Most Persian-style mosques are famed for their ornate surfaces and the interior of the Krezrety Omar mosque in Ashgabat certainly lives up to that rich history. What really catches the eye though is the unusual chandelier underneath the central dome. Oscillating, mesmerizing, and constantly reminding the faithful that the sumptuous surroundings are a mear diversion of focus to something much larger.
My current home town of NYC has some pretty amazing museums. The city is fortunate to have the world’s history and art come to them instead of traveling many time zones away to see it.
When I’m traveling I’m always up for checking out the ones that get a little less attention and are somewhat off the beaten path. I’m in search of what will never reach any museum close to home because it’s just impossible to really appreciate something that is thousands of miles away from its origin. It’s pretty hard to move an entire building as well. Some have been somewhat successful. For example, the MET in NYC did do a great job of bringing the Islamic world back after being in storage for a decade.
I usually find places that are more known for both their architectural beauty and small collection of art inside. Here are a few of my favorites from my travels over the years. Trips to Russia and Iran just require a pricey and lengthy visa approval process and Syria is considered very unsafe for foreigners and nationals alike. Things will hopefully the violence will end and peace will resume in days ahead. Here’s just a little look inside a few.
Moscow – The Gorky Museum
Kahn, Hamah – The Mosaic Museum of Syria
Yazd – Coin and Anthropology Museum
Here’s more pictures of the interior of the Arg of Karim Khan. I asked what this hole was for and my guide just said “It’s just a hole” and strudged his shoulders. Doh…Sometimes you have to ask those dumb questions. It was probably just for air since it gets pretty steamy in this area of the world.
Late day light and visit to the Vakil Mosque
It was the third day into my trip to Iran and my husband and I were ready to take out on our own. The jet lag had finally faded and the streets of Shiraz were becoming more familiar. We were on a “tour” but it was getting a little stifling and we needed to get some air so to speak. The visit to the Valik Mosque the previous day made a big impression on us and we wanted to go and see it again. This time, it wouldn’t be in the middle of the day and without someone patiently waiting for us to move on to the next site on the day’s itinerary.
The Valik Mosque is very colorful and the tile work of its walls is full of flowers, birds and geometric patterns characteristic to the city of Shiraz. When I think back to my visit to Shiraz it’s the one site I felt summed up the beautiful city. It’s best to visit late in the afternoon and sometimes this may coincide with evening prayer. It’s not a working mosque, as mentioned before, but many locals still visit for prayer. The small admission visitors from out-of-town pay goes toward the continuous maintenance of the grounds so don’t feel like you are intruding but be aware of late day worshippers when you are looking around in awe and taking a million pictures. This is when it gets tricky keeping the hijab from slipping off my head and getting pictures of the tall walls at the same time.
We arrived in Shiraz in the early hours and there’s nothing like be greeted with a smile and have a car waiting at 4am.
The tour was going to take us through the center of Iran – starting in Shiraz and ending in Tehran. We decided to go overland the whole way for a few reasons:
- There’s no better way to see the most of a country then by taking the road. We were hoping to use public transport but our itinerary didn’t give us many opportunities to do so.
- Iranian planes not only lack the necessary spare parts due to the US embargo but they have more than their share of flight incidents. It’s enough to keep me grounded.
- It was nice to have the ability to say that we wanted to stay longer or leave earlier. The flexibility made it easier to make it seem more like our usual trips where we just travel vicariously – or at least feel a little less on a schedule.
Take the time to research and find a good guide
We were either lucky to get a great guide. Mahmoud was not only a nice guy with a great sense of humor but a guide who loved history and his country. We start at a reasonable hour of 10am, take a lunch around mid day, start-up again in the afternoon and finish the day with dinner. He showed us Iran as we made our way through its historical sites. He guided us through his home town of Shiraz and later to Persepolis, the remains of Bishapur and museums of Tehran – to name a few. He never got annoyed by our questions and rushed us through places he has been to thousands of times.
Do your homework before going
There’s only so much you can pack into a guide-book like Lonely Planet. A tour guide more than likely will contradict some of its facts. It is a well-known fact that history is usually recorded by the victors. Iran once known as Persia has a long recorded history and it’s people have had amazing military and cultural triumphs as well as suffered near catastrophic defeats. Modern Iran is still obsessed with its past and wonder why they are no longer the superpower they were thousands of years ago. The only thing he did do is make me feel guilty that I hadn’t done pre-trip studying of Persian history and culture before setting out on the trip. The boundaries of Persia changed like the tides as they conquered and fell victim to foreign sieges. Iran doesn’t disappoint especially when it comes to ancient history.
Be ready to meet people
We found that we could not go anywhere without being asked how we liked Iran, why we were visiting, and where do we come from. It’s hard not to feel welcome in Iran despite what our leaders say and do to each other. It’s easy making connections with people on the street even though we had our fixer with us most of the time – we did manage to lose him a few times and managed not to make the headlines.
The Musalla Gardens is where the great Persian poet K’aja Sams-al-Din Mohammad Sirazi or later more famously known as Hafiz lays to rest. A tall pillared mosaic ceiling and slender outlying evergreens shade Hafiz’s marble resting place.
The works of Hafiz are influential in modern Persian society with its timeless themes, romantic dreams, and ability is a modern fortune-telling tool for believers. Metaphors and puns fill his works and have double meanings making them the subject of heated scholarly debates. He composed numerous lyrical poems or ghazal and literary works that are full of artful puns and references to love and love lost and virtuous prose reflecting both his muslim faith and hypocrisy he witnessed while being supported by patrons of various ruling dynasties of his day.
Modern Persians still greatly admire Hafiz’s works and even hope they too can memorize the Qur’an at an early age and also be known as “Hafiz” or one who has memorized the entire Qur’an. Many admirers today quote his works and even have made Farsi pronouns out of some of his words.
Hafiz was born either 1317 or 1319 in Shiraz, spent most of his life working for several local regimes, and died in Shiraz. There are many tales of how he lived his life and whether they are true or not us up to the individual. Legend states that he fled to Yazd and Isfahan after falling out of favor with leader Shah Shuia. It is said that he may have mocked other poets including the great leader Shah Shuja and ran for his life. He later must have returned to Shiraz if legend is true. This is where he died and a tomb (the Hafezieh) to honor Hafez lies in the Musalla Gardens. The current mausoleum was designed by a french architect named Andre Godard in 1930.
A visit to the city of rose gardens, nightingales and poets isn’t complete without stopping by the Musalla Gardens in the north of the city and paying homage to Hafiz. To get to know his work is a start to getting to know modern Persia.
The Tomb of Hafiz is one of Shiraz’s most visited shines in all of Iran.
WE HAVE NOT COME TO TAKE PRISONERS
We have not come here to take prisoners,
But to surrender ever more deeply
To freedom and joy.
We have not come into this exquisite world
To hold ourselves hostage from love.
Run my dear,
That may not strengthen
Your precious budding wings.
Run like hell my dear,
From anyone likely
To put a sharp knife
Into the sacred, tender vision
Of your beautiful heart.
We have a duty to befriend
Those aspects of obedience
That stand outside of our house
And shout to our reason
“O please, O please,
Come out and play.”