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krisek Shiraz - A travel report by Krys
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Shiraz,  Iran - flag Iran -  Fårs
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krisek's travel reports

Shiraz - Where has the delicious wine gone?

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Spicy, jammy and chocolatey - this taste of wine is achieved from the shiraz variety of grapes. Legend has it that they were first grown in Shiraz, once the capital of Persia. It has never been proven though, and furthermore Shirazi wine was white. report of the month contest
Apr 2008

Arg-e Karim Khani. Leaning tower detail.
Arg-e Karim Khani. Leaning tower detail.
As shiraz is my favourite red wine, I concentrated my attention to explore what I could see in the city and its surroundings. Fortunately, there was enough to justify the trip down there.

Shiraz appeared big and busy to me. I thought that perhaps Tehran had problems with its air, but so had Shiraz. Definitely. The fumes combined with dust and dryness of the air were violating my nose so terribly that I eventually started to bleed. Motorcycles riding on pavement were my other headache. Not only was crossing a street a mission impossible, but the speeding motorbikes between pedestrians in their theoretically safe zone caused additional stress.

I bet Shiraz looked significantly different from the times when it had been the capital of Persia under the Zand dynasty in the second half of the 18th century. Or when it was a centre of Persian Renaissance in the 13th and 14th centuries, during which cultured rulers allowed for arts to blossom, including poetry mastered by Hafez, Iran's most important poet. Sanctuary in his name in Shiraz's Melli Park became a pilgrimage spot, particularly for the young at heart.

The city had been so famous in the world that it had a special place on the most important trade routes. Its famous Shirazi wine allegedly exported to Europe is still causing confusion whether it’s one of world's most popular grape variety, now grown around the world, but no longer in Shiraz! It’s unlikely, since the famous Shirazi wine was white and the shiraz grape variety gives red wines.

When I visited Shiraz, shops were everywhere. Absolutely in countless numbers. Architecture around them changed after the trading routes moved away from the city, following the growing importance of the ports and the introduction of the railway. And many important structures from the past were destroyed or replaced by 'modern' ones changing the face of Shiraz forever, stripping it from the evidence how grand it once had been. Shiraz has monuments, but I don’t think it’s charming.

Favourite spots:
Arg-e Karim Khani
Arg-e Karim Khani
The intriguing fortress, Arg-e Karim Khani, right in the heart of the city was my favourite spot. It was the residence of Karim Khan Zand and his government. From the outside it looked like a castle or citadel but inside it was a park with ponds. Small trees planted there provided shade and a perfect escape from a frantic traffic outside. The Arg was located by a pleasant pedestrianised section of the main street (as traffic continued underground) complete with small fountains and carefully cultivated greenery. The fort contained a small photo gallery and a museum, attracting many locals, who visited the Arg. The entrance, between the leaning south-eastern tower and the straight north-eastern one, had an interesting mosaic presenting a battle between white devil and Rostam. The angle at which one of the towers was sloping looked seriously scary. Apparently specialist from the Pisa tried to help but when I visited there was no evidence that anything had actually been done. Free entry.

What's really great:
Inside Regent's Mosque
Inside Regent's Mosque
I loved the fact that it was expected that tourists would want to enter the mosques and have a look around. Despite the fact that many wouldn’t be Muslim. Moreover, many important mosques had chador rental for women, although I noticed that the vast majority of ladies had already put on some sort of head scarf, out of respect for the local culture and to comply with the local law. What an incredible approach and attitude towards the visitors from a non-Islamic world!

Only in Morocco's Meknes and Egypt's Cairo had I encountered such an openness and invitation to see mosques and that was only for one mosque in each city. In remote areas of West Africa I was also allowed to enter an Islamic school or a small mosque, and in Libya (if I remember well) it was also fine. Otherwise mosques were off limits for me in the vast majority of places I had a chance to visit.

Main portal of Regent's Mosque
Main portal of Regent's Mosque
In Shiraz, the Regent's Mosque (Masjed-e Vakil) was one of the major attractions. It was being slowly renovated when I visited but people would still come there to pray. Its courtyard was grand and the two gates (iwans) typically decorated for a mosque entry. However, rather unusually for Iran, red colour had been used for many floral decorations. It looked really special. The Regent's Mosque inside was less colourful and the hall of arched ceiling and columns had only one line of arches decorated with mosaic. The rest was more sombre, sandstone colour.

I noticed the same trick with red decorations at the Khan Islamic School. Actually, since Khan also commissioned the Regent's Mosque in about 1773, that shouldn’t be a surprise. The school was a sight of itself, but closed when I visited.

Other Shiraz’s sights included the Eram Pavillion (which I skipped) and a few smaller historic mosques like the deep blue Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, from the 19th century, and a Jameh-ye Atigh Mosque.

Eseghlale Hotel. Single Room with shower.
Eseghlale Hotel. Single Room with shower.
Esteghlale hotel was my choice. It was very basic but some rooms had hot shower and one or two also a toilet. Otherwise the Asian-type loos were on the main corridor and instead of toilet paper or a bidet there was a hose connected to the main tap. Rooms with shower were 120,000 rials (€8.25). Nice firm beds and a fan. The taxi driver who brought me from the airport said that it wasn’t a good hotel and that I should stay at the Persia Hotel. I told him that I would love to stay there but he would have to pay for my stay.

Before the revolution, Esteghlale was the only hotel in Shiraz, apparently. It was known as Tourist hotel. Since then, there have been many other options. Popular mid range was Eram, when I visited. It didn’t look very splurgy but the personnel was polite and could organise trips in the area. I only saw the lobby and the restaurant, which perhaps could do with some more thorough scrub. I heard the rooms were the same.

Arg-e Karim Khani
Arg-e Karim Khani
I didn’t go out in Shiraz. I went to bed just about the time when shops started to trade on their second breath. Lanterns and powerful light bulbs were lit and the night buzz of shopping and socialising over tea kicked off. I was knackered after having spent 5 hours on a flight from London, then 2 hours trying to leave the new Tehran international airport, then 1 hour in the taxi, then 1.5 hours on a flight from Tehran to Shiraz - still landing in Shiraz at 09:30 in the morning.

Iran being teatotalers' state, tea was the main party beverage. I have not spotted any tea-nightclubs in Shiraz (or any other type, actually), though. Petit tearooms or teahouses were tucked between the shops. I don't think there was a district in Shiraz that would be the party place. But the tea was good!

Regent's Mosque. Main courtyard.
Regent's Mosque. Main courtyard.
Eram Garden and the Melli Park with the poet Hafez tomb were prime candidates for chilling and killing time. The Melli Park was frequented mainly by boyfriends and girlfriends in love. It was a great place providing pleasant shade and the greenery of trees.

The Eram Garden was known for its Eram Pavillion, one of Shiraz's most famous buildings, often representing Shiraz on posters.

Other than that, the Vakil Bazaar was a great place to hide. It was splendid for people watching and exercising all the senses, often all of them at once. The merchants were not pushy so just walking inside the bazaar did not pose a threat to the wallet. And a conversation or two with the traders was always interesting. Everyone was interested from what country one came.

Caucasian Kebab a la Sarve Naz Restaurant at Eram Hotel
Caucasian Kebab a la Sarve Naz Restaurant at Eram Hotel
Sarve Naz Restaurant of the Eram Hotel was where I had my first and the last meal in Shiraz. And there was not much of a choice in the centre, I'm afraid. I had a fantastic Caucasian Kebab (€3), which was a mix of chicken and lamb, cut to small cubes and served like fajitas on a sizzling plate but with flat Iranian bread in place for tortillas. I washed it down with Istak, non alcoholic beer. It was nice, a little sweet but rather tasty. The menu contained also other types of kebabs and meat dishes. Many in the range of €2-4. An excellent value indeed. There was also a salad bar, which looked like a buffet style system - pay once and make as many trips as you like.

The service was efficient and friendly. They allowed me to stay in before opening so I could have a small bottle of Pepsi as I waited for the cook to arrive and typed these words in my phone and wrote a few postcards.

Other recommendations:
Naqsh-e Rostam
Naqsh-e Rostam
Whilst in Shiraz, one has to visit Persepolis, Naqsh-e Rostam and Naqsh-e Rajab. The first is the sight of one of once the greatest ancient cities on Earth, and nowadays one of few sites of evidence how grand Persian Empire was. It is truly a spectacular place.

Naqsh-es are royal tombs. The Naqsh-e Rostam is wonderful. It features four tombs carved in the shape of giant crosses inside a rock escarpment. Beneath them fabulous reliefs were carved in the rock representing battles and the moments of glory. One of the tombs is of the Darius I the Great, who started building Persepolis and was eventually defeated by Alexander the Great of Macedonia.

The trip can be easily made in half a day by taxi (€17) from Shiraz. Any hotel can organise it or a car can be called from the street. Group tours can work out cheaper. There was no public transport when I visited. Entry to the sites: 5,000; 3,000; and 2,000 rials respectively.

Published on Thursday May 15th, 2008

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Wed, Jun 25 2008 - 06:53 AM rating by bootlegga

Great job!

Sat, Jun 07 2008 - 08:42 AM rating by jorgesanchez

well deserved rom

Fri, May 16 2008 - 02:48 AM rating by rangutan

Excellent! A very interesting place and report.
If alcohol is discouraged/forbidden, no wonder there is no wine production.

Fri, May 16 2008 - 02:41 AM rating by terje

Great report! I recognize what you write about tea being the most common sicia drink.

Fri, May 16 2008 - 01:41 AM rating by leillli

i did like it.specially what write about our islamic cover:)

Fri, May 16 2008 - 01:20 AM rating by marianne

excellent information and beautiful photos

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