Iran City Guides - Shiraz
The natural base camp for any trip to Persepolis and the ancient sites of Nagsh-e Rostam and Pasagadae, the bustling city of Shiraz has a lot to offer in its own right.
City of Poets
Shiraz is cherished throughout Iran as a city of poets. Two of the very greatest, in a nation for whom poetry is perhaps the most celebrated art, were born and passed their lives there; the great sage Saadi and Hafez, the Persian Shakespeare.
Their resting-places, known as the Saadieh and Hafezieh respectively, are among Shiraz best known tourist attractions and represent what, for Iranians, are the essential qualities of this ancient southern city: elegance, repose and gardening.
Gardening - an essential pastime
The garden might well be the ultimate symbol for Shiraz. Set in the parched hills of the dry Fars region, its inhabitants have managed to nurture some pretty fine public parks as well as their own private sanctuaries. If youre not from this part of the world and you think of countryside as pretty much an uninterrupted swath of green, you might not be particularly impressed.
Shiraz is the base camp for the wonders of Persepolis
Mosque interior, Shiraz, Iran
A friend of mine described Shiraz, known affectionately in Iran as shahr-e gol o bulbul (city of the flower and the nightingale) as just another dusty middle eastern town. But that's missing the point. To raise a cyprus tree or a rose bush in a place where the average rainfall between June and September is precisely zero is a feat indeed, and each one is valued and marvelled over.
Shirazis, renowned for their laid-back attitude and unfailing hospitality, will probably suggest a tour of at least two or three gardens, or baghs. The most famous, the Bagh-e Eram, comprises a royal villa set in meticulously landscaped grounds. This place was a favourite haven of the Shah, and its only since the revolution that its glories have been fully accessible.
The house is not huge but its beautifully decorated and obviously fulfilled its role as a royal bolt-hole very well. In front is a reflecting pool graced by palm trees and leading off in every direction are cool gravel paths, shaded from the sun by orange trees heavy with fruit. Other Baghs to look out for are the orange grove or Narangestan of Ghavvam or the more secluded, smaller Bagh-e Afifabad. The latter was the Queen's personal retreat when she was in Shiraz. The royal quarters on the upper floor have been preserved whilst the basement is now given over to a museum of arms and armour.
Shiraz is situated in a fairly narrow valley running north-west to south-east, its easy to get up on the surrounding hills for a spectacular view of the city. Iranians are generally fond of walking, particularly in the evenings, and the municipality has landscaped a short but rewarding walk up to an old look-out post, which winds up a few hundred feet from the Bolvar-e Haft Tanan.
They've also terraced a large section of the famous Tang-e Allaho-Akbar or God is Great! pass, so-called because of the exclamation said to leave travellers lips as they see the city below for the first time. This is still the main road route into Shiraz, though the rush of cars now bypass the old gate, the attic of which contains an ancient Koran: passing underneath a Koran is said to bring good luck for the journey ahead.
Nasir al-Mulk (Masjed-e Naseer ol Molk) Mosque interior, Shiraz, Iran
The Old Town
Many of Shiraz best historic sites are within easy reach of one another. The beautiful Vakil Bazaar, named for Karim Khan-e Zand who presided over Shiraz spell as capital city of Iran and was known as the Regent (Vakil), is great for carpets.
Its also possible to buy a variety of wares made by local tribes, chief among them the Ghasghaii, a traditionally nomadic people whose encampments can still be seen dotted around Fars. It also contains the enchanting Saray-e Mushir, an old two-story hostelry now occupied by artisans and bazaaris and centred around an ornamental pool.
Next door is the 18th century Vakil mosque and nearby the stunning Hammam-e Vakil, a bath house decorated with stucco reliefs and now converted into a fine restaurant. A little further south is Shiraz's main religious site, the Shah-e Cheragh mosque complex, worth seeing for the spectacular mirror-covered shrine of Hazrat Ahmad Ibn Mousa-Kazem, the brother of Imam Reza.
Of course Shiraz isn't all walled gardens and palaces. In fact, its a town of over 1,000,000 people though thankfully it doesn't suffer from the debilitating traffic and pollution of Tehran. The most obvious effects of the population boom are some ugly housing and hotel developments on the outskirts and good transport connections to the rest of the country.
Though it isn't a great centre of pilgrimage like Mashhad or Qom and doesn't offer the same number architectural treasures as Isfahan, if the idea of visiting somewhere that captures the essence of much of what it means to be Iranian appeals to you, its not to be missed.
Access - Getting to Shiraz
There are flights to a number of domestic destinations from Shiraz including Tehran, Ahvaz, Kish, Mashhad, and Bandar-e Abbas. There are also international flights to Doha, Bahrain, Kuwait and Dubai.
Darvazeh Quran Gate, Shiraz, Iran
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