Iran: Shiraz

Wherever we travel in Iran, we are constantly asked by Iranians, ‘ You like Iran?’ Iranians are justifiably proud of their country, their rich culture and history. We feel lucky to be part of it in the smallest way and in the most superficial way, really; as tourists. We’re into the start of our third week of our four week stay, and there’s not been a single minute when we have felt bored or tired of it all. Iran is a stimulating place – it’s full of great sights, lively street scenes and the most friendly people of any country we’ve visited.

Shiraz did not disappoint. There’s a lot to see here. Given its name, you’d expect some of that good red stuff, but it’s not to be. The vineyards which once graced the countryside and even had cuttings taken to the Rhone Valley in France all those years ago, were ripped out after the 1979 Revolution. A pity.

The most famous sight in Shiraz is the Pink Mosque, better known as Majed-e Nasir-al-Molk. In the morning, the Persian carpets are a sea of pink as sunlight filters through the stained glass windows. Tourists by the bus load were herded through this beautiful mosque during our visit, removing any magical reflective moments one might hope to experience here. Go early is my advice.

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Just outside the mosque, this entrepreneurial boy (below) coaxed customers into his cafe for chai.

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Ahmadi Square has the beautiful Bagh-e Naranjestan with its rows of bitter oranges and pretty flowers.

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Located in the gardens is the Naranjestan e- Ghavam Pavilion and Khan-e Zinat ol-Molk, a private home built in 1879 for a wealthy Shirazi – a truly stunning mix of mirrors, tiles, wooden panels and stained glass. Good to see school children visiting and getting a taste of their country’s history.

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On the lower ground floor, there is an incredible collection of archaeological works put together by American Arthur Upham Pope. Pope lectured at the Asia Institute in Shiraz from 1969-1979. Sorry, no pics, but really worthwhile visiting.

The Pars Museum, a small museum set in a beautiful garden is at Shohada Square.

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The Citadel of Karim Khan dominates the city centre.

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I liked this welcoming message near the citadel.

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Every Iranian town has a bazaar; centres of commerce which I’m sure can tell a few good stories. Shiraz’s bazaar is a delight to wander mindlessly. We spent several hours walking the winding alleys, taking in the interesting stalls, buying some bits and pieces, ending up at a tea house to rehydrate.

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Iranians love their sweets and we are quite surprised at the number of lolly, ice cream and cake shops that take centre stage in each town. Sugar is king over here. This dessert is a favourite – it’s Faloodeh and is created from vermicelli rice noodles, rose water, lime juice and ice cream. Very delicious!

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These next lot of photos are of street scenes outside and around the bazaar.

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Shiraz is well known for its poets, and Hafez who died in 1389 is one poet who is absolutely revered by Iranians. Children are brought up on a healthy diet of his poetry and students are well known for being able to recite verse after verse. The line up of Iranians to enter his tomb was fierce.

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Inside, we were approached by two girls who asked if they could practise their English with native speakers. Both girls have masters degrees in archaeology, but poor pay and long travel hours have led them to consider a career change. They understand that tourism will be a burgeoning industry and are getting in now to train as tour guides.

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Outside Shiraz are three very worthwhile ancient sites we couldn’t wait to explore. We hired a taxi driver, Abbas, for the day and he drove us to the fabulous Pasargadae, Naqsh-e Rostam and Persepolis.

Pasargadae built by Cyrus the Great in 546 BC, lies in ruins and you need a good imagination to recreate this once grand and glorious city. However, it does contain the imposing tomb of Cyrus as well as his palace complex.

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We were here the day after Anzac Day and the sight of the poppies gracing the palace complex was a poignant reminder of ‘our day’.

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From the great man himself. ‘I am Cyrus, the Achaemenid King’ is the cuneiform written on this pillar.

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Abbas had prepared us some much appreciated tea and sweets and introduced us to his friend, who hails from the town of Khomeini and was holidaying in Shiraz. The friend’s son invited us to stay with his family in Khomeini, but unfortunately we were headed in a different direction. The hospitality of the Iranians to foreigners is incredible. Amazing how you can communicate with Iranians when you don’t speak Farsi. Lots of hand and facial gestures … and chay!

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The next ancient site on our agenda was Naqsh-e Rostam which was pretty amazing. Four tombs belonging to Darius II, Artaxerxes I, Darius I and Xerxes I (in that order) are carved into the cliff. They are huge, completely dwarfing us. I couldn’t get all four tombs in the one photo! The stone reliefs that accompany the tombs tell heroic stories of conquests and glorious stories of ceremonies.

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Abbas took us to a nearby restaurant for lunch and the three of us dined well on Iranian fare and swapped stories about life in Iran and Australia. Kebab (Kebob) is King!

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On the way to Persepolis, Abbas stopped and picked some roses. The smell is beautiful-no wonder they are used to make rose water and perfumes.

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Persepolis is the gigantic jewel in Iran’s crown. It’s spectacular and deserves its place as one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. This once grand city was built by Darius the Great in 520 BC. It is a showpiece, made up of gateways, palaces and tombs. Like Ephesus in Turkey, there’s still so much excavating to be done.

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Iranian Air adopted this ancient monument below as their company symbol.

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Outside Shiraz is Pink Lake, a salt lake coloured pink by a particular algae. It was a great suggestion by Abbas and we thoroughly enjoyed walking around on the lake and marvelling at the colour.

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We stayed in Shiraz for four days at Niayesh Hotel. Location was excellent. The hotel caters for tour groups though, so if like me, you’re not a ‘tour group‘ traveller, you might want to bear this in mind. Shiraz has an international airport and this accounts for the high tourist numbers in this city. Australians can fly into Shiraz from Dubai on Emirates.

On a different note, I had a brief encounter with the military police whilst in Shiraz. I took three photos of an Islamic government building – the Islamic Court of Justice no less – a definite no no as I learnt. A courteous policeman hailed me over, tapped on my camera, saying ‘photo shoot, photo shoot.’ I showed him the photos and deleted them while he watched. End of encounter. No photos are allowed of any government building, train station or petro chemical works.

Internet in Iran is notoriously slow, hence my blogs are being published very spasmodically! I am learning the true meaning of patience.

From Shiraz, we head north west by bus to our next destination, Shushtar.

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