The Zoroastrians

Yazd is home to Iran’s largest Zoroastrian community, and the first Zoroastrian stop was the Fire Temple near the centre of town.

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The temple itself looks fairly modern, but looks can be deceptive; the sacred flame inside is said to have been burning since AD470. It has been moved a few times since then, and arrived at its present site in 1940. Zoroastrians from around the world come to this temple to see this sacred flame. As the flame is behind glass and the sun is shining outside, it is difficult to get the right atmosphere in a photo. In fact, it looks like my iPad is on fire.

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Above the temple is the Fravahar symbol. My guide Hamed explained all the different aspects of this important Zoroastrian symbol. In summary I can say that the central tenets of the Zoroastrian faith is: “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds”. Zoroastrianism was the religion of the Persian empire from around 600BC up to the Arab conquest in AD637.

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Another main Zoroastrian sight in Yazd are the Towers of Silence. These hilltop towers are actually Zoroastrian burial sites, where the dead were placed under the open skies so vultures could eat the dead bodies. My guide Hamed explained that Zoroastrians believe that the four elements (earth, air, water and fire) should not be polluted and that is why the dead were not buried. These burial customs ceased in Yazd the 1960s and there is a modern Zoroastrian cemetery below the hills.

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It was with mixed feelings I walked within the walls of these towers. In my mind, I had these images of vultures attacking someone who had recently died. In terms of terminology, however, it was easy to acertain exactly what kind bird we were talking about: we had been chatting about culture vultures in Tehran just two days earlier. I left the tower after just a few minutes, wondering whether I would ever post pictures of this area on my blog or on Facebook. However, when Hamed sent me a pano picture I thought I might include it. The image is vivid, and my demeanour is lighting up the atmosphere a bit.

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Chak Chak is another important Zoroastrian pilgrimage about 70 km northwest of Yazd. Chad Chak means ‘drip drip’, and the legend says that when Princess Nikbanuh fled here from the Arab invaders, she threw her staff on a cliff. The result was that water started dripping out of the rock. It was still dripping when we arrived.

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And this lush, green tree was growing right through the temple.

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This place is now the site of another Zoroastrian fire temple, but the fire is brought here only during Zoroastrian prayer ceremonies.

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We bumped into a very friendly Iranian family at this site, and they shared their packed lunch with us. Within half a hour we knew a lot about their family tree and job responsibilities. We also chatted to a Zoroastrian chap dressed in white. He told us that there are presently 141,000 Iranian Zoroastrians. He also mentioned that this area is out of bounds for non-Zoroastrians during special holy days in the Zoroastrian calendar.

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The Archemenid soldier on the bronze temple door was pretty cool.

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The climb was definitely worth it, though it’s only really the temple itself that is of any interest. The buildings grabbing the mountain side looked like a characterless holiday village. Though I’m sure it’s different when it’s abuzz with worshippers. Also, the views were stunning.

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The landscape driving to and from Chak Chak was also fascinating. The mountains reminded me a bit of Oman.

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