Population: 1.7 million

Renowned for its Persian lyrics, roses, cypresses and nightingales Shiraz is the capital of Fars and one time capital of the empire. Little is known of the city’s pre-Islamic past other than that a settlement certainly existed here during the Achaemenid era and that the Sassanian king Ardashir (212-41) held court here.

It became a provincial capital around 693 and by 1044 was said to rival Baghdad in importance as a cultural and artistic center. Its rulers saw the wisdom of tribute and the city was spared by both Mongols and Timur – and these eras become among the most successful in Shiraz’s development. Shiraz’s modern history is closely associated with the Zand Dynasty when Karimkhan Zand chose it as his capital in 1747 – the most famous relics of this era being the Vakil Mosque and the Arg-e-Karim.

Shiraz is also the birthplace of the nation’s two greatest poets – Saadi and Hafez who are immortalized here in lovely mausoleums.