Tehran is a young capital for such an ancient country. In the Middles ages, it was just a small settlement by comparison with the then historic capital and University city of Rey. Tehran only came to prominence for the first time in 1759 as a result of its strategic situation, and has only been the capital of Iran since 1795. Modern Tehran is currently in conflict with its recent history and a huge modernization project. It is worth a trip however, to see some of its fascinating museums and national treasures. The following sites are recommended to visit:
Carpet Museum: an exceptional collection of more than 100 pieces from all over Iran.
National Museum: gives visitors a more global picture of the history of the country.
Glass and Ceramic Museum: not only impressive for the exhibits, but also for the building itself which is an outstanding example of 19th century Persian architecture.
National Jewels Museum: displays one of the most spectacular collections of treasures in the world
Saad Abad Complex palaces: a royal summer residence of the Qajar and Pahlavi monarchs set on a spectacular wooded mountainside.
Golestan Palace and gardens: Built during the Qajar period (1795-1925)
Reza Abassi Museum: Named after one of the great artists of the Safavid period (1502-1722), the museum contains works of different Persian miniaturist painters, from 17th century to the present day, as well as a special selection of calligraphy from ancient Qurans.
Tehran also boasts many parks, gardens, and more contemporary palaces which have now been turned into museums, and of course, the very heartbeat of the city, the labyrinth-like bazaar with its many boutiques, and hidden alleyways.
(671 km from Tehran, 308 km from Isfahan)
This “desert Town” used to be an oasis-like stopover for camel caravans. Vast irrigation schemes, which draw water from underground springs and the surrounding mountains, have made Yazd into a green and fertile town. The town is famous for its traditional clay architecture and brick wind towers, which use the breezes to provide a kind of air-conditioning system for the houses. The region also offers a number of interesting sites: the mosques from the Islamic period and the Zoroastrian monuments, many of which are still used today, most notably the “fire temples” and the “towers of silence”. Every year, Yazd attracts thousands of visitors for various religious festivals besides the Iranian New Year ( Now –Ruz, March, 21st). One of the most important Zoroastrian fire temples on a hill about 52 km outside Yazd attracts thousands of pilgrims in the month of June.
The Friday Mosque: A former Zoroastrian fire-temple, the mosque was built over several centuries, and has been known as the Friday Mosque, or Masjed Djome since 1324. It is decorated with the beautiful mosaics and magnificent Persian tiles typical of mosques in Iran.
Fire temple, Mir Chakh Magh Complex, Bazaar, Tower of silence, etc. are also recommended for sight-seeing in Yazd.
(424 km from Tehran, 480 km from Chiraz)
Isfahan was considered by western travelers of the 17th and 18th century to be one of the most beautiful cities in Iran. Jean Chardin wrote “the town is the most welcoming, hospitable and friendly town in the entire east”.
Ispahan is Iran’s third largest city after Tehran and Mashad.
Isfahan is located on the main north–south and east–west routes crossing Iran, and was once one of the largest cities in the world. It flourished from 1050 to 1722, particularly in the 16th century under the Safavid dynasty, when it became the capital of Persia for the second time in its history. Even today, the city retains much of its past glory. It is famous for its Islamic architecture, with many beautiful boulevards, covered bridges, palaces, mosques, and minarets. This led to the Persian proverb “Esfahān nesf-e jahān ast” (Isfahan is half of the world)
Under the Caliphs, it was an administrative center and the Seljuks (1037-1335) made Isfahan their capital. They built various monuments, using new building techniques and decorations which are considered to have been very architecturally advanced for the period. It was one of the most glorious episodes in Iran’s history.
Isfahan was at its peak was under the Safavid dynasty, when it reached its golden age. The careful planning of the layout of the city still makes it easy and pleasant to visit today. A large river divides the city, and the inhabitants under the Safavids, encouraged by their ruler’s love of the city, undertook the building of mosques, palaces, gardens, and bridges, thus giving Isfahan its feast of monuments. According to the famous American art-historian, Arthur Upham-Pope, there were 162 mosques in 1666, 48 religious schools, 182 caravanserais and 173 public baths in Isfahan.
The Friday mosque (1088): Originally a Zoroastrian fire-temple, the Friday mosque has undergone extensive reconstructions over the centuries and is now a magnificent brick structure. Its Mihrab, or alter piece, its ornate stucco, its columns and lawns, or arches, its courtyards surrounded by hidden cloisters, are among the masterpieces of Persian art and are precursors of Islamic architecture.
The Imam Mosque (1088): formally known as the “Shah Mosque” with its beautiful structure, tiles, ornate portals and floral geometrical decorations, dominated by a typically Persian blue color, has the reputation among many as one of the jewels of Islamic architecture. Construction of the mosque began in 1612 A.D. during the reign of Shah Abbas (1587-1629) and was finished in 1638 A.D.
Sheikh Lutfollah Mosque: According to Islamic art experts, this mosque is a masterpiece, owing mainly to its rare colors and unusual dome. Unlike most mosques, it has no minarets which suggest it may have been a private place of worship for the royal family only. Its construction dates back to 1609 and it took 17 years to build. It was named after the great Suffi, Sheikh Lutfollah.
The Tchehel Soutoun Palace (Palace of 40 columns): Although the name of the palace means “forty columns” there are in reality only twenty, a reflecting pool giving the impression that there are another twenty. This marvelous pavilion was built as reception hall for Shah Abbas in 1647. It is a simple construction with a geometrical marquetry ceiling which is complemented by elegant floral motifs.
The Ali Qapu Palace:
The location of this palace, chosen by Shah Abbas 1, is particularly significant. It directly faces the Sheikh Lutfollah mosque (an underground tunnel links the two) and to the left of the mosque formally known as the Shah mosque. From his terrace, the king and his guests could watch the polo matches played in the square and the firework displays which followed. Among the interesting aspects of the palace is its ingenious system of acoustics which was very innovative at the time. On the sixth and highest floor, hidden by the elevated portal which makes access difficult, are the beautiful artworks, chiseled out in the shape of vases and musical instruments. The other walls and the staircases are painted with Persian miniatures or decorated with stuccoes, designs reminiscent of traditional Persian rugs and paintings. The palace was partly destroyed in the Quajar Period.
The Great Central Square: This Square, known earlier as the Royal Square was built in 1612. The Imam or royal Square is flanked by monuments: the Ali Qapu palace, Imam and Sheikh Lotfollah mosque and the Bazaar. This square gives the impression of the illustration of half of the World.
Several bridges were built on the great Zayandeh River, the oldest of which dates back to the Sasanide period.
The Bridge of 33 arches, built under order of Shah Abbas 1, the Khadju Bridge, and Shahrestan Bridges are the most popular bridges in Isfahan.
The other face of Isfahan:
The city of Isfahan has always had a reputation for being tolerant and there is a considerable minority of both Jewish and Armenians who live there. These minorities exist in harmony with the other communities and are free to practice their businesses or are involved in handicrafts. The Christians, persecuted and chased away by the Turks were welcomed by Shah Abbas 1 who guaranteed them the freedom to practice their religion, in return for their contribution to the prosperity of the city. They came in large numbers and began the construction of houses, churches, roads, and bridges. The most significant of their churches is the Cathedral built between 1606 and 1664, Saint Sauveur “Vank”. It is the historical focal-point of the Armenian community in Iran. The interior is richly decorated in a mixture of styles including Christian European biblical scenes.
In short, Isfahan is a city of great harmony of different styles and different ages. Its people will extend you a courteous and warm welcome, and an expression says “Isfahan is the half of the World”. So let’s go visit Isfahan, the half of the World.
(240 km south of Tehran, 220 km north of Isfahan)
Kashan is famous for its tiles (kashi), its silks and carpets. Distillation of rose-water is a specialty of Ghamsar, a distinct area of the town very well-known in Iran.
Kashan has an archaeological history dating back 7000 years. A favorite haunt of the Safavids kings, the town had a wealth of master builders, architects and craftsmen who served the court for three centuries. The town’s famous garden (bagh Fine) was the scene of the assassination of a great Prime Minister of the Qajar period, Amir Kabir. Various recently-restored beautiful private houses have been turned into museums and are very representative of the Persian classic style.
(895 km, south of Tehran)
Capital of the Fars province and situated in the heart of Iran, this region gave its name to the Fars or Persian language.
A city of historic monuments, poets, philosophers, and kings, beautifully scented roses, orchids, orange trees and vines. Shiraz is a must on any visit to Iran.
Shiraz is an extremely hospitable city with a long tradition of welcoming visitors. The best periods for tourist visits are from February to May and October to November.
The Zandieh Complex: (Prospective World Heritage Site) with the imposing structure of Karim Khan Citadel dominating the city centre.
Quran Gate: a monumental gateway to Shiraz to bless travelers before they embark on a journey
Eram Garden: a delightful garden centered on a reflecting pool by a charming 19th-century pavilion.
Old Jami‘Mosque: contains a unique structure in its courtyard with outstanding brick calligraphy on turquoise background dating back to 14th century.
Tomb of Hafez: the pre-eminent master of Persian lyric poetry whose heart (cup) is filled with the love (wine) of the Beloved (God).
Tomb of Saadi: the highest figure in classical Persian literature, and the creator of two of the world’s greatest literary masterpieces
Narenjestan Museum: a pavilion richly decorated with a breathtaking combination of decorative elements
Nasir ol-Mulk Mosque: a unique mosque renowned for its architectural techniques and decorative themes.
Pasargad: The first capital of the Archaemenians, situated 130 km North-west of Shiraz, where there is the tomb of Cyrus the great, constructed on a stone plinth.
The Palace of Persepolis: The palace of Persepolis, built over a period of 100 years, where Darius 1 received foreign dignitaries to celebrate the New Year. Persepolis is situated 60 km from Shiraz; it is the best-known archaeological site in Iran.
The tombs of Naqshe – Rostam: (7 Km North-west of Persepolis): final resting place of the Archaemenian kings.
(1062 Km south of Tehran)
The name Kerman is probably derived from its inhabitants, the Germanioi, mentioned by Herodotus. The Town is situated close to Dasht-e-Lut desert from which it is separated by a range of mountains. Although this region is situated in a desert, its pistachio nuts are famous around the world. The most well-known crafts of the region are the local leather industry and silk embroidery. The main highlights include:
Ganj-Ali Khan Ensemble, located at a wonderfully frescoed intersection of two main lines of arcades, with caravanserais, a teahouse, and a traditional hammam, today transformed into a museum
Shrine of Shah Nematollah Vali: built in 1436 and embellished and extended by Shah Abbas, set in a delightful garden evoking great harmony, and Iran’s most splendid Islamic monument outside Isfahan.
Jabbalieha: mysterious, octagonal stone structure with a brick dome, whose function is unknown, in a picturesque setting at the foot of the mountains.
Rayen Citadel: a residential fortress and the largest mud structure of the wider region comprising thick imposing outer walls, public quarter, gymnasium, mosque, barracks, and governor’s quarter.
Jami‘ Mosque of Kerman: the well-preserved 14th century monument with four lofty Iwans of shimmering blue tiles and without minarets, extensively modernized during the Safavid period and later.
Bam and its Cultural Landscape: (World Heritage Site), a vivid impression of a fortified medieval town, a testimony to the development of a settlement known for its underground irrigation canals (quanat).
Shazdeh Garden: an attractive, rectangular green oasis and one of the finest examples of historical Persian garden style, ornamented with cascades, a monumental entrance and a residential pavilion
Shrine of Moshtaq Ali Shah: an attractive mausoleum dedicated to a Sufi mystic renowned for his singing and ability with the setar, a musical instrument with three cords.
(400 Km south west of Tehran)
The province of Hamadan is in a fertile region known for its fruit trees and cereals. The modern town of Hamadan, which was the Medes capital (722 B.C), is one the most important archaeological cities west of Tehran, and could be one of the unforgettable souvenirs of your trip to Iran. The main highlights include:
Hegmataneh Ensemble: (Prospective World Heritage Site), once the center of the Median and later the Persian Empires with remains of ancient palaces and great temples
Ganjnameh: the famous trilingual inscriptions in praise of Ahuramazda engraved in stone on the pleasant slopes of Mount Alvand and recording the legacy of Darius and Xerxes
Tomb of Esther and Mordecai: a Jewish shrine surrounded by a charming garden, a place of pilgrimage for many Jewish people
Tomb of IbnSina: known in the West by his Latinized name Avicenna, the foremost thinker and philosopher that Persia has ever produced, and one of the greatest medical scholars in human history
Alavyan Tomb Tower: one of the supreme examples of early Seljuk art in Iran, with whirling floral stucco and a fine selection of other designs rendered in stucco.
The capital of the province of Kermanshah is mainly populated by Kurds and is a major cultural and commercial centre in Western Iran.
Tagh-e Bostan: (Prospective World Heritage Site), the Sassanid splendor contained in two magnificent grottos of fine Persian sculpture depicting royal hunting scenes, true narrative murals in stone and almost pictographic in detail
TekkiyeMo’avenol-Molk: a dome decorated with an amazing amalgamation of images from the great Karbala battle, Quranic scenes, pre-Islamic deities, Shahnameh kings, European villages and local notables in 19th-century costumes.
Bisotun: (World Heritage Site), cut on a high cliff remains intact as one of the most prominent sites in Near-Eastern archaeology, with the famous bas-relief portraying the Achaemenid king Darius I (r. 522-486) commemorating his victory over his rivals.
Temple of Anahita at Kangavar: (Prospective World Heritage Site), a major sanctuary dedicated to the Anahita built of enormous blocks of dressed stone of Iranian construction techniques, according to new historical sources and archaeological evidence.
The other provinces of Iran merit visiting, at least once.