Notes on the Iran/Persia Conflict: A Travelogue -- Part Three

Part Three: Journey to a Lost World

When people think of Iran, they think of evil Ayatollahs with nukes, when people think of Persia, they think of a lost world of biblical mystery...or that SM guy from the movie 300...but first, let us consider the miracle of clean drinking water.

When finished looking at the Qajar and Pahlavi palaces, we headed for the "domestic" airport and boarded an Iran Air 737 and headed south to the city of Yazd. Yazd is an old city, named after the Sassanian shah Yazdegerd I (c. 400 CE) and is allegedly one of the oldest cities in the world. It's here that most of the remaining Zoroastrians live, living relics of the Lost World, that Achaemenid empire that stretched from the Danube to the Indus and was the bane of the Greeks (It is said that the reason Tehran didn't get the '84 Olympics is that they wanted to cancel the Marathon, as it brought back painful memories of the Persian loss there 2400 years ago).

We were to consider the heritage of this relict people, but first we were to consider something more important, and a much more impressive feat than conquering the world. It's the Iranian pride and joy: a great network of qanats, or underground canals, which bring water from the mountains to wherever it is needed. for thousands of years, people have been building and maintaining these things, allowing cities to flourish in the desert and do things like grow rice in arid wastelands. The first museum we went to, and it wasn't a particularly good one, was dedicated to the brave men who risked their lives to mine water (the minors would wear a modified burial shroud in case they didn't make it back.) The next one we saw was dedicated to something almost as important, air conditioning...

Before the invention of electronics in the late 19th century, air conditioning was a difficult nut to crack, and how they did it was with what is called a wind tower. The tower was designed to channel the winds through a chamber filled with wet leaves and from there into the living area of the house, where it would be nice and cool, or at least in theory, and if you were rich. The poor had to just take a siesta in the heat or the public access atechamber to the local qanat. (If you were rich, you'd be able to build your house over it and have private access to all the water you wanted). The towers resembled ancient Greek temples.

But the highlights of the segment, aside from the rug shop, were the two Zoroastrian Fire temples. There are about 22 thousand Zoroastrians left in Iran, and as a persecuted minority have gone from the vast majority of a world empire to a mere 22 thousand hangers on. Yazd has two fire temples (named after the fire which is kept burning eternally as a "statue" of the god Ohrmazd. One contains the Sassanid's official flame, which has been allegedly burning since before the Prophet Mohammed was born, and a derelict one next to the banned "towers of Silence" where the dead used to be fed to the vultures until the 1970s. We climbed up one and looked at the view.

The one that's still functioning is as much an official tourist trap as anything else. There's the eternal flame, a cheezy picture of Zoroaster, and a small park. How Ohrmazd is actually worshipped at the temple is a bit of a mystery. I asked and they weren't all that forthcoming, all they wanted to do was sell postcards.

There wasn't any room to do very much inside, although it's possible that it's all done outside on the front lawn. I guess it doesn't really matter. What does is that all of the Zoroastrians I've met have the religious symbol around their necks. and soon I'd seen them all over the place. As there are so few Zoroastrians left, it might be Muslims making a political statement...more on that later.