Iran : Shah Cheragh – Rare Pics Inside Shia Mosque at Peak Prayer Hour
“Just stick to me, move quickly, and try not to step on anyone!” I had just left Phillipa outside Shah Cheragh, one of the holiest sites in the world of Shia Islam. When I say left outside, what I mean is, palmed her off to a group of older ladies. It was a whirlwind entrance to the Shah Cheragh in Shiraz, Iran. We had to get moving, as thousands of dedicated Muslims were streaming around us en masse, for the Friday evening prayers. It was barely organised chaos, and ancient Mosque doors were about to be shut tight.
As Phillipa was rapidly pulled away by strange women, who I hoped would look after her in this utterly confusing and foreign building, only a few more seconds passed before I completely lost sight of her. The thousands of women present were all dressed identically -now including Phillipa. There was no time to discuss rendezvous’ points or times for later. Once we entered the Islamic Shah Cheragh, it would be a strictly gender separated affair. I wouldn’t be able to see her, at all. She was gone.
Once again, our fate had been placed into the hands of random Iranian strangers we had recently met on the streets of Shiraz. I guarantee visiting Shah Cheragh on a Friday evening isn’t on the Holiday-Hypermarket Prince-of-Persia-Iran-Package-Tour itinerary. Perhaps wisely so.
A few hours before, Mr Ali was hanging at the imposing historical central Shiraz citadel named the “Arg of Karim Khan”. In another typical gesture of Shirazi hospitality, minutes after we began chatting Ali made an offer – “I can take you to a rooftop”. Naturally, I couldn’t refuse. Ali gave an impromptu multi-hour tour of local historical sites, ending up at the ridiculously ornate, some may say chintzy, Shah Cheragh – a 900 year old Mosque, Mausoleum, and historic pilgrimage site for Shia Mulsims. When I saw the glittering internal design, I felt relieved that mind altering substances are thin on the ground here in Iran.
Shah Cheragh – Mirrored Mosaics Gone Buck Wild
Inside, there was a dense crowd of Muslim men, all kneeling and praying. Ali was a man about town. He knew that the timing was perfect for us to see the Shah Cheragh in full swing. We tip toed through the practising worshipers, to the huge empty back section of Shah Cheragh. Ali knew I would be more interested in the architecture of Shah Cheragh, than the ceremony around us. So, we sat down in a peaceful (but glittery) location, took photos, and chatted.
Ali told me he never prayed, and never went to church. In Iran,an Islamic theocracy and republic, he was openly stating he was not of any religion, as he views Christians, Jews, and Muslims as “fundamentalists”. He told me conscious was the most important thing in his life. We spoke about Karma, and about how whatever you give out in life, is what you get back in return.
We chatted about travel, and about how things in Iran won’t change for a very long time. This was a common thought with most Iranians I have spoken to. Although many people aren’t happy with the way things are here, they don’t see change coming any time soon. They’re trapped in the tight grip of a system that is seemingly unbreakable. It was a relaxing, and engaging, chat.
About an hour later, outside Shah Cheragh, I found Phillipa. Looking quite flustered, sweaty, and disheveled, her first words were “do you have any water!” followed by “the Chador smelled like piss!”. Clearly, our time apart had produced different experiences. After donning a loaner chador (the typical full length cloak placed over the head), she had been proudly placed at the front of the thousands of female worshipers, and was told to kiss the huge golden Mausoleum, which, she dutifully did. “Kiss the cage” is now a new catch phrase of mine, whenever I want her to do something she’s not interested in doing.
With gifts of candy, lots of hand squeezing and kisses, all the ladies had been very friendly and welcoming to her, as is the typical nature of Iranians. Phillipa told me when she was initially pushed and shoved inside the crowded mosque, the ladies realised she hadn’t removed her shoes – so, they were quickly taken off, bagged up, and transported away by so many hands that she genuinely said goodbye to them, forever. Fortunately, they turned up safe and sound later. Not too many Iranian ladies are wearing Goretex trekking sneakers it seems.
How to Get to Shah Cheragh – And Other Important Details
Shah Cheragh was initially built around 1130 AD, making this incredible building almost 900 years old. There have been plenty of renovations over the centuries, but Shah Cheragh remains one of the best showcases of both classical and contemporary Shiraz master craftsman.
Located near the centre of the sophisticated city of Shiraz in central Iran – Shah Cheragh is easy to get to. There is no entry fee. Remember, you must remove your shoes, and ladies, you must wear a Chador – these are freely available, but perhaps give yours the sniff-test before draping it over your head.
PS, I would love you to share this article, as I’m completely screwed when it comes to accessing social media here in Iran.
34 thoughts on “Iran : Shah Cheragh – Rare Pics Inside Shia Mosque at Peak Prayer Hour”
STUNNING, I want to go there! Were they cool with you taking pics or did you pull some rad MacGyver type shit?
Hey Larissa (AKA, my favourite blonde gypsy)… I walked in with my camera out, fortunately, I don’t have a huge DSLR anymore, I knew it was a good idea to get a smaller camera! Nobody seemed to mind, but they were all pretty into the whole praying to Allah thing at the time ;) And, is it just me or is “Rad MacGyver” a good name for a band?
this is my question not a reply but i did not know where else to post it
who is actually buried there, which saint
aamir, there is a wikipedia entry – just search for Shah Cheragh – plenty of info there!
Thanks for the chuckle about the mind altering substances. They certainly would have made this place really triply. But, it is a beautiful building. I think you’re going to need a good chiropractic adjustment after you leave Iran from all the looking up. Great post, cheers!
Tell me about it! My neck is starting to ache ;)
I…I can’t even type. Absolutely speechless. WOW.. <3
– Maria Alexandra
haha…breath Maria, breath ;)
It’s crazy, right?
Excellent post and awesome pics! Probably my wife and I will be there next Friday and I have some doubts: Are non muslims eligible to enter the mosque? Is there any restriction? Congrats!
Hi Luis, non-Muslims are fine, but I would really try to find a local to guide you through – I got the impression it may have not been possible, or as accessible, without a local.
There are some aspects of traveling that I really wish I was a man. This is definitely one of them.
What can I say. I will have Phillipa discussing being a travelling woman in Iran, on here soon.
I’m impressed you made it to Iran, it looks incredible. It’s definitely on my list of countries that I really want to visit.
It’s easy to get to Iran, Nico. You have to visit, it really is incredible …btw, I’ve used the word incredible more times in the last month than ever before ;)
i was also wondering how u managed to capture the pictures inside the mosque, they are great
Doris, I simply started taking photos. Really, that’s all there is to it!
Very nice photos. Keep it up!
Thank you Doris, I will!
Nate – this is my new favourite blog! These stories from Iran are reminding me of all the paradigm shifts and mental overhauls I had when I was in Syria a few years ago.
Really appreciating the aussie sense of humour shining through in another blog too. looking forward to the posts to come…
Ash, you are too kind, but thanks for the compliments. I have to be a little careful with my aussie sense of humour, it gets me into all sorts of troubles ;)
The place is really awesome. Every house of prayer must look as beautiful as Shah Cheragh.
It really was a special place Jemma. Thanks for leaving a comment.
I agree with Ayngelina. And wow, is this place ornate or what?
Incredibly ornate – I’ve never seen anything like it! Again, I can’t speak from a female opinion, but I hope to present one soon…
Looks like an experience if nothing else. I’ve not yet made it inside a mosque but did not imagine for one second the’d be so full of glittering glass mosaics!
I agree Harley – I had no idea what I would find inside.
I love it when I see pics of places for the first time – reminds me that the world is so big and there’s just so much to see. That first pic you posted of the Shah Cheragh – it gave me goosebumps!
Thanks Caitlyn, I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. I agree with you – the more I travel, the more I realise just how huge the world is – so much to see, so little time… ahhh.
Wow, amazing photos! I have never seen anything like that, trippy is definitely the right description! That green ceiling reminded me of how I always imagined the Emerald City would look!
1. Technically speaking, Shah Cheraq is a mosque, but it’s more than that: it’s (as Wikipedia calls it) a funerary monument, or a shrine, which means some highly regarded saint is buried there. In Farsi it is more common to call these “haram” than “masjed” which means mosque. The better-known shrines in Iran are the Imam Reza Shrine and Fatima Masumeh Shrine. Shah Cheragh is usually regarded the third most important Shia shrine in Iran after these, although there are much more important shrines outside Iran, particularly in Saudi Arabia and Iraq (and to some extent, Syria).
2. The glass mosaics interior architectural design is standard practice for shrines in Iran, and it’s not used in ordinary mosques (which would be more similar to the Imam Mosque you already visited, or much simpler). Of course, the more important the shrine is, the more significant its architecture is. If you liked Shah Cheragh, you might want to take a look at Imam Reza Shrine! Here’s a website (albeit in Farsi, and not-so-high-quality photos) with numerous panoramas (the links on the right), which you can navigate between them by clicking on the arrows inside the photos.
3. Based on a quick Google search, in terms of Shia jurisprudence, Shia scholars have differing opinions on whether non-muslims should be allowed to enter mosques (including shrines). Yet, the Hawzah (the preeminent center of Shia learning in Iran) website says that non-muslims are allowed into mosques. I’m not sure what happens in practice , and I recently read from another Western traveling couple that they visited Shah Cheragh with no problems, and definitely no one is required to profess his/her religion when entering shrines, but it’s good to have these in mind.
This was also the source of a controversy in 2009 when Ahmadinejad brought Hugo Chavez inside the Imam Reza Shrine, giving more firearms to his usual political opponents :)
Just some quick info from an authentic Shia Iranian :D
Glad you enjoyed your time in Iran!
stunning photo, liked the way people worship in the mosque of islam, i am asian but i always wanted to make a trip to iran, heard its a great place to travel. however, your blog is nice , please keep it up
If you think Shah cheragh was ornate you should really check out Fatima masoumah, Imam Reza shrine( as someone mentioned before) and also the Sheikh Safi Edin shrine in Ardabil, just to give you a taste heres a photo of fatima masouma shirne’s ceiling:
If you are specifically interested in mirror work then you should certainly check out the mirror hall in golestan palace, the musuem of time in northern tehran and even the Abdol azim shrine in southern tehran,
Thanks for the tips, Pouria. Wow – the muqarnas at Fatima Masouma looks absolutely amazing, I will really try to see it on my (fourth) visit to Iran later this year.
Also for a more contemporary take on mirror work check out Monir Farmanfarmaian’s art work recently exhibited in the Guggenheim in NY.