With its winding lanes, forest of badgirs, mud-brick houses and delightful places to stay, Yazd is a ‘don’t miss’ destination. On a flat plain ringed by mountains, the city is wedged between the northern Dasht-e Kavir and southern Dasht-e Lut and is every inch a city of the desert. It may not have the big-ticket sights of Esfahan or Shiraz, but, with its atmospheric alleyways and centuries of history, it exceeds both in its capacity to enchant. Yazd warrants a lazy approach – rambling around the maze of historic lanes (referred to locally as Yazd’s ‘historical texture’), popping into random teahouses or pausing to work out calligraphic puzzles in the city’s exquisite tilework.
Soaring above the old city, this magnificent building is graced with a tiled entrance portal (one of the tallest in Iran), flanked by two 48m-high minarets and adorned with inscriptions from the 15th century. The exquisite mosaics on the dome and mihrab, and the tiles above the main western entrance to the courtyard are masterpieces of calligraphy, evoking sacred names in infinitely complex patterns. Amir Chakhmaq Mosque Complex The stunning three-storey facade of this Hosseinieh is one of the largest such structures in Iran. The rows of perfectly proportioned sunken alcoves are at their best and most photogenic in late afternoon, when the copper-coloured sunlight is captured within each alcove and the towering exterior appears to glow against the darkening sky. New two-storey arcades hem the pedestrianised square and illuminated fountains lend an attractive foreground to the splendid vista at night. Only the 1st floor of the structure is accessible.
With its numerous badgirs (windtowers) rising above a labyrinth of adobe roofs, the historic old city of Yazd is one of the oldest towns on earth. Listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, it encompasses thousands of ancient dwellings, screened from the narrow kuches (lanes) by imposing mud walls. For the visitor, the old city offers a treasure trove of hidden courtyards and teahouses, shops selling crafts and houses converted into atmospheric hotels. Altogether, it is one of Iran's don't miss sights.
Yazd is famous for its qanats (underground aqueducts) and this museum, one of the best of its kind, is devoted to the brave men who built them. Located in a restored mansion with a visible qanat running underneath, the museum offers, through a series of photographs, exhibits and architectural drawings, a fascinating glimpse into the hidden world of waterways that have allowed life to flourish in the desert.
The cavernous ab anbar (water reservoir), built around 1580, resembles a 29m-high standing egg from the inside. Crowned with five burly badgirs, this impressive piece of architecture stored water for much of the city until modern irrigation made it redundant. The building has found a new purpose as a zurkhaneh (house of strength) in which javan mard (gentlemen) exercise using heavy wooden clubs to build muscle. The practitioners of this ancient sport are expected to display chivalrous values and embrace high integrity. Hidden Desert Within 30 minutes (15km) drive of Yazd city centre, this belt of rippling sand dunes is a popular spot to watch the sun set across the desert landscape. As the colours of the pink-hued mountains beyond intensify with the last of the sun's rays, the shadows of the dunes are thrown into sharp relief, making for the perfect photo opportunity. While a taxi may be persuaded to the edge of the sands, it is better to take a licensed driver-guide who can navigate the soft terrain.
Often referred to as the Zoroastrian Fire Temple, this elegant neoclassical building, reflected in an oval pool in the garden courtyard, houses a flame that is said to have been burning since about AD 470. Visible through a window from the entrance hall, the flame was transferred to Ardakan in 1174, to Yazd in 1474 and to its present site in 1940. It is cherished (not worshipped) by the followers of the Zoroastrian faith – the oldest of the world's monotheistic religions.
This 150-year-old building is one of the best-preserved Qajar-era houses in Yazd. The badgirs, traditional doors, stained-glass windows, elegant archways and alcoves distinguish it as one of the city’s grandest homes. It is worth noting the particularly delicate white-and-cream plaster work, traced with slivers of mirror, that decorate the courtyard iwans. The merchant family who built the mansion have long gone, and it’s now home to a set of archives. It’s signposted west of Zaiee Sq.
This elegant 20th-century mansion, dating from the 1940s, was confiscated after the 1978 revolution and has been converted into a quirky and fun museum celebrating the wonder of reflection. Some fine examples of mirrors and lamps are on display, and a photo booth, featuring opposing mirrors, provides for the ultimate selfie. Despite its name, the museum's highlight is neither mirror nor lamp but a superb piece of plaster work in the shape of a curtain. It took the 46-year-old master craftsman four years to complete.
Abandoned in the 1960s, these evocative Zoroastrian Towers of Silence are set on two lonely, barren hilltops on the southern outskirts of Yazd. Several buildings used for the ceremonial preparation of bodies dot the site, while the modern Zoroastrian cemetery is nearby. An elderly man at the entrance is often on hand to pose for a photograph: he is the last remaining porter of bodies, whose responsibility it once was to transport the deceased up the steep path to their final resting place.