Yazd, the emerald of the desert, is an oasis city deep in the heart of the desert in central Iran. The city has 3000 years of history. Previously known as Ysatis, the city’s early records can be tracked to the time of the ancient Median Empire here in Iran. This magnificent oasis may be the most beautiful desert city in the world and has been constantly inhabited through its time. Being remote and surrounded by killer deserts, Yazd has pretty much remained intact and is where the old traditions are kept alive to this day. In the labyrinthine alleys and passages of this vast and vital city you can find the ancient Iran so eloquently immortalized in Persia’s ancient scriptures and world-renowned poetry. Its clay colored alleys and roofed bazaars have stood witness to centuries of history; Alexander the great is said to have marched through the city on his way to India and centuries later Marco Polo got mesmerized by its unique architecture not seen anywhere else. The wind catchers or “Badgirs”, the stained glasses, narrow streets and covered alleys to name but a few are all built for both ornamental and functional reasons. The very same mentality can be observed in the city’s handcrafts and its most palatable cuisine and sweets. In this documentary we travel to Yazd and follow a young Australian tourist as he explores the beauties of this ancient city. Stay with us.
The ancient Iranians believed there were four elements of which everything was made: air, earth, water, and fire. Air, or wind, represented movement. When the wind blows, one should expect change. Inertia, or lack of movement is a sign of death. And movement is life. Wind is the essence of movement and the dynamism of creation.
A wind tower is the key element of traditional architecture in central Iran. And it serves as a means to guide this life-giving source of energy into people's homes.
The wind tower acts as an air-vent to draw out the hot air from inside the living space …what is ubiquitous in traditional Iranian architecture is the use of the existing climate conditions to make life easier. And Iranian architects make best use of whatever Mother Nature has given us.
Yazd has been given many names and epithets throughout history, the most common of which is "The City of Wind Towers"….This is Yazd, and we are standing beside the wind tower of the Dolatabad Garden.
The Dolatabad Garden of Yazd was built in the late Afsharieh era by Mohamamd Taqi Khan, the leader of the Khans tribe of Yazd. Mohamamd Taqi Khan ordered the digging of a 65-kilometer aqueduct to bring water from the mountains of Mehriz to the current Dolatabad Garden so he would be able to build the seat of his power upon an oasis.
The garden is divided into two parts: the interior and the exterior. The exterior building is located in the east and has a pond and a high wind tower. The wind tower of the Dolatabad Garden has the shape of a cylinder; and, being 33.80 meters high, it's the tallest mud-brick wind tower in the world.
- So this is the wind catcher
- Wind catcher, yes. Its length is 34 meters and …………… a Ghanat named Dolatabad. Later on he commanded conspecting the state of Dolatabad garden as his visit along the street extending from the Ghanats.
- Ok,and this particular art
- This was his summer palace and in front you see there was his winter palace.
- Ok, ok
- And the garden has pomegranates, grapes and fruits over there
The Dolatabad Garden is regarded as the only really outstanding example of Zand-era architecture in Yazd. It also serves as a bridge linking the previous era to the next. The Dolatabad Garden is located in the east of Yazd between the Chahar Manar and Nasrabad neighborhoods. The garden was built in the lunar year 1160 and it's one of the most magnificent and beautiful monuments of the Afsharieh and Zand eras. The compound involves buildings, ponds and numerous fountains. In between them, there are gardens rich with pomegranate and grape trees, as well as numerous flower species that embellish the grounds of the Dolatabad Garden.
I became acquainted with Dasmati upon arriving in Yazd. A man, typical of Iranians, who kindly offered to accompany me. The story of my acquaintance with him is simple.
- Salam, how are you
- Can you speak English?
- Yes, I can speak English
- Oh, right. So I was just curious about these carpets. I’ve never seenthem like this before.
- Actually these are not carpets.
- Oh, no?
- No. these are all Termeh cloths made in Yazd
- Mr. Matte
- I would like to give you a good surprise
- Oh, yeah?
- The old heritage of handicrafts which Yazd is proud of itself. I’ll take you to Mr. Ramezan Rezayi
- This guy here?
- And what is it exactly?
- This old man is making this Darayi. The cloth’s name is Darayi
- The story of Darayi is this; The government of Yazd called some givers to his office
- He told them: “I will pay you some money and you go and practice for weaving. that moneywhich he has given too the persons for that is called Darayi. They went to their houses and they started weaving cloth. That cloth was named Darayi
- He’s living over here with this old machine for
- 85 years?
- 85 years
- He’s hundred, hundred and one or two years old
Yazd is regarded as one of the best preserved adobe – that is, mud brick – cities in the world. It's also among the few large Iranian cities that have retained their historic features to this day. Researchers consider Yazd as one of the four focal points of civilization during the time of the Median empire in eastern Iran. The layout of Yazd is highly interconnected, full of narrow, long, roofed alleyways. The other unique architectural feature of Yazd is its use of very thick walls.
- So this is all very nice. Isn’t it?
- Yes. You have come to the old texture of Yazd where the people from abroad come to see
- From all over the world
- And this is the old texture of Yazd
- Not only Yazd, of Iran
- It’s the pride of Iran
- This place is the pride of Iran.
All passages, yards and buildings in Yazd are protected against the rough climate conditions - most particularly the hot, and often dusty winds. Narrow alleyways are straddled by tall walls that create shade alongside the passage, so that people are spared to oppressive rays of the desert sun.
I have come back to Iran in search of relics of ancient civilization, which seem to be more freely available in Iran than in any other country I’ve ever been.
- We began with Tehran for only one day but we go back to Tehran for three days; and Ahwaz, the area of Ahvaz and then Shiraz.yes?
- Very beautiful city Shiraz. yes. impressive. people are very kind. Everewhere you’re welcome and we are very impressed and it’s a great emotion for us to discover your people and the country;all the country.
- Are you Matte?
- Yes, yes. How are you?
The other friend who accompanying me in Yazd is Nasser. I was told about him in Tehran before my journey. Nasser had an encyclopedic knowledge of Iranian history and culture – especially that regarding Yazd.
Water has long been considered the source of life. Ancient people in Iran believed that life is a place through which water is flowing, and that water is a symbol of purity and light. Heaven is also associated with water in all Iran’s religious scriptures. Many define water as awareness, too… of hidden knowledge…for them, the water that flows on earth symbolizes something else: divinity.
- So, this is of course a Ghanat.
- Yeah, and then it’s a kind of useful system back to 2500 years ago. On that time we lived inside desert. So we needed water from mountain so we started to dig the earth from the mountain to flat place to guide the water to flat place. And then the people can use this water here. The first hole they should dig the earth vertically and then they arrive to water. Then they start to dig the earth horizontally arrived to this area. Every 50 meters they should dig another hole because they want to bring out the soil.
- Ok, ok
- And they need light as well, so that they have different holes across the channel. If we collect all of these horizontal channels and vertical channels we can go from Earth to Moon and back.
- You mean in this one Ghanat or all the Ghanats in Yazd?
- All the Ghanats in Iran
- In ran. Aha… aha
- If we collect all of them, we can go to oon and back
- Oh, amazing.
- It’s a pomegranate garden.
- Aha. they’re pomegranate trees. I didn’t know what they looked like.
- You know, pomegranate is really famous in Iran especially in Yazd. Because pomegranate is one of the export fruits of Iran, especially from Yazd because it’s very famous here.
- Aha, yeah. Before I came to Iran I had no idea that pomegranates come from here, and I don’t thinkmany other people know either.
I have a distinct feeling that I am now walking on a land under which there is a network of aqueducts. These are tunnels for the transportation of water that were probably built centuries ago - without any advanced tools…. tunnels for transferring the essence of life from the mountains and high places to the desert.
The aqueducts of Yazd are as old as the Iranian civilization itself. Indeed, the oldest aqueduct in the world can be seen in Yazd. The ancient residents of Yazd developed innovative techniques to tackle the dryness and heat of Yazd and its surroundings - a hydraulic system for transporting water. And aqueducts carry out the task of bringing water from the mountains to the farms. The point where the water rises from the ground is the source of the aqueduct.
- Now we are in front of water reserver
- So, each water reserver had three different parts. The firs part looked like this
- So you can see the steps here. People should go down, arrive to the tab and then they can take water from the tank
- And do they go down with buckets or ... how do they retrieve the water exactly?
- In ancient times, people could go down and arrive to water and with a bucket they could take water but from two hundred years ago they changed the root because they wanted to close the tank. This kind of technique has a benefit for us because if you have any kind of disease and you put your hand in the water you spoil the water. so with this technique they could reserve the water fresh and healthy.
- So it was a really good techniqueto reserve water inside the tank
- Yeah, yeah
After aqueducts were built and water was canalized, people needed a way to store the water for summer. So they invented a method of water storage. In these deep structures, the water is keep cold and dark, to prevent it from spoiling
- So, what is this for?
- It was Payab. Payab means the water of aqueduct come to this pool from this channel and then go out from the other channel.
- And they use this for…
- Washing themselves, wash dishes and cook.
In Iran, water storage depots, along with beautiful arches, wind towers and high domes, date back hundreds, and sometimes thousands of years.
Water, birth and life are always intertwined…Each river or aqueduct leads you to an oasis and to renovation, freshness, and birth.
The Infertility Treatment and Research Clinic of Yazd was established in 1989. The clinic's mission was to treat infertility in Iran by using the latest technology, and to pave the way for developing this know-how in the Yazd province and across the country.
- Ok, so this is the IVF research center I’m told. Can you tell me a little bit about what you do here?
- Yes, actually it’s clinical and research center both together. We are going to give services to the patients, infertile couples and also some research to know more about some problems about infertility
- Ok, right. And how does it work exactly? Can you explain to me roughly?
- Yes this is the special isolated part of the lab. It’s for PND, prenatal diagnosis.
- That means we are going to pick up some liquid from around the uterus during the pregnancy from the mother, ok?
- And when we pick up the liquid from around the uterus we are going to test it for expected gene abnormality or chromosome abnormality
- Ok, right
- If it is right it’s an ok pregnancy and it’s going to continue but if we find a problem we abort the abnormal uterus.
- In the other part we do some post natal diagnosis as well after the birth.
- Right, yeah.
- Maybe from the infant, maybe the adult using blood sample, using bone marrow depending on the cause of the problem. We are looking for that.
- What we do, we induce subornment hemorrhage which is the hemorrhage inside the sculp.
- And that project which recently was finished and the work was published in American journal
- Yes, it took place here for the first time.
- First time in the world?
- In the world
- Yes, in Yazd, exactly
- It’s amazing
- And recently we finished another project that was the troputic benefit of stem cell for head trauma. The head trauma took place in Yazd again.
- And the work is new. It’s been presented in international congresses and it’s been submitted for publication. We have very good expert gynecologists, embryologists, urologists. So I would say this is one of the most famous centers in Iran and we have patients from all over the country. Also we have patients coming from Arabic countries.
I’m a genetic counseling in recurrent abortion clinic and genetic disorder clinic. The most patients comes to me they are couples. They suffer from recurrent abortion. This is a big problem in our center about the infertility.
What type of abortion did you say?
Spontaneous recurrent abortion
Yes, that is spontaneous and because they didn’t have a chance to have a baby they come to solve their problem
We try to help them find their problem first, and then treat them so they can have a normal baby. Sometimes we decide that they have another choice for egg donation, embryo donation or adoption. Sometimes this is our result in the end
So just out of curiosity, like for example, say you get one hundred patients and they have a hundred problems. How often is it that through this kind of treatment or diagnosis that you can’t help them at all and they must adopt?
According to our records, nearly eighty percent of the patients coming to us have a baby now.
- What’s this here?
- It’s their guest book
- Every guest can write everything here about the journey
- Aha, it’s very big. Someone’s put a lot of effort into this.
- So full, so many languages
- They have different guests from different countries
Zainoddin caravanserai …it's the only round-shaped caravanserai that has survived and dates back to the Safavi era – roughly four centuries ago. Zainoddin caravanserai was relaunched after restorations in early 2004, and won an award from UNESCO for being the year’s best restored historic monument. Lonely Planet has described Zainoddin caravanserai as one of the five top tourist attractions of Iran.
This caravanserai was built upon the order of the ruler of Kerman, Ganjali Khan Rig, who himself had received orders to this effect from the Safavi king, Shah Abbas the Great. At the time, armed guards loyal to the Shah were stationed there. Today however, it is used for the accommodation of tourists wishing to stay in an exotic locale. Being here gives you the feeling that you have traveled back in times. Each of the chambers gives you the feeling that you are resting in a caravanserai which is a part of history.
- Wow, it’s big
- Yeah. They have different rooms. I mean big, small, duplex
- Oh, wow. This is amazing
- Yeah this caravanserai is unique because the plan of this caravanserai is circle
- So that it’s unique because we don’t have any kind of caravanserai in circle shape.
- Is this the only one in Iran?
- Yes, it’s the only one in Iran
- And why did they decide to build this one in a circle?
- Because they wanted to have a new plan for caravanserai.
- Just to impress people that they could do something different
- And its open roof. See it’s in the middle of desert. I assume that at night time you get some views of the stars?
- Yeah, exactly. Because on that time the people slept here during summer and they could look at the stars and they could see millions of stars on top of their head.
- And nowadays people want to come here and stay here to see the stars here and that is really nice
- Yeah, I can imagine it’s popular. It really looks so authentic
- I’m happy I’m staying here. That’s for sure.
According to legend, Siavash waded through the fire on his horse, and emerged from it without any harm coming to him. Not a single lock of his hair was damaged, nor that of his horse. This happened upon the order of God, and all the people were shocked; the Zoroastrian priests plucked a portion of that fire, and took it to their fire temple, where the flame is still burning today.
- We are in fire temple. This fire is burning for about 1530 years.
- So it’s the symbol of light for Zoroastrian people. Every day early in the morning and in the evening somebody should come here and put wood on top of this fire to burn and then during these years they’ve kept this fire to burn
- And then they keep fire because they believe that fire can give them light and fire can clean everything so that it’s important fire for them.
- Cleaning and rebirth or new beginning?
- Yeah, pure everything
- Yeah. They have ceremony behind these doors. They can stand there next to each other and Mobed comes here to read Avesta for them and they review Avesta and it’s their ceremony.
The Dakhma – or Tower of Silence - is the tomb of the ancient Zoroastrians of Yazd. It is where Zoroastrians used to place their dead according to their religious traditions. Their bodies would be exposed to the vultures to devour.
- A person should live outside this area and then he can go down and take the dead body and bring him inside this area.
- It’s his job to bring the body all the way up here?
- Exactly. so that guy should bring those dead bodies here and vultures can come down and eat the muscle. Just in 24 hours one body will be finished. It was deeper than this. I mean it was around six seven meters but nowadays it’s ruined and then you can see just around 1.5 meters.
- So I assume back in the days it would have been covered in birds all around
- Yeah, exactly
My friend invited me to his house to eat with his family, together with his wife, daughter, son and grandchildren.
Although all Iranians are renowned for their traditions of hospitality, Yazdis have a special reputation for being friendly to guests. They listen to you carefully; and, even if they do not understand your language, they will try and speak to you in their own language.
Maybe, one of the reasons for the diversity of the Yazd sweets is the hospitality of the people of the region. Diversity in the smell and form for entertaining guests. You must see the confectionary store first-hand to appreciate how much delicacy and patience it takes to bake them.
- You might be knowing that Yazd is especially famous for its sweets.
- Yeah, I’ve heard this
- Different kind of sweets such as Baghlava, Ghotab, cakes, ext.
- Yeah, what are we looking at here?
- This gentleman is preparing Ghotab
- It’s the most famous sweet in Yazd
- And is this made only in Yazd?
- Only in Yazd
Making traditional sweets calls for much patience and above all experience... cardamom, rose water and pistachio nuts are the primary flavors used for the sweets. They say they taste like the colors of traditional Persian architecture...they repeat themselves but they are still fresh each time.
Zurkhaneh, Persian for “house of strength”, is the traditional Persian gymnasium. Zurkhanehs were built mostly in alleyways, away from the public’s gaze.
The Zurkhaneh has roots in the history of ancient Iran and ancient Persian houses of worship. The round shape of the zurkhaneh is a symbol of the sun and a sign of unity…in these sports, ethics is the most important thing; older athletes are expected to have higher ethical virtues, and serve as role models for the younger ones.
The Morshed is a man with a melodious voice; he beats his tambourine in tune with his songs - one for each of the different exercises. The Morshed typically chooses his songs from the ancient epic poems, usually from Ferdowsi’s epic masterpiece, the Shahnameh, or Book of Kings. Hundreds of years ago, the morsheds were the most agile and well-trained of the athletes.
Ancient Iranians regarded Earth as a symbol of fertility and growth. When we speak of earth, we are reminded of growth and development. Religious scriptures describe earth as the raw material used to create human beings. Of the four elements, it is the one from which humanity has sprung, with all its capability for growth and change.
Earth shapes the water. Wind dries it. And fire bakes the shaped earth. Artists of this land use all the four elements.
- When did they first start making potery like this in Iran?
- It’s a really hard question because in research around Balouchestan in southeast of Iran they’ve founf some kind of pot back to seven thousand years ago.
- So I can’t say the exact time of potery because it’s very
- Very long time ago
- Yeah, exactly
- Meybod is really famous for its pottery because we have a lot of clay here around this area.
- And is there any significance to what he’s drawing or is he just doing his own design?
- No, it’s not his own design. It’s back to their culture and he chooses different things. I mean look at the sun. because they have three hundred days sunny here, so it’s really a good symbol from this city
Meybod is located in the northwest of Yazd province on the road to Esfahan. The word Meybod is itself is very old, and its use dates back at least 1,500 years. Narin Castle in Meybod is of very special importance to historians and archaeologists, as it stands as a physical testament to the development of Iranian civilization.
Like a broken, silent old man, this ancient fort has recorded the memories of the good old days, and indeed the bad old days, of peace-time and war-time in Yazd.
- so you can see 4000 years history here on this wall
- four thousand years ago we mixed grass and mod together with water without any shape we put them on top of each other.
- Then after that, 2500 years ago we gave them shape
- I mean 40 centimeters length, 20 centimeters width and 10 centimeters height
- These are these ones here
- Yes, exactly, and then after that in Islamic period they changed it and they became smaller and 35cm length, 35cm width , 5 cm height. You can see it here
- These ones here, aha
- Can you explain to me the construction of the place; why it is built the way it is exactly?
- Yeah, they built it in five different levels because on that time our society was divided into five different groups.
- So they wanted to separate them from each other
- The first level was for normal people, and second part was for farmers and third for soldiers, four for rich people and fifth was for the king.
- King and the royalty?
- Exactly. So they lived in different parts of the castle. With tall walls and towers they could be protected from the enemy
- Right, so the most important people so to speak can stay at the top on the safest place.
The fort dates back more than 3,000 years, and was used by every dynasty in Iran’s history. Like most fortifications, it was built on high ground, so that it could be more easily defended. Narin Castle is one of the few remaining mud-brick forts in Iran, still standing firm despite the numerous conflicts and changes of dynasties it has seen.
The local legend of Narin Castle goes like this: The castle was built during the time of the Prophet Solomon… at the time Fars was the seat of power of the Prophet Solomon … Solomon ordered monsters to build a fort in a mountain so that his treasure could be defended…a monster named Dal reached this mountain…and Solomon was notified. Solomon instructed Dal to build a fort from clay and stone. When Solomon died, the fort rocked to and fro.
- so you can see the old part of the city. They built this castle on top of a hill because they wanted to see every kind of movement around themselves and it was the best technique to protect their castle.
Meybod’s caravanserai is known as the Shah Abbas caravanserai and was built 400-odd years ago, over the top of a pre-exesting one. The Shah Abbas caravanserai is square-shaped, with a central yard. Its huge wooden door helped to provide security from bandits.
The grounds of the caravanserai and its perimeter involve iwans and both open and roofed spaces. The yard has 24 chambers, but the number of bed chambers reaches 100 if we include those deeper inside the caravanserai. There is a small pond in the center of the yard, through which the aqueduct flows.
- ok, it was a caravanserai and Shah Abbas started to build these caravanserais around Iran. I mean 999 caravanserais in Iran territory.
- Yeah, on the silk road
- On silk road way, exactly
- And I guess by the looks of things this isone of the biggest, the more grand looking caravanserai
- Yes, exactly. Because Meybod was an important city on that time and it was located on a conjunction of north to south and east to west all people had to pass through this desert way
- And these are all places to sleep?
- Or shops maybe?
- It looked like shops because they put their goods in front of their room and they traded with each other.
there are other buildings in the surrounding area that were built overtime for the welfare of the caravans. They include the source of the aqueduct, a water tower, a water storage depot, a post office, an adobe fridge, and a cemetery.
The chaparkhaneh, or post office, dates back to the Achamenid era in Iran – about 2,500 years ago. The chaparkhanehs were tasked with keeping and looking-after fast horses and fresh messengers, so that important letters and parcels could be sent as quickly as possible. Because of their importance to the rulers, chaparkhanehs were built as small forts. They typically featured, high lookout towers and high walls, which spaces from which to shoot arrows. Meybod's chaparkhaneh has been restored, and now serves as a postal museum.
- So this is a post office apparently. Yeah?
- Yes, 2500 years ago our emperor forced all his ministers to take his force(rules) just in seven days in all the charetory of Iran from Roma to India
- Ah, you mean they should travel that distance in seven days.
Beside the Shah Abbas caravanserai, there is a yellow cylinder shaped dome that formerly served as a refrigerator, made completely out of adobe. The main components of the fridge are the ice pond, the shade-giving wall, the storage area, and the high dome. The monument was used for making and keeping ice. And given the geographical position of the region, keeping large amounts of cold water was an enormous aide to the development of civilization. It is one of the few surviving ancient fridges in Iran.
- We are in front of the Grand Mosque. It has the tallest minarets of Iran.
- Yeah. The height is 52 meters from top to floor. This mosque was built 800 years ago
- But was reconstructed 600 years ago again
- And who was responsible for building it?
- Seyed Roknoddin. He was the lawyer of Yazd and 600 years ago he payed to reconstruct here totally
- This door was built 600 years ago. before they reconstruct this door with nail and iron, it was made up of small woods next to each other like puzzle
- And if they wanted to reconstruct it, they could bring them out and put other pieces inside
- on the ceiling you can see 110 names of God
- On this ceiling up here?
- They put different bricks next to each other and look like square so that you can see 110 different names of God on the ceiling
- Look at that small window in front of us
- The one at the top?
- Yes. Under that you can see the symbol of Arian.
- Yeah, we call that swastika.
- Yeah, it’s the symbol of Arian people
- When would this ceiling have been built?
- 600 years ago
- They wanted to show that we are Arian and Muslim together.
- So 600 year ago they had this idea
- Wow, that’s fascinating.
The most outstanding parts of the Grand Mosque of Yazd are the iwan - the dome section and the surrounding landscape. The high iwan is adorned with a set of very beautiful mosaic tile works and arabesque decorations. These decorations with vault and pending pictures as well as mosaic tablets and kufic writing, have created a spectacular landscape that draws the admiration of many visitors.
- Excuse me, can you speak English?
- Can I talk to you for a minute?
- My name is Matte. What is your name?
- I’m Arash
- Arash. Cool. I’m just curious. What are you doing here?
- Actually I’m just trying to have some shapes on these footages. I’m actually an industrial designer student
- I’m studying at the Shahid Sadoughi Technical University
- So we thought that maybe that these shapes and geometries have been using here might be useful for our job
- How are these shapes applicable to industrial engineering?
- Basically industrial design contains some geometry. Geometries are basically made of triangles, rectangles, mostly circles.
- So these shapes are the main shapes that have been used in this architectural design
- Thank you so much for your time
- You’re welcome
- Nice to meet you. See you later, bye bye
Yazd is the city of wind, water, fire and earth. It was an amazing discovery coming to this place. I truly felt transported back to another time and all with no people preying on me as an unsuspecting tourist.