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Shiraz - Day 1

semi-overcast

Though the sights of Shiraz are many and spread out, the first was an easy encounter. The Karim Khan Zand Citadel was right in the centre by my hotel, a square planned castle with round turrets defending each corner and once home of the local aforementioned big man. The palace plan matched the walls with a central courtyard given over to the ubiquitous long fountain pool and orange orchard. A quirky storyboard just inside tried to explain "this magnificent and huge building got a lot of suffering". Also "the 4 reached high to sky ramparts and towers, which are impossible to be conquered, was Karim Khan Zand's house". In a suitably ornate chamber, there was a mock up of the Khan meeting a European envoy, probably intended to be from the British East India Company who had negotiated special trade rights around here. There was a nice bath complex followed by a veritable OD on blue tiling, later outside even a branch of the local Bank Melli was decorated like a Faberge egg. Similarly, the very nice Nasir al-Molk mosque had clearly been very recently restored to a high standard and the janitor pointed out where bricks had been periodically removed and replaced with wooden inserts, a measure designed to absorb earthquake impact. Then through a section of the bazaar, an especially nice traditional one with very high arches and impressive gates. Next, the Masjed-e Vakil (Regent's Mosque) was being worked on and so was scattered with masonary and scaffolding but it was a massive complex with hundreds of exquisite recessed arches and columns and many more blue-tiled facings, I had it all to myself. Not far away was the Naranjestan Qavam Museum, a large house with another orange orchard in the central pavillion, built around 1880 as a lodging for state visitors and later becoming the governors residence. The central alcove is like a mirrored box with very intricate inlaid tilework, the reception rooms with fresco painted ceilings, wood and stone carvings, and stained glass windows. The basement vault had an underwhelming display of archaeological and antique items.

Then the top banana, the Mausoleum of Shah-e Cheragh. A fantastic and huge complex blessed with a tremendous blue-tiled bulbous dome complemented by twin minarets and entrance portals, one of which I entered through to find a very large courtyard full of people coming and going to pray. In one corner was sited another shrine with a second superb onion dome. I elected to go in here first and found the interior trully breathtaking, where locals kissed doorways and the cage enshrouded tomb, all surrounded by an incredible kaleidoscope of stained glass and a million and one patterned mirrors. I'd never seen anything like it. After that I just had to see the second shrine, larger and with twin tombs, and equally incredible. The busy guy on the shoe depository spotted I was an outsider and was happy at my interest, it was obviously an important pilgrimage site but not usually frequented by white boys! Inside there was more ritualised kissing before getting down to pray, and it was here that I saw a long held query answered. Worshippers took one of the small clay tablets you found in every hotel room and placed it on the floor so that their forehead would touch it when prostrated, I could only wonder at its symbollic significance. Just a pity internal photos werent allowed. I subsequently researched that the tablets were known as Turbah and were an optional token of Shia islam since the Hadith (religious writings) proscribed that one should pray prostrate "upon the soil of the earth". In particular deference to Imam Hussein, the soil of Karbala his martyrdom site was preferred. Jesus, these people really had it bad.

In heading back to the centre I was stopped in the street by 4 kids, Roo, Steve, Mike and Seema, Ozzies from Melbourne. They were in the middle of an unusual tour taking in Thailand, Iran and Egypt and over coffee I learned that Roo and Seema had Persian background and so had the language. It was to prove very useful and I was certainly happy for the company. Later we visited the shrine to Hafez, Iran's eternal national poet, where after being interviewed on camera by some locals about my improvised thoughts on the guy, we shared tea and qalyan in a really nice traditional tea garden. All of that I'd had to juggle with a request for an interview with a local guy Omid, he said he was a journalist but proved to be a better tour tout. We ended up speaking the usual politics in another very nice chaykhune (teahouse) in the bazaar and it was OK. In the end though with the help of the Ozzies, we arranged a taxi tour for the next day with another guy instead and I was ecstatic to have my tricky trip out to Persepolis sorted out.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Iran

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