Close your eyes. Imagine a maze of narrow streets among low building made of mud-bricks. Here and there in the distance you see the turquoise minarets. Next to them you notice monumental wind catchers. The heat reaches 45 degrees. Shadows run silently from one door to another in search of cold breeze provided by badgirs, catching the slightest gust of wind to cool down houses. Welcome to Yazd – the city where time stopped hundreds of years ago.
Yazd is definitely a city that made the biggest impression on us during our visit in Iran. Located slightly off the beaten track, on the border between two deserts – the Great Salt and the Loot, it retained its unique character. You can wander through the narrow streets of one of the oldest cities on earth endlessly. The rich history, heritage of several cultures and architectural treasures of Yazd make you feel like lost in the past centuries.
TRACES OF ISLAMIC HERITAGE
Iranian mosques are stunning. Filled with blue and green mosaic tiles, they catch your eye and make it wander through the infinite patterns. Unusual colors and attention to detail, but also the overall architectural form make them one of the most amazing pieces of architecture in the world. Each one is unique, just like… Persian carpets. Also mosques in Yazd are simply incredible. The most famous are Masjed-e Jameh and Amir Chakhmaq Complex.
The first one is famous mainly because of its 48-meter-high minarets, the highest ones in Iran. You may be surprised when among small mosaics arranged with multicolored tiles you discover numerous swastikas… This symbol of infinity and immortality was found in Iran, already 5000 years before Christ and would thrive till now, if some Austrian guy who failed at painting wouldn’t make more controversial use of it.
Amir Chakhmaq Complex is not just a mosque. Under the arches merchants show their products. The three-storey façade with tall minarets looks spectacular, especially at sunset, when soft orange lights illuminate the arches.
Islāmic heritage can also be seen very clearly when looking at the doors of houses. On many of them there are two knockers – one round and large, the other one thin and narrow. Each of them gives a different sound to warn residents about visitor’s sex. Rough knocker meant that a guest is a woman, thinner one – a man. As a result, it was clear which member of the household should open the door and whether a woman has to wear a scarf to greet the newcomer.
ABOVE THE ROOFS OF YAZD
But frankly speaking, Yazd is famous for its wind catchers, not mosques. These high structures on the roofs are an inseparable part of the city landscape and are used as a natural air conditioning. This desperate search for a cold breeze in the city, where the average temperature in July is 40 degrees, is quite reasonable. The Persians invented a complex system, where specially shaped shelves prevented warm air from getting into the house, while in the same time directing a stream of air down, towards the pond located under the vestibule. It cooled down air, which later circulated in the interior of the property. The most spectacular views of wind catchers in Yazd are waiting for you on the rooftops of the buildings. Admiring sunrise from such a place is an unforgettable experience. Just find your perfect spot!
In the Bagh-e Dolat Abad gardens, you will find one of the highest vestibules in Iran. This 33 meter high building makes a really big impression. It’s enhanced by the surroundings – an extremely long pond, which reflects the pavilion’s lights.
Another problem in this desert city has always been an access to life-giving water. In Yazd area you may come across a unique system of underground channels qanat. They supply city residents with water coming from the nearby mountains, using differences in heights and the power of gravity. Theses more than 2000-year-old constructions are still used by Iranians!
SACRED PLACES OF ZOROASTRIANS
Not only Islam had a significant impact on this city, but also Zoroastrianism. This pre-religion, originating from Persia, had given foundations to the world’s largest monotheistic religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Its main principle was to live with “good thoughts, good words, good deeds”… sounds familiar? Zoroastrians believed also in heaven, purgatory and hell, free will, the devil and the messiah, the cult of saints, the Resurrection and that world was created in 7 days. On the top of that, this religion dates back to 2,000 BC… Nowadays population of Zoroastrians is not big, however, you can still admire their places of worship in Yazd.
Ateshkadeh is the temple, where the eternal sacred fire burns continuously since AD 470 (although in the past it was moved between different places). According to the beliefs, omnipotent and invisible Zoroastrian God Ahura Mazda, told followers to pray in the direction of the light. The only source of light that the ancients were able to control was fire… hence the cult of fire. Before entering the temple, you can see another characteristic o element of this religion – a guardian angel, Fravashi.
The skyline of Yazd is dominated by two Towers of Silence in the distance – being in fact a big necropolis. Zoroastrians believed in purity of the elements, and therefore didn’t bury or burn dead bodies. The corpse was brought in a solemn procession to one of the towers, and was left there to be devoured by vultures. Bodies were laid concentrically on the top of towers, while old bones were moved to the hole in the middle.
It was only in the 70s of the last century when Zoroastrians (forced by the government) began to bury their dead ones in graves, filled with a thick layer of concrete, not to contaminate the soil. The whole area makes maybe not depressing, but rather mystical impression.
ON THE SILK ROAD
Yazd area was famous for high quality silk, long before Marco Polo traveled the Silk Road. To promote trade, a network of 999 caravanserais was built in Persia, built within a reach of a one-day-long camel ride… Today, fortunately, you don’t have to join a caravan to visit a unique Zein-o-Din inn. Why is it so special? This more than 400-year-old caravanserai is round-shaped! It is the only inn built in this shape, which survived till now (second one near Esfahan is ruined).
Looking like a fortress from the outside, it surprises travelers with interiors. If you want to travel in time there is a simple accommodation waiting for you. Just like centuries ago – a basic place to sleep, separated by a curtain from the corridor. Even drinking a tea in a place like this gives a whole new flavor. The inn is located away from the city lights, making it a great place to participate in… astronomy classes (there is even a telescope!).
A CASTLE MADE OF SAND
Just a 30 minutes drive from the Zein-o-Din, in the middle of the desert, there is a fortress, near the Saryazd. The three-storey castle, formerly surrounded by a moat, was built from a special mixture of clay and straw. Sunshine turned it into an impregnable structure. From the ninth century, locals moved here along with their valuables, food and livestock, seeking shelter from invaders.
Wandering between food cellars and climbing the narrow stairs to the observation towers, make you lose track of time and space. At the top you can enjoy a not-from-this-earth view, looking like sets straight from the Star Wars. How not to fall in love with this place?
How much time do you need? 2-3 days
Where to stay in Yazd? We stayed at infamous Silk Road Hotel (rather a HoStel), which is recommended everywhere. Well, no, not on this blog. For $ 50-60 (depending on the season) you get a room that a) stinks of sewage system, b) was never cleaned during our stay (we got even smelly, wet towels on arrival!), c) is noisy because your door faces a patio-restaurant. For this price we got a really great room in a normal hotel in Shiraz. If you booked your hotel room online in advance, remember to reconfirm one day before your arrival – or they could rent it to someone else!
Where to eat in Yazd? Any other option but the restaurant at Silk Road Hotel is good – it was really the worst food we had in Iran. In Yazd we mostly ate falafel for approx. 2 500 tomans (0,60 EUR), which is always freshly prepared, and you can stuff your roll to the brim with a variety of salads. Yummy!
How to get to Yazd? If you travel from Tehran, consider an airplane. If going from the other cities, bus is the best option. We were going from Shiraz so-called VIP bus for approx. 35 000 tomans (9 EUR) per person, the route took 7 hours. To get to the city center from the bus station you need a taxi and be careful when you get in the car – even the official taxis can you drive to a completely different hotel than you wanted! (taxi drivers are apparently given some share for tourists “recruited” by the hotels).
We thought that the stories of dodgy tourist businesses in Yazd are greatly exaggerated, till we faced such a situation … The case is similar when it comes to guides, many of them are unfair and try to rip you off (for example, one guide offered a 5 hour walking tour around the city for 200 EUR… sorry, but even expensive Munich is much cheaper!). By chance we came across Amir and it was a perfect match – we can totally recommend him! If you want to see something more beyond the borders of Yazd, a guide with a car is essential.
Fee: For every entrance to the mosque / temple / another attraction, you will be charged 15 000-20 000 tomans (4-5 EUR) per person. You have to estimate your budget very well in advance, but bear in mind that information in the guides is mostly outdated!
Are you planning to visit Yazd? Read more about our adventures in Iran!
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