Zoroastrianism – Yazd – Iran

All the way along the Silk Road we’d heard small bits and pieces about Zoroastrianism – the ancient religion that dominated Central Asia and Iran before the rise of Islam.   Starting around 1,000 – 1,500BC, it was the first religion to posit an omnipotent, invisible God, who asked that followers pray in the direction of light. Given that the only light that could be controlled in those days was fire – this is central to the religion.

Yazd is the centre of Zoroastrianism in Iran and I ended up visiting the two major sites in the city.  The first was the Zoroastrian Ateshkadeh  (Zoroastrian Fire Temple)

Zoroastrian fire temple (Ateshkadeh) - Yazd - Iran

with its fire that has apparently been burning for over 1524 years (a special Zoroastrian priest adds wood daily).

Zoroastrian fire temple (Ateshkadeh) - Yazd - Iran

The building also features the winged figure that symbolizes Fravahar, the part of the spirit that reaches the divine being after death.  From a copy of an old Lonely Planet that we had on the truck: “The old man symbolizes experience and wisdom, the three layers of feathers on the wings symbolize purity of thought, word, and deed, and the semi-long tail in front represents Vohu Mano (good mind), while the rear tail is Ahem Nano (bad mind).”  My souvenir from Iran is actually a pendant with this symbol.

Zoroastrian symbol - Fravahar - Yazd - Iran

The other site we visited was the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence, two large circular structures that rise out of the desert on adjacent hillsides, just outside of town. 

The Towers of Silence are the two structures on the hillsides in the background of this image.

Since “Zoroastrians believe in the purity of elements, they refuse to bury their dead (pollutes the earth), or cremate them (pollutes the atmosphere).  Instead, the dead [are] exposed in Towers of Silence, where their bones [are] soon cleaned up by the vultures.”  

Pit where they put the bodies - Zoroastrian Towers of Silence - Yazd - Iran

This practice continued in Yazd until the 1960s, with bodies cast into the central pits of the towers.   Since then, Zoroastrians have disposed of their dead by burying them in concrete-lined graves.

You can visit the site for free if you walk about 300m from the main entrance (the fence literally just stops), and it is a great place to wander around and explore – especially just before sunset.

Zoroastrian Towers of Silence - Yazd - Iran

The added bonus is that the abandoned buildings at the bottom make for interesting photographic angles 🙂 

Zoroastrian Towers of Silence - Yazd - Iran

Oh, and you get a great view back over Yazd!

View over Yazd from Zoroastrian Towers of Silence - Yazd - Iran

And amazing sunset photos!

Sunset - Zoroastrian Towers of Silence - Yazd - Iran

I found the Zoroastrian religion a really interesting addition to our exploration of the Silk Road – I had only vaguely heard of it before this trip. 

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