My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Monday, 5 December 2016

Iran - A Persian Odyssey - Pasargadae

ice blocks for the fresh fish
Shiraz at 6am still sleeps - except for the solitary man with his broom sweeping the car park area at the front of the hotel. The roads are empty. A pink tinge glows over the mountains in front of the hotel, below a clear blue sky. It is going to be another lovely day. I am breakfasting early - in glorious peace after the unseemly and disorganized scrimmage between all the different tourist groups in the breakfast room yesterday. 
Shiraz - and indeed Iran - is full of tourist groups, mostly following much the same trail from South to North as ourselves - and mostly British, German, French and Australian it seems. And it is easy to see why - with so many wonderful experiences on offer in this beautiful, friendly and safe country. But this early in the morning the man who cooks the delicious filled omelettes to order is not yet at his station. Never mind - I value the quiet. 
the Quran Gate - new hotel looms above it!
Five minutes before we are due to leave at 7.30 for Pasargadae I spill cough mixture down the front of my clean shirt! I'm still suffering the after effects of a cold I picked up before leaving England. Thank goodness for lots of cold water and the hotel hairdryer! All is restored without having to change my clothes. We settle into our coach seats for the 100 km drive. I am happy to be given the opportunity to observe the general environment around us on the trip - all full of interest.

We are off today to the world heritage sites of Pasargadae and Persepolis.

The roads are still quiet - how different from the motorways around my own home where they are already overcrowded nowadays at 5am! 
Huge blocks of ice are being delivered to a fish shop where they are cut up on the pavement before taking in to pack around the piles of fresh fish. 

onion pickers
On the Northern outskirts of Shiraz we drive past the Quran Gate (Darvazeh-e Quran), rebuilt in the 1950s by a local benefactor after the original 10th century gatehouse, built by Karim Khan Zand to house a Quran to bless departing travellers, had to make way for road expansion. This is next to the relative eyesore of the massive new 5* Shiraz Hotel. So we make it out of town on to the main highway. There is much money being spent here on new road construction. The mountainous landscape is barren and sandy.

Soon we see the bad litter on the roadside and in the laybys. This is such a contrast from the pristine litter free and clean town we have left. I'm dismayed and disillusioned.

nomads and goats
flock of Nomad goats on the road to Pasargadae
Then we drive into an altogether more green and fertile area - there are small pine tree plantations and green fields, workers sitting on rugs by the side of the road picnicking, perhaps breakfasting before they start work, picking the tomatoes which are ripe and bright red and truly delicious. Other crops include maize, sunflowers, sugar beet, cotton, cabbages, sack loads of onions and more. There is also wheat, being harvested by a small old combine harvester. The herds of goats find plenty left on the picked fields. A web of irrigation channels maintains the water supply to the crops but the river alongside the road is totally dry. Huge water melons are being sold out of the back of small lorries at the side of the road, small tents nearby which presumably provided overnight camping for the vendors. Four professional looking cyclists stop by the side of the road - a very rare sight indeed on these open main roads. 

camel for the tourists at Pasargadae
A large flock of sheep or goats is being herded along the side of the road by nomads, the settlements of khaki tents visible along the way. Our guide tells me that the government are trying to settle these nomadic tribes into more permanent accommodation but with limited success apparently. 
The mountain range here reminds me very much of the South East Turkey mountains close to the Syrian border which we visited back in 2013 on our Turkish pilgrimage.

We pass close to the Sivand Dam, started in 2007, the cause of much controversy and concern over its possible effects on the great monuments of Pasargadae and Persepolis, due to worries over flooding of these precious sites and also the effect of the increased humidity from the  reservoir on the life of the remains, particularly at Pasargadae.

relief detail at Pasargadae
So we arrive at the UNESCO World Heritage site of the ancient Persian city of Pasargadae - capital of the Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great who had ordered its construction (559–530 BC) and where he is buried. The coach turns down a long tree lined avenue off the main road past a restaurant of same name, the road lined with pictures of martyrs from the Iran Iraq war.

This is a vast area of which little remains - it would have been very beautiful with irrigated gardens full of roses and trees and nightingales. Again I am reminded of the nightingales as we walked up to the monastery in SE Turkey close to the Syrian border in 2013. 

archaelogists at work Private Palace Pasargadae
We start with the gate house - and finish with the Private Palace, where archaeologists are hard at work. Then we make our way to what in the distance looks like a cement factory. It turns out to be what is locally known as Solomon's Prison - it seems no one knows its true purpose. There are a few theories including that it may be the tomb of Cambyses I father of Cyrus the Great.
Solomon's Prison
Encased in clever coloured scaffolding to blend in to its surroundings, plenty of small birds have made their home here but the guide cannot name them. Nearly 500 species of bird have been identified in Iran 1971 Ramsar Convention signed in Iran at Ramsar specifically for Wetlands conservation and the protection of birdlife but they haven't seemingly done very much lately to support its aims.
the citadel at Pasargadae
We then make our way by coach to the citadel fortification on the top of the hill. This would have been similar to the Athenian Acropolis in its structure and position. A few of us sprint up to the top for the views.
tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae
Our final stop here is to look more closely at the tomb of Cyrus the Great. During our visit to Iran there were protests at the Cyrus monument; but we managed to avoid them.

We leave the site past the Caravanserai of Mozaffari, built during the short lived Mozaffari dynasty 1314-1393 set up by a commander from the Mongol army who seized control over central Iran.

There is more detailed archaeological info to be found online

picnic set up in the shade at Pasargadae

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