Celebrated as the heartland of Persian cul-ture for over 2000 years, Shiraz has become synonymous with education, nightingales, poetry and wine. It was one of the most im-portant cities in the medieval Islamic world and was the Iranian capital during the Zand dynasty (AD 1747–79), when many of its most beautiful buildings were built or restored.
A city of poets, Shiraz is home to the graves of Hafez and Sa’di, both major pil-grimage sites for Iranians. It’s also home to splendid gardens, exquisite mosques and whispered echoes of ancient sophistication that reward those who linger beyond the customary excursion to nearby Persepolis – the area’s major tourist destination.
There are the usual Iranian traffic issues, but the city’s agreeable climate, set in a fertile valley once famed for its vineyards, makes it a pleasant place to visit (except at the humid height of summer or the freezing depths of winter).
Shiraz is mentioned in Elamite inscriptions from around 2000 BC and was an impor-tant regional centre under the Sassanians and has enjoyed its fair share of mixed for-tunes. It became the provincial capital in about AD 693, following the Arab conquest of Estakhr, the last of the Sassanian capitals (8km northeast of Persepolis, but now com-pletely destroyed).
By 1044 Shiraz was said to rival Baghdad in importance and it grew further under the Atabaks of Fars in the 12th century, when it became an important centre of the arts.
Shiraz was spared destruction by Tamer-lane and the rampaging Mongols because the city’s rulers wisely decided that paying tribute was preferable to mass slaughter. Having avoided calamity, Shiraz thrived during the Mongol and Timurid periods and developed rapidly.
The encouragement of enlightened rulers and the presence of Hafez, Sa’di and many other brilliant art-ists and scholars helped make it one of the greatest cities in the Islamic world through-out the 13th and 14th centuries.
Shiraz remained a provincial capital during the Safavid period, when European traders settled here to export the region’s famous wine, but by the mid-17th century it entered a long period of decline.
Several earthquakes, the Afghan raids of the early 18th century and an uprising led by Shiraz’s governor in 1744, which was put down in typically ruthless fashion after a siege by Nader Shah, all contributed to the city’s misfortunes.
At the time of Nader Shah’s murder in 1747, Shiraz was a squalid place with a shrunken population of just 50,000, a quarter of the number 200 years earlier.
Shiraz’s fortunes were briefly reversed by the enlightened Karim Khan, the first ruler of the short-lived Zand dynasty, who made Shiraz his national capital in 1750 and was determined to invest it with the kind of splendour enjoyed by Esfahan under Shah Abbas I.
Despite being master of most of Persia, the modest Karim Khan refused to assume a higher title than vakil (regent) – hence the name of many of the city’s mon-uments. He founded a royal district in the area of the Arg-e Karim Khan and com-missioned many fine buildings, including the best bazaar at the time in Persia. After Karim Khan’s death, the Qajars, his long-time enemies, attacked and destroyed the city’s fortifications and by 1789 the national.
capital – and the remains of Karim Khan – moved to Tehran.
Despite being stripped of its capital status, Shiraz remained prosperous for a while due to its position on the trade route to Bushehr, but this role was greatly diminished with the opening of the trans-Iranian railway in the 1930s.
Much of the architectural inheritance of Shiraz, and especially the royal district of the Zands, was either neglected or destroyed as a result of irresponsible town planning under the Pahlavi dynasty.
Lacking any great industrial, religious or strategic importance, the city is now largely an administrative cen-tre, famous for its universities and for the souls of the poets who rest here.
Most of the city’s old-quarter sights, hotels, the bazaar and the major mosques and shrines are within walking distance of the Arg-e Karim Khan fortress in the middle of Shohada Sq, widely considered as the city centre. The square intersects the city’s ma-jor thoroughfare, Karim Khan-e Zand Blvd (usually referred to as Zand Blvd). To the north is the Khoshk River, and north of the river lie the tombs of Hafez and Sa’di and the modern landmark, Darvazeh-ye Quran (Quran Gateway).
Points of Interest
- Around Shohada Square
- Around Ahmadi Square
- North of the River