From Shiraz to Yazd – Persepolis, Pasargadae and Abarqu

We awoke early for a 7am start to meet our driver who would take us from Shiraz to Yazd stopping along famous sites – Persepolis, Naqsh-e Rostom, Pasargadae and through the small town of Abarqu before reaching Yazd. In total, the journey would take us over 500km.  Soon into our trip we realised our driver, Morteza Mehrparvar, was quite a comical character, which made our long car trip much more enjoyable.  He had been in the tourism industry for the past seventeen years (which he reminded us a number of times during the trip), and had many stories to tell. He was even listed in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 editions of the Lonely Planet – “page 271” he proudly said.


Similar to the sites in Shiraz, Persepolis was packed with local Iranian tourists.  We explored the sites in awe of the beautiful creations of the ancient Achaemanid Empire, during reign of Darius the Great.  It was clear that Persepolis was once a magnificent city. My favourite features were the staircases – each step consisting of a relief mimicking the ancient customs of bringing gifts to the palaces.

Persepolitan stairway, allowed visiting dignitaries to maintain a regal appearance while ascendingGate of all NationsLamassus, bull with the heads of bearded men
Pair of Lamassus, bulls with the heads of bearded menPair of Lamassus, bulls with wings and a Persian headLamassus, bull with wings and a Persian head
Persian girl taking photo with SonyaThe Gate of All Nations, Eastern sideTwo headed eagle sculptures
Throne Hall (Hundred-Columns Palace)Looking west towards the Gate of All NationsLooking west over Persepolis
Throne Hall (Hundred-Columns Palace)Apadana Palace (The Great Palace of Xerxes)Two colossal stone bulls flanking north side of Throne Hall
Colossal stone bulls flanking north side of Throne HallApadana Palace (The Great Palace of Xerxes)Looking towards the Gate of All Nations
South restoration of PersepolisLooking over Throne Hall (Hundred-Columns Palace)Double horse column capital
Tomb of King of Kings, the Faravahar symbol of ZoroastrianismTomb of King of KingsFlower carvings on the Tomb of King of Kings
Persian soldiers carved on the Tomb of King of KingsView of PersepolisTomb of King of Kings
Zoroastrianism carvings on the Tomb of King of KingsTomb of King of KingsApadana Palace and Zagros Mountains
Gate to Apadana PalaceApadana Palace (The Great Palace of Xerxes)Relief of Lion fighting a Bull
Apadana Hall, Persian and Median soldiersFighting bull (personifying the moon),and lion (personifying the Sun)Persepolitan stairway
Apadana Palace (The Great Palace of Xerxes)Tomb of King of KingsGate to Apadana Palace (The Great Palace of Xerxes)
Sonya and Travis with Apadana Palace in the backgroundRepresentatives of twenty-three subject nations of the Achaemenid Empire bearing giftsLooking towards the Zagros Mountains
Persian soldiersThrone Hall (Hundred-Columns Palace)Gate of all Nations

Naqsh-e Rostom

Next we stopped off at Naqsh-e Rostom, a site consistent of impressive rock tombs off Darius I, Darius II, Artaxerxes I and Xerxes I located on a smooth mountain face.  A number of detailed reliefs/murals depicting war, victory across the ages are also carved on the rockface surrounding the tombs.  Nearby is Kaba Zarosht, a monument that was thought to be a Zoroastrian Fire Temple but is now regarded to be a treasury of some sort.

Naqsh-e Rostam (Picture of Rostam), one of the elevated tombs (Persian crosses)The investiture Sassanid relief of Ardashir I The triumph of Shapur I Sassanid relief
Equestrian Sassanid reliefThe Kaba-ye ZartoshtView of three of the four tombs (Persian crosses)


The first thing we saw upon reaching Pasargadae was the tomb of Cyrus the Great – a high rectangular tomb.  It seemed a little unimpressive for a ruler who was so highly regarded in Persian history.  Further along was the Pasargadae site, which was much less reconstructed in comparison to Persepolis but worth the visit.

The tomb of Cyrus the GreatTravis at the tomb of Cyrus the GreatThe tomb of Cyrus the Great
The citadel of PasargadaeLooking over ancient Pasargadae from the citadelThe citadel of Pasargadae

Sassanian ruins

Morteza also took us on a slight detour to visit an old run down site which was from the Sassanian period.  It was completely deserted (unlike all the other sites we’d visited), aside from a local family who had setup a few troughs to feed a group of baby goats inside the building… Apparently they were from the nearby mountains but weren’t getting enough food.  We enjoyed a cup of hot tea here whilst admiring the nearby snow capped mountains.

The arch entrance to the Saddanian buildingMany baby goats (kids)Many baby goats (kids)
Sonya with a baby goat (kid)Many baby goats (kids)Many baby goats (kids) with the Sassanian building in the background
Many baby goats (kids) with the Sassanian building in the backgroundMany baby goats (kids) with the Sassanian building in the backgroundMany baby goats (kids) eating


Our last stop before Yazd was in Abarqu – here we visited the icehouse – a massive circular pyramid structure which once stored ice from winter’s snow for the hot summers, a 4000+ year old Cyprus tree (although Morteza suspects it is only 1000 years old) and Gombad Ali Dome built in the 11th century.

Abarqu ice houseInside Abarqu ice houseSonya at the entrance of a mud brick wall
Sarv-e Abarqu (cypress of Abarqu)Sarv-e Abarqu (cypress of Abarqu)Gonbad Ali Dome

Poets and Gardens, Shiraz, Iran

After our first day we were fairly comfortable with Iran, its safe streets and friendly people. This day we decided to visit the outer Shiraz sights, which were mainly two tombs and the surrounding gardens. As per the previous day, because of the Persian New Year holidays, all sights were extremely overcrowded.

Tomb of Hafez
Hafez is a famous Persian poet, whose poems are known by heart by all Persians. Hafez’s hometown Shiraz, which he rarely left, was a predominant influence in his poetry.  In Shiraz is the Hafez mausoleum which consists of his tomb and memorial hall, all surrounded by lush orange trees and ponds.
One of the interesting things is the sale of verses of Hafez’s poetry which are selected randomly by a canary or budgie; the bird will use its beak to select a single piece of paper from a box of many.

The Tomb of Hafez protected under a domed coverThe Tomb of Hafez covered with verses of poetryThe design on the undercover of the dome
Sonya with the Hafez mausoleum in the backgroundThe vast gardens leading up to Hafez's TombA canary choosing a verse of Hafez's poetry

Delgosha Garden
Situated  between Hafez’s Tomb and Saadi’s Tomb is Delgosha Garden, one of Iran’s oldest gardens. To the east of the garden is a small mountain which we climbed provides sweeping views of Shiraz.

Delgosha Garden pond leading to a mosqueDelgosha Garden trees leading to a mosqueDelgosha Garden trees leading to a mosque
View of Shiraz from a mountainView of Shiraz from a mountainView of Shiraz from a mountain
View of Shiraz from a mountainView of Shiraz from a mountainSonya and Travis with Delgosha Garden in the background

Tomb of Saadi
Similar to Hafez, Saadi was a famous Persian poet, born in Shiraz, Iran. Whilst Hafez rarely left Shiraz, Saadi spent the majority of his life travelling surrounding countries, after which his learnings were reflected in his poems. The Saadi mausoleum contains vast gardens surrounding the tomb.

Entry leading to Tomb of SaadiSonya in front of some colourful mosaicsSome metal work in the Saadi mausoleum

Shiraz, our entry to Iran

Shiraz was our first stop in Iran. After a few hiccups with our flights (apparently Gulf Air doesn’t fly to Shiraz from Bahrain, despite having the option available on their website), we arrived via Qatar Airways early on Sunday morning.  We made a relatively smooth entry into the country, with a very short line at immigration – it seemed we were the only tourists entering into the country.

We found a taxi driver, willing to take us to our hotel, the lovely Niayesh Boutique Hotel located in the heart of Shiraz’s old city. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the early hour of 4:30am, the hotel was closed and after making a call, we were told to come back at 9am to discuss our booking. Due to our change in flight schedules, we had arrived early and had not informed the hotel of this change, so we patiently waited outside for a few hours. Thankfully, once the lovely reservation lady Nasrin arrived, we were shown the dorms where we were to stay (which were very comfortable, clean and barely occupied).  Our trip to Iran coincided with the Iranian New Year – Noruz, which lasts for two weeks and as such accommodation during this time was hard to find.

We rested for a few hours before wandering out to the main square to exchange some money and buy lunch.  One US dollar is equivalent to about 18,000 Iranian Riyal so after our money exchange our wallet was a little heavier!  Lunch was a simple kebab, which came to something like 70,000IR ($3.50).  We then continued exploring the old city area, checking out the following sites (which were all bustling with local tourists from other cities):

Arg-e-Karim Khan – An 18th century fort-like building in the middle of the city centre, which once formed part of the Zand dynasty’s royal court.

Narrow pond inside Arg of Karim KhanMosaic floral tiles with Farsi writingNorth building used in winter
Child sitting on the steps of the north buildingDecorated niche, the geometric pattern at the top mimic stalactites in a cavePainting of birds and flowers
Stained-glass windowBronze bust sculpture of Karim KhanSonya with the Arg of Karim Khan garden in the background
Mosaic of Rostam overcoming the DemonEast round brick tower of the Arg of Karim KhanIntricate brick mosaics cover the Arg of Karim Khan's exterior East tower
East round brick tower of the Arg of Karim KhanNorth walls of Arg of Karim Khan and North round towerNorth walls of Arg of Karim Khan and North round tower
Intricate brick mosaics cover the Arg of Karim Khan's exterior West wallOn the West wall of Arg of Karim Khan and North round towerOn the West wall of Arg of Karim Khan and West round tower
The leaning South round tower due to the underground water channelsThe leaning South round tower due to the underground water channelsTassels in Iranian colours

Masjed-e Vakil – A beautiful mosque from the Zand period.  It showcased the stunning mosaic blue tiles used during that period. Inside the prayer hall are forty-eight marble columns – truly impressive.

Walking towards the entrance of the Vakil MosqueMosaics on the entrance of Vakil MosqueOne of the two Minarets of Vakil Mosque seen from outside
Looking at the courtyard facade of Vakil MosqueThe courtyard facade of Vakil MosqueLooking at the courtyard facade of Vakil Mosque
Looking at the courtyard facade of Vakil MosqueThe entrance to the Vakil Mosque from the courtyardThe arches and columns in the Vakil Mosque
Travis inside the Vakil MosqueThe inner dome of the Vakil MosqueThe Vakil Mosque mihrab (direction of Kaaba), the geometric shapes mimic cave stalactites
Decorated mosaic column capitalRaised minbar for the Khatib at the Vakil MosqueLooking through the courtyard to the Vakil Mosque entry

Hamam-e Vakil – A classic old bathhouse now used as a museum exhibit, featuring wax figures from various periods.   It was here I was ‘spotted’ as being a non-Iranian and consequently asked to take a number of photos with families and ladies and trying to converse in sign language whilst Travis, who seemed to be getting mistaken for a local (being asked directions and questions in Farsi), looked on, amused.

Painted column capital of man on beast in Zand bathInside the Zand era bathPainted column capitals in Zand bath
The arched roof of the Zand bathCorner of the frame of a wall painting in the Zand bathPainting of water bird with flowers

Bazar-e Vakil – Shiraz’ main bazaar located in the main city precinct. The many stalls and shops in the bazaar offered spices, fruit, clothing, household items, souvenirs, much alike to the bazaars and souks we’d visited in cities like Istanbul and Cairo.  We picked up some green almond snacks which are served with salt from a young Iranian boy who practiced his English with us.

Aramgah-e Shah-e Cheragh – One of the holiest Shiite sites, this is one of the prettiest mosques I’ve seen. We were fortunate enough to be permitted to enter, I had to wear a chador before going inside – basically a huge piece of material which covered every inch of my body (the word chador literally translates into ‘tent’ in Farsi).  I was struggling for a bit to put it on properly, however a number of elderly Iranian ladies came to the rescue!  Photos were not allowed, instead we wandered around inside and marvelled at the intricacy and splendour of the mosque’s architecture.  An Iranian man offered us sweets inside and welcomed us to Iran. The courtyard of the mosque is filled with Persian rugs which pilgrims sit on and copies of the Quran are made available for all to read.

We headed back to Niayesh for a rest and shower. Later that evening we headed out for dinner – the Shahrez Traditional Restaurant was recommended in the Lonely Planet and we decided to give it a go.  The place was buzzing and full of life. Dinner was a unique experience – we tried quite a few different Iranian dishes, washed it down with doogh, a light yoghurt-like drink.

Our first day in Shiraz was a truly lovely experience. Perhaps because the city is not as well-travelled as other we have been to, there is a sense of genuine interest and curiosity from the local Shirazi, those of who we have met have been extremely friendly and kind.