Australian Capital Territory
23 Feb 2017
I watched a television show about the Old Silk Road last night. The presenter traced the route through Iran and on to Istanbul and Venice. It wasn’t just the wealth of silks and spices that flowed along this legendary road, but ideas, technology, stories, and philosophies linking the long-separated worlds of East and West.
What stood out in this episode was not so much the physical substance of the road, which is now either just a trace in the desert – there was usually no road as such, just paths between nightly camps – or a modern highway, the caravans of swaying camels replaced by Mercedes trucks grimy with diesel and dust.
It was the beauty of the cities along the way, notably the great religious shrines and the imperial palaces and gardens. Persia, to give Iran its historic name, was home to several mighty empires, and its cities both past and present reflect the glory.
Elegant architecture, the pointed arches a symbol of the East. Tranquil gardens in the desert air. Exquisite colourful tiles covering the interiors of massive domes. I am always astounded at the care taken to lay out – in tilework – a verse from the Koran which circles a great dome without gaps in the calligraphy. There is some justification for quiet amazement there.
I’m going to see some of these wonders soon. My upcoming trip to Iran will take in the legendary – and still thriving – cities of Shiraz, Yazd, and Esfahan, along with the now deserted, but vast and impressive Persepolis of Darius the Great. He didn’t bother to fortify it because he had vanquished all his enemies for thousands of kilometres.
Alexander the Great won through; capturing, looting, and ultimately destroying the city. It is significant that we know it now by its Greek name.
History is in the stones here, and I look forward to seeing these places, whether ancient solitary columns or busy marketplaces.
The Iranian Embassy was far from busy when I walked in promptly at the opening time of 0900. Well, it was reasonably crowded, but not a lot of activity.
I took a numbered ticket from the dispenser on the wall and sat down in the waiting area beside Vicki, who is running the admin for our upcoming tour and had a thick package of passports and forms beside her.
She had come up from Sydney a week ago for a couple of urgent passports to be given visas on their same-day service and mentioned a four-hour wait. I glanced at my watch. Five past nine.
Vicki had been with us last year, a veteran of many tours even then. She’s an old hand at the visa game and she described the days before the waiting room had been opened when there was a tiny front office with three chairs and a line of people waiting outside in the hot sun or winter chill that Canberra provides for visitors.
I listened to her stories of Persia and the tours she had been on, memories of that beautiful land mingling with my anticipation of returning to see more.
It only took me three hours to be attended to, the sole clerk taking each visitor in turn, and I have to return next week to collect our passports, though I am promised it will only take a few minutes to sign for them. I wonder how the embassy staff feel, here in a land where the oldest cities are barely two centuries old, and Canberra itself little more than a sheep station in living memory.
I don’t mind coming back next week. It’s not a whole day out of my life like it is for Vicki who must drive from and back to Sydney, three hours and more down the freeway.
And I can dream some more about old silk roads, towering mountains above lonely deserts, ancient cities and modern hospitality. I love Iran.
And so should you.