Yazd is one of the most tourist-friendly cities in Iran and offers excellent souvenir-shopping opportunities.

The town has long been associated with Zoroastrianism, and the production of textiles. It fell to the Arab invaders in 642ce but the Zoroastrian community was strong here until the late 17th century. There were still plenty of adherents left in the 19th century, when official persecution caused many to flee to India or to Tehran, where the presence of foreign diplomatic missions offered more protection.

Dakhmeh, near Yazd, Iran © Aruza, Shutterstock
The towers were constructed according to strict observance of prayer and ritual © Aruza, Shutterstock

Today, Zoroastrians form less than 10% of the town’s population, mainly located in the Posht-e Khan Ali quarter. When Marco Polo visited in 1272, noting its fine textiles and its strategic location on trade routes from India and central Asia, this ‘Good and Noble city’ was walled, but undoubtedly today he would get hopelessly lost in the confusion of ring roads and roundabouts.

Today Yazd is one of the most tourist-friendly cities in Iran, and offers excellent souvenir-shopping opportunities. Look through the workshops selling handwoven silk cloth termeh, produced solely in Yazd. Traditional hotels are abundant and conveniently located in the old town centre, while many tourists and backpackers use the City as their base to explore nearby desert dunes. Yazd is also known as the hosseiniyeh of Iran, the centre of the Imam Hossein commemorative celebrations in the country.

Visitors to the Amir Chaqmaq complex will be impressed by its elaboate façade © javarman, Shutterstock

Although it does not possess any royal monuments like those at Persepolis, Shiraz and Esfahan, Yazd is renowned for its vernacular buildings, including ice houses, water cisterns (ab anbars), domestic houses and spectacular wind towers (badgirs) – of which Yazd boasts one of the tallest in the world.

Two dakhmeh (Zoroastrian ‘towers of silence’) are situated a little south of town. In accordance with Zoroastrian laws governing the sanctity of earth, fire, air and water, in Achaemenid times the dead were exposed and their bones later gathered to be placed in ossuaries or tombs in rock.

But in later centuries large circular stone walls were built on rock and the bodies of Zoroastrian men, women and children were placed on their designated, paved zone on the open stone platform inside. Sadly, the local authorities have turned a blind eye to vandalism of these buildings, which only serves to fuel foreigners’ negative perceptions of religious tolerance in modern Iran.