Many people, myself included, associate the name ‘Shiraz‘ with the wine. I think of vineyards and rolling hills. I guess I think of a Persian Tuscany. That’s not too accurate. Shiraz is no Tuscany, it is its own place. It is a place of poets, a lush oasis in the desert, and a thriving city with over 3000 years of history. It is one of the first destinations I visited in Iran, and it was there that I fell in love with the country.
Nasir al-Mulk Mosque (The Pink Mosque)
Constructed in the 19th century, the Pink Mosque is a relic of Qajar-era architecture that is known (and nicknamed) for the extensive use of pink painted tiles for decoration. Made from gold, the pink dye was incredibly expensive to make–a fact which highlights the lavishness of the mosque.
The mosque was also my first exposure to the intricate honeycombed domes common in many Iranian mosques. Carefully carved wood set against the stone dome, the designs are painted exquisitely, kinking the necks of many a visitor passing beneath. Known as mokkanes (spelled horrifically, I’m sure), some of the intricate patterns are supposed to represent stars if viewed from the right angle.
By far the most stunning feature of Nasir al-Mulk is not the mokkanes or the pink tiles. It’s the stained glass windows of the prayer room. Filtered light streams in and projects brilliant patches of light on the plush Persian carpets lining every inch of the floor. The room is breathtaking and immediately reduces visitors to awed silence. Absolutely beautiful.
The seat of the administrator of the Fars province in the past, the building which now houses the Shahram Museum provides an interesting look at a some Qajar-era reliefs and architecture. Inside the grounds is a beautiful garden of palm and citrus trees, with a long pool occupying the center. Underneath, to my delight, was a museum hall with tons of ancient coins.
The Tomb of Sa’di
I mentioned before that Shiraz is a city of poets. Two of the greatest Persian poets were from Shiraz, and perhaps the greatest of these was Sa ‘di (or Saadi). Born Abu-Muhammad Muslih al-Din bin Abdallah Shirazi, he decided at some point he would much rather be called Sa ‘di. Smart man.
After a rough upbringing, he fled Persia following the Mongol invasion. His resulting 30 year journey led him through much of the Middle East, East Asia, and north-eastern Africa; into conflicts with the Crusaders at Acre; and finally back home to his beloved Shiraz, where he was welcomed with open arms. When he died at the age of 81 (possibly 82), he was interred at the tomb bearing his name, a beautifully landscaped park with a regal mausoleum and lush garden.
The Tomb of Hafez
Hafez was Shiraz’s second most famous, but most loved, poet. Though Sa ‘di’s works are perhaps the more renowned, nearly every Iranian family owns a copy of the Book of Hafez–treasured only slightly less than their copy of the Qur’an. While Sa ‘di wrote more ‘serious’ prose, Hafez was a poet who “…lauded the joys of love and wine…”, while also writing about religious themes. Going to his tomb will most likely result in an eager Iranian sharing some of the poet’s exquisite poetry with you. Enjoy the experience!
Our guide recited the following poem for us, first in Farsi, then in English:
WHERE are the tidings of union? that I may arise–
Forth from the dust I will rise up to welcome thee!
My soul, like a homing bird, yearning for Paradise,
Shall arise and soar, from the snares of the world set free.
When the voice of thy love shall call me to be thy slave,
I shall rise to a greater far than the mastery
Of life and the living, time and the mortal span:
Pour down, oh Lord! from the clouds of thy guiding grace.
The rain of a mercy that quickeneth on my grave,
Before, like dust that the wind bears from place to place,
I arise and flee beyond the knowledge of man.
When to my grave thou turnest thy blessed feet,
Wine and the lute thou shalt bring in thine hand to me,
Thy voice shall ring through the folds of my winding-sheet,
And I will arise and dance to thy minstrelsy.
Though I be old, clasp me one night to thy breast,
And I, when the dawn shall come to awaken me,
With the flush of youth on my check from thy bosom will rise.
Rise up! let mine eyes delight in thy stately grace!
Thou art the goal to which all men’s endeavour has pressed,
And thou the idol of Hafiz’ worship; thy face
From the world and life shall bid him come forth and arise!
The Shah Cheragh Mosque doesn’t look all too unique from the outside. It looks like, well, just another mosque.
One step into the chamber, however, reveals a stunning sight. I’ll let the video below do the talking on this one.
I have no photographs of faloodeh, the Persian treat famously from the Shiraz region. Perhaps the lack of photos is testament enough to just how delicious the stuff is. In as much time as it took for me to get the chilled goodness in my hands, it would disappear into the fathomless depths of my gullet. What is this amazing thing known as faloodeh? Well, it’s a frozen treat of vermicelli noodles made from corn starch soaked in sugary syrup and either rose water or lemon juice. It seemed to be tailor-made for my enjoyment.
There you have it, six awesome things to do in Shiraz! While you’re in the area, I would highly recommend checking out the historical treasure troves of Naqsh-e Rostam and Persepolis. They’re close to Shiraz and, honestly, no trip to Iran would be complete without a visit!
Anything that I missed? Let me know your recommendations for Shiraz in the comments below!