Iran has plenty of mosques and almost all of them are pretty spectacular. By the time we got to the Jami Mosque in Yazd we'd only seen two other mosques, neither of which was particularly typical of the Persian architectural style. The massive and as yet unfinished mausoleum to Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran had resembled a concrete abatoir and the tiny old and rather decrepit mosque to the Twelve Imams which we'd visited in Yazd that morning was largely undecorated. Neither had prepared us for the visual onslaught of a top notch city mosque.
The Jami Mosque or Masjed-e Jameh is what's known as a congregational mosque , that is one that's designed for worship on a large scale and it would normally be very busy for Friday prayers in particular. Visiting outside the main worship times we found it almost empty except for several groups of identically dressed school girls. It's a strange aspect of tourism in Iran that you frequently come across school groups but almost always groups of girls. I can't recall that we ever found a group of schoolboys. Perhaps art and history are considered to be more 'pink' topics - I hate to think what the 'blue' pupils are doing whilst their sisters are our looking at architecture and museums.
The mosque as it stands today is about 700 years old but it stands on the site of an earlier mosque which in turn was built on the site of the ruins of a Zoroastrian fire temple.
We parked our bus in the square outside and headed towards the tall and highly decorated gate of the mosque with its pair of tall thin minarets which reach up to a dazzling height of 48 m, making them the tallest in Iran. Standing before the immensely tall doorway you can look up at the blue tiled decoration of the minarets or step under the doorway and admire the intricate tiling inside the arch. Once through the arch there's a domed roof with a fascinating pattern of interlinked sand-coloured bricks, lit up by small holes in the roof.
The tiling in the mosque is spectacular with both painted tiles in which the decoration lies beneath the glaze, and tiles that have been cut and placed together in an elaborate form of mosaic. There are panels of single coloured turquoise tiles, tall panels of geometric lego-like patterns, beautiful panels of floral and geometric patterns intertwined and of course panels of exquisite calligraphy.
The mihrab where the holy man who leads the prayers would stand had a fascinating acoustic effect in which the preacher's voice is magnified by reflection and vibration so that it can be heard clearly at a distance without the need for artificial amplification. It's a clever idea - imagine if you went to church and the vicar had his back to you the entire time and you'd appreciate anything to help you hear what he was saying.
After our guide had given us a bit of an introduction he left us to wander around with our cameras to soak up the atmosphere. I was standing with an Australian lady looking at the ceilings and the tiling when we noticed that a nearby group of schoolgirls had their eyes on us. The bravest few sidled over and said hello. Once they'd realised we were English speakers they called their friends over and the onslaught of questions began. At first it was simple - "What's your name? Where do you come from? How long in Iran?" - then it moved to the more personal questioning of "How old are you? Are you married? Do you have children?" At this point they clearly thought we were quite unusual. I am married but have no kids, my companion has neither a husband nor children. The questions were not unexpected but were quite personal "Why?" they asked. And "Which is your husband?" they quizzed me (probably thinking my poor hubby must have bad seeds since the idea of choosing not to have kids is completely alien in their culture.
We'd survived the first onslaught of questions and now we were on to more cultural questions. I live in a part of the UK that foreigners have never heard of so when they ask where we come from we always say 'Manchester' because at the time that's where I was working and I lived there for many years. Several of the girls started to giggle - "Manchester?" they enthused "You know Manchester United then miss?" This is always a conversation starter the world over and my travels are marked by discussions of great players from my favourite team. I can track the history of my travel according to which footballer the locals want to talk about. David Beckham was massive in Vietnam and on several trips to India though when I first travelled we still got questions about Bobby Charlton who played before I was even born. "Miss Miss" they cried "Do you know Cristiano Ronaldo? He's SO handsome" said one and they all started to giggle.
It's a hard question to answer. "Do you know?" Sometimes it means 'Have you heard of?' or maybe 'Does he come round your house for tea on Sundays?'. There really was no way of knowing but either way it was unlikely that they could check up on me. "Yes, of course" I replied, "I know Cristiano Ronaldo". And suddenly their attitude changed from looking at me as a poor childless old woman (well they were 14 years old so anyone over 30 is in that category) to seeing me as someone who knew the world's best footballer.
The excited chatter continued and the girls followed us out to our bus, saying hello to the three other women in our group, lowering their eyes modestly when seeing our men folk until their teacher caught up with them and told them to stop bothering us. I'm sure they would be surprised to find they're the subject of an Igougo 'experience' about visiting the mosque - or maybe I'll find out one day that there's a review on an Iranian travel site about meeting the woman who 'knew' Ronaldo'.