After leaving Shiraz, I then wandered off to Pasargad, which used to be Cyrus the Great's ceremonial home. At one time this place was truly impressive but there's not much left at Pasargad now. It looked like it had gotten foreclosed upon too.
From there I went on to Esfahan, famous for its awe-inspiring and spiritually overwhelming architecture. Esfahan boasts churches, mosques and synagogues that are so awe-inspiring they would move even a rock to tears. I cried a lot in Esfahan.
When the Armenians were persecuted in Turkey during the 17th century, the Shah of Iran at that time invited them to settle in Esfahan and they did. And then the new immigrants built a magnificent church -- which I just visited. OMG, it was breathtaking. Marble floors, paintings, murals, chandeliers, domed ceilings, sacred music, incense, vaulted alcoves, the whole nine yards. I would have been brought to my knees by the overwhelming majesty of it all -- except of course that I gots bad knees.
But then I looked closer at some of the paintings nearest to eye-level -- and they were all paintings of tortured martyrs! Yuck. They depicted scenes of lead being poured on saints' heads, saints being boiled in oil, hung outside down from trees, having their eyes gouged out, intestines ripped out, heads squished in stocks, heads covered in sacks containing something obviously horrible (Snakes? Deadly insects? Wasps?), having boiling water poured on their genitals, saints' chests being cut with scythes -- and then of course there were the ten stations of the cross.
These Armenians must have led really hard lives.
Then I went off to the Armenian museum where I learned that on April 24, 1915, one-and-a-half million Armenians were systematically massacred by the Turkish military in a troop exercise as precisely planned and executed as a slaughterhouse producing beef.
Some of the remaining Armenians escaped to America but most of the survivors fled to Iran.
After visiting the Armenian church (and eating pomegranate and walnut stew, chicken kabobs and saffron ice cream for lunch), I then went off to visit a Jewish synagogue.
"In biblical times when the Jews were dragged off to Babylon," I was told, "they were freed by Cyrus the Great, King of Persia -- and many of the unshackled Jews then followed him back to Iran, where there is still a large Jewish community in Esfahan even today," umpteen centuries later.
After that, I went off to tour the mosques of Esfahan. Stunning. Before you die, you really should try to go there -- or at least let me send you a post card of any one of those mosques. They are as humbling and inspiring as any cathedral in France.
So. While I'm on the subject of churches, mosques and synagogues, now might be a good time to talk about religion. "When religion turns into politics, something vital is lost," someone once told me -- I forget who.