Tabriz was the first stop on a month trip in Iran, and had the heavy responsibility to create a first impression of a vast and diverse country, stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf, from Turkey to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Pakistan, also bordering Turkmenistan, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The city of Tabriz, that was capital of Iran, but because of its geographical position that formed very vulnerable to the attack of the Ottoman Empire, is now the capital of Azerbaijan province, where a significant part of the population is Azevi, constituting the largest ethnic group of Iran.
Tabriz an obligatory stopping point on the Silk Road, is today one of the oldest bazaars in the Middle East and the largest covered bazaar in the world, continuing to play a key role in commercial activity in the country, especially the trade of carpets … the legendary Persian carpets!!
The bazaar is clearly dominated by carpet business, which can be found in wool or silk, with geometric or floral motifs, with portraits or with religious inscriptions… business whereby Tabriz has worldwide fame. In parallel to the carpet business exist a great variety of stores that are associated with its production, selling raw materials, both the cotton yarns serving as weft as wool that are woven most carpets.
Dispite much of the area is dedicated to carpets, the Bazaar of Tabriz has much more to offer: areas dedicated to the sale of fabrics and clothing, specially the scarves to cover the head, who are here in an endless number of variations. Sometimes we are attracted by the smell of spices, the shinny honey pots, the brightness of dates, raisins, prunes and other dried fruits, the piles of walnuts, almonds and pistachios… a generous and endless variety.
The visit to Kabud Mosque, called the Blue Mosque (100,000 rials), despite the weight of seniority involving the building built in 1465, proved to be uninteresting. Ark-e Alishah, a huge and massive arch that is imposed in the city center has also little to offer. Lost in the intricate maze of streets that make up the bazaar is the Jameh Mosque, whose interior offers silence and comfort, in opposition to the feverish agitation made by porters, pushing cars by hand, bringing and taking good, in a movement that only slows at lunch time.
A city with a long history, where the bazaar was the center off all attentions, deserving more than a view, in different times of day, showing different light, different rhythms, different pulsars as the bazaar were a living organism.
Leaving the city center, a visit to the surrounding area of Valiasr Square, revealed another facet of Tabriz, more modern and cosmopolitan, with sophisticated shops, cafes, restaurants and bakeries. A wealthier Tabriz where the way of dressing, more relaxed and colourful, reveals a less conservative and traditional mindset.
The four days spent in Tabriz served as adapting to a different culture, to understand the rules of social behaviour, where segregation between sexes in buses and other public places is strictly respected, where the scarf used to cover the head, is not only required at streets, but as well inside the guest houses. The dress code also requires some attention, especially for women and is not limited to the head scarf, including long sleeves, loose clothing and covered legs… yet the rules are always more flexible for foreigners. Also time for the necessary adaptation to food, where meat dominates most of the meals served in restaurants. It was also time to adapt to the money, where the “zeros” dominate the value of banknotes, where almost nothing is bought with less than 1000 rials and where to return for a 50€ bill makes us holding more than a million rials… basically millionaires.
The Tabriz touristm office, located on the first floor of one of the buildings in the pedestrian zone that serves as the main entrance to the bazaar, is a required stop for those visiting the city, where the friendly and helpful staff provide all kinds information, whether from excursions (organized by the tourist office), the local money exchange, public buses to different places to visit (including for the Bus Terminal Tabriz), restaurants, etc …
Tabriz may be the base for day visits to neighboring regions, with Kodovan, a town whose houses are built on the rock, one of the most popular; given the similarity with the recently visited Cappadocia was not selected in this itinerary.
The center of Tabriz, between the main entrance of the bazaar and the Imam Khomeini Street is located the Ferdowsi Street, which concentrates a large number of guesthouses, with cheaper prices. There are single, double or shared room, usually with shared toilets. Prices vary widely, depending on the conditions offered in terms of ventilation (with rooms without windows) and cleaning, so it is worth seeing a few rooms and check prices before making a decision.
The choice went to the Mashhad Guest House that wasn’t the best price but show up clean and fresh, despite the minimum dimensions of the room.
Mashhad Guest House
Single room: 250,000 Rials + 60,000 rials shower
Free wi-fi… slow, very slow… and just at the reception room
Almost no English is spoken by receptionist and staff
Where to eat:
One of the very popular choices in terms of street food found in Tabriz was made with baked potatoes, crumbled on a piece of bread, adding boiled egg, tomato and some fresh herbs, form a roll… that fills you up as a proper meal.
Along the streets of the bazaar, some sellers of sweet potatoes and other roots cooked in sugar syrup, spread the sweet aroma wrapped in a steam cloud.
Inside the bazaar there are also a few restaurants, but given the labyrinthine nature of the space where the guidance is not easy, find these sites is a little to chance or delivered to the olfactory sensitivity.
Bus to Valiasr Square: number 159; the stop is street outside the bazaar Jomhuriye Eslami Street.
Bus to Tabriz Bus Terminal (long distance buses): number 104; the stop is on Amir St., a street perpendicular to Ferdowsi St.
Apparently you need a card for travel on city buses, which is validated electronically on every trip to the entrance of the bus. But you can pay directly to the driver, between 500-1000 rials; in the case of women the situation is more complicated because after entering through the front door and pay the tickets, you must exit and re-enter through the back door to the area reserved for women. Often the driver did not charge ticket … maybe to make things easier, perhaps because I’m a foreigner …?!?!?