After a few days since my last post, we have made it to the city of Isfahan in central Iran. Our sightseeing in Shiraz was amazing and included several beautiful gardens, the tomb of the great Iranian poet Hafez, the Pink Mosque and Eram Gardens, just to name few of places we visited.
We also learned about the many different kinds of carpets made in Iran. There are nomad carpets and city carpets – the nomad carpets are one of a kind designs made without any kind of a predetermined pattern. The design is whatever is in the mind of the weaver at the time. The designs tend to reflect nature and their surroundings. The city carpets are designed then woven according to the design. Popular designs include the patterns found on the domes of mosques, floral patterns and are usually symmetrical. They also make designs that are not symmetrical, meaning the carpet design is not a reflection of one half to the other. One couple in our group bought a beautiful example of this asymmetrical design that had really vibrant colors and depicted the tree of life. The carpets are made with either wool or silk, and sometimes cotton. The best carpets are made with natural dyes, which don’t fade and are more vibrant in the carpets.
We left Shiraz and headed to the impressive site of Persepolis, a palace complex built by Darius the Great and also Xerxes and Artaxerxes . It was blazing hot out there, but there were places to get out of the direct sun so it was a bit more bearable. Persepolis was also used in more recent times by the former Shah of Iran to host a huge international celebration with dignitaries from all over the world. This was the last major event hosted by the Shah and the frames of all the tents are still on the site- kind of like a bone yard.
5 years ago, when I first visited Iran, we saw other tourists, but there just weren’t that many. Now, all the sights are crowded. Iran has truly been discovered as a tourist destination. At the Chehel Sotoon Palace today I saw a booth where you could rent the audio guided tour devices – there was nothing like that before. The hotels are booked up as well as the guides, buses, and drivers. You have to book well in advance to have a tour of Iran, and I have certainly been seeing the evidence of why that is now. Restaurants are bustling, hotels are enjoying a high rate of occupancy with more being built (finally!). And more guides are being trained. This is all very good news for the economy of Iran, which is suffering not just from sanctions, but also a record drought.
Yazd is an example of a city suffering from drought. The region is an agricultural center with crops being irrigated by the system of underground aqueducts called qanats. The water that flows through the qanats comes from the nearby mountains, but that water has been decreasing over the last few years. Now the price of water keeps climbing, adding another cost to the people. But tourism is bringing in much-needed and desired currency. We have been able to pay for many items in dollars, which is kind of nice since the Iranian rial is worth so little. I just paid for Internet service at the hotel here in Isfahan and it cost 60,000 rials, or about $2. I did have a few rials on me- a 50,000 note and a 20,000 note, I got 10,000 back in change. It was a little unsettling to hand over a note that said 50,000 on it!
Anyway, we had a nice visit of Yazd, including the Silent Towers, the Water Museum, the old city and Zoroastrians neighborhood, and a gorgeous mosque at night. Yazd is an interesting place because it is remote and far away from water sources so that served to protect the inhabitants over the centuries. That is why the Zoroastrians fled there, to be safe and not persecuted by invading armies.
Now we are in Isfahan, and started our sightseeing with a visit to the Palace of 40 Columns, or Chehel Sotoon. It’s a beautiful garden palace with 20 wooden columns on the portico that are reflected in the pool in front of the palace, hence 40 columns. The architecture is really amazing, and the inside walls are all painted to depict various scenes from the time of construction by Shah Abbas II, such as hunting , battle, parties, and more. We also saw one of Isfahan’s three major historical bridges – the Khajou Bridge, visited the Armenian quarter and the Vank Cathedral and museum where we saw the smallest bible ever (smaller than the size of my fingernail) and a hair that had a message engraved on it. We ended our day with a visit to another garden house called Hasht Behest, built by Shah Solayman in 1670. It is also known as the Pavillion of Eight Paradises or Palace of Nightingales. It was here we saw a group of young men and women playing volleyball. It was kind of unexpected, and when they saw some of us watching, they laughed, waved, and got on with their game.
Tonight we will be going to see the master of the art of miniature painting. I cut wait – we met him when I was here before and he told us the history of the art, and we got to see a demonstration. His work is gorgeous!