Yazd: adobe houses and windcatcher towers
12 and 13 November 2018
Yazd is a city known for its traditional Persian architecture, for the windcatcher towers and for the houses entirely built by adobe, a mixture of clay and straw very useful in hot and dry climate.
WHAT TO SEE IN YAZD
Yazd is a city of just under half a million inhabitants in central Iran, located in a vast desert. The city is known for its traditional Persian architecture, for the extensive old town built entirely with adobe (a mixture of straw and clay) and for the wind catcher towers. Yazd can be reached in about 6 hours drive on an highway from Shiraz and 4 hours from Isfahan. To visit the main attractions, we recommend at least a full day, while if you want to visit also the interesting places outside the city, a couple of days is a best bet.
Things not to be missed in Yazd:
- Windcatcher towers - a windcatcher tower is a structure typical of traditional Persian architecture and is used for natural air conditioning without using any modern device. Visitors will see lot of wind catcher towers while strolling throughout Yazd old city.
- Yazd old town - a labyrinth of narrow alleys among traditional houses, one of the largest urban areas of Iran built entirely by straw mixed with clay. A stroll of a couple of hours hours, maybe climbing on a roof to admire to admire the city from top, is something that shouldn't be missed.
- Bagh-e Dowlatabad - a traditional house, actually a luxury villa surrounded by a vast Persian garden, has one of the highest windcapture tower of the country. Here visitors can learn more about traditional Persian architecture, among perfect symmetries and effects of light created by colored windows.
- Jameh Mosque - an ancient mosque decorated with thousands of blue tiles forming gigantic mosaics with precious calligraphic inscriptions.
- Amir Chakhmaq - it is the symbol of Yazd: a large 3-storey mosque that stands in front of a large square, especially appreciated in the evening when illuminated fountains take life.
- Prison of Alexander the Great - an ancient building built by raw clay bricks, perhaps commissioned by Alexander the Great to imprison the ruling elite of the country.
- Fire Temple - it is an ancient building linked to the Zoroastrian religion where it is said that the central flame (the eternal flame) in the temple has been burning continuously since the 5th century BC
- Chak Chak - it is a monastery perched on the side of a mountain in the desert 70 kilometers from Yazd and is a destination for a pilgrimage by the followers of the Zoroastrian religion.
- Kharanaq - a further 25 kilometers from Chak Chak is the ghost village of Kharanaq, essentially uninhabited, but very interesting for the crumbling very old buildings and for the ancient aqueduct.
Now let's see our photos of Yazd and the various attractions, at least of those we have had time to visit, providing more information on each of them.
Our tour in Yazd starts at Bagh-e Dowlatabad, a 17th-century manor house surrounded by a beautiful Persian garden with large pools and lush vegetation. The air conditioning system works thanks to the 33 meter high windcatcher tower (or wind capture tower), which rises in the middle of the building.
The windcatcher tower (called badghir in Persian) was a natural solution to deal with the very hot desert climate of ancient Persia, when no electricity existed. A windcatcher tower works by simple pressure difference, by sucking hot air from the building or by injecting cold air, and are able to amplify the effect even of a very gentle breeze.
The wind capture tower
of Bagh-e Dowlatabad house, is quite particular and unusual since, being octagonal, it manages to capture the wind from any direction. Other wind catcher towers, with a rectangular plan, can capture the wind only from one direction (obviously in such case they are oriented to match the direction of predominant winds for the area). In the second image we can see the windcatcher tower seen from inside the house, which opens directly over a pool of water: this technique helps to further cool the environment and to humidify it.
Bagh-e Dowlatabad house is also known for its interiors and beautiful windows, where we can see the absolutely perfect symmetries typical of Persian architecture
. By carefully observing the setting, tracing an imaginary vertical line in the center of the image, the two halves look like as mirrored between them. The exercise is very fun, and you can try it also on these pictures to experience the amazing effect obtained by these architects who lived 3 centuries ago.
In the traditional Persian architecture
curtains were not customary, therefore the windows were instead decorated with multicolored glass showing repetitive and symmetrical patterns, recalling the composed eyes of insects or the sun. The frame in which the glasses were mounted was made by interlocking thousands of wooden elements between them, without the use of glues, while the glass was cut into very small fragments like a mosaic. The effect is particularly pleasant when, at certain times of the day, the direct sun's light pass through the window, projecting beams of colored light into the room. The windows with multi-colored glass are one of the key elements of Persian architecture.
The corridors and the entrances of the villa, also characterized by evident symmetries
that can be seen in the arches and even in the access doors to the various rooms of the building.
As noted in other parts of Iran and therefore of ancient Persia, the main building material is clay mixed with straw. This material, known as adobe, is in fact particularly insulating towards both heat and cold, and is therefore ideal in these regions. In particular, compared to other construction materials, this composition is able to absorb more moisture which, subsequently evaporating, takes heat away from the building during the day.
Our tour in Yazd continues by visiting the Jameh Mosque
(or Friday Mosque
), an ancient structure dating from the 14th century and depicted on the 200 Rials note of Iran. The main entrance to the mosque has the tallest minarets in Iran and the facade is decorated with thousands of blue tiles forming huge mosaics with old inscriptions.
The Jameh Mosque in Yazd
has the classic inner courtyard overlooking one iwan (here photographed as it appears in the night) which houses the main sanctuary covered by a dome exquisitely decorated.
Some details of the interior of Jameh Mosque's sanctuary, with a person praying in front of the mihrab
(a mihrab inside a mosque indicates the direction of Mecca). The decorations obtained with thousands of blue tiles depict lot of calligraphic inscriptions, dating back up to the mid 14th-century.
One of the symbols of Yazd is the Amir Chakhmaq
complex, a mosque located next to a large square of the same name. The structure, one of the largest in Iran, dates back to the 15th century and is spread over 3 floors showing a series of niches and symmetrical arches.
One of the things you should not miss in Yazd when you visit the city, is the old town
, where you can walk literally for hours without running out of things to see. Here the traditional houses create a dense maze of winding alleys, very picturesque and among the most extensive of whole Iran. The entire Yazd historical center
is protected by national laws which, in the case of maintenance, impose to use the adobe as a building material (straw mixed with clay) and to respect the original design.
Walking through the alleys of Yazd
it is impossible not to notice the magnificent windcatching towers soaring towards the sky all around. Unlike the more sophisticated octagonal windcatcher tower observed at Bagh-e Dowlatabad, most windcatcher towers in Yazd have a rectangular base, therefore they can capture the wind only from one direction.
The magnificent Yazd old city
with its alleys sometimes covered and illuminated through skylights. This architecture, which tends to cover outdoor spaces, arises from having to protect inhabitants from the heat during the summer, when the temperature frequently exceeds 40 degrees Celsius. Arches and wooden beams are instead used to consolidate the buildings among them.
The Prison of Alexander in Yazd old city is a building dating back to the 15th century that, according to some studies, would have been originally ordered by Alexander the Great to imprison, in terrible conditions of detention, the ruling elite of the country. Other studies, on the other hand, claim exactly the opposite, namely that the building was built as a detention center to imprison the invaders.
The structure has a beautiful dome built in raw clay bricks and decorated with frescoes, of which unfortunately only a few faint traces remain.
No visit to Yazd is complete without climbing the roof of a traditional house
, to admire the old town from above. This opportunity is offered by some bars and restaurants: looking around it is easy to understand why Yazd is called the city of the windcatcher towers, as it is possible to admire lot these characteristic structures all around.
A beautiful windcatcher tower
rising towards the sky.
Yazd is located in the middle of a beautiful desert
and, time permitting, it is pleasant to discover the beautiful arid landscapes already found just a few kilometers outside the city.
Crossing the desert it is not uncommon to find some water reservoir
, built at strategic points where rain water tends to convey. A large underground tank stores it, while 2 small windcatcher towers next to the structure keep the water cool.
Less than an hour drive from Yazd, Chak Chak temple
is a great opportunity for a short break. This temple, a place of pilgrimage for the adherents of the Zoroastrian religion, narrates the legend according to which Nikbanou, second son of the last pre-Islamic Persian ruler, Yazdegerd III of the Sassanid Empire, was put on hold by the invading Arab army in 640 CE. Fearing to be captured, Nikbanou prayed Ahura Mazda to protect her from the enemies and in response to these prayers, the mountain miraculously opened and took the woman with her, before closing again and thus preventing the invaders to enter too. From that time a source of water was formed, which is still active and which symbolizes the tears of Nikbanou (Chak Chak is the noise of the tear dripping on the floor). Two large trunks of trees that cross the floor and the ceiling of the sanctuary, instead symbolize the sticks used by the woman to climb the mountain and planted there before disappearing into the mountain.
The Chak Chak monastery
that stands on the side of a mountain in the middle of the desert, not far from Yazd.
For overnight stays in Yazd, visitors can choose small hotels in renovated old palaces, with classical Persian architecture. Just like in a traditional house, guests will access their rooms through a large internal courtyard.
In Yazd there are numerous restaurants where visitors can try typical Iranian dishes
. In this photo, a kebab of lamb and rice, while the dessert consists of a cream made with rice, saffron, yogurt, sugar and lamb's neck meat, all finely milled. Naturally, the beer is non-alcoholic.
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