After the tumultuous weather of the previous day I wake to find the air crisp and the sky blue. We wander on foot to the old town of Yazd and the winding streets lined by mudbrick walls is a delightful maze. Occasionally the streets are covered and remind me of the covered walkways of Ghadames in Libya and they provide a cool respite from the heat trapped in the sun lit narrow streets.
Dominating the skyline are the wind catcher towers. Mainly four sided but sometimes more, they are designed to ventilate and cool the air in houses. Often with wooden beams poking out of them in all directions, similar to well-used voodoo dolls, they are as pleasing to look at as they are functional. Drawing in hot air that then passes over water to cool, the towers act as a natural air conditioning unit. The cold air is circulated through the room and then as it heats up it is drawn up and out the tower. As with the ice house, simple architecture with no moving parts is used to solve a problem. I adore them.
We visit the main mosque and once again I find myself donning a chador. This time I was spared the potential horror of an elastic fiasco as it was a simple piece of material that draped over you. Pity then that it was made of the world’s most slippery acrylic material as it took two hands to hold it on which is not amenable to taking photographs which also requires the use of two hands. The entrance facade of the mosque soars above you and the whole face of the wall is adorned with tiles in hues of blue, green, and yellow with white. Although the designs are intricate and busy the overall impression is that of coolness and calmness. The two minarets tower over the facade like prongs piercing the sky. It is a scale of architecture that induces humbleness.
We continue to weave through the streets of the old town and pop in and out of various mosques, spot more wind towers and duck in and out of the shade of the covered passages. The view we are offered from the roof of a hotel gives us a sense of place. With the snowy mountains forming the back drop we peer down over the sea of domes, roofs, and towers of the old town.
A few of us sacrifice a leisurely lunch and fight our way through the crowds to visit the water museum. Understanding how the qanats are built and their use in a domestic environment was actually more gratifying than it may sound. The subterranean world of this particular house was particularly clever. Not only is it cooler to live in these underground rooms in summer but by channeling the cold air, the occupants could store their food in refrigerated conditions. I cannot fail to be impressed once again by people’s ingenuity.
The final stop of the day is at the towers of silence. Perched on the plateau of a hilltop, these large circular structures were the burial grounds of the Zoroastrians. Believing that the ground should remain pure they would take the dead and leave them in these buildings for their bones to be pecked clean by vultures. As the bones accumulated they would be flushed into a central hole and covered with lime.
The climb up the hill is steep but the group slowly meanders up and the second tower of silence on the adjacent plateau looms into view. The tower is squat and about 25m in diameter. Once inside there is not much to see except for a paved floor surrounding a rock cut hole in the centre. The most warm and friendly Zoroastrian guardian of the site chats with us about his religion, the burial practice and their way of life. He reaffirms my belief that Zoroastrianism is fundamentally a sound religion though I admit I should probably swot up a little on the role of women in this society before I commit.
The weather starts to break again and after a warming drink we are shepherded to watch an Iranian sport. We enter a circular room with a central pit in which a group of men in Paisley trousers are limbering up holding what look to be different sized and weighted bowling pins. We remove our shoes as requested and take our seat on the floor to watch the spectacle. After a few press-ups and arm swinging a couple of the chaps juggle with the bowling pins to the beat of a drum and a man singing. Then there is more arm swinging. Finally, in turn they do something akin to dervish dancing without the skirts. The overwhelming odour of feet in the room is enough to finally drive some of us out. Apparently I miss some more arm swinging. I’m not entirely sure I would class it as a ‘sport’. It is however, I imagine, what it would be like to drop by your local gym and watch an aerobic class in action. Exactly. Who would do that? Our guide isn’t a fan either so I feel better about not embracing it.
Tomorrow we have a long drive to Kerman.