27th-30th of Khordad, 1390/June 17th-20th, 2011
It amazes me that years and years ago, someone thought it would be a great idea to settle down in an area surrounded by salt lakes, in the middle of wilderness between two deserts. Someone thought it was a good idea, otherwise Yazd would not be here today.
I’ll be honest, when Sadra told me we would be headed to Yazd, I wasn’t very excited. I thought to myself, what’s there to see in the middle of a desert. For the first time in my life, I can happily say that Sadra was right and I was wrong. Yazd is a really beautiful place that has an old world charm that you no longer see anymore.
As for the Star Wars reference to the title of this post there is in fact a reason. In the center of Yazd lies the old part of the city, which has been around for centuries and centuries. The old buildings remind me Luke’s home planet of Tatooine. This isn’t so amazing considering Tatooine was filmed in Tunisa, a similar climate where buildings are designed to withstand the heat. However, I would step out into the street and I swear I felt like I was on another planet. I’ve never seen such architecture before.
Kind of Tatooine like, right? Sadra’s never watched Star Wars so I’m looking for another opinion. A little reminder –> http://nerdbastards.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/tattoine.jpg
Yazd is hot. Really, really hot. I mean unbelievably hot. The average temperature while we were there was around 120 degrees. To give you an idea of how hot and dry it was, nearly five minutes after taking a shower, a towel used to dry you off goes from wet to dry as a bone. What’s neat about Yazd is that people who live here didn’t let the heat stop them from building their little city. They designed buildings to withstand such heat and with their own natural cooling elements. In the old section of town, the houses each have their own wind tunnel. These tunnels are designed to capture wind and suck it down below the house deep into the basement where they would store water. This amazing ventilation system allows air to circulate throughout the house.
We arrived to Yazd by train. No fun stories to tell about traveling by train. What I love most about riding trains is the little beds set up. It amazes me how they fit six beds into one little room. We sat in a room with a new little family and successfully made it off the train in time to get off our stop.
Initially, Sadra and I planned on staying at a hotel in Yazd. However, after meeting Mahdiyeh’s (Mohammad’s wonderful wife) family, who are from Yazd, they invited us to stay at their amazing family home. When they described the house, I had no idea what to expect. Their family house is nearly 400 years old and absolutely breathtaking.
The house was located in the center of town. After walking/driving through a long alleyway a big set of doors lead you into the traditional home. From the outside there are only doors to tell you where the home is. In the center of the house stands a large courtyard with a huge covered patio. Around the courtyard lies the various rooms you would find in a home, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, living room. Each room has doors decorated with stained glass that open up into the courtyard and let light into the room. Amazing.
And voila you’re in the house.
A lot of our time in Yazd consisted of wandering the old parts of the city and taking in the sites before it got too hot in the afternoon. Unfortunately for us, while we were there, it was apparently record heat. It wouldn’t even cool off at night, which is highly unusual. I guess we brought the heat with us.
Another interesting part of our trip was the day after we arrived. Down the street from the house we stayed at was a very old mosque. For an entire week, men and women stayed at the mosque kind of like a religious sit-in, if you will. This happens quite often each year. Most times it coincides with a religious holiday. I guess it’s like when people sleep overnight in a church multiplied by seven. We got to see the people as they were leaving the mosque for the first time. A curious experience. People seemed very happy, pleased and content. No grumbling faces you might expect of them, which speaks to the traditional Yazdi character.
Yazd is known for having unbelievably hospitable and nice people. Case and point Mahdiyeh’s family who let us stay at their house for free five minutes after meeting them in Mashhad, and then her cousin, who had no idea who we were, who came and picked us up from the train station and took us to the house. Top that off with their signature Yazdi accent, and you just have people who are nice and cute. They are also quite religious, which is why it’s not unusual to see so many people participating in the mosque “sleep-in” if you will. Like I mentioned in earlier posts, many Iranian cities have little stereotypes about one another. Tabriz is full of Turks, hence Tabriz is full of “stupid people”, etc.**An interesting side note, I’ve met several Turkish people, who all hold Iran and Iranians in high regards. They have a lot of respect for Iranian culture. However, for whatever reason, Iranians like to make jokes about Turkish people.** I feel like they couldn’t find anything bad to say about Yazdis, so they had to go far back in time when the city was surrounded by an invading king. Cut off for weeks without food, Yazdis eventually began to eat cats out of desperation. Thus, according to Sadra, the only mean thing you can say about Yazdis is that they are cat-eaters.
Yazd is also home to the largest Zorostrian community in Iran with just over 10,000 people. Yazd was always considered strategically unimportant, which allowed Zorostrian traditions to be kept alive. Zorostrianism was the major religion in Persia before the Arab invasion where most Persians converted to Islam. Given it’s historical significance in Iran and it’s recognition of a true religion (the first monotheistic religion in Persia) Zorostrianism is allowed to be practiced within the Islamic Republic. Along with Jews and Christians, Zorostrians are a recognized religious minority within Iran. They are even given their own representative in Parliament.
In Yazd, there still lies a Zorostrian fire temple (Ateshgah), where a sacred fire is kept burning permanently. Although it wasn’t brought to Yazd until 1940, the fire inside the temple is said to have burned without interruption for 1,500 years since 400 AD, which is so long I can barely wrap my head around that number. Incredible. Had we stayed longer, I would have liked to have seen the other large Zorostrian site in Yazd known as the Towers of Silence, or dakhmeh. According to Zorostrian beliefs, Earth is an element associated with the divine and cannot be soiled through contact with a dead human body as death is evil. A body could not be cremated because fire was considered the most holy of elements. Thus with burial and cremation out of the question came the solution found in the towers of silence. A ritual ceremony would be held for the dead at the bottom of the tower. Afterward priests would carry the dead body to the top of the tower and laid on flat stones (to avoid contact with the ground/earth) and would be torn apart by vultures and crows. The remains (bones) would then be thrown into the center of the tower. It should be noted, this tradition is no longer practiced. During the 1970s the custom was phased out and now Zorostrians are buried in the ground, however their grave was lined with cement to avoid contact with the earth. (Fun fact to share at a dinner party perhaps?)
During our stay, Mahdiyeh’s cousin took us out to dinner with his wife and daughter. We then went to a brand new park they built outside the city on the foot of a small foothill. It was a pretty fun time and totally unexpected and undeserved. Just goes to prove once again, Iranian, especially Yazdi, hospitality is some of the best in the world. At the park, lots of families gathered to have a picnic dinner on their Persian rugs, similar to the American tradition of going to the park for a picnic with a red and white patched picnic cloth. The only difference is Persians go to the park at 10pm and don’t eat till midnight. I think few families would brave the park after dark in the states. A difference in culture. I should also point out that this super cute chubby Yazdi girl approached us wanting candy, which we happily gave. Her accent was so strong though that Sadra couldn’t understand a word she said. haha
From the right Mahdiyeh’s cousin’s wife, Sadra, Mahdiyeh’s cousin, Mahdiyeh’s cousin’s wife’s brother-in-law, Mahdiyeh’s cousin’s wife’s sister, and Mahdiyeh’s cousin’s daughter. I will correct this with proper names, but I have to double check with Sadra, who unfortunately isn’t here to help. Not that he’d be much help, he’s the worst person with names.
One of my favorite places in Yazd was the Dolat Abad Garden. It used to be a private estate of Mohammad Taqi Khan, known as the Great Khan. A nice little place to spend the afternoon, complete with, what else, kittens that roam the gardens. Of course this would be one of my favorite places in Yazd.
Beautiful windows inside Aga Khan’s estate. Each traditional home is decorated with these windows. Just beautiful. When I have riches I’ll build something similar in my house. Until then, I’ll dream away.
It was this point in the trip that Sadra and I realized that we didn’t have any photos together. So here’s our attempt at a self portrait. Also note there was an obnoxious Iranian couple taking photos of themselves in every corner of the house acting all lovey dovey. So we’re not that that bad.
I think that’s it for Yazd. Sure other details could be shared, but then I’d have nothing to tell when I got back to the states.
Next post – Perspolis and Shiraz!