At the end of a nondescript street in the city of Shiraz was what became one of my favourite places in all of my three weeks travelling around Iran. A place wholly unexpected, a place of peace and calm, a place of exquisite and magical light, a place that stole my heart.
Shiraz, known as the heartland of Persian culture, is famous for being the resting place of two of Iran’s most celebrated poets, bustling bazaars, beautiful Persian gardens and dazzling light.
Nearly as soon as I arrived in Shiraz, after a six hour bus trip from the mud-brick city of Yazd, my travel friends from Very Hungry Nomands, Marty and Rach, tracked me down to my cute traditional hotel. As a solo traveller I was glad to see their familiar and happy faces welcoming me to my third destination in Iran and we soon had plans to meet early the next morning to visit Masjed-e Nasir-al-Molk, also called the Pink Mosque.
The Pink Mosque was a long rectangular space and to the side was row upon row of stained glass windows. In the early morning the light poured through these windows creating a rainbow of colours amongst the many columns and arches, and across the beautiful Persian carpet. Rach, Marty and I walked on the soft carpet bathed in a kaleidoscope of colours, mesmerised. It was truly breathtaking and special.
Sadly, it was also here that I had to say goodbye to Marty and Rach as our travels were taking us in different directions. As I walked away with a heavy heart the dim, bustling arcades of the Bazar-e Vakil beckoned. Jammed full of literally anything and everything you could ever need it was fascinating distraction from missing my travel friends. My favourite in the bazaar were the piles of aromatic and colourful spices, so typically Middle Eastern.
In Shiraz I also started to learn about the specialness of Persian gardens. Always divided into four sectors, with water playing an important role for both irrigation and ornamentation, the Persian garden was conceived to symbolise Eden and the four Zoroastrian elements of sky, earth, water and plants. The Persian garden would also often feature buildings, pavilions, and sophisticated irrigation systems. Sounds impressive! and it was.
My first Persian garden experience was at Bagh-e Naranjestan, or Citrus Garden presumably named for it’s rows of orange trees. Trees which together with palm trees lining low-lying inter-connected fountains leading towards a pavilion. The pavilion was incredibly lavish and opulent, inside bejewelled by thousands of sparkling mirrors inside.
But even more impressive by way of garden design was Bagh-e Eram or Garden of Paradise. An extensive garden with many paths overshadowed by tall cypress trees and gorgeous pools of water encircled by so many plants. A stark contrast to the nearby deserts and truly made you wonder if the Persians had achieved paradise on earth.
The bejewelled effect of the many thousand of mirrors I soon discovered was not confined to the lavish pavilion at the Bagh-e Naranjestan. In a shrine to the brother of the revered Imam Reza I was escorted by a female guide who started by helping me once again negotiate the huge piece of material called the chador that the local women wear. Once appropriately attired my tour soon took me across a vast courtyard to the main shrine where dazzling mirrors reflected people in prayer, reflection and study.
Unfortunately photography wasn’t allowed but at the tomb for Emir-Ali there were no such restrictions and the dazzling, bejewelled mirrors were on display agin. I felt bewitched and again found myself wondering how the tombs, shrines and mosques also felt so calm and peaceful. Perhaps not quite how the Western media would make you believe!
In Shiraz I continued to discover that the Iranians are not quite how the Western media portray them. I meet so many locals who were warm, welcoming and kind who were extremely curious about me, my family and the outside world.
Shiraz was a place full of wonderful people and places, but in the end the magical light from my very first morning will stay in my heart forever.
Whilst in Shiraz I stayed at Niayesh Boutique Hotel, a gorgeous traditional hotel. My room was compact set above the the lovely, tranquil central courtyard. It cost about USD15
I travelled to Shiraz by bus from the mud-brick city of Yazd which took about six hours.