The city of Yazd’s first mention in historic records predate it back to around 3000 years B.C. when it was related to by the name of Ysatis, and was then part of the domain of Medes, an ancient settler of Iran. In the course of history due to its distance from important capitals and its harsh natural surrounding, Yazd remained immune to major troops’ movements, invasions and destruction from wars, therefore it kept many of its traditions, the city forms and architecture until recent times. During the mongol invasion in the early 1200’s A.D. Yazd became a safe haven and home for many artists, intellectuals and scientists fleeing their war ravaged cities around Persia. In this Yazd Travel Guide, we are going talk about Yazd, its history and attractions.
Yazd Travel Guide – Introduction
Yazd, an ancient city in the heart of Iran, is a place where history, culture, and architecture seamlessly blend to create a mesmerizing experience for travelers. Often referred to as the “City of Windcatchers” or the “City of Zoroastrians,” Yazd is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Situated midway between Isfahan and the historic city of Kerman, this oasis city stands surrounded by the vast deserts of Iran, creating a stark yet beautiful landscape. With a history spanning over 5,000 years, Yazd has been a center of trade, culture, and religion for millennia.
History of Yazd
Yazd stands as a living testament to human resilience and ingenuity in adapting to challenging environments. Its rich history and vibrant culture make it a must-visit destination for travelers seeking an authentic and unforgettable experience. The history of Yazd dates back to the time of the Achaemenid Empire, and the city has witnessed the rise and fall of various dynasties, including the Sasanian Empire and the Seljuks. Its historical significance lies in being a melting pot of cultures and religions, with significant Zoroastrian, Islamic, and Persian influences.
Yazd was visited by Marco Polo in 1272, who described it as a good and noble city and remarked its silk production. Isolated from any approach by a huge tract of monotonous desert, the vibrancy of Yard is invariably a surprise. For a brief period, Yazd was the capital of Atabakan and Mozaffarid dynasties (14th Century A.D.). During Qajar Dynasty (18th Century A.D.) it was ruled by the Bakhtiari chieftains; one of the most important Iran Ethnic Groups.
Also Read : History of Iran
Yazd’s Location and Geography
The city of Yazd is located in central Iran situated on a high, desert plateau ringed by Zagros mountains . The city’s strategic location along the ancient trade routes such as the Silk Road made it a crucial stop for traders traveling between Europe and Asia. Yazd’s unique geography, coupled with an elaborate underground water system known as “Qanats,” has been vital to its survival in the arid desert climate.
Geographically, Yazd is surrounded by vast desert regions, with the Dasht-e Kavir (Great Salt Desert) to the north and the Dasht-e Lut (Lut Desert) to the southeast. The city itself is positioned between two mountain ranges: the Karkas Mountains to the southwest and the Shirkuh Mountains to the northeast. This location gives Yazd a semi-arid climate with hot and dry summers and cool winters.
Yazd’s Rich Cultural Heritage
The cultural heritage of Yazd is deeply rooted in Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest religions. The city is home to a significant Zoroastrian population, and their influence is evident in various customs and traditions. Yazd is also known for its traditional crafts, such as silk weaving, pottery, and the production of exquisite textiles and carpets.
Amidst the immense desert, Yazd retains its sterling of old in religion, traditions and architecture. It is recognized by UNESCO as holding one of the oldest architecture all over the world. The word Yazd means, sacred and worship, which gives us the idea of being a sacred city in the past.
The city comes alive during festivals and celebrations, such as Nowruz, the Iranian New Year celebration, or Yalda celebration – of the most important and joyous occasions. The streets are adorned with colorful decorations, and people gather to share traditional dishes and engage in vibrant festivities. The majority of Yazdi people have resisted the modern urban changes and maintained the traditional old structures.
Also Read : Religions in Iran
Climate and Weather
Yazd experiences a desert climate with scorching summers and cool winters. The city’s architectural ingenuity, such as the wind towers and underground water channels, has helped in moderating the extreme temperatures. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit Yazd when the weather is mild and pleasant. Yazd Current Weather
Also Read : Iran Climate
Yazd’s Architectural Marvel
Yazd boasts a remarkable collection of architectural marvels that have withstood the test of time. The geographical features of this region have made people develop special architectural styles. Among them are the iconic Wind Towers, which have been ingeniously designed to catch even the slightest breeze, providing natural ventilation and cooling to the buildings. Water reservoirs and Ice houses are of other architectural phenomena of Yazd.
In the old part of the city (the old town) most houses are built of mud-bricks and have domed roofs. These materials served as insulation preventing heat from passing through.
Yazd’s Tourism and Attractions
Yazd’s charm extends beyond its historical and cultural significance. It is considered the bride of Iranian central desert; a treasure of Iranian architecture with the utmost elegance and beauty.
Due to its climatic conditions, Yazd city is full of high wind towers, magnificent reservoirs and huge historical aqueducts. All these extraordinary tourist attractions, along with the bazaar and the customs of local people have made Yazd one of the top tourism hubs in Iran.
What to see in Yazd?
The Towers of Silence, located on the outskirts of the city, are ancient Zoroastrian burial sites that offer a glimpse into the religion’s unique burial practices. Adventurers can indulge in desert excursions, camel rides, and witness the breathtaking sunrise and sunset over the sand dunes.
The Amir Chakhmaq Complex, with its symmetrical rows of alcoves, is an impressive sight to behold during the night when beautifully lit fountains and pool create a captivating atmosphere. The Yazd Water Museum provides insight into the ancient qanat system and the city’s ingenious water management techniques.
The Atash Behram temple, a Zoroastrian fire temple, holds the highest grade of fire and is considered one of the most sacred places for Zoroastrians.
Another gem of the city is the Friday Mosque of Yazd, a masterpiece of Persian-Islamic architecture, adorned with exquisite tile-work and delicate mosaics.
Dowlat Abad Garden, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, showcases the traditional Persian garden design and features a stunning pavilion with a tall wind tower.
Yazd Jame Mosque
The magnificent building of Yazd Jame Mosque (Congregational Friday Mosque) is graced with a tiled entrance portal, flanked by two 48m-high minarets and adorned with inscriptions from the 15th century.
The mosque was constructed on the site of a fire temple from the time of Sassanids and was largely rebuilt between 1324 and 1365 AD. The exquisite mosaics on the dome and mihrab, and the tiles above the main western entrance to the courtyard are masterpieces of calligraphy, evoking sacred names in infinitely complex patterns.
The art of calligraphy and engrossing works along with the beautiful patterns and designs on the corners of its ceiling inside the mosque depicts the holy name of Ali which is really marvelous and exquisite. This mosque with its high altitude and blue tiles worked as beacons for the people inside the desert to find their ways.
Jame mosque, Yazd, Iran
Amir Chakhmaq complex
Although more often described as the entrance to a now non-existent bazaar, the chief function of Amir-Chakhmagh structure known as a Tekyeh, and the square before it, was to host Ta’ziyeh – a cycle of passion plays commemorating the martyrdom of the third Imam of Shiites, Imam Hossein, which take place once a year during the mourning month of Moharram. The site dating from fifteenth century, is named after its builder, Amir Jalal Al-Din Chakhmagh, governor of Yard.
Yazd fire temple
The Zoroastrian Fire Temple of Yazd, also known as Yazd Atash Behram, enshrines a sacred fire installed in the temple behind an amber tinted glass enclosure where just Zoroastrians are allowed to go to the sanctum area of the fire. This fire is burning for more than 1500 years and is brought to this place from a different temple in Aqda. The Zoroastrians’ fire temple building dates back to 1936.
Read More : Yazd Fire Temple
Towers of silence
Dakhma, also known as the Tower of Silence, is a circular, raised structure built by Zoroastrians for excarnation for dead bodies to be exposed to carrion birds, usually vultures.
In the Zoroastrian tradition, once a body ceases to live, it can immediately be contaminated by demons and made impure. To prevent this infiltration, Zoroastrians purified the dead body by exposing it to the elements and local fowl on top of flat-topped towers in the desert called Dakhma. According to a tradition dating back over 3,000 years, bodies were arranged on the towers in three concentric circles. Men were placed in the outer circle, women in the middle, and children in the inner-most ring. Bodies were then left until their bones were bleached by the elements and stripped by the vultures. After the process of purification, bones were placed in ossuaries near, or inside, of the towers.
Towers of Silence, Zoroastrian burial site, Yazd, Iran
Dowlat Abad garden
Dowlat Abad Garden was built around 1750 by the order of Mohammad Taghi Khan Bafqi who was the ruler of Yazd during the Afsharid Dynasty. He began the construction by ordering a 65 kilometers long Qanat with 5 root branches to be made to transfer water from Mehriz to the site. He built this Persian Garden and later the residence to be the seat of his government in the garden. The garden fell into ruins after the death of its original owner in 1793. Currently Dowlat Abad is irrigated using a semi deep well as the Qanat no longer provides water.
This garden with an area of about 70,000 m2 includes multiple buildings, ponds and water fountains. In the space between them are gardens with pomegranate and winetrees and ornamental flowers. In addition to the garden itself registered in the UNESCO Heritage list, there is also a wind tower which is known as the tallest wind tower (Badgir) in the world. This tower with a height of 33.8 meters is the world’s tallest known mud brick wind tower, built in late 18th C.
Back in time, there were many beautiful dense trees to protect the garden from the wind and keep the moisture of the garden inside it.
The garden was located in the suburban area of Yazd, but later during Qajar Dynasty when the city was developed and expanded; it became a part of the urban context.
Dowlat Abad Garden, Yazd, Iran
Fahadan district of Yazd
Fahadan district is the oldest neighborhood of Yazd, which is believed to be a neighborhood inhabited by nobles and land owners in the past. In the year 1040, the local government created a city wall containing watch towers and forts around this area which is still visible in some parts. Significant monuments are located in this neighborhood such as Malekzadeh house, Heidar Zadeh house (museum of coins), the tomb of Sheikh Ahmad Fahadan, Fahadan Mosque, Laaris House, Chehel Mehrab Mosque, Saheb al Zaman mosque, Abol ma’ali Bath, Alexander’s Prison (Zendan-e-Eskandar), Fahadan water reservoir, and also the oldest historical monument of Yazd, tomb of the 12 Imams which dates back to Seljuk era.
Qanat System (Kariz)
How ancient people of Iran lived in the middle of deserts without any significant water resource?
Centuries ago, inhabitants of Iranian plateau invented a new water supply system called Qanat. With this new invention it was possible to reach significant amounts of underground water and bring it to the surface of the ground, which -like natural springs – reaches the surface all year round without any help from inside the earth. The Term Qanat (Ghanat) is Arabic but this underground water channel system has been originally called Kariz and is considered an Iranian invention. Central Iran is mostly warm and dry due to vast deserts of Lut and Kavir. Living in these areas without sufficient perception and other water sources is impossible, but Iranians have used the Qanat techniques to meet their water needs and fertilize dry deserts. Warm and dry regions of the rest of the world, such as Australia, are uninhabited, but thanks to this achievement, many Iranian cities and villages have survived at the heart of deserts and their agricultural products including fruits, vegetables and oil seeds enjoy Qanat system. According to the Iranian Ministry of Energy statistics, about 36300 Qanats have been identified in Iran. These aqueducts are also found in countries that have been part of Iran or had cultural ties with Persia. In Mesopotamia, especially Iraq and Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, western China, southern Russia, young Persian Gulf states, North Africa and southern Europe, but the number of Qanats within Iran alone exceeds the total number of aqueducts outside Iran.
Read more : Persian Qanat
Yazd Water museum
Kolahdooz house is an old mansion built in 1887 now converted into a unique water museum. Qanats called Zarch and Rahimabad passed through this five-story building for hundreds of years and this may be the reason why it is hosts the Yazd Water Museum. These two branches of qanats collided beneath the house. Zarch is still active and has flowing water. There is also a reservoir in Kolahdooz house, which used to be filled with water from the same qanats. The walls of Kolahdooz house are all ornamented with beautiful plaster carvings and the original rooms are attractive and eye-catching. Yazd Water Museum has started its work since 2000 simultaneously with the “Kariz” International Conference. In its various sections, it exhibits water supply and water management methods and also more than 200 historical objects – from tools related to digging qanats to old documents related to some of the main aqueducts of Yazd.
Read More : Yazd Water Museum
80 km from the city of Yazd towards North, the ancient site of Kharanagh, with an approximate age of 4000 years and a historical background of 1800 years, is an important heritage of Iranian history. The oldest existing historical document, in which the name of this region is mentioned, dates back to almost 1400 years ago during the reign of Yazdgerd III, the last Sassanid emperor. This document is in fact a report of a Zoroastrian cleric and shows the prosperity of this village as a resting area with it’s grand Caravanserai set up for merchants and travelers. The old name “Khor Anagh” means the birthplace of the sun.
Kharanagh village consists of old and new sections. The old part, also known as Kharanagh Castle, has been abandoned for about 30 years ago. In this section you will see very spectacular structures that are 1800 years old. The new section is also home to simple, minimalist villagers who live on planting crops such as turmeric, melons, cotton, wheat and barley. 145 families live in this village that is also of great economic importance for the country due to it’s Iron ore, Uranium, Barite, Zinc and Granite mines. Many animals live in the heart of this desert , including cheetahs, rams, goats, wild cats, rabbits and foxes, and birds such as terns, partridges and ravens.
Left: Kharanah Caravanserai | Right: Kharanagh Castle (citadel)
The beautiful 1800 year-old castle is located in the old part of Kharanagh village. This citadel and its fortress belong to the Sassanid period. Made entirely of clay and mud, Kharanagh castle was about one hectare in area and served as a residential citadel. The space inside the castle is completely secure and its houses are often two or three storeied. The castle has 6 watch towers and it’s internal alleys are so narrow and winding. These alleys are some of the interesting parts of this castle, behind which a historical story is hidden. The villagers used these narrow passages to surprise thieves and bandits. One of the most famous one was called “Wolf Alley” where bandits were usually trapped in this labyrinthine alley until the guards be prepared to arm up and ambush them.
Kharanaq historical caravanserai has been renovated and you can make the best travel experience for yourself by staying in the heart of the desert. If you stay in this village at night, you can also watch the starry desert sky.
Also Read : Most Famous Caravanserais of Iran
Ancient Town of Meybod
Situated just 45 kilometers from Yazd, Meybod has cemented its place as the second urban and commercial center of Yazd province. Thanks to its invaluable historical significance, the entire city is proudly listed as one of Iran’s historical monuments.
Meybod is a city that holds a significant place in the the history of Iran. It is evident from various accounts that its origins predate the Islamic era. In the local histories of Yazd, the Sassanid city of Meybod has been attributed to several kings from the Sasanian Empire, including Yazdgerd III, Qobad, and Anushirvan. It is believed that one of the army generals of King Yazdgerd III (r 632 – 651 AD) played a role in founding the city.
The exact origins of the first construction period of Meybod is not entirely clear and are shrouded in myths. However, recent archaeological findings reveal that the central core of Meybod, known as Narin Ghaleh – one of the famous castles of Iran – has a much older history. According to these discoveries, the history of settlement in this castle dates back to the end of the third millennium BC and the beginning of the second millennium BC.”
Read More – Meybod
Yazdi Cuisine and Delicacies
Yazdi cuisine is a delightful blend of flavors and aromas, influenced by its geographical location and the availability of ingredients in the desert region. Some popular dishes include Qeyme Yazdi (A stew made of meat and peas), Beh-Aaloo (A stew made of quince and plumb), and Koofteh Lappeh (A type of meatball made of minced camel meat and lentils)
Also, special and local sweets can be found in Yazd, which express the culture and special climate of this spectacular and amazing region. Most famous sweets of yazd are : Pashmak (a type of Persian cotton candy), Qottab and Yazdi Baklava, which are relished not only by locals but also by visitors from around the world.
Where to stay in Yazd?
While preserving its historical heritage, Yazd has also embraced modernity with well-planned infrastructure and developments. The city accommodates tourists with comfortable hotels, restaurants serving a variety of cuisines, and modern amenities that cater to the needs of visitors from different parts of the world. But it would be a great experience to stay in a traditional hotel while in Yazd. Here is some suggestion for your traditional accommodation in Yazd: