Learning about different religions is very interesting to a lot of travelers who enjoy exploring historic temples, reading about ancient religious manuscripts and getting familiar with diverse religious rituals of other nations and ethnic groups. As you know, Zoroastrianism was the official religion in Iran until the Islamic conquest of the country in the 7th Century A.D. Although the vast majority of Zoroastrians immigrated to India in that time, Zoroastrianism is still being practiced in parts of Iran as a minority religion. If you are interested to know about Zoroastrian heritage in Iran, there are several places that you must visit while traveling this country.
Zoroaster, the Prophet of Ancient Persia
Zoroaster is the founder of Zoroastrianism which is known as the earliest monotheistic religion in the world. Interestingly, the exact living date of Zoroaster is not known but according to many religion scholars and historians, he lived in the time of Cyrus the Great in 6th Century B.C. But a deeper study of the archaeological evidence and the linguistic characteristics of the Avesta – the main collection of Zoroastrian scriptures – proclaim an earlier date between 1500 to 1200 B.C. He was originally a follower of a pagan religion before he started to worship a single god who he called Ahura Mazda and began to advise people to do the same.
It’s noteworthy that Cyrus the Great was a very devoted Zoroastrian but didn’t force the people of his non-Iranian territories to practice Zoroastrianism.
Main Concepts of Zoroastrianism
Before exploring the Zoroastrian heritage in Iran, you have to learn about the main elements of this ancient religion. Worshiping a single god, believing in heaven and hell as places that the soul will continue living in after death, and the idea of the day of judgement when everyone will be judged due to their acts and behaviors during their lifetime are some of the main concepts of Zoroastrianism which are also found in Abrahamic religions.
Faravahar is a symbol of Zoroastrianism which portrays a bearded man above a pair of wings and a circle that is believed to be depicting eternity. You can find the Faravahar symbol in several Zoroastrian places.
Fire, a Sacred Element for Zoroastrians
Zoroastrians regard fire as a holy symbol of purity. It represents light, warmth, truth and honesty. That’s why the Zoroastrian places of worship feature flames of fire and are called fire temples (Atashkadeh or Atashgah in Farsi). You can see a flame in any fire temple which will never be extinguished on purpose. In fact, every fire temple has fire keepers who are responsible to keep the flame burning.
Note that in the ancient Persia, life was seen as a struggle between good and evil. Therefore, in Zoroastrianism, fire is the sacred symbol of the good and darkness represents the evil.
Now that you know the philosophy that lays behind the ever burning flames of fire temples, let’s have a look at the architectural characteristics of Zoroastrian heritage sites.
Chahar-Taghi, the Earliest Form of Fire Temples
Chahar- Taghi is the name of the earliest form of fire temples and means “having four arches” in Farsi. These architectural structures feature four pillars and a dome above them.
If you are interested to visit the ruins of the oldest Chahar-Taghi in Iran – which dates back to the Parthian era – you have to go to Jahrom in Fars province.
Must-See Fire Temples of Iran
Visiting some of the ancient fire temples of Zoroastrians is an exciting experience for all history lovers, architectures and those who are interested in learning about ancient cultures. As the number of Zoroastrian fire temples in Iran could make it hard to decide which one to visit, we’ve jotted down some of the most famous ones for you. We suggest you to visit these awe-inspiring temples with a knowledgeable tour guide in order to get a sound grasp of the history and philosophy behind each of them.
Yazd Fire Temple, Home to a 1500 Year Old Flame
A far-famed Zoroastrian heritage in Iran, Yazd Atashkadeh is mostly famous for the fire that has been burning for 1500 years and is now being kept inside this building. In addition to the majestic fire flame, the whole mansion and the courtyard are so gorgeous that most tourists choose to visit this place while they’re in the historic city of Yazd.
Fire Temples of Takht-e-Soleyman Ancient City
Takht-e-Soleyman is a historical site located in northwest of Iran and is a must-see for any traveler who visit that area of the country. It used to be a glorious ancient city that hosted different ethnicities during several eras and contains several fire temples. Azargoshnasb fire temple is the most important one and used to be a place of worship for militarians during the Sassanid era. It used to be regarded as one of the three most respected fire temples of that time. If you visit this site accompanied by a tour guide, you’ll be astonished to hear the ancient legends about it.
Pir-e-Sabz Fire temple, Chak Chak Pilgrimage site
Another stunning Zoroastrian heritage, Pir-e-Sabz is a fire temple inside a pilgrimage site called “Chak Chak”. This pilgrimage site is located inside a grotto and the name “Chak Chak” refers to the sound of dripping water that can be heard in the cave.
There’s an interesting story about Chak Chak and the famous Pir-e-Sabz fire temple that have given a legendary value to this place. This pilgrimage site is known as the place where the daughter of the last Sassanid king fled from the Arabs who wanted to capture her. According to the legend of “Chak Chak”, the mountain was miraculously opened so that the princess could hide inside it. Some of the locals, especially the elderly, believe that the water dripping from the rocks of the mountains are the tears of the princess.
Note that you’ll need to walk up a trail for visiting this shrine so make sure you put on your hiking shoes.
Other Fire Temples to Visit while in Iran
Depending on your travel route and itinerary, you can choose other places known as Zoroastrian heritage to visit. Niyasar Fire Temple in Kashan, Ghasr-e-Shirin Fire Temple in Kermanshah and Kerman Fire Temple in Kerman are some of other significant temples that you can plan to see while traveling across the country.
Dakhmeh, Towers of Silence
An impressive Zoroastrian heritage, Dakhmeh (also known as Towers of Silence) is the cemetery that Zoroastrians used to place the dead bodies of their deceased in the past. You can visit the famous ancient Dakhmeh of Iran while you’re travelling in Yazd.
Zoroastrians used to put the corpse on top of this high tower so that vultures could feed on them. This was due to their belief that corpse of human can pollute soil which is regarded as a sacred element. Although this tradition is not practiced anymore, hiking up the trail and exploring the mysterious Towers of Silence is an exceptional experience.
Other Examples of Zoroastrian Heritage in Iran
Zoroastrian heritage in Iran is not limited to spectacular fire temples and the Towers of Silence. Markar Museum in Yazd, Zoroastrian Museum of Tehran and the Anthropology Museum of Zoroastrians in Kerman are other places that are worth to visit in order to learn more about the ancient religion of Persia.