Yazd is a must-see destination in Iran. One of these cities whose magic hasn't faded through the centuries and which offers unusual sceneries to the visitors. Yazd is one of the oldest settlements in the world, a "very fine and splendid city" as the most famous world traveller, Marco Polo, once wrote. It is also home to many Zoroastrian believers, whose faith has left a beautiful print on the city. Nowadays listed on the World Heritage List by the UNESCO, the city of windcatchers and hidden beauties has many wonders to disclose.
Into the maze of its narrow abode streets, Yazd holds 5000 years of history. According to UNESCO, it's one of the oldest settlements in the world and it's thus, a fantastic testimony of the adaptability of men in a harsh desertic environment. Its amazing underground water system, the qanat, and its fabulous windcatchers, the Badgirs, are the illustration of this ingeniosity. These latter offer incredible sceneries viewed from the rooftops of the city, which overlook an intricacy of mudbrick buildings. In the labyrinth of its winding lanes are hidden beautiful Qajar homes, residential palaces, and picturesque shops of the Kahn Bazaar. No buses and almost no cars come to disturb the tranquillity of this timeless city, which is best discovered by wandering into its alleys.
The Friday Mosque of Yazd is an architectural splendour, which forces the visitor to stare as up as the sky. Built in the 14th century, on the foundations of a 12th-century building that might have been a Zoroastrian fire temple, this outstanding mosque impresses the visitor who reaches its entrance. Its portal, covered from top to bottom with exquisite blue mosaics, is one of the highest in Iran. Inside, the tranquil courtyard is dominated by the stunning vaulted dome, crowned by two minarets. All around is displayed the finest tilework, with calligraphy patterns and colourful blue designs.
With its alleys of cypresses, pomegranates and sour orange trees, this lovely garden located in the old city of Yazd, embodies the heavenly purpose of Persian Gardens. Registered by UNESCO, Dowlat Abad Garden was built in the 18th and was once the residence of the Persian regent Karim Khan Zand. Its central pavilion is most remarkable, with its perfectly symmetrical design and its 33 meters high central Badgir. This windcatcher is the highest in the world, and visitors can appreciate the genius of this invention by standing under it and feeling the fresh wind on their skin. A delicate latticework and coloured stained-glass windows decorate the interior of the building.
Inside this neoclassical building, crowned by a splendid Faravahar figure, burns for eternity the "victorious fire". In the Zoroastrian religion, fire is a sacred element, and here is a place of worship for believers. This burning fire is believed to have been lit in the 5th century and brought to Yazd in 1474. It's one of the nine fires of this type that exists in the world and the only one outside of India. Yazd has the second biggest population of Zoroastrians in Iran and adjacent to the temple is a small museum that explains their customs and traditions.
On the edge of the city is one of the most remarkable Zoroastrian sites in Iran, called the Towers of Silence. On two barren hilltops are two circular structures which used to hold a significant role for believers of this ancestral religion. Until 1960, it was the final resting place for Zoroastrians, whose bodies were left in the towers' pits. Exposed to the elements, their mortal remains were taken care of by vultures. This was meant to avoid dead bodies to soil the fire as well as the earth, two sacred elements for Zoroastrians. Nowadays, the site has kept an incredible serene atmosphere, and offers, on top of the hills, a stunning view over the city.
At the heart of the city, on the square of the same name, is one of Yazd's most iconic landmarks: the Amir Chakmaq Complex. This three-storey facade building, with two elegant minarets, impresses by its elegance and solemnity. Built by the governor of Yazd in the 15th century, it's one of the largest "Hosseinieh" in Iran, a building made to commemorate the death of Imam Hossein during Ashura. Inside the complex is a small bazaar, with an old caravanserai and a bathhouse. All around are nice cafes to have some rest, taste a "Faloodeh" ice cream while waiting for the sunset. Indeed, it's at nightfall that the Amir Chakmaq Complex is the most striking, the light reflecting the perfect proportions of the building.
Located in a small street close to Amir Chakmaq square is located a building where times seems to stand still. Saheb Al-Zaman building is the best place to watch Zurkhaneh, an old Persian sport which is considered as the ancestor of the gym. It was once practised by Persian warriors. This 15th-century water tank, which has five splendid wind towers, has been turned into a beautiful "House of Strength", where men come every week to practice. Dating back to before the arrival of Islam in Iran, the Zurkhaneh ritual has then blended religion into the physical practice and is now done under the rhythm of songs and religious poetry.
One of Yazd's most astonishing features is its network of Qanat, the ancient underground water system of Persia. The city has some of the oldest qanats of the country and many are well-preserved. The best place to learn about the functioning of this ingenious system, listed by UNESCO as World Heritage, is at Yazd Water Museum. Inside a beautifully restored mansion, visitors can access some of these qanats and discover their role and importance. In a desert city like Yazd, they unravel the mystery of the flourishing life inside the traditional houses of the city, all built around a pool.
Located about 100 km from Yazd, this village holds one of the most sacred sanctuaries for Zoroastrians. Each year, thousands of believers come here in pilgrimage, from all around the world. Perched in the mountain, is the humble Pir-e Sabz Fire Temple. One has to climb 230 steps to reach this holy place but is rewarded by a stunning view over the desert. The story recalls this exact place that Nikbanou, the second daughter of the last Persian ruler, found refuge during the Arab invasion in 640. Followed by her enemies, she reached the mountain, and there, prayed the God Ahura Mazda to protect her: miraculously, the mountain opened itself to offer her shelter and saved her from her attackers. Inside the Fire-Temple is heard the echo of the drips from a small spring on top of the mountain, which gives its name to the place.
Experience the real-life of Zoroastrians nowadays, by staying with a Zoroastrian family in the small village of Taft. Full of pomegranates and grapes fields, this quiet hamlet has long been home to the believers of this ancient faith and has kept an important community. In the narrow alleys of the village, can be found a small Fire Temple, crowned by a sculpted Faravahar figure. Sharing the life of local people is the best way to get familiar with the ancestral traditions and customs, which rhythm Zoroastrian's life while enjoying the extraordinary natural scenery.
The dramatic mountain of Shirkooh located near Taft village in Yazd province is not only the highest peak of the central Iranian plateau (4075m), but with the sanctuary of wildlife and pure nature in the middle of arid lands, it brings great verve of adventure enthusiasts coming to be rewarded with an unprecedented landscape which it offers on the trail. Climbing up to the Shirkooh summit, one could be hugged by a pure dark night full of stars and constellations so near. The figure of Shirkooh allies in close is even more attractive in wintertime when two gorgeous peaks, Aseman-nama (3870m) and Barfkhane (4005m) wear snow.