The city of Yazd: nearly as ancient as the desert which surrounds it, rich and timeless. There is a great deal to do there; here are some recommendations to get you started.
Yazd’s main mosque is visible from all over the Old City–provided one can get a view of the sky from within the labyrinth of winding alleys. Its arched facade is crowned by two towering minarets 48 meters tall, making them some of the tallest in the country. Since I was new to the city, these proved an invaluable landmark for me as I wandered around during my free time.
The mosque contains many beautiful examples of geometric tile-work. We spent a good amount of time with our necks cricked back as we gawked at the ceiling. Many of the repeating designs are, in fact, calligraphy, bearing the names of God and his Prophet.
Walk through the Old Town
By far the highlight of a visit to Yazd is meandering through the twisting streets of its Old Town. Lonely Planet has an excellent walking tour which will lead you to a few of the destinations listed below. I spent a good portion of my free day following the tour, making sure to take plenty of detours and endeavoring to get hopelessly lost.
Starting from the Jameh Mosque, I walked through a warren of covered alleys–a small bazaar. Though the shops were closed for the jumu-ah (day of prayer), I merely had to close my eyes to imagine the bustle and clamor of the market.
Since it was Friday, there hardly seemed to be anyone in the streets. Dusty and bare with wattle and daub walls topped by lofty badgirs on either side, the streets were mesmerizing. They wound about in a way that made it nearly impossible to see more than 100 meters in any direction; each new turn revealing a new sight to gawk at. Once, I found the dome of a water reservoir topped by four small badgirs. Behind it lay the ruin of a building. I guess it was less a building and more the shattered space a building had once occupied; now a gaping, rubble-filled pit. Curious, I climbed down and spent 20 minutes crawling through passages in the ruins. It was singularly the eeriest experience of the trip.
There are many places throughout Iran bearing lingering traces of the Greek occupation of Persia during the reign of Alexander. In Yazd, that place is an old madrasah bearing the nickname ‘Alexander’s Prison’. According to legend, it was built by Alexander the Great as a dungeon for his enemies, though that is not likely the case. Regardless, it was an interesting site to explore.
Don’t miss out on the underground tea house here. An easy-to-miss stairwell leads down into the cool depths, where a pool sits beneath a grate far overhead. On a hot day, it’s the perfect escape from the blazing desert sun.
Across the square from Alexander’s Prison and the adjacent Tomb of the 12 Imams is the Fahadan Hotel. While it is a functioning hotel, it is also an amazing museum. Pop inside and the hotel staff will guide you through, telling you a huge amount of information about the building, as well as the city surrounding it. Most interesting is the chance to visit a room cooled by the hotel’s badgirs, and a replica of a qanat beneath the building.
Qanats are underground canals dug beneath the desert floor to channel drinking water to the townspeople. There is an amazing water museum well worth visiting near the Amir Chakhmakh Complex (see below) which will give you an insight into their construction.
Amir Chakhmakh Complex
A short walk away from the Old Town will get you to Amir Chakhmakh Square. Here, you can see one of the more prominent tekyeh in Iran, as well as a massive palm nakhl. Tekyeh are large facades built as memorials to the Shia martyr Hossein–a grandson of Mohammed. The wooden nakhl, which you can see in the photo on the right below, was a ceremonial construction carried through the town on Ashura–a Shia day of mourning for Hossein–by anywhere from 30-40 men. It would have been decorated with the fluttering flags of different villages.
The Yazd Bazaar
When we walked through the Yazd Bazaar, it was Friday, the Islamic day of prayer. As a result, all the shops were closed, the corridors of the bazaar strangely empty. It was a bizarre bazaar experience, especially after the bustling press of the market in Tehran. Even so, we enjoyed the relaxing change and examined the architecture within.
If you do go to the bazaar while it’s operating, keep your wits about you. As with any place where lots of people are packed into a small space, unsavory characters can be attracted to take advantage of gawking tourists. Keep your wits about you and go with a friend.
Atashkadeh: the Fire Temple
As I mentioned in the previous post, Yazd is the focal point of Zoroastrianism in Iran. An ancient religion predating Islam, it was the state religion of Persia for a time. Now, it has fewer followers, but is still thriving in certain parts of the country.
Atashkadeh, the most well-known fire temple in the area, is notable for the flame burning within–it is said to have been burning for 1500 years.
Tower of Silence
On the outskirts of the city loom two Towers of Silence, used in Zoroastrian burial ceremonies. The deceased were placed here for the span of a week while their eternal fate was decided. Now, they are ancient reminders of Persia’s past, while affording a great view of its present.
The People of Yazd
By far, the most memorable part of my time in Yazd was the kindness of the people living there. From the horde of schoolchildren who cornered me (literally) in the Khan-e Lari Traditional house to the cheerful friends who greeted us and asked to have their picture taken, I had nothing but amazing encounters.
What do you think? Are there any other places you’d recommend seeing in Yazd? Anything you’d recommend skipping? Let me know in the comments below!