“ We traveled to the town of Shiraz….famous in repute and high in esteem; it has elegant gardens and gushing streams, sumptuous bazaars and handsome thoroughfares.”
We arrived in Shiraz late afternoon through the Koran Gate, a route with a view which has been oft-raved over by a litany of travelers, but which now in a combination of pollution and urban sprawl, is quite unremarkable. And far from there being ‘gushing streams’ the main river is now in fact called Dry River on account of the fact that nary a drop of water is to found in it. (To be fair there is an effective water conservation program.) Shiraz, historically the place of wine, women and song, nightingales and roses – all the grand and eloquent subjects of Persian literature, is now just another large traffic-clogged city with no wine and two famous dead poets.
Begun in the late 18th century during the reign of Karim Khan, this mosque is famous for its spacious prayer hall and the exuberance of its tiling much of which was done later by the Qajars who completed construction of the mosque. Forty-eight stone columns with a spiral pattern ending in acanthus-leafed capitals are an unusal feature in an otherwise brick-built structure. The dados of the iwans are carved in alabaster arabesques while the upper walls and muqarnas are decorated in an exuberance of Victoriana swirls, flowers and general chintz with the predominant color being pink - a hallmark of the Qajars.
However the city does still boast some beautiful gardens, exquisite palaces, and stunningly-tiled mosques and madrasas although most of them were built after the time of Ibn Battuta – Shiraz was above all the city of the 18th century Zand dynasty. Of Ibn B’s day not much remains but we endeavored to unravel what we could. But first I had to find a kalyan – it was difficult, but after a day of the guide’s constant; “are you alright, watch your step, mind your head, are you too cold, watch out for the car” etc. despite my threat to emasculate him if he did not stop treating me like a little old lady from the suburbs on her first trip away from home, I needed to calmly smoke the pipe. Ironically it was he who told me where this could be procured; the Park Hotel – a hotel which has certainly seen happier times but which has a lovely garden with sweet-smelling jasmine and flamboyant pink bougainvillea. It especially has lovely carpeted charpoys – a kind of elevated large rectangle with cushions on three sides where one relaxes with tea and kalyan. And so of an evening I puffed and bubbled merrily away.