After the stress of the previous evening, Feri and I slept soundly for ten hours in our en-suite, air-conditioned room. It was impressively clean with a large, comfortable bed and a huge fridge. Breakfast the next morning was typical Iranian fayre and plenty of it. It seemed a shame to check out after just one night after all the effort we had made to get the room, but we were meeting Rahmon for a day of sight-seeing in Shiraz and we had an early start.
Rahmon managed to find a precious car parking space in the city centre multi-storey and we made our way towards the famous Vakil Mosque, Bazaar and public baths.
First stop was the old public baths which, after spells as an underground restaurant and carpet shop, have now been converted into a waxwork museum depicting what the baths may have looked like when fully operating. The first things that strike you as you enter the first of many chambers are the smell of camphor and the beautiful designs decorating the ceilings. I understand that the restaurant closed in 2008 when it was found that the heat was destroying the plaster ceilings and I am so pleased that they are now being preserved.
Waxwork figures are placed in each chamber/room and it is easy to see how many traditional treatments were available in public baths at a time when many people didn’t have bathing facilities at home. There were masseurs, barbers who often doubled-up as dentists, circumcisers, blood-letters, exfoliators, henna and hair removal specialists. Men and women were segregated and non-muslims were mostly not admitted. The baths were not only a place to get yourself spruced up but also somewhere to catch up on the news and gossip. It is no surprise then to find that bath day often took all day.
It was while wandering around the chambers that a young girl approached me and asked whether I was English and if I could speak to her. She was learning English at school and wanted to show me how much she had learnt. Of course I obliged, then after a while I answered her in Farsi which delighted her so much that she shouted across to a large group of people and beckoned them over. This was a family outing to Shiraz, and coincidentally they too were from Esfahan. We had lots in common so they all started to ask me questions wanting me to reply in Farsi. It seemed to amuse them that I could. They also took lots of photos; some surreptitiously, worried that they might offend me by asking, others more blatant and unashamed!
Luckily, Feri realised that I was surrounded by a well-meaning but demanding audience and understanding that I may be getting a little overwhelmed he came to my rescue. After more obligatory photos with every member of the family, we departed friends, me having done my bit for Anglo/Iranian relations.
Next stop was Vakil Mosque. I must admit that my initial reaction was one of disappointment. I was used to the spectacular and visually stunning blue mosques of Esfahan but here the decorative tiles were more muted and mostly in shades of pink. I soon realised that I have been spoilt in becoming so familiar with the mosques in Esfahan and not realising how amazing they are. It is not until you have something to compare them with that this becomes so apparent.
As I walked around the 48 stone columns carved in spirals and looked closely as the mosaics, I saw how intricate and beautiful the mosque is. One of the main features of this mosque is the minbar, the pulpit from which the Imam conducts prayers and delivers his sermons, which is carved out of one solid piece of green marble. The minbar has 14 steps leading up to a recess in the blue and yellow tile-decorated wall and appears to be a favourite place for Iranians to pose for photographs.
This is one thing that really annoys me when visiting historical and cultural sites in Iran. Posing Iranians, with designer sunglasses and selfie sticks, heavily made-up women draping themselves over carved stones, wrapping themselves provocatively around pillars demanding yet another picture be taken. It is something that I haven’t come across anywhere else and it seems disrespectful to both the site and others wanting to see items in their “raw” state!
With camera poised and after much huffing and puffing, shifting from one leg to another, the offending Iranians eventually got the hint and let me take my photos.
After the relative peace and quiet of the mosque, it was full-steam ahead to the bustling Bazaar Vakil with instructions from Rahmon to buy his wife a scarf and with our immediate task of finding a tea-house where we could sit down and take stock, and refreshments.
Next time: Clubbing and bazaar happenings in the car park.