After the overnight train ride, we were excited to be in Shiraz, a city in the Fars province in south central Iran, with a population of about 2 million people.
Our guide for this part of the trip is Sara, who spoke excellent English because not only is her degree in English translation, but she is also a national tour guide trainer.
Our first stop for the day was the Nasir-al-Molk (Pink Mosque), built under Qajar rule of Iran. At the pretty mosque entrance, Sara pointed out the pretty rose color tile works.
The rose and the bird designs here and elsewhere in the city is one of the reasons that Shiraz is referred to as the City of Roses and Nightingales.
The Pink Mosque is also called the “Mosque of Colours”, because light and worship intertwine. The mosque comes to life with the sunrise and colours dance throughout the day like whirling dervishes. It reflects on the ground, walls, arches and the towering spires. It even reflects on the visitors.
The mosque was built during the Qajar dynasty, and is still in use. Construction began in 1876 by the order of Mirzā Hasan Ali (Nasir-al-Molk), a Qajar ruler, and was completed in 1888.
Next we visited the Naranjestan (the sour orange museum), because of the abundance of the bitter orange trees that line the central courtyard of the house/complex owned by one of Shiraz’s wealthiest Qajar-era families.
The pavilion’s mirrored entrance hall opens into rooms covered in a myriad of intricate tiles, inlaid wooden panels and stained-glass windows. Also interesting are the ceilings of the upstairs rooms, painted with European-style motifs.
After Naranjestan we walked over to visit the Vakil Hammam, a public bath constructed as part of a royal district under the Zand’s era. The bath’s architectural design is quite special and demonstrates the bathing procedures step by step.
There are many manikins in traditional clothes which show the culture of people at that time. Interesting to note that commerce, meetings, dental work, hair cutting, medical treatments were all performed within the bath house.
Vakil means “Regent”, which was the title Karim Khan, founder of the Zand dynasty and ruler of Persia from 1751 to 1779, used during his rule.
We visited the beautiful “Vakil Mosque”, built between 1751 and 1773, as the “Regent’s Mosque”. Later on, in the 19th century, it was restored by the Qajar Shah. It has 48 spiral carved pillars with acanthus leaves on its capitals, green marble minbar, intricated mukarnas and mosaics on the ceilings, and carved stones on its floors.
The Vakil Mosque is just west of the Vakil Bazaar. So after the mosque visit, we walked through the bazaar, past all the gold merchants, fabric merchants, spice and sweets merchants. We could not believe the size of the pomegranates on display nor the interior red color of the oranges at the bazaar. The walk ended at the Vakil square with various cafes and restaurants.
In spite of the cold, we enjoyed a light lunch outdoors at Vakil square.
After lunch, we walked to the Karim Khan Castle, in the downtown area of Shiraz. This complex, which resembles a medieval fortress, was built as part of a complex during the Zand era and is named after Karim Khan, and served as his living quarters.
At times, the citadel was used as a prison (during Pahlavi’s dynasty until 1972). Today, it is a museum.
The walls are an impressive 14 meters high. You can visit the living quarters of the Khan, his private bath, and a display showing the khan and his ruling circle.
After such a full day, we walked back to our hotel, a traditional hotel with a lovely courtyard. We enjoyed a traditional Iranian meal of Dizi and Eggplant Stew in the hotel’s dining area.
Dizi, a traditional Persian dish Abgoosht, literally means “meat broth”. It had lamb meat, chickpeas, tomatoes and potatoes. The reason for the name Dizi is because it is cooked and served in a small stone container called Dizi.
We finished our meal with Iranian black tea infused with different flowers and herbs, sweetened with the rock sugar stir sticks.