Long before many countries of the modern world even existed, Persia (or as it is now known Iran) formed one of the great ancient civilizations. One of the oldest provinces, Fars contains some fascinating aspects of Persia including the city of Shiraz and the Persepolis. These two are the focus of this insight which coincides with one of the most important festivals in the Iranian calendar, New Year or Noruz.
Persian history is long and complex and cannot be done justice in this article. However, a brief look at some important aspects of ancient Persian history are considered, particularly for the Fars region where Farsi, the Persian language has its origins.
The first urban civilization in Persia was the city of Susa built around 3900 BC close to the borders of Mesopotamia and Uruk in the Susian plain. (To aid the context of this date, the pyramids at Giza in Egypt were thought to have been built around 2700 BC). Susa was an important centre for trade and communication with Mesopotamia. The region was culturally Sumer but also became influenced by the Elam following their invasion around 2200 BC.
Between 2000 BC and 0 BC there was much migration to the Iranian plateau from Indo-European tribes. The Persians moved to Fars & the Bakhtiari mountains, and the Medes stayed in the Hamedan plain. In the 7th century BC, Fars, under King Achemenes, formed a small state. In 533 BC under the leadership of Cyrus II the Great, the Medes and Persians were united and a huge empire was formed conquering people's all the way across from the Mediterranean Coast to Pakistan. Unlike many conquerors, Cyrus had a policy of integrating new peoples of the empire rather than killing them and destroying their cultures. His view was one of tolerance.
Cyrus died in battle in 529 BC and was succeeded by his son who lasted just until 522 BC. Following this, Darius I proclaimed himself legitimate king. He began a system of reorganization of the empire, creating 23 provinces including the reconstruction of the cities of Susa & the development of the Persepolis.
Following rebellion against the Persian realm by various factions, the empire was conquered by Alexander the Great in 334 BC. He destroyed much of the ancient civilization including the magnificent Persepolis.
After Alexander the Great, Persia came under the influence of many peoples and many societies. These included the Selucid dynasty, the Parthian empire, the Sassanians, the Arabic influence, the multiple Turkish invasions and the Mongol conquests. Islam was introduced to Persia in the 6th century AD, and the religion thrived along with other religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Zorastrianism, and more recently Baha'i. In the 19th & 20th centuries, Persia became increasingly important to Russia & Britain who battled out their influence on the region. Persia officially took the name of Iran in 1934 under Reza Shah's reign.
The 20th Century has seen major upheavals in Iran including modernization, economic and political reform. Many of the political conflicts have in part been a result of political power struggles within Iran, but the involvement and interest of foreign governments (particularly the USA and UK) due to Iran's oil wealth cannot be ignored either.
In 1979, a revolution overthrew the ruling Shah and the Islamic Republic of Iran was formed. Almost immediately Iraq invaded Khuzestan and an eight year war between Iran & Iraq began.
Communications with the West have been limited since the revolution but with the election of reformist president Mohammad Khatami in 1997 there has been a very gradualng up of Iran to other nations. This encompasses tourism which is slowly becoming a feature in the Iranian economy.
Persian New Year - Noruz
Noruz has been celebrated for approximately 3000 years. It has its roots in Zoroastrian beliefs which was the religion of Ancient Persia prior to the onset of Islam. Noruz in Farsi means new day and constitutes a celebration of natural life, renewal, newness and spring awakening. Noruz is the first day of the solar and the Iranian calendar. In 2002, the New Year begins on the 21st March.
Modern day Noruz celebrations last for 13 days and consist of old & new traditions some of which are listed below
Prior to the New Year is a period of spring cleaning for Iranians and a new outfit may be bought
Chahar Shanbeh Soori takes place on the Tuesday evening before the last Wednesday of the year. This is when family and friends build a bonfire and jump over it. This is to celebrate making it through another year healthy and to rid any remaining 'paleness' or evil with the fire.
On New Year's Eve, the family gathers around a table with a traditional spread of seven items beginning with the letter "S". This is known as Haft Seen. The items placed on the table are; sekeh (gold coin), sabzee (green vegetables), samanu (halva made from walnuts), sir (garlic), senjed (dried fruit), serke (vinegar), sonbol (hyacinth flower). The objects symbolize truth, good thoughts, good deeds, virtue, immorality, justice and generosity. The table may also have apples (sir), eggs, a mirror and other traditional symbols.
Following New Year, family and friends are visited, presents are exchanged and meals are shared.
On the 13th day of the New Year, people traditionally head out into the countryside and enjoy picnics and games with their families.
Although getting a visa can still remain a lengthy process, applying a month before your departure should present an adequate timeframe. Visitors who are part of tour groups generally have the quickest processing time. Tourism is by no means a mass venture and in more remote areas tourists may be viewed with intrigue. As with many Islamic nations, women should respect the cultural dress code including wearing a chador or headscarf.
Many flights into Iran will head first into the capital Tehran but there is also an international airport at Shiraz. The Fars province, the featured travel destination lies to the southwest of Iran near the Persian Gulf. Shiraz has a population of around 800,000 and is approximately 935 km from Tehran.
Fars has throughout history maintained the ancient traditions of Persia. This is why many Iranians consider the region the 'home of Iranians' today. Shiraz is the capital of the Fars region and it is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Iran. Shiraz is known as a city of poets, being home to two of the most famous Iranian poets Hafez and Sa'di, and the garden city since it was once covered with amazing gardens.
Shiraz was thought to first develop following the Arabic invasion of Persia and thus is linked heavily with Islam. This is shown through its architecture particularly in the old part of town. Although today many of the gardens no longer exist, some interesting parks remain & many of the avenues in Shiraz are picturesquely lined with trees.
Besides the beautiful mosques and fascinating bazaars that can be found in Shiraz, two of the main attractions consist of the tombs of Hafez and Sa'di. Hafez lived in Shiraz from 1300 to 1389 and is famous for his simple yet rich prose style. Hafez's tomb can be found quite close to the centre of the city. It was built in 1953 where a marble stone lies in the centre of a small pavilion.
Sa'di's tomb is further out of Shiraz on the north-east side of the city. It too was built in the 1950s and is set in a pretty garden. Sa'di unlike Hafez was well-travelled but wrote his best-known work whilst living in Shiraz. Sa'di was said to have lived in the 14th century and to have reach the grand age of 101 before passing away.
Example of poetry by Hafez
Upon my thought engaged in prayer thine eyebrow’s bow - Has come,
And to the pass of envious plaint the Arch, we know-Has come.
Nor reason, nor a patient heart within me hope to find,
For to the wind, as cast away. my peace of mind - Has come.
A dervish's wife was pregnant. The dervish prayed,"if God will give me a son, I'll distribute all I have to the poor, all but the robe I'm wearing." God accepted his prayers and the wife gave birth to a son so dervish gave everything he had to fulfill his vow. Several years later, I asked a friend about the dervish. "He's in Jail." "Why, "I asked. "His son got drunk, killed a man in a fight and fled. As you know when that happens the father is put in chains." The dervish brought this upon himself with his praying! It would of been better if this child had been a snake, rather than this ungrateful son who does not take responsibility for his actions
Source: Best Iran travel
After spending time exploring Shiraz, it is time to visit the ruins of one of the most spectacular architectural destinations in Iran, the Persepolis. The Persepolis lies approximately 60 km from Shiraz. Construction of the Persepolis began in 518 BC and much of it was built over a period of 60 years, but certain sections remained unfinished even 200 years after the initial assembly.
The Persepolis was thought to be a palace frequented in the New Year by the Achaemenian Kings. It was over 500 km from Susa the administrative centre of the Achaemenian empire so the Persepolis was regarded as a retreat for relaxation by the rulers.
In the 330s BC, Alexander the Great invaded the Fars Province and conquered the area including the Persepolis. Following this invasion, the Persepolis was set alight and much of it burnt to the ground. It is unclear whether this was the work of Alexander the Great or whether it was an accident, the results however were the destruction of much of the grand palace.
Excavations of the Persepolis began in the 19th Century and continued into the 20th Century. Today, the site is an awesome picture of ruins, decorated with beautiful carvings and inscriptions. Carvings depict scenes from ceremonies and everyday life and represent the huge diversity of nations making up the Persian Empire of the time. The detail and variety of reliefs are of similar quality to carvings that can be found on Egyptian temples and relics.
To enter the Persepolis, leaders would have used the monumental staircase which led on to the Gate of All Nations through which the Apadana could be reached. Sculptures & Decorations frame columns and wall surfaces. The Apadana with its superb structure of 72 columns was thought to be used as a reception hall for visiting Kings. Although only 13 of the columns remain, its grandeur and splendour is hard to ignore. Other impressive buildings include the Hall of a Hundred Columns the largest hall at the Persepolis, its courtyard encompassing an area of over 4000 square metres.
The Persepolis requires at least half a day to explore and can be combined with a trip to the closeby Naqsh-e Rostam, symbolizing the location of Darius 1's tomb.
Iran is a fascinating place to visit and remains largely undiscovered by mass tourism. It contains ruins from one of the oldest civilizations of this Earth surrounded by a depth of culture ripened with time. Shiraz and the Persepolis are just 2 examples of some of the wonderful sites to visit in Iran. Wherever you go in Iran one thing you can be sure of is the warmth & friendliness of the people you meet. Iranian's take great pride in their country with all its history and culture and they love to share this with visitors. Foreigners who take the time to look at Persia or Iran for what it has been and for what it is today will be hugely rewarded for they will discover the spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical beauty that makes up one of the most misunderstood & misrepresented places on the planet.
Photos courtesy of Photo Reality whose web site will be available shortly. Persian Iran
Iran. Odyssey Books. H. Loveday, 1999