Among Saints and Poets: The Spiritual Topography of Medieval Shiraz

In: Eurasian Studies
Denise Aigle CNRS, UMR 8167 “Orient & Méditerranée”

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Shiraz is distinguished from other cities due to its reputation as the city of saints and poets, as previously emphasised in the title of Arberry’s book of 1960: “Shiraz, Persian City of Saints and Poets”. In textual sources, the city is the “Fortress of saints” (burj al-awliyā’). Shiraz owes its sanctity to the many mausoleums dedicated to the descendants of ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib (and Šāh-i Čirāġ), as well as famous mystics such as Šayḫ Kabīr (d. 371/982) and Rūzbihān Baqlī (d. 606/1209). The poets Sa‘dī (d. 691/1292) and Ḥāfiẓ (d. 792/1390) celebrated Shiraz as the city of roses and nightingales. Their sanctuaries, which still the object of pious visits, accentuate the “capital” of city’s sacrality.

After reconstructing the urban space in which the sacred buildings are located, the purpose of this paper is to show how the specific sanctity of the city emerged from the textual sources. Two major texts addressing the sanctity of Shiraz date from the eighth/fourteenth century. In the Šīrāz-nāma (completed in 744/1343), Ibn Zarkūb unfolds the history of the city and speaks of its merits. In Šadd al-īzār (ca. 791/1389), a guide for pilgrimage to Shiraz’s seven cemeteries, Junayd Šīrāzī describes the ritual geography of the city. He notes the places where the Shirazis are buried, thus establishing the symbolic presence of the deceased among the living. Alid shrines in particular thus contributed to the “capitalisation of the sacred” in Shiraz.

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