Words by John Borthwick
Persepolis is Shiraz’s star attraction and one of the world’s great archaeological sites. Intended by emperor Darius I to be his capital, Persepolis (“city of the Persians”) was torched by Alexander the Great in 331 BC before its completion.
The surviving pavilions, terraces and fi re temples cover 12 hectares in south-western Iran. Enormous, delicate reliefs depict Ethiopians, Egyptians and other exotic nations bearing tributes to Darius.
Less delicate is the etched graffiti declaring, “Stanley. New York Herald 1870” by the journalist-explorer Henry Morton Stanley.
Esfahan, north of Shiraz, is Iran’s second largest city and the capital of the 17th century Safavid dynasty, can keep you in awe for days.
One of its most picturesque structures is the Khaju or ‘Wooden Bridge’ (actually brick), stretching across the Zayandeh River. The tea house underneath is described in one guidebook as a place “to drink tea or smoke the hubble-bubble, surrounded by slumbering Esfahan manhood.”
Imam Square is the show stopper here. The half-kilometre long maidan, built by Shah Abbas in 1612, is hemmed by palaces and a pair of mosques whose walls shimmer with millions of turquoise faience tiles. UNESCO rightly designates the square: “a masterpiece of the human hand”.
Dominating it all is the dome and portal of Imam Mosque. Inside, 38 metres above
my head, the dome’s blue ceiling is a vision of heaven tiled. Clap softly and seven echoes return in a volley of celestial thunderclaps.
Nearby, the calligraphies adorning Sheikh Lutfollah Mosque are an act of adoration in mosaic. The mosque honours a 17th century cleric, described curiously by my guidebook as, “a sort of Islamic Billy Graham of his time”.
AVERAGE FLIGHT TIME:
SYD-IKA: 19 hrs 20 mins
MEL-IKA: 18 hrs 20 mins
AEST-7.5 (7.5 hours behind Australia)
Iranian Rial (IRR)
Persian, aka Farsi
BEST TIME TO VISIT:
With its cold winters and hot summers, the best seasons are April to June and September to November. Also try to avoid Ramadan.
Nowruz, falling on 21 March, is the Iranian calendar’s first day of spring. It’s traditionally followed by 12 days of family visits.