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City Of Hafez

City Of Hafez

Iran's national poet is said to have preferred Shiraz over paradise. These photos might give us an idea why.

Marian Brehmer

The closer the city center, the denser the traffic gets. At the roadside most of the shops are still closed. Only in front of the bakeries, queues have already formed. Men with long loaves of bread under their arms walk out into the morning sun. A row of tangerine trees on the centre strip is bathed in a soft light.

"In spring," says the driver, "the bewitching scent of tangerine blossoms envelops all of Shiraz. It's so beautiful that nobody wants to work anymore." Then he clears his throat and recites a poem by the poet Sa'adi, one of the city's great sons.

Street scene in Shiraz.
At a traditional Shirazi bakery.
Women reading a poem at the tomb of 13th century poet Sa'di of Shiraz.
Street scene in Shiraz.
Cooking āsh-e reshte, a Persian noodle soup with beans and herbs.

Shiraz – the city's melodious name is by itself a promise. In Iran, Shiraz is known for pleasant weather, its poets and the joie de vivre of its inhabitants. Some rumor that they are lazy, but let's say they know how to enjoy life. In the alleys and gardens of Shiraz the spirit of old Persia can still be felt.  

Hafez, Iran's 14th century national poet, was madly in love with his city. He is said to even have preferred Shiraz over paradise. Supposedly he never left the city during his whole life. Hafez' tomb lies north of the busy bazaar. He could hardly have chosen a more pleasant place to rest. Dainty tangerine trees surround the eight-columned grave of the poet. A nightingale chirps into the evening sky. The mosaic ceiling of the mausoleum is reflected in the water of the pools while soft classical Persian tunes from loudspeakers fly through the warm air.

Visitors crowd the tomb of Hafez at night.

For more than 600 years, the verses of Hafez have been a refuge for Iranians, an oracle to answer difficult questions, a familiar home in troubled times. Most Iranians first heard Hafez poetry on their grandparents' laps. He is considered a master of metaphor and the guardian of all secrets – there is hardly an Iranian who has not grown up in his poetic world of images.

The white marble sarcophagus is always surrounded by fans of the poet – groups of students, dreamy couples, families and literary tourists.

A woman at the tomb of Hafez with the divān, or collection of poetry, in her hand.
A man reading the verses of Hafez opposite the mausoleum.

At first glance, the courtyard of Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque looks like any other mosque in Iran. But if you set foot in the prayer hall of the mosque during morning hours, you will be carried into a different world. The mosque is covered entirely with delicate mosaic tiles.

The left wall of the mosque consists of wooden windows with stained glass. When the sun is still low, light is thrown onto the carpet of the mosque in various colours. There seem to be little rainbows everywhere. So much beauty makes the visitor feel drunk, taking deep breaths to soak up the splendid harmony of light and color.

Inside Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque.
A man praying on a Persian rug in Atiq Jameh Mosque.

In one of the lanes of Shiraz’ bazaar lies a zurkhane or traditional sports-house. Zurkhane translates as “House of Strength” and is the place where Iranian men gather for an old form of physical training that combines martial arts, strength training, spirituality, ethics, literature and music.

Men at the zurkhaneh form a community and strive to mature both physically and spiritually. The philosophy, ethics and poetry in the zurkhaneh are connected to Shi'ite Islam. Imam Ali is considered the first pahlevan, or strong hero. Watching the men do their exercises to the sound of drums and prayers has a hypnotic quality to it.

Note: The photos were taken on three different trips to Shiraz in 2010, 2013 and 2017.