Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Capitals II

From Esfahan it was on to Shiraz (another flight, and more groaning from me), although itself only very briefly an imperial capital (during the course of its history the Persian Empire has had about a dozen different capitals) it is close to the ancient cities of Persepolis and Pasargadae. And although these are the main draws in the area, the city itself is particularly pleasant. It has a mild, mountain climate and many public parks and gardens for strolling and lazing. In fact the Iranians are very fond of gardens and even the remotest dessert towns manage to maintain a respectable showing. I was always wandering around keeping half an eye on the many mulberry trees around the city for any ripe berries, whereas my dad would keep exclaiming about the park lawns and demanding to know how they manage to keep them weed-free. This green-fingered passion dates back as far as Persian history itself, indeed the old Persian word for garden, pardis, became our term for paradise. Interspersed amongst these parks are some more bewitching mosques and mausoleums, like the Shah Cheragh, where the brothers of the 8th Shi'ite imam are entombed. The complex is off limits to non-Muslims, but with a bit of blagging it is possible to get inside. The outside of the buildings are pretty enough, but then so are many others, it is on the inside that the tombs really shine, literally. All the walls and ceilings are covered in a mirrorwork mosaic that causes the whole place to magically sparkle and shine, unlike anything I've seen so far. The town is also famous for its faludeh, a sort of sweet, noodle-like desert served frozen and doused in lemon juice to give it a refreshing bittersweet taste, perfect for hot, sunny days. Needless to say I was stuffing my face.

We managed to visit the ruins of the ancient capital cities of Pasargadae (not much there to be honest), Persepolis and Firouzabad. The latter is intriguing because very little of it has been excavated and so you have to really use your imagination. The outer walls form a perfect circle and in the centre is a huge (easily over 25m), brick tower that juts out of the flat plain like a defiant middle-finger. But it is the ruins at Persepolis that are in a league of their own. Before being burnt to the ground the city was the capital of the most glorious, and richest(it is said that after sacking the city Alexander needed 2000 camels to cart away all the treasure that he plundered), empire of the time; and it shows. Although the remains aren't particularly intact, what is left gives you an idea of how grand the place must have been: massive gateways with mythical winged bulls guard the entrance to the site where 20m tall columns pierce the sky, showing all that is left of the great audience hall, and sublime bas-reliefs cover every free inch of wall. Those ancient Persians sure knew how to build things, I just wish it was true for their modern-day counterparts.

No comments: