By Eric Stoner
Our first and only full day in Shiraz began with a trip to the ancient ruins of Persepolis, which was the ceremonial capital of the Persian empire at the height of its power over 2500 years ago. Built by Cyrus the Great - whose tomb we visited the previous day- and his successors, Persepolis was the richest city in the world at the time.
While Alexander the Great - or as our guides justifiably prefer to call him simply Alexander the Macedonian - looted and burned
Persepolis to the ground in 330 BC, the remaining ruins are still extensive and stunning. Not only are many towering and ornate gates, columns and other sculptures intact or restored, the level of detail that exists on some of the carvings is hard to believe.
We were also told that in contrast to the pyramids of Egypt, Persepolis was not built with slave labor, and that if workers - which included women - were injured during its construction they would be taken care of for the rest of their lives. At least from the promotional material we were given, it sounds like the Persian empire’s political system at the time was far more open and tolerant
than other major powers of that era.
From there we drove to the small village of Richie, which some 500 people call home. On our way up to the town we passed green terraced land that is used to grow rice, which is how many farmers there subsist. We also saw a wide variety of animals as we walked the streets, including cows, donkeys, sheep, goats and chickens. The people who live there gave us a warm greeting and - despite having very little - prepared a lovely meal for us, which we ate sitting on the floor inside a beautifully decorated space used to host visitors.
As we ate, we were able to talk with several residents, who said that the sanctions imposed by the U.S. are at the root of all the economic difficulties they are facing. We also heard from a few young people about how these challenges are affecting their lives in other way, such as delaying marriages because families are not able to provide the customary gifts to each other. The people were incredibly gracious in welcoming us and sharing a little of their lives and experiences with us. For many in our group, this visit proved to be a highlight of the entire trip.
Finally, we drove back to Shiraz and visited the beautiful tomb of Hafez, one of the most famous poets in Iran. There were many visiting the site from around Iran, who we were able to speak with. And without fail, those we met were happy and excited to connect. Similar to almost everyone we’ve met on this trip, they were thankful that we made the journey and encouraged others from the U.S. to visit Iran. They also were clear that we are all human and that there is love and affection for the American people.
However, they said that both of our governments are to blame for causing the unnecessary and destructive divide between our countries. We have been repeated surprised by how people are willing to be openly critical of their own government, which is not what many in the U.S. would expect.
On our way back to the hotel, we pulled the bus over to try a specialty of Shiraz, a delicious saffron flavored ice cream. It was a
perfect end to a long and memorable day.
By Eric Stoner