Karim Khan e Zand Castle ارگ کریم خان زند 

Growing up in Shiraz and as a young teenager, I remember every time I passed by these huge walls and tall towers, located right in the middle of the city, I would get impressed by their grandeur. They seemed like the highest walls in the entire world! It instinctively made me feel like I belonged to a great history. Well, It turns out my childhood instincts were right about the “Arg of Karim Khan.” Not only it still impresses me with its magnificent energy, it does carry a great history behind. 

Shiraz, the old capital city of Iran, Persia

Karim Khan e Zand کریم خان زند, the ruler of “Zand” Dynasty, made Shiraz his capital during the 18th Century. He invited the best architects and artists of that time to build this great citadel. 

The castle was first the residence of King Karirm Khan کریم خان. Then, it was used as the residence of local rulers during the Qajar period قاجار . During the Pahlavi dynasty پهلوی, it was turned into a prison. That is why in Shiraz people still call the building “Zendan e Karim Khan”  زندان کریم خان (Karim khan’s prison). However, the building is not a prison any more. In 1977 Iran’s Cultural Heritage Organization started the renovation of the building.  

Visiting the Castle 

Today Karim Khan’s castle ارگ کریم خان is one of the most fascinating attractions in Shiraz to visit. At night time, the beautiful lights reflected on the outside walls of the castle, create a poetic atmosphere, perfect for a nightly walk to enjoy the delightful weather of Shiraz. Musicians often take advantage of this atmosphere to play their music and/or recite poetry for the passers.

When you walk inside the castle, you witness a classical Persian house architecture, only on a much bigger scale. It includes a large central pool and ample gardens in the middle, with spacious rooms all around.  The halls are decorated with miniature paintings and beautiful color glass doors. The castle also holds a typical “Shirazi” bathhouse with its enchanting tea-room. 

Is it Fars or Pars?

Shiraz which was the capital of Iran during the Zand dynasty, is the capital of the ‘Fars’ فارس province at the present time. The south-central region known as “Fars” فارس today,  it was originally called Pars پارس. However, after the Arab invation and the introduction of Islam, the word “Pars” turned into “Fars”. This was apparently due to the fact that the letter P پ did not exist in the Arabic alphabet.

Persepolis, a history to remember 

Persepolis پرسپولیس was the name of Persian capital during the Persian empire (c. 550-330 BC).  The ancient ruins of Persepolis, commonly known as ‘Takht-e-Jamshid’ تخت جمشید, are located near Shiraz. Persepolis is one of the most important Iranian attractions to bring many tourists from around the world.

The name Persepolis is a Greek terminology: “Perses + polis” which literally means ‘the city of Pars.’ As of today Shiraz is the third most populous city of Iran (after Tehran and Isfahan.)  

Persian Empire and its Influence around the world

As every Iranian child at school, I learnt about “Cyrus the great” کورش بزرگ, the founder of the first Persian Empire. Having the ruins of the great Persepolis near home made me feel closer to my roots and deep in the Persian history. 

Iranians feel proud for having had the “world’s greatest empire.” Cyrus کورش, was ‘great’ not only because of the amount of land he conquered as one might initially think. Cyrus کورش (pronounced Koorosh) was indeed “great” because he was the first to welcome every religion, race, and background under his reign. The persian empire, unlike others, didn’t try to crush people into one way of being or doing; rather it allowed a great diversity of habits, languages, and faiths to live together.

 Take a look at these symbolic figures at the ruins of Persepolis (تخت جمشید Takht e Jamshid). Every person brings their own kind of contribution to make a different tribute to the king. This great idea became a historical model of how to run an empire. We know that Thomas Jefferson, one of the founders of the United States, referred to Cyrus’s model and the book “Cyropedia” regularly. 

Finally, what we learn at school is that the Greek Alexander of Macedon (known in Iran as Iskandar/اسكندر), defeated Darius داریوش, the last emperor Of the Persian empire. Alexander “the great” burnt Persepolis completely down in fire, perhaps as a sign of his victory around 330BC

Mosques in Shiraz

Nasir Al-Molk Mosque مسجد نصیرالملک

One of the most spectacular artistic masterpieces of Shiraz is Nasir Al-Molk Mosque مسجد نصیرالملک. The mosque is also called the “Pink Mosque” مسجد صورتی due to the beautiful pink-colored tiles that cover the ceiling of its perfectly designed arches.

If you are planning to visit the ‘Pink Mosque’ مسجد صورتی , I only have one suggestion: hold your breath before getting in! You will need it 😉 The astonishing beauty of its colorful Glasswork windows and light effects on the walls, display the art of the Iranian architecture to the fullest.

Shah Cheragh شاه چراغ

Last but not least is of course Shiraz’s dazzling Shah Cheragh شاه چراغ. Shah Cheragh is a mosque and a pilgrimage site being the tomb of two brothers of Emam Reza امام رضا.

Shah Cheragh literally means “king of light” in Farsi. The name comes from the fact that the mosque inside is filled with mirror work in practically every corner. The mirrors make Shah Cheragh extremely bright and dazzling to the eye from the moment you walk in.

Make sure you also check out the first section of the series ‘My Memories of Shiraz’ here:

My memories of Shiraz: City of Love, Poetry, and Flowers