An old traditional alley with houses and walls made of loam, Yazd, Iran
Overview and HistoryYazd is one of the oldest cities in the world. It dates back to before 3000BC when it was known as Ysatis, as part of the Medes Empire. It has long been referred to as "the Pearl of the Desert" and from a distance it appears to have arisen from the sands like a living part of the desert -- which it is. It sits about 175 miles southeast of Isfahan in an oasis where the Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut deserts meet.Because of its location away from other major capitals and in the harshness of desert environs, Yazd was avoided by major movements of armies and troops and the destruction they wrought. Therefore the architecture and traditions in Yazd have remained in place across the centuries where elsewhere they were influenced and changed.Yazd was a refuge for artists, philosophers and scientists while Ghengis Khan invaded Persia in the 13th century. Marco Polo visited in 1272 and described it as a good and noble city with fabulous silk production, the refinements of which you can still find in the marketplaces today.Yazd has been a center of Zoroastrian religion since after the Sassanid Dynasty (c.600AD). Zoroastrians fled to Yazd during the Islamic conquest of Persia and only slowly did they integrate into Islam.The Zoroastrian heritage is preserved in Yazd at several locations. Two of the most important are the Tower of Silence and the Fire Temple. A fire has been burning continuously there since 470AD!Yazd is the driest city in Iran and the hottest city north of the Persian Gulf. Temperatures can easily surpass 40C in the summer. There's an interesting architectural invention to alleviate the uncomfortable heat -- chimneys! Before electric powered air conditioners were invented people used tall windtowers called badgirs which act as air-vents to draw off some of the hot air from inside the living space. Smart.Yazd is mostly built with adobe and because of its climate, it has one of the largest networks of water storage and irrigation in the world. These are a combination of wells and tunnels that allow for transportation of water below the surface so it does not evaporate under the desert heat. Double smart!Getting ThereDirect your airplane's GPS system to Yazd - Shahid Sadooghi Airport (AZD) for a smooth landing. Yazd has daily flights to Tehran and international service to Dubai and Damascus.TransportationEverything except boats is on the move in Yazd. They've got buses, taxis and trains available. Also, the roads are known for being of the best quality in Iran, so you can drive fast and still be safe.Within the old part of the city you can mostly walk wherever you want to go, but try a motorcycle taxi anyway just for the experience of it.People and CultureIranian food is delicious and imaginative, with the richness of flavors that you can only get by spending a lot of time in the preparation. Asian people who think their culture has mastered the art of rice should visit Iran to find out what's REALLY going on...Alcohol is prohibited across the whole country. In Yazd you won't even want any, the city has a spiritual openness and cleansing feeling. Drink pomegranate juice instead, or tea.Things to do, RecommendationsGo to Yazd for the legendary sweets shops alone. They take such pride in their candies that the recipes are family secrets.For tourists, the Friday Mosque is one of the major sights in Yazd; it's crowned with the highest minarets of all mosques in Persia and has amazing 14th century tile work on the facade.Biologists on the move? The province of Yazd is home to a 4500 year old cypress tree which is soon to be protected as one of the world's biggest living organisms.Text by Steve Smith.