“’Twas morning, and the Lord of day Had shed his light o’er Shiraz’ towers, Where bulbuls trill their love-lorn lay To serenade the maiden flowers.
Like them, oppressed by love’s sweet pain I wander in a garden fair; And there, to cool my throbbing brain, I woo the perfumed morning air…”
- The Lesson of The Flowers, Hafez Shirazi
It goes without saying that “roses” in Persian poetry can refer, figuratively, to many other concepts. One of Shiraz’ oft-mentioned descriptions is “The City of Roses”, and we found this to be our experience when visiting. Shiraz can easily take claim to be Iran’s cultural heart, housing some of the most acclaimed poetic greats, Hafez and Sa’di of Shiraz. There is a famous Iranian saying that goes, “Isfahan for the head, but Shiraz for the heart”.
My husband and I happened to find ourselves quite alone in Shiraz, as we didn’t get the chance to meet with locals or make any friends. This was partly an oversight on our behalf as we didn’t plan it as well as we did in other cities, and it gave us a good chance to enjoy each others company. Shiraz was also the one place we were almost cheated by a money exchange vendor, our most unpleasant of experiences in Iran. When Abdul Hadi and I tried to visit the maqam of Imam Al-Sibaway, the father of Arabic grammar (funnily enough happens to be a Persian), we were unsuccessful on our two separate attempts as it was closed. This was a big deal for Abdul Hadi, who has been studying and teaching Arabic, passionately, for years now (alhamdulilah). And albeit Abdul Hadi’s interpretations of the failure as the Imam’s not inviting him the opportunity to fulfill ziyara, reflecting some kind of inadequacy on our behalf, I happened to see it differently. Our relatively minuscule level of misfortune faced in Shiraz was part and parcel of the inevitable ups and downs a traveller experiences. We later reflected that it was a blessing enough to stand at the Imam’s gates and pass on our salams, it was a blessing we were not completely alone in the city and had each other, and ultimately Allah as well. It was a blessing that despite our negative interaction with the money exchange vendor, we left Shiraz safe, healthy and not short-changed after all.
What I now cherish most of my memories of Shiraz, is the opportunity to have prayed in the beautiful Nasir Al-Mulk masjid, to have visited the maqams of ahlul-bayt and to have learned of the significance of the shining stars of Persian and Islamic poetry, Hafez and Sa’di. There was more to enjoy, which I will share as a part of my photos below:
Our first stop in Shiraz was to be the popular Nasir Al-Mulk mosque. This mosque has attracted quite a lot of attention worldwide for its exquisite stain glass lighting effect and pink tile work captured by many photographers. This was one of the mosques we visited where it was easy to pray in, and we made sure we prayed two rakat as soon as we got there. Despite its popularity for its beauty, Abdul Hadi and I found the mosque to be an exceptionally peaceful and spiritual place. © Sana Gillani
We visited Shah Cheragh shrine which houses the maqams of the two brothers of Imam Ali Ridha, (whom we later visited in Mashhad). Like many other shrines in Iran, it was very ornately decorated. The culture of ziyara to the saints in Iran is one where a great amount of respect and affection is paid. Shiism’s distinctively high regard for martyrs and ahlul bayt is translated into a very organised manner conducting ziyara. We were ushered into the shrine separately as the entrances are segregated and after having our bags checked and questions asked about our origins and religious beliefs, we were supervised by specially designated tour guides for foreigners. I was with the women’s group with two European ladies who seemed to be diplomats or something, and Abdul Hadi was with the male group on his own. Abdul Hadi asked his tour guide, a very animated young chap, to be reunited with his wife, and he sought out the females group so we could tour the shrine together. The tour guides were very nice and curious about us, handing us brochures and refreshments, and eventually let us roam around independently. © Sana Gillani
Part of the gardens at the Tomb of Hafez Shirazi. Hafez was born in Shiraz around the year 1326, memorised the Quran at a young age and dedicated his life to the tradition of Sufi verse. His works are widely recognised globally for their spiritual and sensual potency, along with his lyrical artistry. © Sana Gillani
As with Rumi, Saadi and Ferdowsi, many of the people in Iran we met could recite Hafez’s lines by heart. There was an immense pride and dedication shown to Persian poetry by Iranians. From all walks of life you will find them very well cultured, well versed in literature and poetry and skilled in at least one classical instrument. © Sana Gillani
Tomb of Saadi. Saadi of Shiraz is an Islamic figure I find incredibly fascinating. His writings reflect one of the most interesting periods of Islamic history (13th century). As a youth he leaves Shiraz and travels to Baghdad to study at Nizamiyya University and excel in various Islamic sciences. He then leaves Baghdad due to the approach of the murderous Mongol invasion and finds himself wayfaring extensively for thirty years facing all sorts of tribulations and encountering many a friend and foe. He returns eventually to his relatively peaceful native Shiraz, and spends the rest of his life here, given honour and status by the ruler at the time. It must have been because of his incredible life experiences and spiritual state pored into his works, that he is still lauded as one of the greatest poets of all time. His poem, ‘Bani Adam’, which is a testament to the deep morality and justice espoused in so much of his writing, is now inscribed on the entrance of the United Nations building in New York. © Sana Gillani
We took an hour taxi driver with a friendly tea and biscuit giving driver to the ancient city of Persepolis. What an incredibly fascinating historical site to witness! It’s a true reminder that all empires do come and go. This was the prized establishment of the Achaemenid kings of the Persian Empire, an empire so grand, spanning ‘the lands of many people’ as Xerxes himself had inscribed at Persepolis. Persepolis was used mainly as a venue to receive guests and celebrate the Persian new year, Nowrooz. We used our handy guide book to trace all the reliefs and what they all signified. The detail that has been preserved on them is pretty cool, giving a very interesting insight into life in the ancient Persian empire. The detailed reliefs depict gifts and gift-givers from Pakistan to Babylon to Cappadocia. © Sana Gillani
Before we left Shiraz, I wanted to explore Bazaar Vakil to purchase any souvenirs and gifts for friends and relatives. As you enter, as pictured here, you note the Quranic ayah inscribed. It is part of the ayah translated as, “Wealth and sons are allurements of the life of this world: but the things that endure, good deeds, are best in the sight of thy lord, as rewards, and best as (the foundation for) hopes”. Isn’t it amazing how in these traditional societies the deen was so beautifully weaved into daily life, even the home of commerce and worldliness, a bazaar, is designed to attract as much blessing as possible. The bazaars have such a warm and homely vibe to them that make it feel more like a reciprocally beneficial community. We got stuck in the bazaar because it suddenly started pelting down rain, and we happened to locate a semi hidden teahouse where we warmed and dried ourselves with what seemed like every other tourist in the bazaar. Very pleasant experience. © Sana Gillani
And that brings my account of our time in Shiraz to an end. I’ll leave you with the meaningful verses from Saadi’s ‘Golestan (The Rose Garden)’:
“Of what use will be a dish of roses to thee?
Take a leaf from my rose garden
A flower endures but five or six days
But this rose-garden is always delightful”.