3 Farflung Museums of the World

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

Gorky Museum
The stairway and beautiful lamp at its base inside the Gorky Museum in Moscow
Gorky Museum
The Art Deco designs on the outside of the Gorky Museum in Moscow


Kahn, Hamah – The Mosaic Museum of Syria

Mosaic museum
Syria’s Mosaic Museum displays amazing Byzantine works in the Town of Kahn just outside of Hamah
Mosaic museum
Highly detailed Byzantine Tile work on display at the Mosaic Museum in Syria



Yazd – Coin and Anthropology Museum

Yazd - Coin and Anthropology Museum
Yah..coins!!  The name sort of deters some but not me. Stunning sight for those who aren’t afraid to embrace their geekiness
Yazd Coin and Anthropology Museum
Don’t see many of these around
Yazd - Coin and Anthropology Museum
See…more than just coins and bills.  The empty rose filled courtyard of the Coin and Anthropology Museum in Yazd Iran.  It’s just you, the guard and his friend handing you the ticket.

Best of Yazd: From getting lost in the quiet alleyways to enjoying the view from the rooftops

Yazd is oldest city in the world and to get to know it a visitor needs to see it from all angles

Alleyway in Yazd

The adobe alleyways in the old city  keep the dwellings protected from the sun, large vehicles out and water fresh and cool below.   My visit started on a thursday after noon and ended a couple of days afterwards.  It is considered the weekend here and it was quiet for the most part.   The  doorway found along the alleyways are modest entrances to the beautiful homes which lie behind. They traditionally  contain a courtyard filled with plants and a pool of water and have rooms circulating around it.

Doorway in Yazd
Doorway in Old Yazd

Plenty was open and available to see since the weekends are times when families spend time together and also visit tourist sites. We arrived in the late afternoon on thursday. We got to see a couple of sites before getting a bite to eat at the Silk Road Hotel. The food was pretty good there. The standard menu of kebab, Kookoo Zabzi, Rice, salad and Doogh. Fridays get pretty quiet here. Most activity ceases until after the evening prayer. At least we can find a place to get a cold drink as we explore the empty bazaar.

Bazaar on a Friday in Yazd
Bazaar on a Friday in Yazd

We left Sunday and found out that this was a good choice since most shops are closed in this conservative town. This includes the famous Haj Khalife Ali Rahbar Confectionary Shop near the Amir Chakhmaq square. I luckily got to it on Saturday and bought my 1/2 kilo of Qottab – it’s sort of like Mexican Wedding cookies with cardamom.

Pastries at Haj Khalifeh Rahbar's shop
Pastries at Haj Khalifeh Rahbar’s shop

Our days were filled with visiting mosques in town; visiting Zoroastrian landmarks; taking day trips to the UNESCO sites of Chak-Chak and Kharanaq; and eating and sleeping in between. Yazd is definitely on the list of places to come back to when revisiting again in the future.

Masjed-i Jamé mosque
Sunrise in front of the Masjed-i Jamé mosque
Masjed-i Jamé mosque
Courtyard of the Masjed-i Jamé mosque
Masjed-i Jamé mosque
Inside the Masjed-i Jamé mosque
Masjed-i Jamé mosque
Iwan of the Masjed-i Jamé mosque
View of Jameh Mosque from Orient Hotel
View of Jameh Mosque from Orient Hotel in Yazd

Yazd – the City of Badgirs

I usually like to find attractions along the way which are overlooked and ultimately not overcrowded. My interests are more than checking off a list which usually means seeing what many don’t stop and see. I found many things in Yazd which may seem to be boring because of their name but ended up being quite interesting. Here’s my top things to see in Yazd list:

Yazd Heidarzadeh Coin Anthropology Museum:

It’s a museum that isn’t listed on most group tours going to Yazd which says to most “Don’t Go” but to me it goes on my “Must Do” list.

Yazd - Coin and Anthropology Museum

Sounds geeky right? It’s really in name alone. This museum is home to a large collection of coins which date back to the beginning of the first century.  A jewelry shop assistant and part time teacher named Mr. Hussein Heidarzadeh collected 5,000 pieces of different items including coins, banknotes, scissors, lantern, rosary, seal, scale, knife, samovar, silver ornaments, etc over his lifetime and donated most of them to the Cultural Heritage Organization here in Yazd. The coins and bills are not the only attraction here.  The interior of the building has been well attended to and is much more attractive then the water museum.  This could partially be because they get less traffic then the Water Museum.

It was late in the afternoon when we set out to find the Museum located in the old quarter of Yazd. The LP guide to Iran has the museum listed as a part of there walking tour of Yazd.  It was one of the few things open at 2:30pm on a Saturday afternoon. We followed the LP map and discovered a helpful english sign once we got past the closed tourist office. It’s easy to get lost in the labyrinth of covered alleyways of the old city but we finely made it to the museum. A young man and another friendly armed gentleman dressed in military fatigues answered the door when we knocked. It’s good to know we and the coins are safe.  It was just us, the coins and our minders.  How wonderful – we had the place to ourselves.

Yazd Coin and Anthropology Museum
Display accidentally taken inside the Museum

The Coin Museum located inside in a similar building which includes a well-kept central courtyard minus the crowds. The only draw back is that you can’t take pictures. I managed to get some because I accidentally hit my camera and wellah..I got a couple of shots. No harm done.

 

Yazd Water Museum:

Yazd Water Museum

I happened to visit in mid-day along with a large group of rather loud Castalian retired and hearing impaired visitors. Let’s say I was a bit put off by the crowd inside the narrow chambers. It was hard to hear what Mahmoud had to share with us while the group passed us by and spoke amongst themselves. At least the museum had a few visual aids to help explain the museum and the building it occupied.

Yazd Water Museum

Yazd Water Museum

Many go to the Water Museum so they can check out how wealthier Yazd residents lived 100 years ago. The former home is in excellent condition and it’s great to see how the cooling system worked in the home, but there was one big drawback. It gets crowded. I would suggest to skip it but try to find an off-peak time to visit. Possibly when it first opens and large groups are still having breakfasts or late in the day when they are on the bus and rushing on to their next destination.  It’s located just across from the Amir Chaqmagh Complex and Hajj Khalifeh Rahbar Confections Shop.

Yazd: Windcatchers of the Desert Oasis

The top two things that come to mind when I think of my stay in Yazd are Windcatchers and its ancient Qanat water systems. Further confirming that I am a travel geek.

Amir Chaqmagh Complex (edited)
Amir Chaqmagh Complex

Just off of the Ancient Silk Road Highway

It survived Mongol invasion and its famous visitors include explorer Marco Polo in the 13th century and later in the 19th century British writer/traveler Robert Byron.  Byron wondered why others hadn’t noticed its beautiful architecture and asked the question, “Do people travel blind?”  Seems strange that one could visit Yazd without noticing its unique Windcatcher filled cityscape.  But,  it’s something I have asked myself more than once.  Marco Polo probably would have begged to differ since he found Yazd to be “a very fine and splendid city and a centre of commerce” when he traveled through it earlier in the 13th century.

Yazd Water Museum
The water that cools below the windcatcher above.

It’s possible that most were merely distracted by the hustle and bustle of the streets and just safely going about their business.  There are many things to contend with when walking the streets of Yazd.  The locals going to and coming from daily prayer, car and pedestrian traffic, lack of safe crossways, potentially hazardous centuries old water channels, and narrow sidewalks – just to name a few.  I imagine Yazd was just as bustling centuries ago as it is today.   It also as become a stop-off for modern-day explorers who participate in the Mongol Rally in the dead of summer.

Amir Chaqmagh Complex (edited)
Yazd – Amir Chaqmagh Complex

Windcatchers and water

The first thing that stuck me as a visitor in Yazd was the field of windcatchers which rise out of almost every structure in the city.  There are hundreds of them to be seen here. Many are not in use today but are reminders of Yazd’s industrious past.  They along with the qanat helped keep the city’s residents cool during the summer months when temperatures can get above  100 F.

Schoolyard in Yazd
Windcatchers in the Schoolyard in Yazd

Yazd is thought to be the oldest inhabited cities of Iran thanks to the qanat water system made during the Sassanian Period (224-651 AD).  The qanat along with the windcatcher systems keep the lower levels of many buildings and homes cool. This gives residents comfortable rooms to escape to during the steamy summer months and provides a safe place to store food within their home.

Doorway in Yazd
Doorway in the older section of Yazd

These water systems made centuries ago is the main reason this city still remains as it does today.  Water is scarce in this area found in the heart of the persian desert.  The climate is contradicting in the fact it is so dry but it’s full of pomegranate and date trees and fresh water streams still flow from the mountains.  The locals take pride that they and their ancestors have managed to have a water supply without the help machines and modern technology.

Today, Yazd is just as popular stop for travelers on the Silk Road as it was centuries ago. It remains the center of the Zoroastrian faith in Iran even though the numbers have dwindled. They are allowed to continue to worship as they please since Zoroastrians are ironically considered a religious minority even though they are the oldest known organized faith in the world.  The basic three tenets followed by Zoroastrians are: Good Thoughts; Good Words and Good Deeds.  Very good tenets to live by.

Kharanaq: Please don’t shake the Minerat

Ruined city of Kharanaq
Ruined city of Kharanaq

Ancient Kharanaq is like a scene out of an old western with tumbleweed and the only signs of life are  some lonely donkeys and feral kitties.  The townspeople have moved into new housing just meters away.

Kharanaq
Kharanaq

The town itself is filled with winding covered passageways with rooms branching off of them. It’s easy to lose your sense of direction while venturing around.  The maze of passages deters thieves since it is difficult to make a quick getaway here.  I imagine that it also helps with keeping spaces inside warm in the winter since there isn’t a direct cross breeze to push warm air out of the interior space.

Ruined city of Kharanaq
Inside the labyrinth of passageways of Kharanaq
Shaking Mineret of Kharanaq
Roof of Kharanaq and it’s shaking minerat

The buildings themselves are basically made of mud and straw and are in a bad state.  Some renovations are going on now but I imagine that there is little funding and the process is slow.  Visitors are allowed to roam freely about the place.   Some visitors have actually fallen through the ceilings since they are naturally unaware of how fragile this place is.   The central minerat used to be open to visitors but it’s been damaged due to visitors carelessness.  This minerat is not flexible and isn’t meant to be shaken.  It’s just as fragile as the rest of the place so resist the temptation while visiting.

Ruined city of Kharanaq
View from the roof of Kharanaq
Ruined city of Kharanaq
Mosque in renovation inside Kharanaq
Ruined city of Kharanaq
Graffiti inside the Mosque – Kharanaq
Ruined city of Kharanaq
View of the hillsides next to Kharanaq

First stop in Yazd: Dolat Abad Windcatcher

It was a friday so things were pretty quiet in Yazd when we arrived.  The fire temple is a popular spot for families to visit on the weekend and it was busy but the stores were closed and only a few doors were open for visitors.  The Dolat Abad Windcatcher complex was one of those open doors.

Dolatabad house
Dolatabad house – Yazd

Yazd is famous for its many windcatchers. The malqaf or tall tower has an opening at the top which faces the prevailing winds. The tower catches the wind where it is cooled by flowing over an underground water source called the Qanat. The combination of the water and cooler walls located in the lower parts of the building cools the air and provides natural air conditioning.  It seems like a pretty green technology right?  I wonder why we don’t see more structures like this in use today.

Dolatabad House Windcatcher
The tallest windcatcher in Iran – 34 meters in height

The tallest wind catcher standing in Iran is the one here in the Dolatabad Garden in Yazd.  It’s 34 meters in height.  The building was the residence of Mohammad Taghi Khan in the Zand era.  The interior contains a pool which is under the windcatcher. The water seems to connect to the long rectangular pool that is outside and in front of the windcatcher.  The outdoor pool is surrounded by fruit trees, flowering plants and of course several traditional cypress trees.

Dolatabad house
Gardens of the Dolat abad House
Dolatabad house
Exterior wall and gardens of the Dolat abad house in Yazd

The building is very attractive and contains beautifully designed ceiling plaster work and colorful glass pained windows. It’s a great site to end the day and begin the days we will have in Yazd and the surrounding area. Time to finally check out our hotel and have a late lunch and tea.

Dolatabad house
Inside the windcatcher at the Dolat abad House – Yazd
Dolat Abad windcatcher area
Ceiling and surrounding plaster work of the windcatcher
Dolatabad house
Beautiful windows of the Dolat abad House – Yazd

First visit to a real Zoroastrian Tower of Silence in Yazd (Part 1)

View from the top of the Towers of Silence in Yazd
View from the top of the Towers of Silence in Yazd

It was hard leaving the chill environment of the Zein-o-din but the journey north continued. Our next destination was Yazd known to be the center of Zoroastrianism. We of course had a few Zorastrian highlights to see before the end of the day. These included the ancient burial platform called the Tower of Silence on the southern end of town; the Yezd Atash Behram; and the Dowlat-abad Windtower was our last stop before checking in to our hotel – the Orient Hotel.

Dakhmeh in Yazd
Dakhmeh in Yazd

Tower of Silence or Dakhma – Yazd

The  Sassanid era was were the practice of placing the dead on top of the the Tower of Silence began in 3rd — 7th century BC

The dead body was thought unclean and to bury it or burn it would pollute the earth either way.  The body was instead placed high on top of the tower and left to the elements until all that was left were bleached bones of the departed.    The remaining bleached bones were placed in a center well which contained lime and phosphorus.  The bones then turn to dust.

Platform of the Towers of Silence
Platform of the Towers of Silence
Zoroastrian Tower of Silence in Yazd
Zoroastrian Tower of Silence in Yazd

Today, this practice in Iran has been abandoned due to the shortage of vultures, population growth in the areas close to the towers themselves and falling out of favor with modern Zoroastrian followers.  The burial ceremony is quite elaborate and for more details check out this link.

Zoroastrian Cemetary
Modern Zoroastrian Cematary
Orient Hotel in Yazd
Orient Hotel in Yazd
View from the roof of the Orient Hotel in Yazd
View from the roof of the Orient Hotel in Yazd

The Good and Bad of Travel in Iran

Biggest Surprises and what surpassed my expectations in Iran

There’s only so much blog reading and picture browsing a future traveler can do before setting out on an adventure to a foreign land.  Information that’s out there via blogs, pictures news articles – reliable and current on travelling to Iran isn’t as prevalent as say Europe or South East Asia.  The official news publications are just full of endless stories that conger up fear and bloggers tend to be on the opposite side saying how hospitable the Persian people and  how beautiful the landscape and architecture is.  I sorted through it all and did the trip.  This is the basic likes and dislikes about what I personally witnessed while traveling a well beaten trail through central Iran.

Wonderful hospitality despite the constant bullying and bickering going on between other nations and theirs

It is said over and over again on various blogs, articles and travel shows that Persians are undoubtedly the most friendly and welcoming cultures of the world.  I also immediately comfortable when arriving 2 hours late after a 30+ hour journey from JFK to Shiraz International.  I’m an amateur hijab wearer who is both jet-lagged and  half conscience – where am I?  I’m alright but I’m concerned that my semiconscious self  is not going to notice if the scarf falls off my head.  At least it’s a very odd hour and not the middle of the day.   I, as a guest, am little nervous about offending anyone at this point.  At passport check we are the only ones in the “Foreigner Line”.  The officials get all the locals done and soon start to check out our credentials.  They apologized for not having the finger printing device working immediately.  No worries.  It only took a few minutes for what seemed like just a quick warm up and connection to the computer.  It was a short wait and I wasn’t moving too fast anyways.

Our start was much easier then the worst senario I had in my head before departing almost a day and a half ago.    I never had any close wardrobe malfunctions and very little culture shock. The people I met along the way were wonderful.  It was not all great but what trip is perfect?   Here’s some general thoughts – both good and bad to be balanced- about my experience in Iran.

Amazing Architecture anyone can enjoy without a PhD in Ancient Architectural Studies

Masjed-i Jamé mosque
Jame Mosque in downtown Yazd

This region is full of buildings, archeological sites, ancient texts, art and textiles which date back thousands of years in some cases.  It’s amazing what still remains to be seen today after countless wars and military conflicts have damaged and destroyed so much in this region over the centuries.  Many things have been taken or sold as some claim to museums in western Europe and North America.  It’s great to be able to see it in person like the permanent exhibit of Islamic Art that recently opened up at the Met  here in New York City, but there’s nothing like seeing it in person where it came from.

MET Museum Islamic Exhibit NYC
MET Museum Islamic Exhibit NYC

Much more is being uncovered by those working hard under skilled architects and hopefully more will be available for the public to see in the future despite current political conflicts.

IMG_4576
Inside the Bagh-e Dolat Abad in Yazd

Too much to see in too little time

Isn’t that always the case?   We were allowed 14 days since that was how long our required tour was going to last.  No tour – no guide – so no more days are needed on our visas.  Tours are not cheap so we’ll have to go back. The rumor mill says that once the first visa is granted then the next is easier to acquire, it’s faster and more days could be granted.

Lots of  bad music

Blame the US embargo for this one.  Our guide mostly played traditional persian music as well as Persian Pop music while we traveled along.  One day the subject of what kind of music we liked came up.  Of course, we are fans of Led Zeppelin, Silversun Pickups, Radiohead – just to name some better known acts that he might be familiar with – well Mahmoud just smiled and gave a few nods – he more than likely heard of them but not a fan.  He said he was a fan of Mariah Carey, Celine Dion,  and the Eagles  – all of whom sing about romantic new love and getting dumped – sound familiar?   Mahmoud was a big fan of the poet Hafiz like many Persians.   He also was being his hospitable self and decided to give us a break from Persian music – which I add was enjoying – and put sometime on that he thought we would like.  Not sure if it was Celine or the Eagles but the CD player was busted and the Persian music resumed.

Persians feeling they needed to apologize for their government

Na'in's Jame Mosque
Na’in’s Jame Mosque

Not many people are happy with what either side has been doing lately or the last 30 years for that matter.  I hope there is a time that the region will be at peace. Our countries governments and political powers that be must start looking forward.  The Persians still harbor resentment of the Muslim conquest of the Persian empire hundreds of years ago.  The decline and fall of the Sasanian Empire led to the rise of Islam in a region whose religion was dominantly Zoroastrian religion in Persia.  and just about eliminated their form of Islamic faith and Zoroastrianism.

Zoroastrian Cemetary
When the fire temples stopped being used Zoroastrians began being buried in cemeteries near by

The new generations want more freedom to do little things like sporting fashionable hairstyles and wearing clothes and jewelry that express their individual personalities.