Journey through this fascinating country with a civilisation dating back thousands of years. Visit ancient lost cities, mosques, temples, shrines, caravanserais, fortresses, castles, bazaars as well as some of the greatest desert and mountain scenery in the world. The central region of Iran offers enough to keep visitors very occupied for a few weeks. Tehran is quite a nice city to explore. Take a train south to Kashan to see very old luxurious traditional Persian houses, ancient bazaars, and the incredible Masjed-e Āghā Bozorg mosque and camel stew with saffron rice!
To get over your culture shock upon arrival in Iran, it makes sense to spend the first few days in Tehran which is quite a developed city. Tehran, the capital of Iran as well as people which places it among one of the largest and most populated cities in western Asia. It is quite a pleasant city and home to many historical monuments, traditional buildings, mosques, churches, synagogues and even some Zoroastrian fire temples.
Contemporary Tehran is known for its more recent structures such as the Azadi (Freedom) Tower at the west entrance to Tehran built in 1971 in commemoration of the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire. Made of white marble stone from the Esfahan region, it is 50 m tall with an observation deck near the top. Finely constructed with eight thousand blocks of stone, this masterpiece currently appears a bit neglected. Tehran also unveiled their contribution to high city towers when they completed the 435 m high Milad Tower in 2007. This concrete tower, which in 2013 ranked as the 6th tallest tower in the world, is also referred to as the Tehran Tower.
Tehran is further known for its air pollution, good shopping such as at the Tehran Grand Bazaar with corridors stretching over 10 km in length, and of course the so-called “den of spies” which is the vacant former embassy of the USA.
Among the notable tourist attractions in the city are the National Museum of Iran, the Carpet Museum, Glassware and Ceramics Museum, the Golestan Palace, Sa’dabad Palace Complex, Niavaran Palace Complex, and the fabulous Tehran National Jewels Museum.
Located next to Laleh Park, the Carpet Museum of Iran (3,400 m²) was founded in 1976 and exhibits a large variety of different kinds of kilims and handmade rugs from all over Iran, in particular from Kashan, Kerman, Esfahan, Tabriz, Khorasan, and Kurdistan. Carpets date from the 18th century to the present time and one of the oldest and most precious carpets date from the Safavid dynasty who ruled Persia from 1501 to 1722.
The Glassware and Ceramic Museum of Iran is known for its building as well as for the valuable content. The building was constructed 90 years ago on the orders of Ahmad Qavam (Qavam-ol-Saltaneh) for his personal lodging (until 1953) but was then used for seven years as the embassy of Egypt. When relations with Egypt soured the building was converted to a bank and later sold to Farah Pahlavi’s bureau in 1976 and turned into a museum which opened in 1980. The Glass and Ceramics Museum is administrated by the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization and displays some of the most valuable glass and ceramics in the world.
The Golestan Palace is one of the oldest historical buildings in Tehran and is part of a group of buildings that once formed the Pahlavi who was the last shah (king) of Iran and reigned from September 1941 until he was overthrown during the Iranian Revolution in February 1979. He died in exile in Egypt on 27 July 1980, aged 60, and his tomb is located in the Rifa’i Mosque in Cairo, Egypt. The Golestan Palace consists of 17 palaces, museums, and halls which were mostly built during the era of the Qajar kings.
Hungry? In addition to many contemporary restaurants, Tehran has several savory saffron rice-cake with a filling such as marinated chicken fillets.
Before leaving Iran, remember to stock up on carpets, nuts, dried fruits, and leather products. At Tehran’s Grand Bazaar you can buy different types of goods, including carpets, spices, copper, gold, and other precious metals. It is estimated that the total length of the many corridors is over 10 km long. While the current buildings were constructed during the 19th century, the bazaar dates back hundreds of years.
From Kerman the train takes about nine hours north to the town of Kashan, in the Esfahan province. Kashan (pop. 250,000) was an important centre for the production of high quality pottery and tiles between the 12th and 14th centuries. Many of Persia’s rich and famous called Kashan “home” and built several luxurious traditional Persian houses which are now open for viewing. Kashan is also known for its ancient Sultan Amir shrine and bathhouse, the ancient city walls, Agha Bozorg Mosque, Fin Gardens, the Kashan Bazaar (complete with several mosques, tombs, caravanserais, arcades, baths and water reservoirs), as well as fortresses, underground cities and caravanserais in the nearby desert.
Built in 1857, the Boroujerdi historical house is a traditional Persian residential house in Kashan. It consists of a rectangular courtyard, impressive wall paintings and three 40 m tall century such as on June 7, 1755 which killed about 40,000 people. The Khan-e Abbasian is a late 18th century traditional Persian house in Kashan. It has six courtyards that accommodated a few families as well as many guests. The guest quarters are substantially more flamboyant than the family’s living quarters.
Not to be missed in Kashan is the Hamam-e Sultan Amir Ahmad, a traditional Persian public bathhouse constructed in the 16th century during the Safavid dynasty. With a size of about 1,000 square garmkhaneh (the hot bathing hall). Don’t bring your soap as it has long been converted into a museum. The mausoleum of Imāmzādeh Sultan Amir Ahmad is nearby his bathhouse. An “Imāmzādeh” means “offspring” and is a Persian term for someone who is an immediate descendant of a Shi’a Imam.
In the very impressive Kashan bazaar, explore the carpet shops in the old Khan Amin al-Dowleh Timche caravanserai inside the bazaar. This caravanserai must be a national treasure!
The Masjed-e Āghā Bozorg mosque and madraseh (theological school) in Kashan were both built in the late 18th century. It was specifically constructed for Molla Mahdi Naraghi II, known as Āghā Bozorgh, to conduct sessions of prayers, preaching and theological teaching.
Outside town is the grandeur Mohammad Helal Ibn Ali mausoleum in Aran, a village 14 km north of Kashan. Mohammad Al Awsat, nicknamed “Hilal Ibn Ali” was one of Imam Ali’s Enroute to the caravanserai and salt lakes the road passes many very lonely and thirsty camels, yearning for attention. Get out of your car and see what happens!
Almost 80 km south of Kashan, passing right next to the controversial uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, the road goes into the mountains to the village of Abyaneh. Abyaneh is one of the oldest villages in Iran and dates back to the Safavid period (1501 to 1722).
The village is known for the peculiar reddish hue of the adobe buildings (natural building material made with sand, clay, water, and some kind of fibrous or organic material). The language spoken by the residents is called Parthian Pahlavi. The village is situated on high ground along a small stream (viona” meaning willow grove), and is surrounded by a Sassanid era fort and the Castle of Haman.
The people are very conservative and have maintained their traditional costumes with the women typically wearing a white long scarf which has a colourful pattern. Most doors have two distinct door handles. The one handle is for men and the other handle for women. They have different designs and make different sounds so the inhabitants know who to send to open the door and what attire should be worn, e.g. a headscarf or not.
About 450 km south of Tehran by train is one of the greatest cities in the Middle East. Esfahan (or Isfahan), with a population of more than 3.5 million people, is probably the Iran highlight of most local and international tourists. The city is known for its good shopping (in particular madresse), churches and cathedrals, squares and streets, and other historical buildings. Out of town are many additional places of interest to explore.
This is a city where you can spend days on end and not truly experience it all. One of the greatest places to relax is at the Naqsh-e Jahan Square and along the bridges where locals will come up to you to enquire about your life. Don’t be surprized with their first questions which almost always include: “Are you married?” and “What is your job?” Seems like these two questions are essential for them to detect your social standing. Relax, they are only interested in your life.
The Khaju Bridge is arguably the finest bridge in Esfahan. It was built by the Persian Safavid dynasty king, Shāh ‘Abbās II, around 1650 on the foundations of an older bridge. It has 23 arches, has a total length of 105 m, and is 14 m wide. Another lovely bridge, the Chubi, was also built by Si-o-Seh Pol means “the bridge of 33 arches”.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque on the eastern side of Naqsh-e Jahan Square (known as Imam Square or Meidan Emam) was built between 1603 and 1618 during the reign of Shāh ‘Abbās I. It is known for its beautiful interior wall and ceilings decorated with blue, yellow, turquoise and white tiles with intricate arabesque patterns. The inscriptions on the dome was written by Ali Reza Abbasi, a famous Iranian calligrapher. The nearby Imam Mosque was also built by Shāh ‘Abbās I between 1611 and 1629. It is known for its seven-colour mosaic tiles and complex calligraphic inscriptions.
As one of the oldest mosques still standing in Iran today, the grand congregational Jāmeh Mosque went through several phases of construction and re-constructions starting around the year 770 until as recent as the end of the 20th century. The muqarnas (decorative corbels) added during the Safavid era are amongst the most beautiful in Islamic architecture.
Another beautiful building in Esfahan is the Safavid dynasty palace of Chehel Sotoon which was largely completed under Shāh ‘Abbās II. Construction started around 1598. It has 20 slender wooden columns laid out in three rows of six with two additional ones on either side of the main entrance. Some of the remaining frescoes and paintings on ceramic inside the Chehel Sotoon Palace are depicting important scenes in Esfahan from the 16th and 17th centuries. Sadly many of the ceramic panels are in the possession of major museums in western countries.
Another beautiful residence in Esfahan, built in 1669 by Shah Sulaiman, is the floorplan common in Persian architecture whereby the plan is divided into an octagonal layout of rooms surrounding a large central room.
And yet another Esfahani residence, the grand palace of Ālī Qāpū was built by decree of Shah Abbas I in the early seventeenth century and is located on the western side of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square opposite the Sheikh Lotfallah mosque. It is 48 m high and has seven floors which were constructed over a period of 70 years.
Time for shopping at the famous Esfahan kari is also applied to other dishes, vases, boxes and frames.
Hungry? In Esfahan try the huge meatballs as well as the Beryooni which is a dish made of baked mutton and lungs.
THE MUD CITY OF YAZD
From Persepolis continue in a northeastern direction to the ancient city of Cyrus (Pasargadae) and then on to the “modern” city of Yazd which is another highlight of Iran. Located in central Iran (400 km northeast of Persepolis and 730 km south of Tehran), the city of Yazd (pop. to Yazd is the impressive Shir Kuh, the tallest mountain in the region at 4,075 m. Nearby Kharanaq and Chak Chak are ancient mud-brick villages believed to be more than 1,000 years old. Chak Chak is the most sacred of the mountain shrines of Zoroastrianism in Iran.
Among the most impressive attractions of Yazd is the 15th century domed Bogheh-Fatimeh.
Being surrounded by very hot and dry deserts, Yazd is known for its “guesthouse located in an old traditional Persian house.
A short distance outside Yazd is the 1970s when they were shut down by law. Since then they either cremate or bury the dead in graves lined with rocks, and plastered with cement to prevent direct contact with the earth.
About 85 km northeast of Yazd is the ancient mud-brick village of Kharanaq. Some parts of the village old but the site has been occupied by humans for more than four thousand years. A little north of Kharanaq, nestled in the mountains and surrounded by the desert, is the small pilgrimage village of Chak Chak which houses one of the most sacred mountain shrines of Zoroastrianism.
THE DESERT OASIS OF GARMEH
Dashte-Kavir desert? Look for a tiny spot of a cluster of date trees next to a small pond of water at the feet of the nearby barren mountain.
the past 2,000 years), this settlement was on the main route of the famous Silk Road.
This village is unquestionably rich in history and you get a true sense of its history by just walking around the ancient mud buildings, arches, and alleys. The village is surrounded by date and palm trees and of course the nearby springs with fresh water. A 60 minute drive to the north enters the vast dry salt lakes which kilometer. On the way are many sand dunes, wild camels, and miles and miles of dry desert land!
FROM THE GLOBEROVERS BOOKSTORE
440 glossy pages of photographs and captions of Iran. A large area of Iran is covered all the way from the ancient mud city of Bam in the southeast to Tabriz in the far northwest. Other areas include Esfahan, Shiraz, Yazd, the Kaluts, Kerman, Kashan, Tehran, and the mountain villages of Abyaneh, Masuleh and Kandovan.
Further Reading: Globerovers blog of Iran