No Shiraz in Shiraz

Wednesday 5 to Sunday 8 November

Shiraz in Iran is the home to the sirah grape. Sadly all the vines were pulled out at the time of the revolution in 1978.

There is no sirah, no Shiraz and no beer, but we have enjoyed great tea and amazing pomegranate juice. We have even found decent coffee.

It was a long drive from Yazd where we were joined by our driver Hamid.  We made a stop to see a Cyprus tree approx 4,500 years old in Abarqu. It is nice to say it looked healthy.

We arrived in Shiraz in the evening after visiting the tomb of Cyrus the Great at Parsargadae and what is left of his palaces – a private palace and an audience palace. These must have been massive structures when construction was commenced in 546BC.

There is also a curious structure which may be a fire temple, a tomb, a sun dial or even a portal to be used for the new king to walk through. It had been called the Prison of Solomon to disguise its use during the Arab invasion.

A platform had been built on top of a nearby hill where Cyrus could survey his land. It was perhaps used as a treasury as its high position could easily be defended.

Our look at Shiraz began early next morning to see the Masjed-e Nasir-al-Molk mosque. It has beautiful tiled work in pinks and yellows, but the outstanding part was the early morning light entering through ancient stained glass windows and onto the floor of the mosque. The Persian stained glass is so brightly coloured, with strong primary and secondary colours. In earlier days a framework of wood was used to create the pattern and the stained glass was jammed into the spaces. Set into a door or window frame, it was held together just by the way the craftsmen had cut the glass to exact measurements.

After a hearty breakfast of thick, sticky vegetable soup, we set off to see the rest of Shiraz. The Arg-e Karim Khan is a square fortress built in the Zand period for Karim Khan. The bathhouse  was an interesting place with a selection of hot and cold pools. In later years the fortress was used as a prison and the increased activity in the bathhouse has undermined one of the tours, leaving it in competition with Pisa’s leaning tower.

We walked through the colourful Bazar-e Vakil, where many women were huddled over the brilliantly coloured fabrics and beads, all with a touch of glitter or glass to make them shine.

We enjoyed our visit to the Naranjestan and Khan-e Zinat ol-Molk. This is the pavilion that the wealthy and powerful Mohammed Ali Khan Qavam al-Molk built between 1879 and 1886 as his public reception area, next to his family home.

The courtyard garden has a long pond running down the centre. There is a beautiful mirrored entrance hall where you could see youself at least 100 times. Other rooms, which all had stunning views over the gardens, were richly decorated with beautifully painted scenes of flowers and birds.

The gardens contained a large Orangerie or orange grove which would clearly keep the courtyard cool during Shiraz’s hot summer.

We started our afternoon tour at the Eram (Paradise) Gardens. These are amongst the most famous in Iran and were originally set out in the typical Persian style. The first thing that struck me as we entered the gardens was the strong perfume of roses on our right. A pavilion in the centre of the gardens was reflected in a pool which then flowed into a long water canal that took you deeper into the gardens. This crossed a path of ornamental trees, all looking delightful in the low afternoon sun. Behind the pavilion there was a small lake and windy paths which seemed popular with couples.

By now the sun was disappearing. We visited the tomb of Sa’adi a famous Iranian power who was born in Shiraz. His work is philosophical and it is surprising how many Iranians visit his tomb and recite some of his verses.

Our guide and driver decided we needed a little culture, so our next stop was to enjoy a Shiraz treat of faloodeh shirazi, starch noodles looking a little like white Chinese noodles, with frozen lime juice poured over it. I could just imagine how refreshing they would be on a hot evening.

It was now dark and the full moon was shining when we visited the tomb of Iran’s most beloved poet Hafez. We were told that every Iranian household not only has a copy of the Quran but also a copy of Hafez poetry in their house. It was certainly a popular place for Iranians, the tomb was constantly surrounded by young women taking selfies and reciting his poems. Even our guide became quite emotional at the tomb, telling us he cherished this poetry of love and fantasy.

By now we had visited tombs of five Iranian poets. You cannot underestimate the importance that these poets have on the culture, even if some of the writings have been rejected by the hard line Islamic clerics.

And then we went in search of a coffee house. It was a bit like the Brown Cow on a Friday night, but instead of beer and wine, water pipes were the choice.

We then had dinner, at an upmarket restaurant complex called Haft Kahn (7 places or restaurants). We chose to eat in the traditional restaurant and shared lamb shanks washed down with pomegranate juice. Certainly a treat.

Our last stop, Cheragh Shrine, is the burial place of Imam Resa’s brothers who were slaughtered here as they were making their way to Mashad. An extremely holy place of pilgrimage where once again I had to wear a chardor, although this one was simply a very large cloth that I struggled to keep myself wrapped in.

The shrines holding the various tombs are mosques. Women enter through one door into an area completely separated from the men’s area. The tomb, encased in a giant glass box sits alongside a wall that divides the mosque for men and women. We have seen this layout in a number of shrines. It is not uncommon to see young children with their parent’s, but in a light hearted manner they are likely to be playing chasey or eating a snack or sleeping whilst their mother’s prayed.

Our next day was a rest day, and as it happened Friday. The streets were empty, the shops and bazaars were closed, so we were forced to “do nothing” – a good thing after nine weeks on the road.