Things to do in Shiraz, Iran
Things to do in Shriaz
Iridescent shards of pink and blue light fall on the heads of morning worshippers in the famous Nasir al-Mulk Mosque. The heavy reverie evident in any place of worship remains, though typically tourist's attention is drawn away from pious comings and goings, being distracted by the mosque's aesthetics. The light cast by the tinted windows washes over finely carved columns and decorated walls. It has become one of the biggest attractions in Shiraz, primarily popularised by this generation of instagram explorers.
Stepping into the most famous site of Shiraz, the mosque whose pictures inspired a fresh, young generation of travellers in Iran, you can’t help but feel that the city in under-represented. It’s an incredible most, but Shiraz is more incredible still. The capital of Persian culture, a hub of all of human history, and the gates to the ancient city of Persepolis, Shiraz is one of the best cities that Iran has to offer.
More touristy than its fellows like Tehran, Mashhad or Kashan, the beauty of the city deserves all the attention it receives.
Things to do in Shiraz
Mornings at Nasir al-Mulk
That captivating rose-tinted mosque that has captured many a traveller’s imagination is the best place to start a day in Shiraz. Timing is crucial here, where the angle of the sun transforms the site entirely. Visiting early in the morning means you’ll arrive amidst peace; devotees prostrated atop layers of worn rugs of intricate Persian design, mingling worshippers, none of the tourist crowds that wander through occasionally. In addition, arrive just as the sun starts to peak through the windows and a neon bloom flushes the mosque’s interior. It doesn’t take long to explore the small mosque, but the beautifully carved pillars and ceilings are unmissable.
Built under the Qajar dynasty, the mosque was completed in 1876. Visit at around 8-9am for the best conditions inside.
The Arg of Karim Khan
The imposing walls that line the citadel of Karim Khan make one thing clear the minute you arrive in Shiraz: this is a city has seen glory. The castle was used as a living quarters for the rulers of the Zand dynasty, and later as a governing seat of the Qajar dynasty. Built in the 1760s, it is now home to a museum displaying pieces of Persia’s rich cultural history. More so than the museum, I preferred wander the castle walls, looking over the city and the gardens, and watching daily life unfolding in one of Iran’s biggest cities from a seat of historic splendour. The Middle East is filled with castles that rival their counterparts in Europe and Africa, impressive fortresses preserved in memory of the power and the glory of kingdoms past. Iran’s hyper-conservative and Islamic reputation is routinely refuted by the existence and preservation of sites like these; the people of Persia haven’t forgotten their past.
The Tomb of Hafez
Persian poetry has long been heralded as the best in the world. Since the days of antiquity, Persian has been the language of love, the language of the arts, and the language of poets. Though writers like Rumi and Ferdowsi have become familiar names amongst literature enthusiasts, it is Hafez that takes the crown in his home city of Shiraz.
A hugely influential poet, he is known for his blend of the mystical and the real, his vivid imagery and metaphors, and his rich romantic verse. His tomb is held in pride of place in Shiraz, a monument to the poet being placed in the centre of a beautiful garden. Pick up a book of Persian verse, with many translated versions available for sale in Shiraz, and settle down in the tranquil garden for an afternoon of romantic reading.
Even if you have no interest in poetry or Persian literature, the tomb and the surrounding gardens are wonderfully maintained and a popular gathering spot for Persians looking to relax as dusk cools.
I will never stop recommending the bazaars of Iran. Shop for any array of exotic spices, textiles, gold and silver ornaments or jewellery, elaborate rugs, fresh fruits, whatever your heart should desire. They’re also ideal spots to try out Iranian coffee and shisha spots. Separated by men and women, we joined the local women in stirring sugar sticks in our hot tea and partaking in the classic Middle Eastern practice of smoking hookah pipes. If smoking isn’t your thing, it’s still worth visiting for the atmosphere. I loved all of the opportunities I got to see Iranian women in the women-only areas, where they were totally free to behave as they pleased, away from judgemental eyes.
Things to do around Shiraz
The Achaemenid Empire, led by the famed Persian hero Cyrus the Great, established Persia as one of the most powerful forces in antiquity. His capital was here, at Pasargadae, just outside of Shiraz. Thought to have been established in roughly 546 BC, many remnants from the days of Cyrus’ reign lay scattered across the ground, with ceramics being largely overlooked in favour of the more impressive and significant archaeological sites in the region. This means that you’re literally stepping over history, it being so plentiful in this part of the world that pieces that would be considered treasures in western Europe are barely regarded in Iran. Historically, it truly is one of the most rich and interesting places in the world.
A tomb thought to be that of Cyrus the Great still stands at the sight today. A huge monument to the famous ruler, the belief of its belonging to Cyrus is attributed to Alexander the Great. As the conqueror tore down the walls of ancient civilisations and imposed his rule across Asia, he paused to pay his respects to Cyrus the Great in the 2nd century BC. He recorded an inscription, of which there is no evidence today and is hotly disputed amongst scholars of the region, which was said to read:
‘Passer-by, I am Cyrus, who gave the Persians an empire, and was king of Asia.
Grudge me not therefore this monument.’
One of the greatest figures in early history, the first ruler to emancipate Jewish slaves and the author of the first recorded bill of human rights, even successive conquerors like Alexander could not begrudge Cyrus his place in Persian memory.
It is not confirmed that it is truly the resting place of Cyrus the Great, but it is placed upon the site of his ancient capital and is a fantastic archaeological site to explore just outside of Shiraz. Other highlights of the site include Solomon’s Prison and the hilltop citadel.
Persopolis is one of the most important and impressive ancient sites that remains with us today. Rivalling relics that survive in Egypt, Greece or Turkey, any trip to Iran would be incomplete without a visit to the beautiful Persian capital.
I’ve written a full post on visiting the site here.
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