Nasir al-Mulk

Nasir al-Mulk is a famous historic mosque in the center of Shiraz, located near the Shah Cheragh shrine. It was constructed in the Qajar Dynasty in 1876 by lord Mirza Hasan Ali Nasir al Mulk. The mosque is known for its extensive use in colored glass in its façade. The construction of the mosque uses other traditional structural elements as well such as “panj kasehi” (five concaves).

These days, the mosque is more of a tourist attraction than a place for prayer. Like all mosques in Iran, you must remove your shoes before entering and the floor is lined with Persian rugs from wall to wall. We found out that underneath the rugs is actually a beautiful marble floor as well.

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Shah Cheragh

Shah Cheragh is a funerary monument and mosque in Shiraz, Iran that houses the tomb of the brothers Muhammad and Ahmed who were brothers of Ali Reza and sons of the seventh imam in Islam. They took refuge in Shiraz during the Abbasid persecution of Shia Muslims. Shah Cheragh is Persian for “King of the light”, shah meaning king and cheragh meaning light. The beginning of the construction of the tomb was in 1130s AD but further work was done in 1300s and 1500s AD. The religious history of the shrine would make for a very long description however.

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The shrine has two large mosques inside, one on either end. DSC00543

There are two large entrances that can be seen in the photo above in the right and left corners. Once you step through those doors you enter the large patio inside the walls of the mosque.

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This is another view of one of the entrances.

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More close up views of the entrance ways.

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The photos above are views of the second mosque. Each one houses the tomb of one of the brothers.

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To enter any mosque in Iran you have to wear a “chador” which is a piece of fabric that covers the entire body except the face, which we are wearing in the photo above. The mosques have chadors for rent but we brought our own and threw them over us right before walking into the mosque. To enter the mosques you must also take off your shoes. The entire inside of both of the mosques are lined with Persian carpets from end to end. There is a shoe check before you enter the door which you can pay to have your shoes put in a cubby. The walls and floors of the mosque are made entirely of marble and the entrance ways are made out of pure gold.

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 When entering the mosque for the first time, I was in pure awe. Every millimeter of the walls and the tall domed ceilings of the mosque are lined with tiny pieces of reflective glass in different colors. The ceiling being domed and the glass being positioned in different angles reflects so much light that it is hard to open your eyes at first! Enormous chandeliers hang from each of the domes in the ceiling.

Once inside the mosque my mom, my sister, my aunt and I grabbed Qurans and stones to pray on (Islamic prayer tradition) and we did a special prayer that you are supposed to do once inside the mosque to ask for your wishes to come true. I didn’t know all of the parts of the prayer but listening to someone pray out loud is just as valid as saying it yourself in Islam. Guards surrounded the tombs of Ahmed and Muhammad so I was not able to take photos of the tombs but that was also an amazing site. The tombs were gold and surrounded by gold cages and then another wall of plastic that had slits for people to insert cash with their prayers.

I am not a super religious person but stepping inside the mosque just filled me with an overwhelming feeling that almost brought me to tears. Was it worth having to wearing a chador for a couple of hours that kept slipping of your head every two seconds in extremely hot weather? Absolutely yes.

Disclaimer: taking photos inside the mosque is illegal but I managed to snap a couple of shots from underneath my chador (perks?). When taking one photo I did get caught (stupid camera made a loud noise) and threatened to have my camera taken away but the guard let me go with a warning (God’s will?).

Bazar-e Vakil

Bazar-e Vakil (Vakil Bazar) is Shiraz’s historic and original bazar located in the oldest part of the city around the Arg-e Karim Khan (previous blogs). The bazar was known to have been built in the 11th Century AD. The Bazar has beautiful alleyways, courtyards, bath houses, and old shops which are some of the best places in Shiraz to buy Persian rugs, spices, copper and silver handicrafts, jewelry, and antiques. The Bazar is enormous and has hundreds of little shops. The ancient architecture of the bazar is truly stunning, aside from the unique crafts sold inside. When you look up as you’re walking down the alleyways you’ll notice beautifully designed domed ceilings that age back to this time period. The floor of the bazar is completely cobble stone. The feeling you get while walking through Bazar-e Vakil is something you can’t really put into words. The aroma of the spices, the hustle and bustle of people haggling the shop owners for fabric and rugs, the antiquity of the handiwork, the taste of Sonati (traditional) ice cream and fruit juices, the sounds of bazar life.

 

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Inside one of the alleyways of the bazar.

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Bazar-e Vakil is famous for its countless fabric shops. Shiraz is the destination in Iran if you want the most variety of fabric for the cheapest prices! The fabrics with lots of embroidery on them are made specially for traditional Gashghai Turkish dresses.

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Handmade weavings for decoration hanging from the outside of the bazar on the adjacent street.

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A couple of shop owners folding a Persian rug in one of the numerous rug dealers in the bazar. The framed portraits and landscapes are also hand woven rugs which are made to hang for décor. Persian carpets are very expensive and famous worldwide, they are died with very vivid dyes and hand-woven unique patterns.

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Persian copper and silver handcraft sold in one of the shops. Metal art is unique to Persian handicraft and dates back to ancient Persia. Especially copper handcraft is very popular. All the detailing in the metal is hand designed with knifes and some are hand painted with black ink. The metal is shaped into all kinds of items from pots, tea kettles, and trays to wall hangings and candlesticks.

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Me posing with a man dressed up as a Qashqai khan who takes pictures with tourists in Sahrah-e Mosheer :).

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Inside one of the larger rug and handcraft shops in the Sahrah-e Mosheer end of Bazar-e Vakil. The shop owners sit at the entrance and allowed me to take a picture of their beautiful store.

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Another view of one of the smaller cul-de-sac alleyways of the bazar, they sell ice cream, fahloodeh, and fresh fruit juices in one of the shops here.

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Another end of the bazar that had a lot of rug and painting dealers.

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Beautiful handmade jewelry hanging outside one of the jewelry stores in the Sahrah-e Mosheer end of the bazar.

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There is no other way to end a hot afternoon in Bazar-e Vakil without grabbing fahloodeh or sonati ice cream from sahrah-e Mosheer! Three of us got fahloodeh, which is a dairy free and gluten free dessert made with rice noodles, sugar, and lemon juice. Sonati ice cream is the name given to traditional Persian ice cream. It is usually either plain or saffron flavored (saffron is the dark yellow, plain is the white underneath). The underlying flavor of the ice cream is rosewater. There is something about the way they churn the ice cream that makes it really stretchy, giving it a unique yet delicious consistency (like melted cheese but tastes like ice cream).

 

The Land of Spice

In Farsi, a spice shop is called an At-tahr-y. In Iran, spice shops line the busy streets and the bazaars, sending powerful aromas into the air as you walk by. We took a stroll through Shiraz’s famous Bazaar-e Vakil (post to come), which has numerous mini shops that line either end. One of my favorite types of shops, among rug and fabric sellers, are the spice shops. It’s a sight you will only find in the Middle East. Most of the spices are imported from India, especially the turmeric (used to make curry). The variety you will find in these shops is enormous and include saffron, dried vegetables and fruit, and numerous kinds of dried herbs.  Something unique to Iran is the dried flowers. As you can see in a few of the pictures, there are piles of dried wild roses (pink and purple), jasmine, and other aromatic flowers. The dried flowers are used in baking, cooking, seeping tea, or just used as a household fragrance. Something I love about these shops is that you can buy anything in bulk and its more convenient as well as environmentally friendly ;).

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Arg-e Karim Khan (Arg of Karim Khan)

The Arg of Karim Khan, Karim Khan Zand’s castle, is a citadel located in the north-east of Shiraz. It was built during the Zand dynasty in 1766 and served as Karim Khan’s living quarters. The shape of the castle resembles a medieval fortress, it is rectangular in shape with four high walls and cylindrical pillars on each corner. The inside of the castle is open to the outside and contains an orchard with gardens and a large reflection pool running down its entire length. The trees in the orchard are all naranj (similar to an orange but more sour).

Karim Khan had ordered the best architects and builders of his time to bring the best materials from abroad in order to build the castle quickly. During the reign of Reza Shah, the first Pahlavi monarch of Iran, the Arg served as the city prison from 1925 until 1971, right before the Iranian revolution. During this time, all paintings were covered with plaster and the rooms and hallways were converted into small prison cells. Recently, great rehabilitation acts have been taken to preserve the genuineness of the fortress.

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Stained glass domed windows from the inside of the castle.

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The massive courtyard inside the castle is a rectangular shape with an orchard in the center and the building on the outside.

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The bath house inside one of the castle’s rooms featuring floor to ceiling marble and private tubs.

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Outside of the Arg-e Karim fortress. The castle is a rectangular shape with four cylindrical columns on each corner.

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Another shot of the outside of the castle showing the entrance.

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A wide view of the inside of the fortress. The inside of the courtyard is an orchard with a pool running down the center.

 

Historical Vakil Bath House, Shiraz

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Yesterday we visited the Vakil Bath house, a historical public bath house located in the royal district of Shiraz, Iran. It was constructed during the reign of Karim Khan Zand during the Persian Empire (Zand Dynasty) in the 18th Century. During the time of its construction, private baths in homes were rare and going to this bath was considered a royal treatment. The bath house has recently been converted to a wax museum which portrays the history of the building and the people during this time period. The wax statues represent the different types of people who would have attended the bath house and show the different types of attire they would wear (according to their social class and profession) and where they would sit.

The historical bath house was not only famous for its uniqueness and diversity of people who would attend but also for its beautiful architecture featuring traditional Persian dome style ceilings. The first image shows the entrance into the bath with a dome style entrance. The turquoise colored tiles that decorate the ins and outs of the buildings, and others, are also a historically famous trend of Persian architecture. The second image is the first room you see when you go down the spiral concrete stairs to step into the bath house. What you see as concrete now was once glimmering colorful tiles that covered floor and ceiling. This first room was a common place for people to sit down, socialize, and do work as they waited their turn for a bath. Stepping through low arched hallways to enter other rooms, one can get a feel for the bathing process. One of the last rooms features a place where the statues wait their turns for massages, scrubs, and even getting their teeth pulled.

Boston – Istanbul – Shiraz, in 24 hours!

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We left Boston at midnight Friday morning with Turkish Airlines (the service was amazing, they fed us breakfast, lunch, and dinner!). During our layover in Istanbul we had a quick bite of some traditional Turkish Baklava and tea as well as some delicious tiramisu. The narrow-wasted shape of these tea cups is very traditional. My sister is not pleased with the amount of suitcases our parents made us bring, but it is Iranian tradition to bring gifts for everyone in your family when you come back to visit and man do we have a big family.

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Our lovely family was there at 3 AM upon our arrival to the Shiraz airport. We had to throw on knee-length long sleeve cover ups and head scarfs before exiting the airplane to step foot in Iran since it is illegal in Iran to not be covered up. This is how we had to pack the taxi to get everything to my uncle’s house.

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We woke up Saturday morning, after 4 -5hours of sleep, to a beautiful Shiraz day, the weather is not too hot on our first day in Shiraz at about 28 degrees Celsius ( ~83 degrees F). We had a lovely first lunch that my uncle’s wife prepared for us with Iranian saffron rice with red currant, chicken, and lentils and beef. Drinking doogh always takes the place of water during an Iranian meal. It is well drained yogurt water with mint mixed in. It is not even our first full day here and I’ve already had four cups of tea and broken my diet, but the food and desserts are so good that I can’t help it (more pictures to come).

Join Me on a Cultural Whirlwind!

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I will be graduating from college on Saturday May 9th, and as one of my graduation gifts I received this gorgeous new Sony NEX-5T camera. Furthermore, to celebrate the end of my four year long journey, my family has decided to take the two month long vacation that we have been putting off. That’s right everyone…the Kashkooli family is leaving for Iran in 10 days! After receiving this camera, I realized I really want to do a blog about my trip! Last time I visited I was 15 years old and now I’m 22; I think of myself as having changed so much in this time. I have come to think of Iran not just as the place where all my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and sheep live but also as a beautiful and cultural land with an incredible amount of history dating back to the Persian Empire. I will be traveling to all the historical landmarks of the ancient world, showing you the ins and outs of the street life, the culture, the food, the dancing, the architecture, the beautiful landscapes, and everything else you could possibly imagine. Finally we will be ending our trip with a one week stay in Istanbul, Turkey. I not only want to enjoy my time with my family, but I also want to show all my friends who are in America everything about Iran and hopefully make you want to travel there some day!

PSA: My flight leaves on the 14th and it is 24 hours of travel so expect to see my first real overseas post in the next two weeks and please be patient, WiFi in Iran is still a finicky issue 🙂