Ten things to see in Shiraz
Shiraz is the capital of Fars province and one of the most attractive historical cities in Iran. With more than 850,000 inhabitants, the city of Shiraz is situated in southwestern Iran, around 200 km from the Persian Gulf, at an elevation of 1,800 metres above sea level. The city is more than 4,000 years old. Shiraz was a prosperous city under the rule of Karim Khan Zand, who made it his capital in 1762. He built a royal district with a fortress, many administrative buildings, a mosque, and one of the finest covered bazaars in Iran. Many of the famous gardens, buildings, and residences built during this time contribute to the city’s current skyline. Check out my list of ten places you cannot miss when visiting Shiraz.
Shiraz is the birthplace and resting place of two great Persian poets, Hafez and Saadi. Hafez was the master of Persian lyrical poetry. Saadi is the author of the famous Golestan, a book of sonnets called the Garden of Roses. Their burial places are two remarkable monuments in Shiraz.
1 Tomb of Hafez
The most celebrated Persian poet probably is Khaje Shams al-din Mohammad, known as Hafez, born in the early 14th century in Shiraz. He wrote lyrical poems imbued with deep Sufi mystical meaning about love and his beloved woman. One of the many pen names of the poet was Hafez which in Persian means ‘’The Memorizer’’. Rumour has it that Hafez had memorised the Quran by listening to his father’s recitation. As a custom, during special celebrations like Yalda or Nowroz, people close their eyes and open Hafez’s poem collection, hoping the poet will tell their fortune. Hafez’s mausoleum, located in the north of Shiraz, lies in the middle of a pretty Mossala Garden. Initially, his burial place was a plain tombstone; later, several mausoleums were built. The current mausoleum was designed by the French architect Andre Godard in 1935. It consists of an octagonal pavilion structure topped with a hat-shaped dome.
Hafez’s tomb is located in the northern section of the memorial, as is also a library containing 10,000 volumes. On the walls of this section of the Hafeziya, odes from Hafez’s Divān are inscribed on tiles and marble slabs with calligraphy. A cosy teahouse is located on the northwestern side, while a cistern from the Zand era can be found on the west side. A number of famous people are buried in the vicinity of Hafez’s grave. There is a Qavam family crypt and several graves of famous Shiraz residents, including poets, scholars, and other notables of Shiraz.
2 Tomb of Saadi
Shaikh Moshref Al Din Mosleh Al Din Sa’di Shrazi, known as Saadi (1210-1291 or 1292), was revered as the best Persian poet during his lifetime, and his influence has not diminished since. Saadi’s resting place has seen many changes since his death over eight centuries ago. A simple tombstone was the only mark of Saadi’s grave at first. The current building was built around sixty years ago by the famous Iranian modernist architects Mohsen Foroughi and Ali Sadeghi. Although the building looks like a cube from the outside, it is, in fact, an octagonal structure from the inside with marble walls and a turquoise dome. The room has eight brown pillars placed in front of the grave, and the whole construction is covered with white stones and beautiful tiles. The place is decorated with inscriptions of the poems of the great poet.
3 Pink Mosque
Any picture taken in Iran that you might have seen most likely has a relation to this mosque. The “Pink Mosque” is also known as the “Mosque of colours,” the “Rainbow Mosque”, or the “Kaleidoscope Mosque”. The original name of the mosque in Persian is Masjed-e Nasir al Mulk. It was built on the orders of one of the lords of the Qajar dynasty, Mirza Hasan ‘Ali Nasir al-Mulk’, at the end of the 18th century. The vaulted vestibule following the portal leads visitors to a rectangular courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard, there is a pool aligned in the north-south direction. Two porches rise on either end of the pool, and two prayer halls stretch along its sides. The extensive use of stained glass windows turns the inside of the mosque into a kaleidoscope of colours that is absolutely breathtaking. Once the sunlight hits the stained glass, the entire building is flooded by a vibrant rainbow of colours. It reflects on the ground, walls, the arches, the towering spires, and also on the visitors’ faces.The eastern prayer hall, or the winter hall, is decorated with Quranic verses and tiles in floral patterns. This prayer hall now houses the exhibits belonging to the Nasir al-Mulk Endowment Foundation. There are two wells behind this prayer hall which used to provide the water needed for religious practices. The water was pulled out from 60 m deep wells by two cows and kept in a water reservoir.
The souvenir shop is also located there and visitors can buy artworks made by local artisans.
According to historians, Karim Khan Zand is considered one of the most intelligent kings of Iran who cleverly called himself Vakil o Ro’aya meaning the “advocate of the people”. He ruled most parts of Iran for almost 30 years in the second part of the 18th century. Built by Karim Khan, the Zand Complex is one of the most attractive monuments of Shiraz. The complex consists of Karim Khan Citadel, Vakil Bazaar, Vakil Mosque, Vakil Bathhouse, Water Reservoir, and Nazar Garden. You can see a complete complex comprised of a bazaar full of stores, a bathhouse, a stunning mosque, a castle, a garden and a museum, and a water reservoir.
4 Karim Khan Citadel
The Karim Khan Citadel is located in downtown Shiraz. It was built as part of a complex during the Zand dynasty in the late 18th century and is named after Karim Khan. The design of the citadel combines military and residential architecture as it was the home of Karim Khan and the military centre of the dynasty. During the Zand dynasty, it was used by the king as living quarters, whereas during the Qajar period, it was used as the governor’s seat. After the fall of the Qajar dynasty, it was converted into a prison. In 1971, the citadel was given to Iran’s Cultural Heritage Organisation, which started renovation works a few years later. The castle is well protected by a thick wall. The wall has four 14 meters high circular towers on each corner. The tower on the southeastern side is slightly leaning due to the underground cistern that served as the bathhouse. The rectangular inner courtyard has two pools and a garden with orange trees. In one of the rooms of the castle, wax figures depict Karim Khan receiving some European representative. After sunset, when the citadel is nicely lit up, Shiraz people hang out in the park around the castle.
5 Vakil Bazaar
The main bazaar area is within walking distance of the citadel. As the name suggests, its construction formed part of the extensive building programme undertaken by Karim Khan. It retains a sense of intimacy despite its large size. Vakil Bazaar maintains much of its late 18th-century character. Initially, it was one long avenue with four large caravanserais to accommodate merchants, but in the 20th century, the main road was built across the avenue and two out of four caravanserais were demolished.
6 Vakil Mosque
Located on the western side of Vakil Bazaar, the Vakil Mosque is one of the best examples of Iranian-Islamic architecture of the Zand dynasty. The mosque, erected at the end of the 18th century, has an area of 11,000 square metres and consists of two parts: a southern prayer hall and an eastern prayer hall. You cannot find a single surface without some kind of decoration in the entire mosque. Calligraphies, tile works and stuccos are everywhere you look. The southern prayer hall with 48 integrated stone pillars carved in spirals is one of the spectacular parts of this mosque. The area of this prayer hall is about 5,000 square metres. The marble Minbar (pulpit) with a flight of fourteen integrated steps is among its beauties. The winter prayer hall of the Vakil Mosque has a brick roof and 12 pillars. A long and monumental arch is constructed on the north side of the mosque, known as the Pearl Arch. The unique decorations of this mosque are stunning tiles, 48 carved monolithic columns, a large pool, and an integrated marble mihrab and monumental inscriptions in three different scripts. The most considerable difference between the Vakil Mosque in Shiraz and most other Iranian mosques is the lack of a dome. This mosque has two minarets about 20 metres high.
7 Vakil Bathhouse
With an area of 1,350 square metres, Vakil Bathhouse is one of the largest traditional bathhouses in Iran. Built by Karim Khan Zand, the bathhouse was in use until 90 years ago. Afterwards, it was changed into a traditional gymnasium and shortly after into a historic monument. It is currently a museum with wax figures portraying different bathing procedures in the Zand era. The bathrooms were not places used merely for cleaning as different ceremonies were also held there. The Henna Bandan ceremony was one part of an Iranian traditional wedding ceremony where the relatives put Henna on the bride’s hands as a symbol of joy and fortune. The painted scenes from Persian mythology, an octagonal pool, and exquisite symmetry are among the special features of this bathhouse.
8 Qavam House
Qavam House was built for a merchant family in the late 19th century. The Qavam family was influential during Zand, Qajar, and Pahlavi dynasties. Since Qavam family members were among the political figures of Shiraz, Qavam House served as both the residential place and office of the family. In addition to its magnificent architecture, the mansion features beautiful mirrors and stucco decorations. The garden surrounding the building is one of the most beautiful in Shiraz. Since the garden has plenty of sour orange trees, people call it Narenjestan or the orange garden. It is a great sample of the gorgeous Persian gardens of Iran. Along with all the stunning Persian arts visible in the complex, the sound of birds singing in the garden and the shadow of sour orange trees and palm trees along the fountains bring a calm feeling to visitors.
9 Shah Cheragh Holy Shrine
The Shah Cheragh Holy Shrine is a place of pilgrimage but also worth visiting for its marvellous artistic mirrors and tile works. Amir Ahmad Ibn Mousa and his brother Seyed Mir Muhammad, both of whom were brothers of Imam Reza, were buried there. Originally only simple mausoleums, the brothers’ tombs became celebrated pilgrimage destinations in the 14th century when Queen Tashi Khatun erected a mosque and theological school by the tombs. Known locally as Shah Cherag or the ‘King of Light’, the exquisite tomb of Amir Ahmad is a place of truly stunning beauty. The architecture of the holy shrine is inspired by the Azeri style—one of the main Persian architectural styles. It has four alcoves on four sides of the main courtyard. The courtyard has two entrances on the north and south with a large central pond.
10 Street art
Oh, I almost forgot to mention the street art of Shiraz. It is fascinating and diverse and even if you only visit tourist sights, pay attention to it, and you will be surprised.
Where to stay in Shiraz? I recommend the Zandiyeh Hotel.
The Zandiyeh Hotel, which opened in 2015, is a 5-star luxury hotel located in a historic area in downtown Shiraz. The property has a total of 6 floors and 72 air-conditioned rooms. All guest rooms at the hotel come with a seating area, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, and a private bathroom. Free Wi-Fi is accessible to all guests, while certain rooms have a balcony. One restaurant serves traditional Persian cuisine and other international dishes. The hotel also has a souvenir shop, swimming pool, a spa, a unique Persian bath, a fitness centre, laundry services, a business centre, and a conference hall. The property also has a garden and a shared lounge. The hotel is within walking distance from Zand Complex, Sharze restaurant, Fanos coffee shop, and Bein ol Haramein shopping centre. The Zandiyeh Hotel is a 10-minute walk from the Zandiyeh subway station.
If you stay at the Zandiyeh Hotel, it is easy to explore on foot the Zand Complex. For exploring the other places, I recommend having a guide. I had a good experience with Pey Man who I reccommend for your ventures.
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Author: Anita Sane