Set on two lonely, barren hilltops on the southern outskirts of Yazd are the evocative Zoroastrian Towers of Silence. In accordance with Zoroastrian beliefs about the purity of the earth, dead bodies were not buried but left in these uncovered stone towers so that vultures could pick the bones clean. Such towers have not been used since the ’60s. At the foot of the hills are several other disused Zoroastrian buildings, including a defunct well, a water cistern and two small badgirs, a kitchen and a lavatory. also The modern Zoroastrian cemetery is nearby.
Just off the north side of Amir Chakhmaq Sq is the Saheb A Zaman Club Zurkhaneh which is worth seeing both for its Iranian brand of body building and because it’s a quite amazing structure. The modern club is inside a cavernous ab anbar(water reservoir) built about 1580. Looking like a 29m-high standing egg from the inside, and crowned with five burly badgirs, the reservoir stored water for much of the town. The hour-long workouts in the Zurkhaneh are an interesting window on Iranian culture.
With its badgirs poking out of a baked-brown labyrinth of lanes, the old city of Yazd emerges like a phoenix from the desert – a very old phoenix. Yazd’s old city is one of the oldest towns on earth, according to Unesco, and is the perfect place to get a feel for the region’s rich history. Just about everything in the old city is made from sun-dried mud bricks, and the resulting brown skyline is dominated by tall badgirs on almost every rooftop. The residential quarters appear almost deserted because of the high walls, which shield the houses from the narrow and labyrinthine kuches that crisscross the town.
The 150-year-old Khan-e Lari is one of the best- preserved Qajar-era houses in Yazd. The badgirs, traditional doors, stained-glass windows, elegant archways and alcoves mark it out as one of the city’s grandest homes. The merchant family who built it have long gone, and it’s now home to architecture students and cultural heritage officers. It’s signposted west of Zaiee Sq; see the walking tour for directions.
The magnificent Jameh Mosque dominates the old city. Its tiled entrance portal is one of the tallest in Iran, flanked by two magnificent 48m-high minarets and adorned with an inscription from the 15th century. The exquisite mosaics on the dome and mihrab, and the tiles above the main western entrance to the courtyard are particularly stunning.
Built for Sayyed Roknaddin in the 15th century, it’s on the site of a 12th-century building believed to have itself replaced an earlier fire temple. In the courtyard of the mosque there is a stairwell leading down to part of the Zarch Qanat, used these days for ritual ablutions.
The beautiful blue-tiled dome of the Bogheh-ye Sayyed Roknaddin, the tomb of local Islamic notable Sayyed Roknaddin Mohammed Qazi, is visible from any elevated point in the city. Built 700 years ago, the dome is notable but the deteriorating interior stucco and other decoration remains impressive. The door is often closed but a knock should bring the caretaker.
Once a residence of Persian regent Karim Khan Zand, Bagh-e Dolat Abad was built about 1750 and consists of a small pavilion set amid quiet gardens. The interior of the pavilion is superb, with intricate latticework and exquisite stained-glass windows. It’s also renowned for having Iran’s loftiest badger standing over 33m, though this one was rebuilt after it collapsed in the 1960s. The entrance can be reached from the western end of Shahid Raja’i St.
Zoroastrians come from around the world, often referred to as the Zoroastrian Fire Temple, said to have been burning since about AD 470. Visible through a window from the entrance hall, the flame was transferred to Ardakan in 1174, then to Yazd in 1474 and to its present site in 1940. Above the entrance you can see the Fravahar symbol.
The stunning three-storey façade of the takieh (a building used during the rituals to commemorate the death of Imam Hossein) in the Amir Chakhmaq Complex is one of the largest Hosseniehs in Iran. Its rows of perfectly proportioned sunken alcoves are at their best, and most photogenic, around sunset when the light softens and the towering exterior is discreetly floodlit. Recent work has added sides, though their exact purpose wasn’t clear when we visited (hopefully not shops!). During the No Ruz holiday it’s possible to climb up for spectacular views across Yazd, but at most other times it’s closed.
The 15th-century domed school is known as Alexander’s Prison because of a reference to this apparently dastardly place in a Hafez poem. Whether the deep well in the middle of its courtyard was in fact built by Alexander the Great and used as a dungeon seems doubtful, no matter what your guide tells you. Recently renovated, the building itself is worth a look for the small display on the old city of Yazd.