I feasted on kebab, grilled chicken, fresh salad, lentil soup and braised greens, finishing the meal with dried dates covered in honey.
Today was packed with the highlights of Shiraz….we visited Nasir al-Molk Mosque, Persepolis, Naqsh-e Rustam and the Bagh-e-Eram Gardens. We started our day visiting Nasir al-Molk Mosque -or the Pink Mosque- which is probably the most photographed building in Shiraz, perhaps even in Iran! It is famous for the stained glass windows that line one entire side of the prayer hall, through which light shines through and reflects into a kaleidoscope of colors. As this was a private mosque, the architect was able to forgo the traditional blue tiling and instead use the more feminine color pink, setting it apart from all other mosques in Iran.
The first attempt at the stained glass façade faded after some time, so a solution was found to keep the color of the glass as rich and vibrant as it was when it was first created….gold! Pure gold was mixed in to the glass so that when light passes through it, it is dispersed into hundreds of droplets of color all over the hall.
Come in the morning (the earlier the better to avoid the tourist rush) when the light is just starting to pass through the windows and you will be treated to a spectacular show of light and color! After visiting the mosque, we drove the hour to Persepolis, which is located about 70km outside of Shiraz. Persepolis was the ceremonial capital of the first Persian Empire and was the summer residence of the Achaemenian emperors, as well as being the gathering place of representatives from the 28 states of Iran to celebrate Nowruz, or Iranian New Year.
Only ruins of Persepolis remain, as Alexander the Great set fire to it, supposedly in retaliation for the Persian burning of Athens. The ash from the fire did, however, have one wonderful outcome….it covered the city and perfectly preserved many reliefs and carvings that would otherwise probably have been lost to weather and time. The remaining reliefs are breathtakingly detailed and tell the most amazing stories; for this reason, it is important to go with a guide so that they can really bring the city and carvings to life, and help you paint the picture of what Persepolis used to look like.
After wandering the city for a bit, we went to a large but very tasty touristic restaurant about 10 minutes from Persepolis that featured a buffet of local foods; I feasted on kebab, grilled chicken, fresh salad, lentil soup and braised greens, finishing the meal with dried dates covered in honey. We drove another 10 minutes to Naqsh-e Rustam, an ancient necropolis with rock reliefs and four large tombs cut into the side of a cliff.
Each tomb features large decorative panels above a cross-shaped entrance, inside which the sarcophagi of the King and those of his close friend and family members would have been placed. Similar in style to the tombs and temples found at Petra in Jordan but located in the Iranian desert, Naqsh-e Rustam is definitely worth the visit while you are in the area visiting Persepolis. An hour drive brought us back to the center of Shiraz, where we visited the Bagh-e-Eram Gardens. One of the best examples of a Persian garden, it is divided in to a number of different, smaller gardens separated by little canals and features a colorful palace in the middle. My favorite part of this garden wasn’t the flora and fauna but the people watching and the opportunity to be surrounded by locals who were celebrating the beginning of spring with their friends and family.
To finish off the evening, we visited the nearby Baba Bastani which is famous in Shiraz for its special ice cream…a mixture of saffron, vanilla and chocolate ice creams covered in pistachios, dried yogurt and chocolate sauce. This place is so busy that they pre-make the ice creams and just hand them to you out of the freezer when you order!