home and then choosed the top floor restaurant with an international cuisine. The place can be recommended, primarily because of the architecture, but the food tasted good even though it was not the most exciting food we have eaten.
Shapouri Pavilon & Garden:
Here they serve straightforward traditional Iranian food. Not that exciting, but the place is an experience in spite of that. You walk into a narrow alley and then you suddenly see this beautiful house behind the pool with lights and fountains.