Having headed southeast since our arrival we turn southwest for our next stop in Shiraz.
After a substantial drive we arrive in Neyriz and stop to look at its 10th century mosque (Masjed-e Jame) that is built over an earlier fire temple.
The orientation of the open room (ivan), which dictates the direction of Mecca, is at odds with with alignment of the prayer carpets, which run obliquely across the floor. Cleverly, it is deduced by one of the group that the mosque must have been built directly over the remains of the temple and the new occupiers had simply adapted the furnishings in the direction of Mecca.
The landscape becomes more dramatic as we pass over some foot hills. The land is cultivated with fig trees so we stop to buy some from a roadside shack. Everyone races to the counter and searches for the figs and fail to see that the piles and piles of little nut-looking objects that fill the shop front are in fact dried figs.
As we drop down into the valley below I get my first real view of the legendary Zagros Mountain range. They form an imposing outline against the sky, and I’m instantly reminded of a passage in the book I am reading* that talks of Assyrians scaling their perilous contours in order to attack the peoples who inhabit them. Seeing them now, lit by the evening sun, is a most vivid way to remember the words of a book.
We dive to a small hunting lodge at Savistan of dubious date – some say Sassanid others say early Islamic. Either way, it is a pleasing building with domed rooms, narrow corridors and a charming courtyard
As we drive toward Shiraz white streaks appear in the valley bottom and these are the salt lakes. As we draw nearer their banks we see lines of people wading out into the opaque depths of the water. I have no idea what they are doing but they are framed beautifully in the reflection of the hills.
Entering Shiraz is like entering Las Vegas. After all the small country dwellings and shacks we have passed the wide, tree-lined boulevards with neon signs and three lanes of traffic come as a shocking contrast. My romantic vision of Shiraz has evaporated into a blur of high rise buildings, beeping cars and glitzy facades. And there is no sign of wine.
*The brilliant ‘Persian Fire’ by the inimitable Tom Holland.