Bavanat - Isfahan - Yazd - Persepoli - Shiraz - Teheran


The idea of the journey flashed into my mind because of the intense longing to join the name of “Iran” to a clear understanding of its people, places, habits and history.

In the beginning the visit to a country - at that time in the core of international cyclones - sounded hazardous and risky; the word “Iran” ran in the banner headlines of the press and was always mentioned in the media.

Accordingly, I started my journey to know what that land new to me was like in its very essence, and what were the traditions, the history, the different cultures that could make people live together on the ground of common, strict rules.

And it was winter when I set off, it might not be the right season of the year to scout around from North to South, from Teheran to Shiraz with their lush gardens, orange-groves, big or tiny suks - so different from each other - but all of them swarming with local people. I, a tourist, got mixed in the crowd and was dazzled by the gorgeous red of loose cloths heaped up on narrow, low, wooden tables, by the number of spices displayed in good array in small jute pouches. In the centre of Esfahan I was enchanted by bright blue vases and plates whose glazed surfaces could mirror the passers-by’s faces so shining they were. In the historic centre of Yazd I was equally amazed by the pale yellow house-walls made of earth and mud.

I can still recall not only the colours but Iranians’ voices, gestures, affability, spontaneity and generosity as well.

Most tea-rooms, bazaars, indwellers of qajara-style traditional little houses, religious sites all welcome you in. You feel an atmosphere of friendliness while sauntering along alleys and lanes, which is really remarkable. At that moment blurred memories of my childhood cleared up, and I revived in my mind the attitude of the adults at home towards me: I was the centre of their cares, they cuddled me and fondly looked after me. A strange sensation indeed, but that was my first impression of Iran maturing day after day, place after place, tradition after tradition. Life around me completely endorsed and reinforced that sensation.

Days slipped away and fresh memories heaped up in my mind ready to be shaped into black words jotted down on the white pages of my travelogue: the amount of my sensations would remain for ever and ever.

In Shiraz I was to meet Davood, my pen friend with whom I had arranged to spend some time out off mutual curiosity and by shared consent. The period of time spent together made me realize how different Iranians are from the stereotyped young men shown by the media or described by the press. Thanks to the acquaintance with Davood, I could see with my own eyes that my opinion about Iranian men in general was due to the standards I had built up within myself by hearsay. In fact, I found that my pen friend knew the deep value of true friendship and availability towards others as he dedicated plenty of time to me, and took me around showing me mosques, market places with such enthusiasm and competence that he could be able to involve me in his own admiration and emotions and feelings.

Aram, my friend from Esfahan, disclosed to me aspects of the way of living of a young woman in that country, besides making me understand women’s mentality and their hearts’ desire to turn out a future of their own. In my Western eyes that sounded rather strange and remote, I must own up. The cultural differences have been well known to tourists through books, reading and recently by the big poster exhibited in the long, wide hall in the new Imam Khomeini Teheran Airport.

During the friendly conversations with my pen pals I could feel both various shades of ways of living, and, in my mind, a huddle of thoughts storming about how the world is going on nowadays in Davood’s and Aram’s country.

The dazing, polychromically tiled walls of the mosques I saw in Teheran, Shiraz, Yazd, Esfahan gave me the sensation of a gleaming sunbeam, and when I raised my eyes I was impressed by their majestic look. I thought within myself of the long, hard, precious work carried out to cover the large, bare walls of those sacred buildings with tiny tiles. Blue, yellow, golden faïence, big black characters in Arabic and Pars reading Koranic verses, and flowers made of wonderfully-set, little tile-splinters decorated columns, arcades and portals. The stone flowers did not smell but the ones in Shiraz’s park where Hafez, the Iranian poet, is buried did among orange-groves, palm plans and flowering bushes. From the trees I could hear nightingales singing their melancholic songs. Time seemed to have come to a standstill.

Shiraz, cradle of Persia’s culture, was the starting point to Persepolis with its magnificent, breathtaking ruins. The remains of great stairways, huge richly ornamented pillars, sepulchres, tombs and graves hewn out of the rocks, finely decorated openings, all reminding me of the importance of the most powerful Achaemenid emperors of the ancient world.

When I reached Persepolis a light sunshine pervaded the air and no shadow nor shades obscured the Terrace where I could find a number of precious details and imposing, elegant, marble columns silhouetting against the sky. As the winter air was warm I decided to sit on a bench musing on the area around me. Just in front of me there was Xerxes’ threshold – the old entrance for receptions of military commanders and representatives of all the subject nations of the empire - and behind me there stood the great stairway cut out of big rocks with low steps for robe-clad people to easily climb up to the Palace. In the alpine, bare background I could perceive Artaxerxes II’s and his son Artaxerxes III’s tombs.

Looking over my shoulder, and turning around I could observe from all quarters the remains of the hundred-columns-Palace, the unfinished door, the royal palaces, and the Apatana stairway. The sight made me wonder about the ancient Persepolis and about what the old city might have looked like in the bygone days.

However, Iran is not only archaeology but also a geographically interesting territory including the desert. I crossed it in a hired car with Rashid, the driver, on a cold December morning at dawn, and the passage was miles on end: the bare land was vermillion and the horizon at sunrise was all bright red. Through the car windows and windshield I could see the crests and peaks of the majestic Zagros Mountains not far but really they were wrapped in a cloud of morning in the distant background. At first sight nature appeared to be cruel and hostile to man but I soon realized that the core of the plateau is rich in water because of the streams of fresh water gushing from the mountains and reaching Yadz through underground pipes crossing the desert: a miracle of engineering and handwork still functioning and called Qanat.

At Yadz the town and its wind towers seemed to welcome and invite me to enter the maze of alleys flanked with brick-and-mud houses. The local people, in colourful attire, looked lively and friendly. Then a sacred site aroused my interest: it was a Zoroastrian community of believers in great virtues and costumes though at times different from the strict Iranian rules.

But I wanted to see more to understand more. The driver-guide consented and took me to Bavanat, in the heart of the country, to meet pastoral nomadic tribes. Actually, at the foot of the Zagros mountains I spent days in a silent nomadic atmosphere, walking along narrow, dusty streets, passing dwelling places built in bricks and mud and a group of old men sitting and talking around an improvised fire burning on the road, whereas boys on old-style mopeds rode looking at me. Farther on, a group of four women in bright blue dresses were sitting outside a door playing a card game with old cards. This static scene was enlivened by the appearance of an elderly man returning to the village with his flock of sheep. I felt enraptured to a remote world of serenity and thoughtlessness: the relaxing life of those people had completely caught me.

Since after my return to Italy, reconsidering my experience in Iran, I have felt indescribable, strong, new emotions towards that different and unique land. And whenever my friends ask me to tell them about my journey I re-live my sensations as my own words get me back to the country of veils and mentally thank that people and its deep-rooted Persian and Iranian culture.

Special thanks to mr. Amir Safaee, from the ArianTours (Gardeshgarn Shiraz) travel agency for his precious collaboration and escorted guide.