This is the Shah Cheragh Mosque in Southern Iran; I went there once. I still have a photograph . . . two, I think . . . but they were taken on my Instamatic Kodak camera and are pasted into my photograph album and I have no idea whatsoever of how to scan them into here. The mosque is actually down a backstreet. In my images the side-streets outside are heaving with people, mainly but not entirely young men in jeans and t-shirts with lots of improvised market stalls, selling stuff. A lot of the things they are selling are cassette tapes of radical Islamic sermons, I think but am not certain, by Ayatollah Khomeini who at that time lived in exile in Paris. In these 2017 pictures not only are the streets empty, the interior is almost totally devoid of people.
I am honestly not sure what is going on here. Shah Cheragh Mosque is known in Shiraz as the mirror mosque because the interior surfaces are entirely covered in cut glass, such that although there are no windows or other external light sources, the dazzling interior glitters like a mirror. It’s beautiful in a way albeit a little overwhelming and when I was there in 1976, pretty scary. It is a Shi’ite shrine built and then rebuilt in the 14thC when Persia was a wealthy, culturally dominant Asian country. You take your shoes off at the entrance, as one does at any mosque then you are supposed to kiss the solid gold entrance doors, then you enter and if you are a woman, you must cover your hair of course. I think I was the only European there that day and was very clearly not welcome judging by the glares and body-checking I was subject to from the clerics within. You then walked around and around generally anti-clockwise most people trying, I think, to get closer and closer to the shrine in the centre where the remains of the martyrs are supposed to lie. Why is it empty now? Less zeal amongst the faithful? There was certainly plenty of zeal around when I was there; is it that the fact that the reality of rule-by-zeal has turned the Iranian people into anti-Islamic? The fact that nowadays it is open to sightseers must be tied up in why it has evolved from sacred tomb to tourist stop-off.
Don’t know the answer. Progress does everything but straight lines . . . one hopes that the Iranians can persist in pointing in that general direction. It was certainly one of the most remarkable occurrences culturally, that I have ever experienced and at an extraordinary moment, just before the overthrow of the Shah.
I seem to be in a very Iranian tessellation just now. The notes about my own experiences in Shiraz were prompted by a travel article I had recently read on the theme of out of the way must-see places to visit. I was actually astonished to see Shah Cheragh Mosque on that list since my own encounter had been so frightening and the fact that Iran appears to be such a hostile country these days.
As it happens I am reading a book at the moment called The Revolutionary Ride [By Lois Pryce] which is about a woman, Lois who makes an overland journey across Turkey into Iran by motorbike and rides from Tabriz in the North West across to Tehran then down to Shiraz. I made the same journey myself not by motorbike however, and I didn’t visit Tehran. The book is currently number one in Travel/Adventure and No2 in Non-fiction on Amazon with a red sticker on the cover indicating Best-seller. I haven’t got to Shiraz yet so I don’t know if she goes to the Mosque but she finds most Iranians friendly and enlightened. Will report in due course.
Then there is A Girl Walks Home at Night Alone which we recently watched on DVD at home, an Iranian vampire film with only one act, shot in B&W. Will report in due course.