Shiraz is the fifth-most-populous city of Iran and the capital of Fars Province (Old Persian as Pars). At the 2016 census it was home to 1,565,572 inhabitants. Shiraz is 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 center 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 center of the arts and letters, 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 citrus 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. In Shiraz industries such as cement production, sugar, fertilizers, textile products, wood products, metalwork and rugs dominate. Shirāz also has a major oil refinery and is also a major center for Iran’s electronic industries.
Though there is no definitive record of its existence prior to the late 7th century CE, few archaeological finds dating from 1933 and beyond indicate that the site or vicinity of Shiraz was likely settled in the pre-Islamic era as early as the 6th century BCE. A number of Sasanian-era remains have been discovered around the city, including reliefs at Barm-e Delak to the east and Guyim to the northwest, and ruins of Sasanian fortresses at Qasr-e Abu Nasr to the east and Fahandezh. The latter is identified with the fortress of Shahmobad mentioned as being in Shiraz by the 10th-century geographical work, Hudud al-‘alam. The names “Tirrazish” and “Shirrazish” were found on Elamite tablets in Persepolis, while Sasanian and early Islamic-era clay seals found at Qasr-e-Abu Nasr mention the name “Shiraz” alongside the name of the Sasanian administrative district of the area, Ardashir-Khwarrah. According to the diplomat and academic John Limbert, this indicates that the name “Shiraz” is traced back to the Elamite “Shirrazish” and that both refer to a settlement that existed at the site of Qasr-e-Abu Nasr. This settlement prospered between the 6th and 8th-centuries CE and was possibly the administrative center for the Shiraz plain until the modern city of Shiraz was founded. Nonetheless, the lack of references to Shiraz in early Persian sources suggests the city could not have been more than a way-station in the plain in which it lays.
Early Islamic era
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 which 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 center. 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, according to Limbert. 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 center of Fars.
According to Muslim traditional sources, Shiraz was used as a hideout by three of the brothers of the Shia Muslim imam Ali al-Ridha following the latter’s death in 817/18 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 center 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 center 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 Sa’di 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.
Shiraz is the birthplace of the co-founder of the Bahá’í Faith, the Báb (Siyyid ‘Ali-Muhammad, 1819–1850). In this city, on the evening of 22 May 1844, he first declared his mission as the bearer of a new divine revelation. For this reason Shiraz is a holy city for Bahá’ís, and the city, particularly the house of the Báb, was identified as a place of pilgrimage. Due to the hostile climate towards Baha’is in Iran, the house has been the target of repeated attacks; the house was destroyed in 1979, to be paved over two years later and made into a public square.
In 1910, a pogrom of the Jewish quarter started after false rumours that the Jews had ritually murdered a Muslim girl. In the course of the riots, 12 Jews were murdered and about 50 were injured, and the 6,000 Jews of Shiraz were robbed of all their possessions.
During Pahlavi dynasty Shiraz has become center of attention again. Many important landmarks like Tombs of Poets’ such as Sa’di and Hafiz, has been constructed and presented to public.
Lacking any great industrial, religious or strategic importance, Shiraz became an administrative center, although its population has nevertheless grown considerably since the 1979 revolution.