Saturday, 28 November 2009

Iran: Shiraz Day 2 and 3

We started the day by visiting Bagh-e Eram (Eram Gardens) which are several hundred years old and best known for the stand of cypress trees growing there. The gardens are now operated by Shiraz University and are very pretty even in November which is the beginning of winter. The garden is famous for its extensive rose gardens which bloom in March. In the centre of the gardens is a 1700s palace called Kakh-e Eram which has richly tiled frescos on the exterior walls. On the way out of the garden we saw a group of uni students from Shiraz University pharmacy department, having their graduation photo taken. In no time, the three of us were in the graduation photo too.
Next stop was the Afif Abad garden which is run by the military and there seemed to be more soldiers than gardeners around. There's something odd about restful walkways of greenery that lead to displays of tanks and artillery. The palace in the garden now houses an extensive display of military hardware from ancient times. There is a smaller building whose interior walls are tiled with depictions of heroic deeds from Persian mythology, Rostum killing various devils and monsters. Our guide started reciting a poem by Fedosi which tells one of the stories and straight away another visitor joined in. The poetry is regarded as a national treasure and this bore out what Abbas had said, that everyone knows the poems.
From the gardens we moved to Khan-e Zinat ol-Molk an 18th century house named after its female owner. The house now contains a wax museum depicting ancient kings and ceremonies, famous poets from the region and a section of models of famous local mullahs. One model was of a famous local pilot who was killed in the Iran-Iraq war and who had been a close boyhood friend of Abbas our guide.
Just a couple of minutes drive away, a couple of terrifying, gasp inducing minutes, is the 19th century mosque of Nair ol Molk. On the large wooden doors at the entrance to the mosque there are two different shaped door knockers, one for each sex. As the knockers each give a different sound, the people inside the mosque knew whether to send a woman or a man to open the door. The coloured tiled interior is stunning with many shades of blue used. Some show pictures of European buildings including churches and there were many showing flowers including roses with several shades of pink in the tiles. Wooden inserts the size of bricks were inserted during the construction of the walls, these inserts give flexibility during earthquakes. To one side of the courtyard is the winter prayer hall with beautiful stained glass windows and further inside is the Gav Cha (cow well) named because cows were used to pull water up from the well there. On the other side of the courtyard is the summer prayer hall which had more beautiful tile work and was interesting because it has no minbar (pulpit). The curator said that in the 20 years he'd been at the mosque there had never been a minbar and the mullah sits on a chair to deliver his sermon.
In the afternoon we left Jessica at the hotel to catch up on some sleep while we went with Abbas to the Iran Travel Industry Trade Show at an exhibition centre on the outskirts of Shiraz. The show was held in 3 huge exhibition halls filled with displays by travel companies, some countries, companies touting medical tourism and others that specialised in religious travel to the many shrines in Iran. We watched a performance by nomadic musicians from the Fars region of Iran while eating ashe reshte, a thick soup with lentils and meat which was the perfect warm up as the rain was pelting down again and it was getting cold.
At the exhibition like everywhere else we've been, people were very friendly, people asked to have their photos taken with us, asked where we were from. Occasionally a group of teenage girls would come up to us and the bravest would nervously say 'hi' to me. When I said 'hi' back, they'd all burst into fits of giggles.

Today has been declared as Eid-e Ghorban (Eid al Adha), despite it being expected yesterday. As a result the bazaar is shut today. We started the day with a trip to Hafez' tomb. Hafez is a famous Iranian poet born in Shiraz in 1324. His collection of poems known as 'Divan-e Hafez' and is considered to be a must have in Iranian homes. Iranians say that all homes should have two things; the Quran and Hafez. His poems are almost mystical in content, and its a ritual when deciding on a future action to open Hafez's poem at a random place and study the verse revealed. The tomb is set under a rotunda in the middle of a rose garden and is a popular visiting place for families. Recitations of Hafez' poems are broadcast over the garden's PA system. On the street outside the grounds, several men stand carrying boxesof extracts from Hafez' poems in one hand and a budgie in the other. Upon payment of 5,000 riyals ($5) the budgie will select a random verse from the box with its beak and this verse will deal with your future.
The next stop was the tomb of Sa'di another famous Shirazi poet whose verses are still quoted in conversation today. His tomb is in a pavilion surrounded by gardens. The pavilion walls are inlaid with tiles showing his most famous verses. The tomb itself is made from a single piece of alabaster. Next to the pavilion is an underground fishpond full of trout which is surrounded by au underground tea house with an attractive domed ceiling covered in tilework. We stopped there for a quick cuppa and several families came up to us to ask where we were from, what we thought of Iran and what we'd seen.
This afternoon we're visiting the citadel and then making our way to Shiraz airport for a quick 30 minute flight to Esfahan.

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