Iran has lots to offer, whether culturally, culinary, historically or architecturally. In one of those villages where you really don’t expect to see anything interesting, we were gobsmacked by all of the above mentioned things… and more!
It was the day we left Isfahan and were headed towards Shiraz. We had absolutely no intention of taking the main road and had decided to follow a smaller alternative which ran almost parallel to the busy highway which connected the north of the country, hence the capital, with the south. Of course this B-Road would take us away from biggish towns and we could see no major settlements on the map.
So we took the time to stock up on supplies and do a couple of necessary repairs before leaving Isfahan, including buying a new helmet for Aurelie, since hers was left unusable after a heavy object fell on it just a couple of days before. All the errands took most of the morning and by the time we crossed a bridge above the ring road we were longing for our lunch already.
As you can imagine, we didn’t expect to go far that day. Our main objective was leaving the orbit of Iran’s third biggest city so as to set us up nicely for the following day.
While consuming the pasta salad (which we had prepared during breakfast earlier that day) in the courtyard of a peaceful, roadside mosque, we agreed to cycle until an unimportant looking village we had seen on the map. However, once there, we decided that we still had it in us to go until the next one which was only 5 kilometres away.
We had left the city’s agglomeration of towns and villages and the landscape was flat and rather boring with some promising mountains a few miles away. It was observing these (we later discovered that they are called Judge Hall Mountains) that we stated seeing what would mark our trip more than any other architectural structure seen so far; camouflaging themselves over the dry, barren land there were a number of round towers.
Mud villages! We had heard of Iranian traditional desert dwellings being built out of mud and hay and for the first time we were only a few metres away from, what looked like, a fortified village.
We slowed down and considered the possibility of exploring it for a while and maybe trying to find a place to camp, but for some reason we decided to push on. Twice this pattern repeated itself until on the map we could only see a town about 20 kilometres away or two tiny villages just 2 and 4 kilometres off the main road. The latter is where we headed.
At the first crossroad, we asked a group of men who were busy installing a road sign which read “Mariabad” (still think the name is hilarious) about the existence of a shop and they pointed towards the second village, Cian. One of them spoke a little English and told us that there was also a place where travellers could sleep.
Ok, that was easy.
The sun was already behind the mountains, so it must have been about 4, and we were feeling pretty tired. However, we quickly forgot about our sore muscles when we caught sight of the small collection of houses, most of which were the same colour as the ground they were built on, a shrine looking monument (which ended up containing a rare collection of statues in its courtyard) to the right, and to the left, a huge structure that we couldn’t identify. That was until we took the village main road and saw the biggest mud castle we had ever, and will probably ever, see.
The person who had spoken a little English at the first intersection met us outside the shop. He ended up being the Mayor of all the villages in that area and he quickly escorted us to a house where a comfy room with kitchen and bathroom was waiting for us. We managed to exchange some basic conversation with Zahra, a 16 years old girl who lived there with her family and we also managed to exchange some words in Farsi with the mother and father, Fatemeh and Hossein and both of which were absolute sweethearts!
The biggest surprise however was when at around 9 o’clock in the evening a car pulled into the courtyard and a young couple entered our quarters. We quickly identified the young man, Mohamad Reza, as the father’s son (they looked incredibly alike) and so we deduced the young woman, Faezeh, must be his wife or fiancé since in Iran a couple cannot be alone in any other circumstance.
They spoke English, and well. So, although we were really tired, we engaged in more than two hours of conversation with them and we just couldn’t get enough. They had come all the way from Isfahan just to meet us and we were eager not to let them down.
We learned so much about a lot of aspects of their culture thanks to them but they still had a surprise waiting for us; they invited us for a tour of the castle we saw earlier. Initially we declined the offer (see “Taarof” in our previous entry about Iran) but they were not about to take no for an answer so, we agreed upon a time the following morning and hurried to bed.
As planned, after breakfast we were taken to the other end of the village to the castle. We decided to take our bikes with us as to leave just after the visit and the young man inquired about our bikes, so Aurelie exchanged her place on the saddle for his place in their jeep and we comically (it’s always funny to watch a non-cyclist ride a fully packed bike for the first time) made our way there.
From up close it’s even more imposing. The rampants and two floors were still in very good condition with a third only half standing in ruins. The main gate was also missing a big chunk of the façade but the guards quarters, about 5 meters above the door was clearly visible.
And so it began. A local historian met us in the first hall and our young translators made the best of finding ways of conveying difficult words in English and every time we moved into another room, hall, corridor or courtyard we spent ages just trying to imagine them in all its former glory.
So, from what was related to us, this is one of the rarest castles of the country having being raised by the Safavid dynasty over 500 years ago. At the time, this was a strategic location in the kingdom being in the vicinity of a salt mine and the village of Cian Sharifa Faqiyad which was the agricultural centre of the surrounding area having an abundant fresh water spring (don’t forget that we’re in the middle of a desert).
This made the castle grow in grandeur and evidence shows that it was expanded three times (hence the three floors) until, finally, a wall was erected all the way around the whole village. This is said to be a caprice of the privileged class who inhabited the castle who did not want to mingle with the town’s lesser people whenever there was an outside threat and the population had to find shelter inside its walls.
Anyway, bottom line is that it shook our world! For one, we didn’t actually expect mud structures to last this long; doesn’t mud kind of dissolve very easily? And, secondly, it was just an altogether amazing experience; the people we met and who hosted us better than if we were family, the historic and architectural discoveries we made which have forever enriched our lives.
Amazingly, in Iran we lived many days similar to this one. Just the following day we had an analogous experience in a town which had grown thanks to a huge spring (so big it even had turtles swimming around!) and a local young man, the son of the Mayor, took us for a tour of their castle which was a lot smaller but was being renovated, and then invited us to stay in a fully restored traditional house in the heart of the old town centre.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, in this part of the world thrived such a rich culture in which the value and respect of humanity was so deeply engraved in their traits that, today, its uniqueness is still palpable on a daily basis.
More often than not we would meet people with huge hearts who we still remember after so long, who have widened our understanding of many different things in many different ways with their eagerness to share their time and culture with others and that we hope to see again sometime in the future.
We also have an amazing YouTube channel with lots of different videos (in lots of different styles) from the road; 421adventure on YouTube
And please don’t forget that part of our adventure consists of fundraising and raising awareness for two incredible NGOs so please help us to spread the word and, of course, if you’re feeling generous, donate here; DONATE