Shiraz is the capital of Fars Province, located in the southwest of Iran, on the “Rudkhaneye Khoshk” (The Dry River) seasonal river. It has a moderate climate and has been a regional trade centre for over a thousand years. Shiraz is one of the oldest cities of ancient Persia.
The earliest reference to the city, as Tiraziš, is on Elamite clay tablets dated to 2000 BC. The modern city was founded or restored by the Umayyads in 693 and grew prominent under the successive Iranian Saffarid and Buyid dynasties in the 9th and 10th–11th centuries, respectively. In the 13th century, Shiraz became a leading centre of the arts and literature, due to the encouragement of its ruler and the presence of many Persian scholars and artists. It was the capital of Persia during the Zand dynasty from 1750 until 1800. Two famous poets of Iran, Hafez and Saadi, are from Shiraz, whose tombs are on the north side of the current city boundaries.
Shiraz is known as the city of poets, literature, wine and flowers. It is also considered by many Iranians to be the city of gardens, due to the many gardens and fruit trees that can be seen in the city, for example, Eram Garden. Shiraz has had major Jewish and Christian communities. The crafts of Shiraz consist of inlaid mosaic work of triangular design; silver-ware; pile carpet-weaving and weaving of kilim, called gilim and jajim in the villages and among the tribes.
The present city of Shiraz was founded or restored in 693 by Muhammad ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi, the brother of the Umayyad viceroy of the eastern half of the caliphate, al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, or the latter’s kinsman Muhammad ibn Qasim. The Arab Muslim army had conquered the wider region of Fars, where the site of Shiraz is located, in several expeditions launched from their garrison town of Basra between 640 and 653, and specifically captured the immediate area around Shiraz early on, in 641. This area did not possess any cities, though there were a number of forts that were forced to pay tribute to the Arabs. The Sasanians held firm in Istakhr, their capital in Fars, until the Arabs captured it in a heavy battle in 653, during which the plain of Shiraz had been utilized as an Arab campground. Because of Istakhr’s deep association with the Sasanian Empire and the Zoroastrian religion, the Arabs sought to establish in nearby Shiraz a rival cultural and administrative centre. Thus, during its initial founding in 693, the city was planned to be much larger than Isfahan. However, the initial ambitions were not realized and Shiraz remained a “provincial backwater” in the shadow of Istakhr until at least the late 9th century. This is partly attributed to the reticence of the largely Zoroastrian population of Fars to inhabit the Islamic Arab city. As the population gradually shifted to Islam from Zoroastrianism and Istakhr concurrently declined, Shiraz grew into the practical centre of Fars.
According to Muslim traditional sources, Shiraz was used as a hideout by three of the brothers of the Shia Muslim Imam Reza following the latter’s death in 817 and later by one of the brothers’ sons, Ali ibn Hamza ibn Musa, until he was found and executed by the Abbasid authorities in circa 835. As Abbasid authority waned during this period, regional dynasties emerged with considerable autonomy. In the late 9th century, the Iranian Muslim Saffarid dynasty under Ya’qub ibn al-Layth made Shiraz the capital of their autonomous state, which encompassed most of modern-day Iran. In 894, Ya’qub’s brother and successor, Amr, founded the city’s first congregational mosque, today known as the Atigh Jame’ Mosque.
The Iranian Buyid dynasty under Imad al-Dawla Ali ibn Buya ousted the Saffarids in 933 and his nephew and successor, ‘Adud al-Dawla Fana Khusraw, took over and ruled Fars between 949 and 983, and added Iraq, the seat of the Abbasid Caliphate, to his Shiraz-based domains in 977; The Abbasids thenceforth became a puppet state of the Shiraz-based dynasty. Shiraz developed into the largest and most prosperous city of Fars and an important economic and cultural centre of the caliphate. Adud al-Dawla had a large library, a hospital and several mosques, bazaars, caravanserais, palaces and gardens built in the city, while south of it he erected a fortified camp for his troops, known as Kard Fana Khusraw, in 974. One of the congregational mosques built by Adud al-Dawla has survived until the present day. Two Zoroastrian fire temples also existed in Shiraz, catering to the Persians who had not converted to Islam. One of Adud al-Dawla’s palaces stretched out for nearly three miles and consisted of 360 rooms.
Under the Buyids, Shiraz was divided into twelve quarters and had eight gates. It owed its economic prosperity to the booming agricultural trade of Fars. The city largely consumed the agricultural products of the province, including grapes, linen, wool, cotton, collyrium, rose, violet and palm-blossom water. It was also a market for rug weavers and painters to sell their pricey products, a testament to the residents’ wealth. At the time, wine, grains, gold and silver were exported from the Farsi port cities of Siraf and Najairam. Adud al-Dawla patronized scientific, medical and Islamic religious research in Shiraz.
The city was spared destruction by the invading Mongols, when its local ruler offered tributes and submission to Genghis Khan. Shiraz was again spared by Tamerlane, when in 1382 the local monarch, Shah Shoja agreed to submit to the invader. In the 13th century, Shiraz became a leading centre of the arts and letters, thanks to the encouragement of its ruler and the presence of many Persian scholars and artists. For this reason, the city was named by classical geographers Dar al-‘Elm, the House of Knowledge. Among the Iranian poets, mystics and philosophers born in Shiraz were the poets Saadi and Hafiz, the mystic Ruzbehan, and the philosopher Mulla Sadra. Thus Shiraz has been nicknamed “The Athens of Iran”.As early as the 11th century, several hundred thousand people inhabited Shiraz. In the 14th century, Shiraz had sixty thousand inhabitants. During the 16th century, it had a population of 200,000 people, which by the mid-18th century had decreased to only 55,000.
In 1504, Shiraz was captured by the forces of Ismail I, the founder of the Safavid dynasty. Throughout the Safavid empire (1501–1722) Shiraz remained a provincial capital and Emam Qoli Khan, the governor of Fars under Shah Abbas I, constructed many palaces and ornate buildings in the same style as those built during the same period in Isfahan, the capital of the Empire. After the fall of the Safavids, Shiraz suffered a period of decline, worsened by the raids of the Afghans and the rebellion of its governor against Nader Shah; the latter sent troops to suppress the revolt. The city was besieged for many months and eventually sacked. At the time of Nader Shah’s murder in 1747, most of the historical buildings of the city were damaged or ruined, and its population fell to 50,000, one-quarter of that during the 16th century.
Shiraz soon returned to prosperity under the rule of Karim Khan Zand, who made it his capital in 1762. Employing more than 12,000 workers, he constructed a royal district with a fortress, many administrative buildings, a mosque, and one of the finest covered bazaars in Iran. He had a moat built around the city, constructed an irrigation and drainage system, and rebuilt the city walls. However, Karim Khan’s heirs failed to secure his gains. When Agha Mohammad Khan, the founder of the Qajar dynasty, eventually came to power, he wreaked his revenge on Shiraz by destroying the city’s fortifications and moving the national capital to Tehran. Although lowered to the rank of a provincial capital, Shiraz maintained a level of prosperity as a result of the continuing importance of the trade route to the Persian Gulf. Its governorship was a royal prerogative throughout the Qajar dynasty. Many of the famous gardens, buildings and residences built during this time contribute to the city’s present skyline.
During the Pahlavi dynasty, Shiraz became the centre of attention again. Many important landmarks like Tombs of Poets’ such as Saadi and Hafiz, were constructed and presented to the public.