It’s hard for me to describe the magnificence and importance of the city of Shiraz to Iran and Persian civilization, so I’ll just let others do it:
“To an Iranian, the very mention of the name of Shiraz will evoke a eulogy to a unique sophistication, an art of living present nowhere else in the world, the product of an ancient and learned civilization. Shiraz is an opulent oasis of greenery and culture in an otherwise barren landscape; it is the town of roses, of nightingales, of love and, at one time, wine. But above all, Shiraz is the town of poetry, of Sa’adi and of Hafez.” 1
Known as one of the great Persian cities of culture, poetry and wine for centuries before the Revolution in Iran, Shiraz is one the best places to go to see Iranian culture and spirituality the way it has existed for centuries. The population of the city also has a reputation for being relatively better educated, or at least more open-minded, than those of other cities in Iran. Thought it is the primary base for those journeying onward towards the old Persian capitals of Persepolis, Pasargadae and other now ruined cities, the city itself has a many attractions that should not be missed.
It is by no doubt one of the cultural capitals of Iran.
Brief History of Shiraz
The city of Shiraz dates back at least to the days of the Achaemenian kings, relatively near the empire’s great capital of Parsa, or Persepolis. Legend has it that it was first built by the legendary King Tahmuras, the third King of Iran mentioned in the great Persian epic, the Shahnameh. However it is more likely, at least based on archaeological evidence, that the city was erected around 2000 BCE.
During the reigns of the Sassanian kings, Shiraz became one of the more important cities of Fars province, being close to the city of Istakhr, one of the most important cities of and at one time the capital of the empire. It was after the Arab conquest that Shiraz became the prominent city in the region, serving as a garrison for the Arab armies, in 693 becoming the provincial capital. As Arab influence waned, Shiraz prospered under the Saffarid, Buyid, Khwarazmian and Seljuk dynasties. It was one of the cities that was spared from the Mongol onslaught due to its rulers surrendering rather than fighting and facing near certain annihilation. The city again surrendered to Tamerlane and was granted the same fate.
In a sense, Shiraz really became the city that is today in the 14th century. It was starting around this time that the city became the center of learning and the arts that it is known for today. Two of Iran’s most famous poets, Sa’adi and Hafez were from this city and many philosophers and mystic scholars, including Mulla Sadra, were also from here.
In the year 1504, Shiraz was conquered by the Shah Ismail I, the founder of the Savafid dynasty which spread Shia Islam throughout Iran. One of Shah Ismail’s successors, the great Shah Abbas, sent entrusted his governor Imam Quli Khan to renovate the town. Imam Quli Khan transformed Shiraz by building new boulevards, schools, palaces, the now famous covered bazaar and many other public works projects in imitation of the Safavid capital of Isfahan. Unfortunately though in 1729, Shiraz was ransacked by Afghan invaders and in 1744 by Nader Shah in order to quell a rebellion there. Both series of events brought destruction to many of the cities great Safavid buildings.
Shortly after Nader Shah’s death, a new dynasty took over Iran, the Zand. Founded by one of Nader Shah’s former generals, Karim Khan, the Zand dynasty made Shiraz their capital city and ruled over much of what is now modern Iran from there. They also made the city fit to be a capital of an empire once again, laying the foundation for many new buildings, grand bazaar, mosques and of course patronizing the arts. After the death of the last Zand ruler, the country was ruled by the Qajar dynasty which moved their capital to the then small village of Tehran in northern Iran. Though the Qajars stripped the city of its fortifications, they once again made Shiraz the provincial capital of Fars province. Though Shiraz was more or less forgotten by Iran’s new rulers in Tehran, the city remained prosperous due to its location on the way to the port city of Bushehr. However its important waned with the introduction of the national railway system in Iran which, surprisingly, did not pass through Shiraz.
Today, Shiraz is one of the most pleasant cities in all of Iran. Not containing many heavy industries, it is mostly known as an administrative and educational center with several universities. Of course, it will always be a city known for its charm and being at the heart of Persian identity.
Things to see and do in Shiraz, Iran
Modern Shiraz’s charm lies in its old city, though many of the buildings in this district were actually built during the past 300 years. You will find the old city along the south bank of the Khoshk river where the old royal quarter of build by the Zands is located. Commerce abounds in Shiraz and the city is home to several bazaars, each with their own history and charm. The largest and most famous of these bazaars is the Vakil Bazaar, famous for its Zand-era architecture. Along with strolling through the countless shops and stalls selling nearly every good imaginable, the caravanserai in the center of the structure is very beautiful and worth finding your way through the labyrinth that is the bazaar.
Though the old city of Shiraz is mostly likely where you’ll start, though undoubtably you’ll eventually venture outside the beyond the city to see Persepolis, Pasargadae and Naqsh-i-Rostam. The old city is filled with historical monuments, beautiful gardens, bazaars and most importantly, friendly and extremely hospitable people. Below are some of the things that one should not miss.
Interactive Map of Shiraz, Iran
Things to do/see Restaurant
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