Isfahan Bound!

iran-1232[1] A few days ago I made the trip from Shiraz to Isfahan, traveling north for about 6 hours. My dad’s side of the family is located in Shiraz whereas my mom’s side of the family is in Isfahan (apart from my one aunt who lives in Tehran). The city of Isfahan is capital of the province of Isfahan (like Shiraz is the capital of the province of Fars). Isfahan is about half way in between Tehran and Shiraz and is Iran’s third largest city and third most populated (about 4 million) after Tehran and Mashhad.
DSC01395 (640x420)An image of the inside of the VIP buses that travel to and from almost every city in Iran, definitely the cheapest and best way to tour the country. The seats are super comfortable and bend way back, it’s air conditioned, and they give you snacks and drinks throughout the whole ride!
DSC01419As Shiraz flourished in the Zand and Sassanid dynasties, Isfahan flourished in the 16th century during the Safavid dynasty when it became the capital of Persia for the second time in its history. Isfahan is one of the most beautiful cities in Iran (I think it surpasses Shiraz in beauty). The city still retains its former glory and is famous for its Persian-Islamic architecture, beautifully landscaped boulevards, famous Zayanderud river and its many covered bridges, palaces, mosques, and minarets.

The city is located in the lush plain of the Zayanderud River at the foothills of the Zagros mountains. The province of Isfahan is considered to be a desert and has an arid climate (with very little rain throughout the year). However, cool northern winds blow toward the city making it a livable climate.
DSC01427Isfahan and many other cities in Iran have sites that are designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. One of the most famous sites in Isfahan is the Nagsh-e Jahan Square (post to come), which is one of the largest city squares in the world and has remarkable architecture and is surrounded by two mosques and a bazar.

The history of Isfahan can be traced back to the Paleolithic period. Archaeologists have found artifacts dating from the Paleolithic period to the Bronze and Iron ages. In the Pre-Islamic era, Isfahan was home to the settlement that developed into the Elamite civilization (2700 BC) and was the home of the Median dynasty until Cyrus the Great unified Persian and Median lands into the Achaemenid Empire ~ 600 BC.
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One of the most beautiful streets in Isfahan is Chahar Bagh (literally translated to “four gardens”). Chahar Bagh is split up into Chahar Bagh Bala (upper Chahar Bagh) and Chahar Bagh Payeen (lower Chahar Bagh). The long boulevard which spans almost the entire length of the city is a beautiful tree lined street with shops on either end. The span of the boulevard also contains multiple rotaries and bridges and runs over the Zayanderud river (which runs perpendicular to the boulevard through the city).

Night out in Shiraz: Quran Gate, Sonati Restaurant, and Selfies with Strangers

(PSA: First, I would like to apologize for posting my blogs so slowly. The Wi-Fi in Iran is SO slow that every time I upload photos online for a blog post I want to poke my eyes out. So please bear with me as I hurry to post blogs more frequently as I am getting very backed up.)

Shiraz has an amazing nightlife. Because the days are so hot, people stay in their air conditioned homes like hermits during the day but night is when the cities come to life. For example, stores in Iran are open from 9AM-1PM, close from 1PM-5PM, and reopen again at 5PM until midnight or so (restaurants are open even later). Iranian people love to pack their kitchens and living rooms into their cars and come out to the parks and green spaces at night, throw out blankets, and have luxurious picnics for themselves.

Last night, a couple of our relatives and my family went out to the Quran Gate, which is a great place to visit during night or day.

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The Quran Gate is a historic gate located in the north of Shiraz, Iran. It is located at the northeastern entrance of the city in the direction of Isfahan. Years ago, beneath the gate was a road and cars had to drive underneath the gate if they were headed North out of the city. In recent years because the population of Iran has skyrocketed, they have had to expand the roads and highways and the road underneath the Quran Gate has been transformed into a pedestrian only path.

The Gate was built during the reign of Adud ad-Dawla and was restored during the Zand dynasty. During the Zand dynasty, two small rooms were built on top of the gate in which were kept two hand written Qurans by Sultan Ibrahim Bin Shahrukh Gerekani. It was believed that travelers passing underneath the gate would receive the blessing of the Holy Book as they began their journey from Shiraz.

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Today the gate is a part of a city park where people relax and picnic. To the side of the Gate is a hill on which restaurants and museums are built. We ate at a sonati (traditional-style) restaurant for dinner. Traditional style restaurants in Iran are really cool, the seating consists of raised platforms that are built and covered with rugs and pillows and you have to take off your shoes to sit on the platform. To eat dinner, you throw down a plastic tablecloth in front of you and eat sitting down.

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P.S.: You wouldn’t want to go to a sonati restaurant without ordering tea and a hookah for your booth (it’s the culture;)

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We ordered one chicken kabob to share and three deezy sangy’s–a traditional Persian meal that is basically like beef and vegetable stew that is prepared in a stone dish. The dish comes with a bowl and a meat tenderizer. To eat a deezy, you pour the stew into your bowl and beat the beef and vegetables with the tenderizer.

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This man was standing outside the restaurant and holding burning incents in his hands to wish peace and luck on those who walk into the restaurant. He is dressed in traditional Persian attire.

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Just a couple of the pretty sites up on the hill by the pedestrian path of the Gate that features a gift shop and a waterfall.

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The picture below is a funny story. This random Iranian girl saw me taking pictures at the Quran Gate (I guess she must have assumed I was a tourist, I don’t know why…) and asked for a picture. I first thought she meant if she wanted me to take a picture of her, so I asked “How?”. She replies, “No, with your camera.” At which point I’m totally confused and ask, “How do I send you the picture then?” After a few seconds of confusion, turns out she wants to take a picture with me and she doesn’t want the picture for herself, she says “No, just for you.” After we take the picture she asks me where I’m from and I was a bit annoyed at this point because I was trying really hard to fit in and not look like a tourist since I’m Iranian….and I say I’m from “here” and she says “nooo…”. I half lied but I really stumped her. My guess is she thought I was from America and wanted to take a picture with me so I could put it on the internet and she could become famous, so here you go nameless girl! 🙂

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The picture below is of the Persian poet: Khaju-e Kermani. He was a follower of Saddi and thus followed him to Shiraz. Khaju’s grave is located right next to the quoran gate. There is a monument built in his honor with a sculpture of him and one of his poems is engraved in stone on the brick wall.

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Firuzabad Fire Temple

About a one hour (60 km) drive south from Shiraz is Firuzabad, a small town in the province of Fars, Iran. The town is in a very dry and hot low-lying region, which makes it about at least 5 degrees Celsius hotter than Shiraz. Originally, the city was called Gur, which was destroyed by Alexander of Macedonia. Centuries later, the location was taken over by the Sassanians, who formed the Sassanid dynasty. The province of Fars, Iran was the birthplace of two dynasties 1) the Achaemenids founded by Cyrus the great and 2) the Sassanians founded by the Ardeshir son of Papak.

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At the center point of the town of Firuzabad is an ancient fire temple, the temple is 30 meters high and circular in its architectural design. There is debate amongst historians about when and why the temple was built. Some mention the site as a fire temple built by the Sassanids, others believe it to have been a palace built by Ardeshir during the late Parthian or Sassanian times.

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The conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great in 330 BC did not fully destroy the temple however.

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The palace/temple of Ardeshir over looks a small lake fed by a rich spring. The placement of the lake is really miraculous, given that Firuzabad is so hot and dry. The color of the water is amazing as well, it’s so bright and clear that you can see right to the bottom of the lake. The water from the lake was used to feed the city of Gur.

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 It is believed that a Persian style garden surrounded the lake and the palace.

DSC01222 The arched entry way was built later in the Parthian era, it is a design found mainly in Sassanian palaces. Some homes in Firuzabad have this style architecture as well. As you walk into the palace, you immediately see these very tall doorways which lead to a large 44 foot archway built in 224 AD, the throne room can be entered through this gate.

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Within the palace there are many small doorways that are all built with the similar style arch.

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One of the doorways connecting two of the large rooms, the doorways measure about 20 feet tall.

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The throne room is a large majestic room with the height of a three story building. What is amazing about this room is that there are still remnants of plaster left on the walls which depict patterns from the Achaemenid dynasty.

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There are a couple of tall rooms within the palace that have dome style ceilings with open holes at the top. This is believed to have been the throne room. I believe that if the palace was actually a fire temple, these ceilings were made to function as chimneys.

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The palace used to have multiple stories as is obvious from the stairway built off of the entrance of the building but they have been destroyed. All that remains of the upper floors is the beginning of a stairwell and remnants of the walls.

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A panoramic view of the outside of the temple. As can be seen, the side walls of many of the rooms are completely gone and so are most of the ceilings. Much of the structure still remains after eighteen centuries, which is really amazing given its age and the battles it has withheld.

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The image above is very amazing (best for last!). Driving from Shiraz to Firuzabad, you drive through and by a lot of tall mountains. On some of these mountains are carvings from the Achaemenid and Sassasin periods. I took this picture out of the window of a moving car using a zoom lens so it is a bit blurry but it is carved high up on the mountain and is about 20 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It is a carving from the Sassanian dynasty and portrays the coronation of Ardeshir I, the founder of the Sassanian dynasty.

Naqsh-e Rustam

Naqsh-e Rustam is an ancient “graveyard” about 12 km from Persepolis. PSA: we arrived here a couple of minutes after 6 PM and unfortunately the gates were closed so I had to view the tombs from behind the gates and managed to snap some quick photos.

The oldest site at Naqsh-e Rustam dates back to 1000 BC. At the site, there are four Achaemenid tombs that belonged to Achaemenid kings. The tombs are carved out of the rock in the mountainside at a considerable height above ground. The tombs are known as the “Persian crosses” and the entrance to each tomb is at the center of each cross. In the chamber within the tomb, the king was buried in a sarcophagus.

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One of the tombs is explicitly identified as belonging to Darius I the Great. The other three are believed to be those of Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, and Darius II. The tombs were looted following the conquest of the Achaemenid Empire by Alexander the Great.

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Persepolis

 

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Persepolis is one of the oldest and most famous historical sites that stands in Iran and is definitely one of the most impressive.

 During the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BC) over 2000 years ago, Persepolis was the capital city of the Persian Empire. In Persian, Persepolis is called “Takhte Jamsheed” (the throne of Jamsheed) and is literally translated to “city of Persians.” The historically famous ancient ruins display Achaemenid style of architecture. It is believed that Cyrus the Great (“Koorosh” in Persian) chose the site for the city, but it was Darius (“Daryoosh”) who was responsible for building the palaces.

Darius ordered the construction of the Apadana Palace and the council hall (the Tripylon) and its surroundings. It was during the reign of Darius’s son Xerxes the Great (“Khashayar”) that the buildings were completed. The buildings at Persepolis include mainly military headquarters, treasuries, and reception halls.

The city of Persepolis was destroyed by Alexander the Great after he invaded Persia in 330 BC in revenge for the Persian king Xerxes destroying the Greek city of Athens.

If you want to visit Persepolis, you have to do a day trip and visit Pasargad and Naghshe Rostam (post to come) all in one day. Persepolis is also located about 2.5 hours away from Shiraz and only about 43 km from Pasargad.

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The “Persepolitan” stairway is a grand staircase that leads up to the main palace. The staircase is double sided and built symmetrically on the western side of the Great Wall.

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“The Gate of all Nations” consisted of a great hall with its entrance on the western wall. A pair of bulls with the heads of bearded men, Lamassus, stand by the western threshold. Another pair, with wings and a Persian head (Gopat-Shah), stands by the eastern entrance, to reflect the Empire’s power.

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Achaemenid griffin at Persepolis.

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 Engravings of people bringing gifts for the king.

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 Engravings at Apanada hall depicting Persian soldiers wearing the rectangular hats and Median soldiers wearing the circular hats. Medians, or Medes, were ancient Iranian people who lived in North-west Iran who spoke the Median language.

DSC01099 DSC01107Persian and Median noblemen in friendly conversation, bringing gifts for the king.

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DSC01110An engraving on the Bas-relief of Persepolis on the grand staircase depicting the Zoroastrian tradition of Nowruz (new year): a bull (symbolizing the moon), fighting a lion (symbolizing the sun) which represents the beginning of Spring.DSC01081About a 15 minute hike up into the mountains from Persepolis’s main palace ruins lies the tombs of the kings of Persia during the time of the Achaemenid. 2 or 3 of these tombs within the mountain exist, and it is believed that kings such as Xerxes and Darius are buried within these mountains. I took the panoramic views of Persepolis from the top of the mountain.

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One of the most impressive features of Persepolis are the tall columns that have stood the test of time and war. One would wonder what sort of technology existed in 500 BC that allowed for the creation of these gigantic stone columns. 15 of the pillars are still intact today. You can tell how tall the pillars are by comparing them to the people at the bottom of the photo.

Camel Riding!

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A few days ago on a trip to Persepolis and Cyrus the Great’s tomb (posts to come), we saw some camels parked on the side of the road and of course we had to ride them! Up until a hundred years ago, Persian nomads in Iran used camels as a means of transportation across the country as well as horses and donkeys. Camels are still frequently used in Iran but most of them are used as tourist attractions.

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