Yazd: The Living Treasure-Trove

November 13, 2003
YAZD (Mehr News Agency) -- Now that the raging summer heat has all but passed what better time to visit central Iran than November? Taking a night train from Tehran on Wednesday night, you can spend a weekend in Yazd, and be back for work by Saturday morning.

Of all the tourist destinations of Iran, Yazd is one of the most romantic and awe-inspiring. No city preserves the spirit of ancient Iran in quite the same way. The endless warren of mud-brick alleys and the slow pace of life give the sense of being stuck in Achaemenid or Seleucid Persia. In fact Yazd is the oldest inhabited city in Iran, and looks it.

It is not just the labyrinthine old city that will draw you in. It is also its ingenious ways of keeping itself cool and watered. Centuries of desert isolation and searing heat have driven its resourceful denizens to ever new feats of engineering. Yazdis are naturally proud of their network of qanats, which were tunneled for centuries down from the mountains, and have even dedicated a museum to it. Just so the badgirs, or wind-towers ingeniously whisk a cool breeze into the city’s baking houses. Meybod (just outside Yazd) even has its own Safavid-era ice house belonging to a caravanserai. Snow deposited in winter and preserved all year was kept for dusty travelers in need of a cold drink.

Yazd also boasts the largest Zoroastrian community in the world, now home to over 30,000 adherents of the ancient faith. Both the Ateshkadeh (fire temple) and Chak Chak, a lonely mountain retreat an hour’s drive outside Yazd, house a sacred fire, kept alive on almond and apricot wood. In its presence Zoroastrians cover their heads with a white cap and concentrate on the three main precepts of their religion: purity of thought, word and deed.

The Towers of Silence hold a particular fascination – two barren hills topped by stone circles into which the dead were traditionally laid in order not to contaminate the earth. Vultures fed off the bodies since antiquity till it was discontinued not long ago as a health hazard for everyone else.

Not least Yazd is renowned for its architecture, namely the Chakmaq and Jam’eh mosques with their distinctive close-set minarets. The latter, with its calligraphy on swirling foliage, its glittering array of hand-cut turquoise tiles and stalactite plasterwork dripping from the portal roof, must vie with its Isfahani namesake as some of the best Iran has to offer.

Not to mention numerous other mosques, shrines, and examples of traditional domestic architecture - whether home to a Qajar dignitary or a humble pistachio seller - Yazd is literally a treasure-trove of living history. And it is ripe for a visit now that the desert beckons cooling Tehranis to more temperate climes.