City of Poetry, Nightingales and Wine
02.05.2007 - 05.05.2007 30 °C
Immediate impressions of Shiraz were of an extremely laid-back provincial city with a pleasant climate (about 30C and very dry). The city was home to many of the greatest Persian poets and consequently attracts thousands to the tombs of both Hafez and Sa'adi. It is difficult to underestimate the importance that poetry plays in Iranian life - a saying goes that every Iranian household should contain first the Qoran and second Hafez's Divan (and many would even place Hafez over the Qoran!) Hafez's tomb was in a calm garden, of which there are many in Shiraz. To illustrate how deeply poetry is ingrained into every Iranian, we met two young conscript soldiers at the tomb who had chosen to spend their day off here, and as we talked with them in the park they compared Hafez to Goethe (unfortunately their English was not great and our Farsi is worse so we didn't really understand what the point was)! It was also in this park that a girl who had been staring at us for half an hour gathered the courage to ask us for our autograph - do we look famous? Having bought a collection of Hafez's work it turned out that Goethe had been heavily influenced by Hafez himself, having written poems addressed to him and even called him his 'twin'.
The Shiraz bazaar is the nicest I have yet seen in Iran, mainly due to its almost comatose approach to buying and selling. The lunch break is about four hours long (11am-15pm) and even during business hours time seems slower inside the bazaar. Unfortunately most of the souvenirs on sale are made in China...it seems that all the handmade prize pieces were in Esfahan (and well out of our budget). Besides the bazaar we managed to walk into a holy shrine (in theory closed to all non-Muslims) which was a splendid sight. Inside what looks like an ordinary mosque, the walls, vaults and arches are covered in thousands of tiny pieces of glass arranged in patterns, reflecting green and red from hidden neon lights. Everything was arranged so as to awe a believer in the presence of God and whichever Imam the shrine is dedicated to. A nearby medressah (Qoranic school) also offered some great views from its roof.
Persepolis - capital of the Achaemenid Empire - was our main reason to visit Shiraz, and so we decided not to take a tour but to get there via public transport for a hundredth of the cost. The site itself was somewhat disappointing in both size and condition and was busy with (mostly Iranian) tourists. It was almost possible, however, to imagine its previous grandeur before Alexander the Great burned the city to the ground... Nearby there were some huge tombs of the various Achaemenid emperors (Darius, Xerxes etc.) cut into the cliff face and surrounded by Zoroastrian symbols which largely made up for the underwhelming Persepolis.
Back in Shiraz, we bumped into exactly the same tourists we had seen in Teheran and Esfahan (there are few tourists in Iran!) including a Polish tour guide with long, blond dreadlocks who stood out just a little bit from the crowd...That evening while walking past the hotel, we witnessed the darker side of Iran: a vicious fight involving people beating each other with sticks turned bloody when a couple of huge knives appeared and someone was stabbed in the face - we didn't stick around to see what happened next. We did, however, notice a mullah (Islamic cleric) and some soldiers walk past as if nothing had happened.
It was also in Shiraz that we met a man called Reza who at first seemed interesting (and normal). He had a Bachelor's degree in English and had family in many places in the world. But when he showed us his pills - "for my nervous problem" - and told us that he was invincible because of the mini-Qoran around his neck (it's true because his mother had told him) we started to back out of the conversation. Nevertheless he followed us to the hotel and after giving us his phone number begged us to call him back later in the week so that we could talk again. Even though we had said goodbye, he followed us into the reception and repeated "Do not forget!" with his eyes wide open and finger pointing - he must have repeated it ten times.
We never called back, but are now safely in Yazd and out of his reach...We hope.