My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Iran: A Persian Odyssey - a day in Yazd

chadors for sale in bazaar
Our guide tells us that Yazd is one of Iran's wealthier towns. Certainly we see many big quality houses as we drive through. Much new building is going on outside the old historic centre and he tells us that saunas and jacuzzis are becoming increasingly popular. And now Yazd is a stop on the main railway line between Tehran and Kerman – a journey of nearly 1000 km. Apparently 10 years ago most people used bicycles to get around. Now they own cars - and there are thousands of motor bikes on the roads, which seem to follow their own traffic rules! Few seem to have lights on at night, lane discipline seems non-existent, all-in-all it seems a free for all from my high vantage point in the coach. It all seems very busy and not pedestrian friendly. Far more women seem to be in black chadors here than in Shiraz - a very conventional society.
abandoned bicycle shop in bazaar!

Backpacking is apparently becoming popular among local Iranians because of the high cost of travel between towns by public transport.
We pass a playground where the schoolgirls are all in black – waving black flags – I suspect this is part of their Moharram ceremonies - the commemoration of the death of the third imam Hossein, this year being held during the month of October. Yazd is the centre of these celebrations in Iran.

Much of the wealth in Yazd has come from pistachio and copper exports as well as from tourism and other fruit and vegetable. The people here are also merchants – importing/exporting with India and China. Also pilgrims stop here overnight on their way north to the shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad. And the soil in the surrounding countryside is good for the manufacture of tiles and bricks.

the Towers of silence site
on the top of the Tower - note central pit
the journey up to the Tower of Silence
Our first stop of the day is at the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence (dakhmeh) – these are simply fantastic! And have the best WCs so far! (male readers may find my obsession with loos somewhat bizarre - but it has to be said that for some ladies on these trips the state of some of the traditional squats became a bit of an issue - it's much easier for you men!!) The energetic among us climb to the top of the lower tower, time not permitting a trip to the other one. At the top we reach the stone platform where until quite recently the deceased Zoroastrians would be left to the vultures and natural decay. We see the central pit or drain which would have been filled with sand, charcoal and phosphorus. This is all to prevent pollution of the earth, recognising the sanctity of earth, fire, air and water. It is important to remember that the area should be treated with the same respect which we should give to all religious and sacred spaces. Zoroastrians are now buried in a concrete chamber in the modern cemetery we can see below us - again to avoid pollution of the earth. 
Below the towers we explore the various buildings, including a water cistern with two wind towers or badgirs (see below), a mourning room, and mortuary preparation area. 
view from top of one of the Towers - modern cemetery on left in background

the faravahar zoroastrianism symbol

a script from the Yasna Zoroastrianism text
the sacred zoroastrianism flame
in Yazd
We then make our way to the Zoroastrian Fire Temple (Ateshkadeh) – the wood used to keep the sacred fire continually burning - it has been alight without interruption since 470 CE if not before - is usually walnut. It is all shielded by a glass screen to prevent pollution from our breath. Here there is a very interesting Zoroastrian museum as well – but we have woefully little time to see all that it has to offer and resort to taking lots of photos to study later – the joys of digital photography. We are reminded that when Jews went into exile this is the religion they would have met.
(more information on Zoroastrianism including what the symbol represents)

The Wind Tower, wind catcher or badgir we visit next has 4 towers - with a map of Iran set out in the paving alongside. These constructions are very clever. 

four tower badgir and water cistern with map of Iran
The badgirs rely on their design to draw and funnel a breeze into the tower for cooling purposes - this one is associated with a water cistern. Others are on residences - and may incorporate a pool or fountain below to further cool the air before it is distributed throughout the rooms - an effective and much cheaper device than the preferred modern air conditioning. They are also 

Next we see the Façade - it looks like a mosque - but it is not. Its foundations are 15th century, but it was built in the 19th century, as a viewing platform for city parades, for example at the annual Moharram ceremony. 
the Facade with Nakhl to the right
By the side of the façade stands a huge wooden Nakhl - this looks like a giant palm leaf - and during the Moharram ceremony it is covered in black and carried by 70 or so strong young men. It must be exceedingly heavy. We are to see quite a few of these, in various sizes, as we travel through the country.
We walk through a square with a large expanse of water in the middle - past some sweet shops - to the Water Museum - This is an excellent and fascinating display of the history of the water irrigation and supply systems of the area - with English translations on the captions. You will never take water for granted again after visiting this I promise.
A walk through the bazaar brings us to lunch. As we go past all the various stalls we cannot help noticing evidence of greater wealth here than in Shiraz - the quality and value of goods in the bazaar, the pots and pans, the children's furniture, all evident - and the cycle shop which has gone out of business.
Lunch is at the Silk Road Restaurant – with a good choice of drinks, in an informal and relaxed atmosphere – but the salad buffet was very basic and tired and the bread was stale. There was however a good veggie aubergine dish – and camel meat for the others! 

intricate cut tiling work in Friday Mosque

wonderful tiling of the mirab in the Friday
The Friday mosque - Masjed-e Jame - is our next port of call, founded originally 1119, over a ruined Sassanid fire temple. The 1375 mihrab is magnificent. 

After an ice cream stop we go back to our hotel for the hottest part of the day – the whole town virtually shuts down as people shut up shop and go home for siestas.
Our hotel has a traditional tea lounge where some of us enjoy the refreshment on offer. 

Suitably rested and ready for our supper, we first call by the Bagh-e Dolat Abad a garden with the tallest badgir in the world at 33m, at the former governor's pavilion. This tower collapsed in the 1960s and was rebuilt. We marvel at the coloured glass and the clever wind ventilation system in the small two storey restored pavilion which is open to the public - and can definitely feel the cool breeze created from the badgir. The gardens are beautiful - even more so as the light fails and the spotlighting at the pavilion changes through different colours - red, green, blue…

the 33m tallest badgir in the world
So on to supper at the Malek-o Tojjar Mehr Hotel  – it is quite a challenge to find through the bazaar on foot - you need a guide or a good map! There was no veggie option – only mushroom and pepper stir fry from the vegetable range – the salad was uninteresting – we didn’t like the cinnamon tea very much – bread not the freshest and others didn’t rate the meat dishes highly. But it was a lovely big atmospheric room in a traditional hotel. 

the wind funneling mechanism in roof of badgir

coloured glass window at Bagh-e
Dolat Abad

It's been a long day - with still so much to see ... tomorrow we are off to Esfahan - surely the most beautiful city in the world - and we enjoy watching traditional pottery making and carpet weaving along the way - with a chance to buy some lovely souvenirs to take home.

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