‘Every journey begins with the first step’ – or words to that effect. So said Confuse Us a smart Chinese guy from the Lu dynasty about 450BCE. With that in mind we took our first ‘steps’ right over a couple of mature, laid-back Istanbul street dogs of our acquaintance. As we did so we whispered a quick ‘Thanks, SDs’ for the info that gave us the push we needed to get on with this particular ‘trip-of-a-lifetime’. That said, with so much to cover, where to begin? The toss of a coin, and the ancient desert city of Yazd it is – which suits very well because it was one of our must see places.
Our young friends from Tehran, who we first met in Istanbul, met up with us here and we spent a brilliant couple of days together exploring the city. (l-r guide Feraidoon, Siavash, Bahman, Shardi and J)
Yazd has been around for a very long time – sustained and made tolerable by life-bringing qanats and cooling wind towers, of which, more later. Often referred to as the longest permanently occupied place on Earth (a claim that Damascus might dispute), there are some who say it has been occupied for more than 3000 years – others 6000. Whatever, it was and still is the beating heart of Zoroastrianism – fire worshippers who revere the four elements. These days they are not allowed to leave their dead out on the Towers of Silence for the vultures to pick-over, they are buried in concrete lined graves to avoid any contamination of the earth, air, fire or water.
Zoroastrian Fire Temple and Eternal Flame
It is claimed that this fire has burned continuously since 720CE – Zoroastrians make up a significant minority of the Iranian population at around 5-10%. They, along with Jews and Christians are recognised religious minorities who are free to carry on their faith unmolested.
Zoroastrianism was a major influence that lay at the heart of the once mighty Sasanian Empire that spread from India in the east to Egypt and Turkey in the west between 224-652CE. It was the last Iranian empire before the advent of Islam. Two of the Towers of Silence, open to tourism, can be found on the edge of the city together with the modern Zoroastrian cemetery.
At the top of the towers there is a flat area with a stone-lined pit all surrounded by a high wall to prevent contamination of earth and wind. Here the bodies were laid out for the birds of the air to consume before the bones were dissolved. All was dealt with by a dedicated ‘volunteer’ who never left the place for fear of ‘dirtying’ the elements or people outside. An early example of a ‘job for life’! It is an eerie, other-worldly place.
view from the top – the complex and modern cemetery with Yazd in the background
On the subject of religion, which looms large in this country, we learned that there are only three calls to prayer for Shi’ite Muslims (dawn, noon, dusk). The calls are gentle and pleasing on the ear (compared to the raucus, over-amplified bellowings from mosques in Turkey) but are all-pervasive and can be heard everywhere including the metro! Religious texts are plastered everywhere in towns and cities – a sort of in-your-face subliminal indoctrination.
I could go on, but let’s bring this post to a close with a view of the magnificent Amir Chakmaq Square and Mosque. More about this fascinating ancient city soon.
Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü
ps there are still problems with WP after they made yet another version upgrade – I’d have loved to give you some links to the content but at least the photos are here. Onwards and upwards!