Visiting Shah Cheragh
Today’s post is all about the Shah Cheragh Holy Shrine in Shiraz. This place was a real surprise. I didn’t know much about it at all before arriving in Shiraz. It was one of about a dozen places I had marked on a map, but nothing more. However it really blew me away. As you might expect, I have seen my fair share of religious buildings in Iran and around the world. But this one is right up there. Don’t miss it.
It’s a really large complex! It takes a decent chunk of time to explore. The entry into Shah Cheragh was free, which was both surprising and very welcome. Most of the mosques and other sites in Iran cost around 4-5€. If you are visiting a couple of such sites each day, it really adds up.
Shah Cheragh is very much an active shrine. Iranians come here in their droves to pay their respects. Shah Cheragh is a funerary monument housing the tomb of the brothers Ahmad and Muhammad, sons of Musa al-Kadhim and brothers of Imam Reza, the 7th of 8th Imams in Shia Islam.
Ellen (my new travel friend) and I were told that we would need to be guided around Shah Cheragh, rather than explore it on our own. It wasn’t exactly clear if this was a normal requirement, or whether it related to the particular time of the year that we were had chosen to visit. It appeared that the month of February is a particularly busy time at Shah Cheragh and is the time when a lot of pilgrims visit the shrine and pay their respects. Because of this, we weren’t allowed to actually enter the shrine part of the complex. We didn’t mind, the exterior was beautiful enough.
After our tour guide had shown us around the first courtyard, we headed towards the doorway in the shot above. I never get bored with these beautiful entrance portals. Let’s be honest, they are everywhere in Iran, but still, they never fail to mesmerise me.
The second courtyard area faced onto a different side of the main shrine. From here you get a fantastic view of the domed top of the shrine and its two minarets.
It was at about this time that the sun started to go down. Ellen and I had finished our guided tour and now were just chatting to a couple of the guides. They informed us that if we wanted we could hang around for a while longer to watch the sunset.
We had both quickly realised that in Iran, it pays to say yes when a local invites you to stay longer, visit a different area, or drink tea and chat. So we agreed to stick around.
As you can se from the photos, as the sky continued to darken and the lighting continued to get better for our photography.
Our policy of always saying yes to invitations then led us into a small room to enjoy some tea. It was here that we found ourselves receiving a kind ‘forced information session’ from an otherwise friendly 18-year-old guide about the virtues of Shia Islam and how we in the Western world misconstrue it. I didn’t disagree with a lot of what he said, but was happy when the lecture was finished all the same. It got a little animated and uncomfortable at times. I was relieved that he didn’t ask about my religion. I am not sure he would have approved of my atheism. Following the lecture, we were then invited again to enjoy another otherwise off-limits section of the Shah Cheragh shrine, the roof! Accepting the invitation to be lectured at for a few minutes was paying off.
It was awesome! The lighting was just perfect for photography and the view of the minarets and dome was lovely.
Finally, I snapped a few more shots as I was walking out of the complex. The light continued to dim and the artificial lights took over but the shrine continued to look stunning. The lesson here? Visit Shah Cheragh in the evening!