Elvis and Arlo In Iran
A travelogue of two American tourists during their first visit to Iran
April 16-26, 2009

April 16: Tehran
April 17: Tehran
April 18: Tehran-Yazd
April 19: Yazd
April 20: Pasagardae
April 21: Shiraz
April 22: Persepolis
April 23: Isfahan
April 24: Isfahan
April 25: Isfahan
April 26: Abyaneh-Kashan

April 21

We visit the Mausoleum of Shah-e-Cheragh. It is the most important Muslim pilgrimage site in Shiraz. It contains the tomb of the son of the seventh Imam  Technically, non-Muslims are not permitted, but it seems to be a 'don't ask, don't tell' situation. I am given a chador to wear (mine is patterned, I guess to distinguish me from the more religious women who have their own chadors?)

shah-e cheragh

Photos are not permitted even in the courtyard, presumably for security reasons, so we must check in our camera. This seems useless since people can bring in their cellphones and can, and do, take photos with them.

The courtyard is very lovely and serene, flanked with two rows of tall trees in it, and impressive tilework. The shrine Qajar architecture is different than Islamic architecture we've seen elsewhere because the shrine is fronted by wood pillars and eaves.

The shrine interior is covered with mosaics of shining silver and gold mirrors, forming stalactites and reflecting over the whole interior. The inside glitters; it’s like being in an incredible house of mirrors in a carnival. The doors are covered with panels of silver. This is a very holy place; women are touching the shrine, kissing the door, and praying. George and I feel uncomfortable and leave as soon as I can find the exit where I left my shoes.

The Citadel of Karim Khan was built as part of a complex during the Zand dynasty and is named after Karim Khan, and served as his living quarters. It resembles a medieval fortress. The outside walls contain wonderful colored mosaics depicting scenes from the Shahnemah, the great epic poem written by the Ferdowsi around 1000 AD. It tells the mythical and historical past of Greater Iran from the creation of the world up until the Islamic conquest of Iran in the 7th century..

shiraz citadel shanemah tiles

The Citadel is used as a museum. Lovely colored glass and delicate paintings cover the walls. Historical photos of Shiraz are on exhibit, an interesting glimpse of the past. Serene pools lit by window light offer a chance to relax in the cool of the castle.

shiraz underground pool

We head on to the bazaar.  Built in the Zandian period, the lovely brick arches frame endless corridors of shops selling spices, clothing and handicrafts.  A traffic jam of pushcarts, motorbike, merchants, shoppers, and a mullah traps us in a corridor for a while. We break free, and have a quick  wander.

shiraz bazaar lights

The Pars Museum is set in rose-filled gardens. The museum is housed in a graceful. octagonal Zand-period building that had been the reception hall for Karim Khan,  who lived in the nearby castle. Inside the building are oil paintings depicting Moses and Abraham,  a portrayal of a tale of a mullah falling in love with a Armenian maiden, and intimate images of court life: woman dancing and drinking and playing instruments, tiles portraying  Solomon's enthronement, Islamic ceramics, and various curiosities. There are numerous coins, including ones depicting Alexander the Great.

shiraz pars museum

Outside are marvelous Bas Reliefs illustrating the Shanemah, wonderful paintings of court life and Persion tales. George found this small museum to be more captivating than the National Museum.

bas reliefs pars museumx

Busloads of schoolchildren visit;  as many of the items on display are from the Islamic period, the government apparently approves of this museum.

Lunch is at the Shater Abbas, with traditional food including truly delicious tadigh: the browned, crunch  bottom crust of the basmati rice after it is cooked. Here, it is made with saffron (with meat inside the rice).  We also enjoy lamb kebab, and sweet saffron fudge and dates for essert. As Hossein and our driver offer us the sweets, we try to remember the Iranian custom of “taroof”–when someone offers something, such as a treat, payment, or a visit to their home, it is good manners to refuse twice. If you really want to accept, the third time the offer is made you may finally say yes.

We are supposed to rest for a while but instead head back towards the bazaar.  In a beautiful shop, with a painted ceiling and walls, we buy a nomadic style block-printed jacket.

shiraz carpet seller

Elsewhere we buy a marvelously illustrated book of some of the most respected translations of Persion poetry into English. The bookstore owner claims to be a descendent of the famous poet, Hafez. Uh huh.

Shiraz is known as the “city of nightingales and roses”. We do see many caged nightingales singing their elaborate songs in front of shops, and flowers are everywhere. Bagh-é Eram (Garden of Paradise–Paradise is a Persian word meaning enclosed park), or Eram Gardens, is redolent with orange blossoms and is filled with wonderful trees of different species, many flowers, and a wonderful-looking palace. Built in the Qajar era, the compound was used by the early leaders of Fars Province, and later by the royalty of Iran.

garden of paradise

Many students stop us to ask where we are from, practice their English, and ask how we like their country. Often, younger people greet us with a shy 'hello', but some older men tsk, tsk at my 'unmodest' dress (though many of the young women are dressed in much more form-fitting and coloful clothing).

Hafez (1315-1390) is the most celebrated Persian lyric poet. His themes are love, wine, and exposing the hypocrisy of those who have set themselves up as examples of moral rectitude.  The majority of Iranians own copies of his poems and recite his poems by heart.  There are frequent Hafez readings, and his poems are often used in traditional music, visual art and Persian calligraphy.

shiraz hafez tomb

We are glad  we brought the book of Persian poetry with us to his tomb. Many people (especially students) visit his grave, which is in a beautiful pavilion with a carved marble tombstone.  The gardens around make a tranquil setting for contemplating Hafez's poetry. Sadly, the attractive tearoom has recently been closed; apparently, the young people who visited it had not been comporting themselves according to strict Muslim rules.

It is the celebration of Saadi today.  Sa’adi was a Sufi poet of the twelfth century.  He is admired as much for his social commentary as for the grace of his poems. The park is filled with Iranian families enjoying the celebration in a beautiful setting. People picnic, children frolic on the grass, and couples sit together reading poetry. The shrine itself is fronted by unattractive modern pillars, but inside is peaceful.

shiraz picnic at Saadi's park

We brave the dreadful traffic to find some tasty saffron ice cream. Cones in hand, we walk towards another garden, but it is closed for orange-flower harvesting. Undaunted, we buy some of the flagrant blooms and return to our hotel, exhausted from our busy day.