Existing in the middle of the desert for over 5,000 years, the ancient city of Yazd still retains its original city core, with a twisting maze of mud-brick buildings and passages that feel like a time warp. We checked in to one of the most interesting hotels we’ve seen on the whole trip, a converted 18th Century traditional mansion, complete with garden courtyard that was a lovely place to relax and escape the midday heat.
Outside in the old town itself, the narrow alleyways may have been recovered with fresh adobe, but they give the impression of being in an ancient city even while getting lost.
One of the most visually striking features of the town are the badgirs, the tall wind-catching towers that provide a natural sort of air-conditioning to the structures below.
One of the unique features of many of the buildings here is that most of the doors have two door-knockers. They’re different shapes so they give off different sounds, depending on the gender of the visitor – that way, in a highly segregated society (where interaction between the sexes outside of family or marriage is extremely limited), the occupants know which sex should answer the door.
There’s a well-restored Qajar-era (19th Century) mansion that shows how little architectural design changed in the desert over the centuries – although some of the interior decoration was very Victorian!
On a few occasions, it’s possible to climb up to the rooftops for an overview of the whole place, seeing the domes and badgirs from another angle.
As usual, the Jameh (Friday) Mosque is the grandest structure around, with the now-familiar blue-tiled mosaic decorations in the interior.
Just wandering the lanes brings you past interesting buildings, from a blue-domed school to a water reservoir with four badgirs, to the Amir Chakhmaq Square, built to commemorate the martyrdom of the third Shia Imam, Hossein.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Yazd is that is still a relative stronghold for Zoroastrianism, perhaps the oldest monotheistic religion, dating thousands of years before Christianity or Islam, and on par with the oldest forms of Judaism. It’s a unique culture, though largely suppressed ever since the Islamic conquest of Persia in the 7th Century, including in the current Islamic Revolutionary government. One of their core beliefs is that the four elements (earth, fire, water, air) are sacred, and should not be polluted with the bodies of the dead. Their way of ritual disposal of bodies is by using Towers of Silence, where the dead are laid out in the open, for the wind and scavenging birds to pick the bones clean. Although no longer in use due to public health laws, there’s a pair of these towers on the outskirts of the city.
Before leaving the city, we did a day trip out to nearby areas to a few sites of interest – firstly, an old caravanserai at Kharanaq, which proved a fascinating ruin to wander through. Parts of it have been restored, but other parts date back up to 4,000 years.
Hitting the road again, we sought out another Zoroastrian site, called Chak Chak – legend has it a fugitive Sassanid princess in the 6th Century was stuck in the desert without water, and created a small dripping source by hurling her staff against the cliff. It’s a desolate landscape leading to the temple perched half way up the cliff face. Most of the austere buildings are just shells, for housing pilgrims during the annual festival.
A strange but welcoming sight was that of eucalyptus trees – the scent of a crushed leaf reminding me of home.
Inside the temple itself is a small eternal flame and the sacred water source.
We finally waved goodbye to Yazd and hit the road again, heading towards Shiraz. We had to stop a few times along the way – firstly to see a Cypress tree that’s reputedly over 4,000 years old, and secondly to replace my sprocket: my chain has been severely worn for some time now, and I had hoped it would last until Turkey so I could replace it easily. Sadly, the teeth started breaking off the sprocket so I had no choice but to change to my spare and seek one sooner.