October 11, 2015

Top 10 things to do in Yazd

Yazd, a city right in the middle of two Iran's harshest deserts, the Dasht-e Kavir and the Kavir-e Lut. This isolation has led to it avoiding many of the wars and battles which destroyed many of Iran's other cities and has left a beautifully preserved ancient city. Genghis Khan never made it here, but Marco Polo did and he wrote extensively about it. I found it a great place to visit, ideal for walking and exploring, and it is the home of the best Baklava in Iran.

Here are my top 10 things to do in Yazd.

1. Look up at the ceiling at Dowlat Abad
The photograph at the start of this article actually looks like a computer generated geometric image it is so perfectly designed and constructed. It looks like a detailed ink drawing from Spirograph, for those that remember the time consuming and artistic toy from their pre-computer childhoods. Built in the mid 18th century for the then ruler of Iran, Karim Khan Zand, the Palace is set amongst beautiful gardens and pools. A rather special ice cream shop is located behind the main building, with a superb selection of local flavours. The banana ice cream was not bettered anywhere else on my travels in Iran.

2. Get lost in the mud brick alleys
Much of the old city is consists of small alleys and lanes of mud brick houses. Most do not have street names, and those that do you cannot find on the map. But don't let that dissuade you from just wandering, eventually you will end up on a main street never that far from where you started. The Mud brick needs replacing regularly, and you may see workmen mixing the mud and water and drying the bricks in the sun.

3. Taste some of the sweetest Baklava in Iran 
I love Baklava. I have only ever tasted the Turkish variety before, but Yazd Baklava tasted even better. Pastry filled with honey, cashew nuts and spices, perfect for desert, or a meal in itself! Haj Khalifeh Baklava was my favourite, you can get if from their outlet in Amir Chaghmaq square. 

4. Contemplate your mortality at the Towers of Silence
It was only in the early 1970's that Iran outlawed the usage of these Zoroastrian burial sites. Although burial is not quite the right word, bodies were placed in the towers for vultures and other birds to pick the flesh off the bones before the remains were removed and placed in an ossuary at the base. It is an easy walk to the top of the Towers on the outskirts of Yazd, and they still retain their spiritual ambiance, particularly if you are there alone. It is one of those places that you can stay for hours at without getting the slightest bit bored. 

5. Feel the heat from a 1500 year old flame
A sacred site for Zoroastrians from around the world, the Yazd Fire Temple has had the flame burning for an incredible time. Fed by sixteen different sources, include cremation and lightning, this building is always packed with worshipers and tourists. One is always tempted to ask, did it not go out, even once? The buildings are packed with information about the Zoroastrian faith should you be tempted to follow it.

6. Climb the Citadel walls at the Saryazd Fortress
This has to be one of the best castles I have ever visited. It has acted as last form of defence for over 1400 years and you can explore every nook and cranny. Oh to be twelve again and to play in this entrancing military fortification, although even as an adult it is a great place to climb and photograph. From the drawbridge over the moat to its high defensive walls, this is what a castle should be like. Take care as some parts are collapsing, and bring a torch to go deeper into its maze like interior.

7. Cool down under a Windcatcher
Windcatchers are an amazing Iranian invention which ventilate buildings by capturing cooler air in a large tower where it is forced down into homes. It really works well and is so much more environmentally friendly than alternatives like air-conditioning. I am hoping they make a comeback. One of the best, and biggest at 34 metres is at the Dowlat Abad Palace.

8. Walk under the tallest Minarets in Iran
At the beautiful Jameh Mosque, which is a great point of reference as the 48 metres high Minarets are visible throughout the old town. The twelfth century mosque itself is worth a lengthy visit, with intricate Islamic patterned tiles adorning many of the walls.

9. Go underground at the Water Museum
See how this driest of Iranian cities survived its precarious desert position. The museum shows how Qanats, basically underground canals, brought water in from aquifers located up to sixty kilometres away. Many of these Qanats would be seen as impressive engineering feats today, yet the Persians were building them two thousand years ago. The museum is an old merchants house, and underneath run two Qanats, which you can walk down to.

10. Freeze yourself in a Yakhchal
There are several of these structures in and around Yazd which are ancient fridges. A deep subterranean pit is encased in a thick circular mud brick dome. These worked very well and allowed ice to be available throughout the hottest Iranian summer. I visited the Yakhchal in Meybod, over a thousand years old and still incredibly cool on a very hot day. 

Behind the Scenes 
A rare picture of the author in action, thanks to Sylvie Lemaire. To get the photograph of the Dowlat Abad ceiling the way I wanted it I had to lie down on the floor of the fountain. It is usually full of water judging by other images I have seen, so I was lucky it was empty on the day.

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