Day 70: In the footsteps of Marco Polo

Yazd Travel Blog

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Mosque façade
Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Michael (Australia), Gisela (Spain)

Yazd used to be an important city along the Silk Road and Marco Polo travelled through this place in the 13th century. Despite my trip being dubbed 'In the footsteps of Marco Polo', this was the first time since Trabzon that my journey crossed paths so obviously with the Silk Road's most famous traveller.

Together with a Spanish girl we met at the Silk Road hostel last night, Michael and I went for a stroll around town. We'd seen part of the old city last night, but left the main sights for today. One of the major sights in Yazd is the Amir Chakhmaq religious complex. On the way over we passed a beautiful mosque which for some reason is neither mentioned in our guidebook, nor on the official map of Yazd.
Amir Chakhmaq Takieh
I have no idea what it is called (someone who recognises it from the photos, please let me know) but it was definitely one of the finer mosques in Iran. A slender portal at the street side, a main prayer hall with nice woodwork and tainted glass, and a small medressa (Islamic theological school) behind it.

The Amir Chakhmaq complex used to occupy all buildings around an entire town square, including governmental buildings and a bazaar, though these days only the mosque and the 'takieh' (a building used during the rituals to commemorate the death of Imam Hossein) remain under control of the clergy. The rest of the buildings now contain bazaar shops, restaurants and a sports club (but more on that later).

The mosque itself was closed, but the friendly caretaker let us in and even let us on the roof! From the roof we had a fantastic view over the Amir Chakhmaq square and the old city beyond.
View of Amir Chakhmaq from the roof
What a wonderful place!
The caretaker seemed very used to tourists (I guess he lets more people up on the roof) yet he never asked for any money. Obviously we gave him a big tip for letting us in (disguised as 'buying a brochure' so as not to embarrass or insult him).

Opposite the Chakhmaq complex is the Yazd Water museum. As you may have gathered by now, Yazd lies in the middle of a desert (as does about 75% of Iran). Getting water to the city is quite a difficult feat. To get water to the cities and villages, as well as for irrigation, Iran uses 'Qanats'. This  2000 year old tradition is a form of irrigation which is best described as underground aqueducts. While the Romans found a way to transport water over great distances by building sloping canals above ground, the Persians did a similar thing underground.
chillin' in the water museum qanat
Sloping tunnels, sometimes hundreds of kilometres long, transport water from a well far away in the mountains, to a desert town or village. Due to the expertise needed for and the hazards of digging shallow underground tunnels, qanats are very expensive and its builders very well-paid. Though modern irrigation is now being introduced, Iran is estimated to still have some 50,000 working qanats.
The water museum, housed in a restored mansion, has an interesting photo display on qanat digging and maintenance, as well as access to an actual (empty) qanat under the house.

We continued our walk through the mellow bazaar and the lovely backstreets of the old town centre of Yazd. I found Yazd to be a very pleasant town. While it lacked the sights of Esfahan and Shiraz, I found it had a much nicer vibe.
Yes, you saw it right, these are genuine bonafide Japanese tourists


I was surprised to see so many tourists walking around in Yazd. Yesterday we had already met that Iranian family and seen many other Iranian tourists. But today we saw many Western tourists walking the streets as well, and not just the ones we had met at the Silk Road Hostel. In a country like Iran, where a Western tourist is somewhat of a rarity, seeing tourists everywhere as if you are in fact walking around in South East Asia is somewhat, well, for lack of a better word, startling? I had gotten used to not seeing any other Western tourists in the street, apart from the handful of couch surfers we had already met. Was Yazd attracting more tourists than any other city in the country? Michael had a more logical explanation for this. Apart from the fact that there was a group of 16 overlanders in town, who were travelling from Istanbul to Kathmandu with the Dragoman travel company (similar to the trip I did in Southern Africa last year), Yazd is also quite a small town with all the major sights in a small compact area.
Detail of a mosque

Even so, I don't think there are more than maybe 500 foreign tourists in Iran at any given time, so seeing 20 or 30 non-Iranian people in a day is quite special. I dunno, I guess I am not used to seeing other Westerners any more, so as soon as I see one I want to walk up to them and say hello and ask them where they are from. Oh my gawd, I am turning into an Iranian!

One of these Westerners we met was a nice guy from Ireland (I forgot his name), who was travelling with the Dragoman group and who joined us for the rest of our walk around town. We had a nice break in an old hammam, which now houses a traditional restaurant. I have never been able to figure out why all the hammams in the country have been closed or turned into museums or restaurants. I don't know if this is something done since the Islamic revolution or earlier.
want to buy some pots and pans? I'd love to have the whole collection
Is a Hammam against Shia religion as well?

In the afternoon I watched the football match of Holland against Denmark. I don't really care too much for football, but I do like the World Cup when it occurs. Little did I know that this would be the only Dutch match I would be able to see during my trip. All other matches happened when I was either travelling, or staying in a place where there was no TV.

In the evening we went back to the Amir Chakhmaq, which is beautifully lit in the evening. Did I mention yet that in Yazd you see more tourists than elsewhere in Iran? Imagine our surprise when we saw a small group of Japanese tourists walking the street. A Japanese group tour? In Iran? Amazing! What was even more amazing was that the women didn't really follow the dress code either.
Amir Chakhmaq complex
Somehow they managed to get away with it.

The square in front of the Takieh is quite a happening place in the evening, with lots of locals hanging around for a chat while eating an ice-cream. A great place to do some people watching for a few hours.

Across the complex lies an old water storage which now houses the Saheb A Zaman Club Zurkhaneh. Zurkhaneh is an Iranian sport, which is some kind of cross between aerobics and body building. Like many Iranian traditions, it is as much as a religious ritual as it is a sport and it was quite interesting to watch ten sweaty boys and men in a round pit dancing and swirling around and doing push-ups to the rhythm of live drums and chants, even if we couldn't understand much of what the ritual exactly meant. This is one of those moments where a guide would have been nice to have.
Zurkhaneh session


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Mosque façade
Mosque façade
Amir Chakhmaq Takieh
Amir Chakhmaq Takieh
View of Amir Chakhmaq from the roof
View of Amir Chakhmaq from the roof
chillin in the water museum qanat
chillin' in the water museum qanat
Yes, you saw it right, these are g…
Yes, you saw it right, these are …
Detail of a mosque
Detail of a mosque
want to buy some pots and pans? I…
want to buy some pots and pans? I…
Amir Chakhmaq complex
Amir Chakhmaq complex
Zurkhaneh session
Zurkhaneh session
mural in Yazd
mural in Yazd
Gate of the mosque of which I don…
Gate of the mosque of which I don…
Door at mosque
Door at mosque
tainted glass window at mosque
tainted glass window at mosque
Amir Chakhmaq mosque from above
Amir Chakhmaq mosque from above
Yazd seen from above
Yazd seen from above
Yazd seen from the Amir Chakhmaq m…
Yazd seen from the Amir Chakhmaq …
On the roof of the Amir Chakhmaq m…
On the roof of the Amir Chakhmaq …
Yazd water museum
Yazd water museum
Yazd water museum
Yazd water museum
walking through Yazd old town
walking through Yazd old town
The streets of Yazd
The streets of Yazd
the old town of Yazd
the old town of Yazd
the old town of Yazd
the old town of Yazd
the old town of Yazd
the old town of Yazd
Ladies exiting the mosque after pr…
Ladies exiting the mosque after p…
Detail of the Jameh mosque
Detail of the Jameh mosque
old man at Jameh Mosque
old man at Jameh Mosque
quite unique, an Iranian woman tha…
quite unique, an Iranian woman th…
Jameh mosque
Jameh mosque
Buying Iranian candy floss
Buying Iranian candy floss
Michael making some friends by han…
Michael making some friends by ha…
I think she liked it
I think she liked it
Hands down the best bread in Iran
Hands down the best bread in Iran
I would have loved to see him try …
I would have loved to see him try…
fooling around with a local kid
fooling around with a local kid
think thats bad? you should see t…
think that's bad? you should see …
fooling around with a local kid
fooling around with a local kid
close up of statue in the fountain
close up of statue in the fountain
Amir Chakhmaq Takieh at night
Amir Chakhmaq Takieh at night
Zurkhaneh club
Zurkhaneh club
Back home they play a CD during Ae…
Back home they play a CD during A…
Jameh mosque at night
Jameh mosque at night
Yazd
photo by: macajam