The central area of Iran is one of the hottest and bleakest landscapes on earth. To the north is the Dasht-e Kavir (Salt Desert). To the south and east is the inhospitable Dasht-e Lut. It is an unlikely place to build a city. Yet the city of Yazd has thrived in this region for centuries by creating a special architecture adapted to the harsh conditions.
Tall wind towers (known as "badgir") capture the slightest breezes and channel them into rooms built partially underground for coolness. Subterranean tunnels channel water from distant mountains into covered cisterns. The streets of the old part of town are set within high walls to provide some shade and block desert sandstorms.
Yazd is also the largest center in Iran for the ancient Zoroastrian religion, which dates back to before the seventh century BCE. Zoroastrianism is credited as the world's first monotheistic religion. Depictions of the Zoroastrian God, Ahura Mazda, are seen throughout the ancient ruins of Persepolis and on a modern fire temple in Yazd that holds a sacred flame that has been kept burning for centuries. Outside of town, the eerie "towers of silence" rise up against the sky. To Zoroastrians, both fire and earth are sacred and must not be defiled with human remains. Thus, the Zoroastrians left their dead high atop the towers of silence to be "recycled" by the vultures. The practice ended in the 1970s when specially sealed coffins were developed that allowed burial in the ground without defiling the sacred earth.
With its distinctive desert architecture and association with perhaps the world's oldest surviving religion, Yazd was one of the most exotic areas in a generally exotic country.
After Yazd, we visited Kerman, Shiraz (slide show below) and then went on to the magnificent city of Isfahan.
Central Desert of Iran: Despite the inhospitable conditions of the Dasht-e Kavir (Salt Desert), modern-day nomads still manage to eke out a livelihood. We encountered an encampment along the road from Kerman to Shiraz, in the area near Neyriz. The people live part of the year in traditional tents while their sheep graze in the nearby hills. In order to make some extra income, the nomads we met also offered a small selection of homemade crafts for sale. As we neared Shiraz, we came to Sarvestan and the remains of an ancient palace or perhaps a hunting lodge. Although the building was interesting enough, the highlight of the visit was meeting some young children that had just come home from school and were curious about the foreign tourists. (11 photos) [Preview This Slide Show]
The City of Shiraz: Shiraz is a city once famous for its lush gardens, refined poetry and excellent Shiraz wines. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, wine making came to an end in Iran (at least officially), although vine stock from Shiraz still produces fine wines in California, Australia and other places around the world. Unfortunately, modern Shiraz does not live up to its history and mystique. There is little left of the palaces and gardens that once graced this city. Although the mausoleums of poets Saadi and Hafez still draw many Iranians, these mausoleums were built in the 1950s and hardly exude the same centuries-old charm of, say, Isfahan. As a result, there are only a few photos from this once-legendary city. (7 photos) [Preview This Slide Show]