‘Oh, but have you been to Kish? You absolutely must go.’ Travelling in Iran you’ll likely hear this more than once. And when you ask what is so special about Kish, you’re told: ‘But Kish is wonderful; everything works there. It is clean, shopping is cheap, you can swim…and there are no Paykans!’
Yes, all of this is true. Kish, the desert is land that the last shah started transforming into a playground for the rich and famous during the 1960s, is now seen by Iranians the way Americans view Hawaii. The island is both a novelty – for most Iranians this is the only beach resort they’ll ever be able to visit – and more liberated than the rest of Iran. Kish is a free-trade zone and, as one islander told us, many Iranians understand the ‘free’ to apply to social activities as well.
there are reasons to visit Kish. The resort water-sports make a pleasant diversion, there are a few ancient sights and cycling around the island on the coastal bike path is fun.
Kish Island is first recorded in the memoirs of Nearchus, the Greek sailor commissioned by Alexander the Great to explore the Per sian Gulf in 325 BC. In the Middle Ages Kish became an important trading centre under its own powerful Arab dynasty and at one time supported a population of 40,000. The main town was Harireh, which is believed to be the town referred to by poet Sa’di in his famous work, Golestan (Rose Garden).
Kish was known for the quality of its pearls; when Marco Polo was visiting the imperial court in China, he remarked on the beauty of the pearls worn by one of the emperor’s wives and was told they had come from Kish. In the 14th century Kish fell into decline and remained obscure until the 1970s, when it was developed as a semi private retreat for the shah and his guests – complete with international airport, luxury hotels and even a grand casino.