Travel to Iran

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Visit our guides to Iran's major cities and tourist destinations including Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz and Yazd. Get the essential when and where and how to get there in our Iran travel section including information on buses, trains, tours, visas and important telephone numbers in Iran.



TRHTAN

For better or for worse, Tehran is the political, economic and cultural capital of Iran
Clogged with traffic and choked with smog, it's not the most immediately inviting of Iran's cities - no spellbinding mosques, rose gardens or ancient ruins - but visitors will find more on offer the closer they look. From ancient artefacts to modern art, Qurans to carpets, Tehran is home to the best of Iran's museums and galleries
And though it doesn't have the long, illustrious history of Isfahan or Shiraz, Tehran is where to discover more about Iran's 20th century upheavals, from the tarnished grandeur of the Pahlavi palaces to the countless fading murals in praise of Khomeini and the Iraq War martyrs. But history also demands that life goes on
As Tehran's wealthy increasingly look west for cultural leads, ever-widening cultural divisions make walking the city streets a study in social distinctions. Western brands stamp their mark on the wealthy north of the city with increasing swagger, while, in the south, the impressive, labyrinthine Bazar-e Bozorg (Big Bazaar) continues to heave in and dish out vast quantities of gold, silver, spices, carpets, textiles and Chinese-made consumer goods of dubious quality
Uptown girls let their headscarves drift back over boutique hairdos - a petty but pertinent sign that Islamic restrictions are not to everyone's taste
At the same time chador-wearing women make their own unmistakable statement. Be sure though to take a Friday walk in Tehran's northern suburbs, where paths leading into the mountains are trod by one and all
In Darakeh, the sense of relief is tangible as Tehranis kick off their shoes to cool hiked-out feet in the cold mountain stream.
Azadi Tower
This distinctively shaped arch is situated in the western part of Tehran near Mehrabat International Airport. The word Azadi means national independence and it was completed in 1971 for the celebrations given by Mohammad Reza Shah to commemorate 2,500 years of Iranian Kings. The 3 floor, 45 meter high monument is constructed from large 25,000 granite blocks from Hamedan province
Almost 15,000 differently shaped blocks were used to create the unique shape of the Azadi Tower. Though modern in style, the design incorporates both pre and post-Islamic architectural styles
The 21m high archway is representative of the pre-Islamic Sassanid period while it is also pointed to represent hands raised in prayer. Four elevators and two staircases (286 stairs) take you to the top of the tower from where you can see extensive views of Tehran
In the basement is a museum divided into two rooms. The first contains pottery and glassware from prehistoric through to Islamic Iran as well as bronze artefacts dating back to the 1st and 2nd centuries BC excavated from Lurestan
The second room contains photographs and models depicted traditional life from different parts of Iran. For a full list of Tehran's places of interest click here
National Jewels Museum
Located in the basement of the National Bank of Iran on Ferdosi Avenue, in front of the embassies of Germany and Turkey, this is one of the best known museums in Iran
On display is an impressive collection of some of the most famous and spectacular jewels in the world including many priceless pieces. Many pieces have disappeared over the years but the remaining collection of gemstones, jewellery, royal emblems, ornamental guns and jewel-encrusted furniture is still impressive
The majority of the items on display were given to Safavid kings as gifts but many pieces taken by Nader Shah on his conquest of India are also exhibited
These include the Darya-e Nur diamond, The Peacock Throne and the Jeweled Globe
Other pieces include the crowns of the Qajar and Pahlavi Kings.
The National Museum of Iran (Museum of Ancient Iran)
Opened in 1937, the National Museum was Iran's very first museum
To this day it houses Irans foremost collection of archaeological and cultural treasures
The main entrance is on Tir Street but it can also be entered from Shahid ra Jai Street. The museum was designed (and until 1960, also curated) by the French archaeologist and architect Andre Godard
The two-floor building was built to resemble the palace of Ardeshir I in Firuzabad and the red brick entranceway and dome are reminiscent of the Sassanid and Arsakid styles. The main building houses a collection of artefacts from prehistoric Iran to the end of the Sassanid period, including pottery dating from before 1000BC, Elamite artefacts discovered at Susa and Chogha Zambil and a wealth of Achaemenid period decorations from Persepolis
A copy of the stela carved with Hammurabi's Laws serves as a reminder that the original, now in the Louvre, was discovered in Iran. An extension built in 1997 houses treasures from the early years of the Islamic era to the present
At the heart of the collection are handwritten copies of the Holy Quran displayed in an atmosphere of quiet reverence and spirituality along with other complementary elements of a mosque, such as an altar prayer chamber. Other handwritten books include the poetic works of Ferdowsi, Nezami Sadi and Hafez
The uppers floors of the building chart the flourishing of Iranian art in fields such as pottery, glassware, miniature painting, carpets, metal engravings and calligraphy.
Golestan Palace
Located on Khordad Square, the Golestan Palace ("Palace of Flowers") is a collection of buildings set in a walled park veined with canals rushing down from the Tochal mountains
It stands on the site of the historic Arg (citadel) of Tehran which was originally built in the time of Shah Abbas (r
1588-1629) of the Safavid dynasty. The Arg became the official royal residence when Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar moved the capital of Iran to Tehran and further palace buildings were constructed during the reign of Karim Khan Zand (r
1750-1779)
Buildings commissioned by Naser Al-din Shah (r
1848-1896), such as the Shams-ol-Emaneh ("Edifice of the Sun") and the Emarat-e Badgir ("Building of the Wind Towers") show traces of a European architectural style that the modernising king was influenced by on his travels. The splendour of the interiors of many of the buildings evokes a time when foreign dignitaries were invited to the Qajar court and compared its artistry to the royal buildings of Europe
Both the Eyvan-e Takht-e Marmar ("Terrace of the Marble Throne") and the Talar-e Aineh ("Hall of Mirrors") are famous for the spectacular mirror work that covers their walls. Elsewhere can be seen fine examples of Iranian stained glass, mosaic tiles and painting
Several buildings house collections of paintings and gifts given to Qajar kings by European dignitaries as well as paintings by Iranian masters. Though not all of the buildings are open to the public, the park itself is an oasis of calm in the heart of the city. Jomeh Bazaar (Friday Market) Tehran's Jomeh Bazaar (Friday Market) has a huge variety of bric-a-brac on display
The Friday Market is held on three floors of a multi-storey car park in central Tehran, on the east side of Joumbouri Avenue
The flea market is open every Friday from around 9am to 4pm. Other tourist attractions in Tehran Carpet Museum - Laleh Park
Not far from the Museum of Contemporary Art and also adjacent to Laleh Park, the Carpet Museum of Iran is one of the most rewarding to visit of Tehran's many museums
Most of the more than 100 carpets on display are from the 19th or 20th centuries but there are a handful of older specimens from as far back as the 16th century. Photography is permitted though use of flash is not
Hunting and wildlife scenes show off the carpet makers art to the greatest extent. Corner of Fatemi Street and Kargar Avenue; Admission fee Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art - Laleh Park On the west side the very lovely Laleh Park is a low-lying dun-brick building functioning as Tehran's most important museum of contemporary art.
In the construction itself you see something of the struggle in all Iranian art to reconcile the traditional with the modern
First notice the skylights raised from the roof
Reminiscent of the "badgirs" of Yazd or Kashan, these allow the harsh sun to softly light the central sunken well of inner space itself a modern interpretation of the cool underground havens of desert city residences. Labyrinthine corridors spin off the central hall and guide you through the history of modern Iranian art
There are many fine pieces and some deep, absurdly comfortable armchairs from which to view them from. Kargar Avenue; Admission fee Reza Abbasi Museum - Shariati street Saad Abad Palace Complex Niavaran Palace Museum Accommodation in Tehran Tehran, as befits the capital of Iran is well served with accommodation options to suit all budgets from five star luxury properties to more budget small hotels. Top of the range four and five hotels in Tehran include the Espinas Hotel, the Tehran Grand Hotel, with spa, sauna and in-house restaurant, the Ferdowsi International Grand Hotel offering flat-screen TV in all rooms and a restaurant, the Asareh Hotel with fitness center, sauna and free Wifi throughout and the Melal Apartment Hotel
The Tajmahal Hotel Tehran is another five star option with a fitness center, sauna, satellite TV and restaurant. More budget hotels include the Iran Motel (breakfast included), the Sepand Hotel with airport shuttle, and the three star Karoon Hotel
The Hally Hotel is a 3 star business hotel with continental or buffet breakfast. See here for a full listing of hotels in Tehran. Access - Getting To Tehran Tehran is the main access point for international flights in to Iran and the central transport hub for the whole country
It is possible to get to just about anywhere in Iran by beginning your journey in Tehran
A number of major carriers offer plane tickets to Iran's capital. There are daily flights to most of Iran's major cities with either Iran Air or Iran Aseman including Esfahan, Shiraz, Ahvaz, Mashhad, Kerman and Bandar-e Abbas. There are regular buses to Esfahan (7 hours), Hamadan (5 hours), Kermanshah (9 hours), Rasht (6 hours), Mashhad (14 hours), Tabriz (10 hours) and Yazd (10 hours). Tehran has four bus stations: the Central Bus Station (Tel: 873 2535), a shared taxi (savari) ride from Mossallah Metro Station, the Eastern Bus Station (Tel: 786 8080) with buses to the Caspian coast and Khorasan Province, the Southern Bus Station (Tel: 559 163) accessible from the Terminal e jonoub Metro Station and the Western Bus Station (Tel: 606 28554), a short walk from Tehran Metro Station, has more buses to the Caspian and international buses to Azerbaijan, Turkey and Syria. There are regular trains from Tehran's main train station on Rah-Ahan Square in the south of the city
Daily trains depart for Ahvas, Bandar-e Abbas, Esfahan, Kerman, Mashhad, Qom, Tabriz and Yazd. Getting Around Tehran
The Tehran Metro is clean, cheap and an efficient way to travel around the city
Subway station names are written in both English and Farsi, though announcements are only in Farsi
There are also women-only carriages
The existing subway system has greatly enlarged but visitors will also have to rely on more expensive private and shared taxis. The city's buses services are cheap but there are no signs or bus route maps in English.



Ahvaz

Ahvaz has little to recommend it as a tourist destination in its own right being a sprawling industrial city centred on the nearby oilfields of Masjed-e Soleiman
However, there is a good international class hotel, a few mosques of note and its possible to enjoy a boat trip on the Karun River.
Of more interest to tourists are the two ancient cities of Shush (Susa), Shustar and the ziggarat at Choqa Zanbil. Shush (Susa) & Choqa Zanbil Now a small, pleasant town, Shush (Susa; biblical Shushan) dates from 4000 years BC and was an strategic Elamite city and a regional capital of the Achaemenid Empire
The town also thrived in the Seleucid, Parthian and Sassanian periods and was an important center of the Christian faith in the 4th century
The city was gradually abandoned during the Mongol invasions. The ruins of ancient city site (small entrance fee) lie to the south of the modern town
At the entrance is the Chateau de Morgan, a fortress built to defend French archeologists working on the site at the turn of the 20th century
The ruins of the ancient citadel include a bare 1 foot high (30 cm) wall of the Palace of Darius dating from 521 BC and two huge stones from the base of the royal apadana (reception hall). Shush's other main attraction is the Tomb of Daniel, the supposed final remains of the biblical, probably mythical, Daniel, an official in the service of King Darius (522-486BC)
Ancient Shush, known as Susa, was also the birthplace of Esther - the biblical saviour of the Jews in the time of their captivity in 6th century BC
The town prospered as a Jewish pilgrimage site for over a thousand years throughout the first millennium until the arrival of the Mongols in the thirteenth century
The tomb visitors see today was built in 1871. Choqa Zanbil & Haft Tappeh The Elamite city of Haft Tappeh is a suggested primer for the ziggurats of Choqa Zanbil 25 km away
The ruins of Haft Tappeh ("seven hills") are now over 3,000 years old
The UNESCO-funded museum (admission fee) exhibits the main archaeological finds and offers an explanation of the ancient city and its excavation. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Choqa Zanbil (admission fee) includes a huge 105m-sided brick ziggurat of the Elamite period
The structure, built by King Untash Gal, served as a temple dedicated to the god Inshushinak, until its destruction in 640BC
The well-preserved brickwork contains cuneiform (the world's first alphabet) inscriptions
The site around the ziggurat contains evidence of the early qanat water channels that brought water from an incredible 45 km away. Shushtar The pleasant, riverside city of Shushtar near to the ziggurat at Choqa Zanbil was an historic irrigation center and indeed the towns main attractions are its 700-year old water chutes (admission fee)
Shushtar also has a number of interesting imamzadehs (shrines) and mosques. Access - Getting To Ahvaz There are daily flights from Ahvas to Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad and international connections to Kuwait and Dubai. There are buses to many destinations including Tehran (15 hours), Esfahan (14 hours), Hamadan (9 hours), Kermanshah (9 hours) and Khoramabad (6 hours). There are also overnight trains to Tehran (approximately 15-17 hours).



Alamut

Located near Qazvin in the Alborz mountains, the fortress of Alamut (الموت) is famous for being the one time stronghold of the mysterious Ismaili sect, also known in the West as the Assassins
Legend has it that the strategic location of the castle was revealed to a Daylami king by an eagle hence the name Alamut which means either "Eagles Nest" or "Revealed by an Eagle".
History
Whatever the truth, Alamut was built in 860 and infiltrated by Hassan Sabbah of the Ismailis in 1090
A bloodless coup established Alamut as the focus of Ismaili opposition to the ruling Seljuk dynasty
Hulagu Khan succeeded in taking the stronghold in 1256 and destroyed many buildings including the famous library
Alamut was restored under the Safavids who used it as a prison until the 18th century after which it was abandoned to looters and the elements. Little remains of the once formidable structure except the crumbling ruins of two courtyards, living spaces, food storerooms, meeting halls and a mosque
Visitors can however appreciate the dramatic mountain location and the traditional village life of nearby Gazorkhan
Accommodation is either camping by nearby Lake Evan or shared rooms in a guest house
Access is by 4-wheel drive vehicle and then light trekking
An experienced guide is recommended.
Hiking in Alamut
The Alamut Valley is a well-known for its excellent hiking in summer
Attractions on the hikes include visiting caves, castles of the Assassins (Alamut Castle in Gazorkhan & Lambsar Castle), canyons, rivers, picturesque villages, caravanserai and summits higher than 4100 meters. Some of the treks include Garmarud to Yuj, Haniz to Asal Mahalle, Hir to Argah, and Noudeh to Siahkal
It is also possible to hike to the Caspian Sea. Other places that can be visited on foot include Andej canyon, Ovan Lake, Hir village, Kuchen village, Atan village, Sefid ab cave, Milak cave and Garmarud waterfall. Visit www.alamutvalley.com for information on trekking in the region with an experienced guide. Access - Getting To Alamut There are frequent buses from Qazvin to Tehran (3 hours) with fewer buses to Hamadan, Kermanshah, Rasht and Mashhad. There are also trains to Tehran, Zanjan and Tabriz.



Azerbaijan

Iranian Azerbaijan consists of the three provinces of the country's northwest tip; West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan and Ardebil
Bordering Turkey in the West and The Republic of Azerbaijan and Armenia in the North, the population of Iranian Azerbaijan is mainly Azeri with important Armenian and Kurdish minorities
The primary language of the region is Azeri, which is akin to modern Turkish
Apart from the predominantly Christian Armenian population, Azerbaijan shares the religion of Shii Islam with the majority of Iran. The region is mountainous, with most of the area situated over 1000 meters above sea level and many peaks exceeding 3000 meters in height
Lake Orumieh, a shallow salt lake some 5000 square km in area, is sandwiched between West and East Azerbaijan provinces and is Iran's largest lake after the Caspian Sea.
A small island in the middle of the lake is protected as a wildlife reserve for migrating birds including pelicans and flamingos
The climate of the region is hot and dry in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter with heavy snowfall
However, abundant water supplies make Azerbaijan one of the most important agricultural regions in Iran. Ardebil (Ardabil) City Situated on a high plateau approximately 1400 meters above sea level, the city of Ardebil has a history dating back to the time of Piruz Shah of the Sassanids (459-484)
For centuries Ardebil was an important trading post between Russia and the Middle East before the rise of the modern state of Iran. Captured by the Arabs in 642 and destroyed by the Mongols in 1220, Ardebil was briefly the capital of Azerbaijan during the 10th century before being superseded by Tabriz
During the Russo-Iranian war of 1828-30, Ardebil was occupied by Russian troops and many important sites were damaged and historical treasures looted. Ardebil was the spiritual birthplace of Iran's first Shiite ruling dynasty, the Safavids
During the period from the end of the 13th century to the beginning of the 14th, a Sunni Dervish named Safi Al-Din founded the "Safavieh", an order of Sufi mystics who later converted to Shiism and established themselves in opposition to the ruling Mongol dynasty. Over the next century, the order grew increasingly powerful and militant, culminating in 1501 with the successful conquest of Azerbaijan, and soon after, the whole of Iran by the young Shah Ismail I, a descendant of Sheikh Safi Al-Din. The main historical attraction of the city of Ardebil is the mausoleum complex of Sheikh Safi Al-Din where Shah Ismail I and many of his descendents were also buried
The shrine was an important site of pilgrimage throughout the Safavid period (1501-1722) and underwent numerous improvements and embellishments to become one of the most beautiful of all Safavid monuments. The floor of the shrine to Sheikh Safi od-Din is covered with a reproduction of the most famous carpet in the world – the Ardebil Carpet.
Tabriz
The city of Tabriz is the capital of East Azerbaijan province and is one of the most important economic and political centres of modern Iran
Until the 1970's it was also Iran's second largest city after Tehran
Modern Tabriz is known for being particularly welcoming to foreign travellers and its younger generation have a good a command of English
Tabriz is situated north of the beautiful Mt
Sahand at an altitude of 1340 meters on a plain surrounded on three sides by mountains. The plain slopes gently down to the northern part of lake Orumieh which is approximately 60 km to the West
A pleasantly mild summer climate makes it a popular getaway for Iranians living in the sun-baked interior and snowy winters bring large numbers of winter sports enthusiasts. Though periodically plagued by earthquakes and war, the city of Tabriz has enjoyed times of great prosperity during Iran's history
The oldest records mentioning Tabriz are Assyrian stone tablets dating back to the 3rd and 4th centuries BC
They name a castle town which historians believe occupied the same site as the modern city though it may well be that Tabriz has an even longer history than this suggests. Tabriz was the capital of Azerbaijan in the 3rd century AD and also under the Mongol Ilkhanid dynasty (1256-1353) when a great number of artists, craftsmen and philosophers migrated to the city
In 1392 the town was sacked by Tamerlane but was soon restored to its former glory under Turkman rule
Tabriz was also the capital of Iran from the beginning of the Safavid period until Shah Tahmasp I relocated to Qazvin in order to rule at a greater distance from Ottoman Turkey. From this time until the modern period the city was fought over by Iranians, Ottomans and Russians and was even occupied by the Russians on several occasions in the 19th and 20th centuries
Tabriz began to re-establish itself as a major city when Iran opened up its relations with the West in the second half of the 20th century, once again becoming an important centre of trade and commerce.
Masjed-e Kabud (Blue Mosque)
Despite being heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1776, the Masjed-e Kabud (completed in 1465) remains one of Iran's most celebrated mosques
The plan, unique in Iran, consists of a square central chamber topped with a dome and framed on three sides by nine domed bays making it more akin to the Ottoman mosques of Turkey than traditional Iranian constructions. Extensive reconstruction in the 1950s and 1960s has restored the mosque in form but it is the fragments of original tile work that really evoke its former grandeur
The deep blue colour of the tiles which gives the mosque its name was achieved with generous use of cobalt
On this lustrous background were painted delicate arabesques and calligraphic designs in gold and white
These tiles once covered the dome and all the interior walls.
Bazaar-e Tabriz
Visitors throughout history have been amazed, delighted and shocked in equal numbers by the teeming splendour of the Bazaar of Tabriz and though its high vaulted ceilings do not ring with the raucous din that would have been heard in past centuries, its tarnished beauty is vivid testament to the importance of commerce in the history of this city. This is one of the oldest and largest bazaars in the Middle East occupying an area of 1 square km with numerous caravanserais, mosques and schools accompanying the countless shops, warehouses and workshops that line the dusty concourses
The current bazaar dates from the late 18th century but its history goes back the 15th
Like all Iranian bazaars, the bazaar of Tabriz is divided into sections according to products and services, being particularly well known for silverware, jewellery, spices and, of course, carpets. Kelisa Dare Sham (Church of St
Stephanos) The Kelisa Darre Sham (Church of St
Stephanos) is situated near the city of Jolfa near the Azerbaijan border
Set in dramatic mountain scenery, this church and working monastery was founded by the Armenian King Ashot in the 9th century though it is said that a church occupied this site as early as the first century AD. Its oldest parts date back to the 14th century with the main building having been rebuilt in the late 16th century after being destroyed by an earthquake
The church is built in the style of Armenian or Georgian architecture with a bell tower and a cylindrical tower with a conical roof though archways featuring stalactite work are reminiscent of Persian mosque architecture
The exquisitely preserved exterior reliefs feature religious imagery such as angels and Armenian crosses. Urartu Bastam Palace Situated 50 km east of the Turkish border and some 50 km north of the city of Khoy are the ruins of a mountaintop citadel constructed by the civilisation of Urartu who came to ascendancy in the area during the first millennium B.C
Clay tablets found at the site indicate that the ancient name of the citadel was Rusai Uru-Tur and that it was completed sometime between 685-645 B.C. The palace was captured and destroyed sometime in the 6th century B.C
Excavations by German archaeologists conducted between 1967-1978 revealed the foundations and remains of a three-level construction including palaces, a large hall with many columns, a temple, storehouses, garrisons, stables and a defensive wall
All the constructions were built using sun-dried mud bricks on high stone foundations. Qar-e Kelisa (The Black Church) The Qar-e Kelisa (The Black Church), also known as the Church of St
Thaddaeus is situated in foothills near the city of Siyah Cheshme
It is said that the disciple Thaddaeus (also known as Jude) was allowed to preach in the Armenian city of Edessa after healing the local king. The city of Edessa became the first Christian city and a church was constructed in 68 A.D
- only the second ever in the short history of Christianity
The dark stone domed sanctuary from which the church gets its name dates back to the 10th or 11th century while the main body of the church is a pale sandstone construction. This larger section, consisting of a 12 sided drum supporting a tent dome, was rebuilt after the church was damaged by an earthquake in 1319
Further additions were made in the 19th century
Reliefs typical of early Armenian churches decorate the outer walls
Some depict religious imagery such as effigies of saints and angels while others show battle scenes, hunting scenes and floral, geometric and arabesque patterns. The inscription over the entrance gate reads "Abbas Mirza" the name of the general sent to the region by Nasser Al-Din Shah to fight the Russians
Today, the church is a working convent and still attracts Armenian Christian pilgrims from all over Iran. Takht-e Soleiman (Zendan-e Soleiman) Takht-e Suleiman (Throne of Solomon) is one of Iran's most important ancient holy sites and was added to the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage Sites in 2003
Some say that the prophet Zoroaster himself may have been born here. Situated in a mountainous area 30 km north of the town of Takab in West Azerbaijan province is a small lake 120 meters in depth fed by a spring deep in the underlying rock
Excavations around this lake revealed a the ruins of a religious complex with a history dating back to Achaemenid times
Since its foundation in about 500 B.C
the site was added to by Parthian, Sassanian and, later, Mongol rulers. During Sassanian times, the square compound to the north of the lake contained extensive temple facilities to accommodate large numbers of pilgrims
These included a Zoroastrian fire temple reserved for the use of high ranking soldiers and members of the royal court and a temple dedicated to Anahita, the god of water, as well as a large hall for royal ceremonies
Much of the 13m high perimeter wall with its 38 towers can still be seen. The site declined rapidly in importance after being destroyed by the Romans during the reign of Khosro II (590-628)
After several centuries of neglect, the site was revived under Mongol occupation and the fire temple and Western Iwan were rebuilt
3 km to the west of Takht-e Suleiman is a hollow conical mountain some 100 meters high with an 80 meter deep hole in the centre
Known as Zendan-e Suleiman (Prison of Solomon), a number of shrines and temples dating back to the 1st millennium B.C
have been excavated around its peak. Maragheh City located to the south of Mt
Sahand with a history dating back to the late 8th-early 9th century
Currently the trade and transportation centre of a fertile fruit-growing region
The name Maragheh refers to the excellent grazing land of the surrounding area to which the Mongols brought their countless horses. So important did the city become to the Mongols that it was made capital of Azerbaijan for a period before Hulagu Khan relocated it to Tabriz
The city is well known as the site of an astronomical observatory built in 1259 by the astrology-addicted Hulagu Khan at the behest of his minister, the astronomer, mathematician and poet, Nasir Al-Din Tusi
Earthquakes and neglect from the 14th century onwards have left little but ruined walls of this once famous construction. Much better preserved are four brick tower tombs, the oldest of which is the Gombad-e Sorgh ("Red Tower"), dating from 1147
Built on a square plan with red bricks laid to create geometric patterns, this tower is the first building in Iran to use decorative blue tiles
The ceiling of the inner hall is octagonal in shape and topped with a dome
Holes and windows were placed with mathematical precision in order to catch sunlight and moonlight at equinoxes and at certain times of day. The Gombad-e Kabud ("Blue Tower") dates from 1196
This tower was once believed to be the resting place of the mother of Hulagu Khan but historians now doubt this
The tower has an octagonal base with stone foundations and brick walls
Each of its eights sides is decorated with elaborate geometric patterns as if it was a mehrab
The current roof is a somewhat makeshift replacement for a previously more elaborate design. Tabriz Access Tabriz has regular flights to Tehran and weekly departures to Mashhad. There are buses to Tehran (10 hours), Esfahan (16 hours), Kermanshah (11 hours), Rasht (8 hours), and Shiraz (24 hours). There are also international buses departing from Imam Khomeini Square for Yerevan in Armenia, Baku in Azerbaijan and Istanbul, Turkey. There are trains from Tabriz's train station behind Imam Khomeini Square in the west of the city
Overnight trains depart for Tehran, via Qazvin and Zanjan.



Ardebil

Situated on a high plateau approximately 1400 meters above sea level, the city of Ardabil (Ardebil; اردبیل‎) has a history dating back to the time of Piruz Shah of the Sassanids (459-484)
For centuries Ardebil was an important trading post between Russia and the Middle East before the rise of the modern state of Iran. History Captured by the Arabs in 642 and destroyed by the Mongols in 1220, Ardebil was briefly the capital of Azerbaijan during the 10th century before being superseded by Tabriz
During the Russo-Iranian war of 1828-30, Ardebil was occupied by Russian troops and many important sites were damaged and historical treasures looted. Ardebil was the spiritual birthplace of Iran's first Shiite ruling dynasty, the Safavids
During the period from the end of the 13th century to the beginning of the 14th, a Sunni Dervish named Safi Al-Din founded the "Safavieh", an order of Sufi mystics who later converted to Shiism and established themselves in opposition to the ruling Mongol dynasty. Over the next century, the order grew increasingly powerful and militant, culminating in 1501 with the successful conquest of Azerbaijan, and soon after, the whole of Iran by the young Shah Ismail I, a descendant of Sheikh Safi Al-Din
The main historical attraction of the city of Ardebil is the mausoleum complex of Sheikh Safi Al-Din where Shah Ismail I and many of his descendants were also buried
The shrine was an important site of pilgrimage throughout the Safavid period (1501-1722) and underwent numerous improvements and embellishments to become one of the most beautiful of all Safavid monuments.
Ardebil Carpet
The floor of the shrine to Sheikh Safi od-Din in Ardebil, northwest Iran, is covered with a reproduction of the most famous carpet in the world - the Ardebil Carpet. Facts about the Ardebil Carpet Originally woven as a pair in either 1540 or 1586 making it one of the oldest carpets still in existence. The carpets were commissioned by Shah Tahmasp (1514-1576) who ruled Iran from the age of 10
They would have taken about 4 years to complete. They covered the floor of the Sheikh Safi Shrine for 3 centuries before being bought by a British traveller in 1890. They each measure 10.5 meters by 5 meters and contain some 30 million knots. The lamps at either end of the design are different sizes to create an illusion of perspective - this is because they were intended to be viewed primarily from one side. The 19th century British designer and socialist William Morris called it "the finest eastern carpet I have seen"
It was he who persuaded the Victoria & Albert Museum and public donors to raise £2,000 to purchase it - at the time an enormous sum. It is thought that the V&A Ardebil was restored using parts of its twin. The V&A carpet has recently been laid on the floor for the first time in over a century as the centerpiece of the new Jameel Gallery of Islamic art
The room in which it is displayed is fully lit for only 10 minutes every half hour. The sister carpet was purchased in 1931 by J
Paul Getty who later donated it to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Modern carpet weavers were paid 100,000,000 Tomans to reproduce it for display at the Ardebil Shrine. There is a copy of the Ardebil carpet in 10 Downing Street and Adolf Hitler had a copy in his Berlin office. Both of the original carpets are signed and dated with an ode by the 14th century poet Hafez: I have no refuge in this world other than thy threshold
My head has no resting place other than this doorway. Access - Getting To Ardebil There are flights from Ardabil Airport, 11 km from the city center, to Tehran and Tabriz. There are buses to Tehran via Astara (1.5 hours to Astara), Tabriz (4 hours), Qazvin (7 hours) and Rasht (4 hours).



Bam

Situated on the outskirts of the Dasht e Lut desert around 200 km south of Kerman, Bam was one of the wonders of the ancient world and a major tourist attraction until the tragic earthquake of December 2003 which destroyed much of the mud-brick structures of the oasis citadel as well as the modern city of Bam. A donkey being used in the reconstruction of Bam, Iran
History
Dating back to at least the Sassanian period of the third century AD and probably founded in the third century BC, the city, was largely built in the Safavid period (1502-1722), and was constructed of mud bricks and clay, reinforced with palm trunks and straw
The city, though situated in such an arid region, has supplies of subterranean water which allow for extensive cultivation, including dates and citrus fruits. The once-prosperous city and the its walled fortress the Arg-e Bam was a major staging post on the Silk Road trade route between Asia and Europe
At its pomp, the city had between 9,000 - 13,000 inhabitants, 38 towers guarding its impressive walls and an important Zoroastrian fire temple
Before the massive earthquake (6.5 on the Richter scale), complete mud-brick houses, schools, mosques and bathhouses stood as they had done for centuries. Bam, as a living city, began to decline with the invasion of the Afghans in the early 18th century and was abandoned around 150 years ago, serving as an army barracks until restoration work began in the 1950's. Restoration work has begun again not just for the ancient citadel but for the new town that had grown up around it.
Access - Getting To Bam
There are infrequent flights from Bam's small airport to Tehran. There are buses to many destinations including Tehran (21 hours), Esfahan (11 hours), Kerman (3 hours), Bandar-e Abbas and Zahedan (4 hours). Bam is linked by rail to Tehran, Kerman and Qom.



Caspian coastline

The Caspian coastline is one of the most popular destinations for Iran's domestic tourists
Sandy beaches give way to wide open steppes, thickly forested foothills and eventually the bare peaks of the Alborz mountain range
For many Iranians, especially those from Tehran, the lush vegetation and spectacular natural scenery, along with the tropical summers and mild winters, offer a striking contrast from city life and the dry interior. As a result, the three provinces of Gilan, Mazandaran and Golestan which front the Caspian Sea (in fact, the world's largest lake) are studded with resort complexes, leisure facilities and holiday homes. For the international traveler too, the Caspian coasts offers a wealth of attractions and activities
The scenery, climate and natural environment mean that it is one of the best areas in Iran for outdoor activities such as trekking, mountain climbing, camping and horse riding, and with a wider range of biological diversity than anywhere else in Iran, there is great potential for eco-tourism of all kinds. Also of great interest are the farming and fishing villages of the region where traditional lifestyles, customs and architecture survive to this day.
Mordab-e Anzali
Mordab, meaning "Dead Water" is the name given to shallow lagoons on the shores of the Caspian Sea
Mordab-e Anzali is the largest of these, located between the cities of Bandar Anzali and Rasht and extending 25km inland
The lagoon is 450 square kilometres of wetlands, part river and part swamp, thick with reeds and lotuses. The lagoon provides a habitat for a great variety of bird life including several endangered species
Channels are kept clear through which boats can be rowed or punted
Mordab-e Anzali is also famous for its caviar.
Masuleh
Of the many villages scattered over the mountains of southern Gilan province, Masuleh has to be the most famous and beautiful
At an altitude of 1050m above sea level, this town literally clings to the mountainside
Houses of brick and stone, built somewhat irregularly on the steep slope, have flat roofs over which are built the streets of the level above
Though Masuleh is a farming town with few tourist facilities, it is still a popular getaway for day trippers from Tehran who come to enjoy the mild summer climate and the atmosphere of pre-modern Iran.
Ramsar
Located in Mazandaran province, 120km east of Rasht and near the border with Gilan province, Ramsar is situated on a narrow coastal strip with the dense forests of the Alborz range rising steeply to the south and reaching down almost the coast itself
With its swimming beaches and hot springs, Ramsar is the Caspian coast's primary bathing resort
Two luxury hotels dating back to the beginning of the 20th century look out over the broad vistas of the Caspian Sea
Ramsar has flights with Iran Aseman to Tehran. The city of Gonbad-e Qabus (literally, "Dome of Qabus") is located in Golestan province, 40km from border of Turkmenistan and is named after the tower which is its most famous landmark
Built entirely of high-fired bricks so dense that they ring when struck, this remarkable construction is a tapering 55m tower with a pointed conical roof
It is situated on a hillock which raises it a further 15m above ground level and has brick foundations to a depth of 17m. The tower was a mausoleum built by and for Qabus Ibn Wushmgir, King of the Ziyarid line of Kings who ruled over Tabarestan (currently the provinces of Golestan and Mazanderan) from 927-1090
Apart from two inscriptions, bearing the name of the king and the year of its completion in 1007, the tower is completely featureless
The only entrance way leads into a cylindrical chamber empty all the way up to the roof and the single window is in the roof facing east. It is said that Qabus had his body suspended in a glass coffin at a height of 45m, away from profane hands and where the light of the rising sun would reach him every morning though no coffin or remains were ever found
The population of Gonbad-e Qabus includes a large concentration of Turkeman nomads now settled as farmers and regular equestrian events attract many tourists.
Access - how to get to Rasht
Rasht has daily Iran Air flights to Tehran (70 minutes) and twice-weekly departures to Mashhad. There are buses to Tehran (6 hours), Esfahan (12 hours), Hamadan (9 hours), Mashhad (18 hours) and Tabriz (9 hours). Gorgan has daily flights to Tehran as well as buses to the capital (8 hours), Esfahan (16 hours) and Rasht (9 hours)
There are also overnight trains from Gorgan to Tehran (11 hours)
The day train from Tehran to Sari travels through the Alborz Mountains and is one of the world's most spectacular journeys.



Esfahan

The city's splendour began with the reign of the Safavid ruler Shah Abbas I (r
1587-1629), who made Esfahan (اصفهان‎) his capital and built the huge bazaar, which was strategically located on the Silk Road. Under Abbas, Isfahan enjoyed great prosperity and flourished as a centre of art, architecture and commerce (based on carpet, textile and silk production), with a reputation as one of the greatest and most beautiful towns in the whole of Asia.
Esfahan Attractions
Isfahan's glory was short-lived however and the city began to decline on Abbas death and the capital later moved to Shiraz and then later to Tehran
Still much remains of the vision of Shah Abbas "the Great", to make the city a must-see for present-day visitors to Iran.
Jameh Mosque, the largest in Iran, contains architecture from over 800 years of Persian history.
Bazar-e Bozorg is a huge market several kilometers long, dating from the 16th century
The bazaar stretches from Imam Square to the Jameh Mosque
The main entrance is the Qeysarieh Portal, which has some fine, recently restored frescoes by Reza Abbasi, showing the victories of Shah Abbas against the Uzbek armies.

Imam Square (Naqsh-e Jahan Square) Imam Square (Naqsh-e Jahan Square or the Meidan) is the jewel in Esfahans crown and contains some of the finest Islamic architecture in the world
Naqsh-e Jahan translates as "pattern of the world" and the square, begun in 1602, formed the centerpiece of Shah Abbas new capital. The scale is vast and the space is the second largest square in the world behind Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Imam Mosque is rightly noted for the beauty of its blue-tiled mosaics and fine Safavid architecture
The huge entrance portal (pictured at the top of this page) is 27 meters in height and delicately designed with superbly executed geometric and floral patterns in mainly blue and yellow colors. The portal is flanked by two towering turquoise minarets
Within the mosque itself are a number of beautifully decorated iwans (entrance halls) leading to sanctuaries with vaulted ceilings
The main sanctuary with its 36 meter-high domed ceiling and deep-blue mosaics is an exquisite sight.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque on the eastern side of Imam Square was dedicated by Shah Abbas to his father-in-law, Sheikh Lotfollah a noted Islamic scholar from the Lebanon
The tiled dome changes color through the day from pale cream to a pink hue at sunset. The mosque was built as a place of worship for the women of the Shah's harem and the building is considered the most beautiful of Iran's mosques with beautiful blue and yellow tiling in the inner sanctuary and fine mosaics on the outer portal. The Chehel Sotun Palace, set in a lovely garden, was originally built by Shah Abbas as a pleasure palace but was destroyed by fire in 1706 and later rebuilt
The Great Hall has a rich display of frescoes depicting the triumphs of the Safavids.
Ali Qapu Palace
Another masterpiece of 16th century Persian architecture is the six-story Ali Qapu Palace, built as a residence for the great Shah
The palaces raised terrace offers fine views of Imam Square and although some of the interior mosaics and plaster work were destroyed in the Qajar period and later in the 1979 revolution, much fine secular craftsmanship remains. The Hasht Behesht Palace (Eight Paradises) also endured considerable damage since it was built in the mid 16th century, but the building harmonizes perfectly with its garden setting. The Madrasey-ye Chahar Bagh is a religious school, dating from the early 18th century, open to visitors on Thursdays only
The building has a peaceful courtyard, fine mosaics and two imposing minarets.
River Zayandeh Bridges
The historic River Zayandeh Bridges of Esfahan are another of the city's great attractions
There are 11 bridges in total spanning the river and six of them of historic interest
Some distance to the east from the central heart of the city is the oldest bridge - the Shahrestan Bridge with much of the structure dating from the 12th century. 3 km to the west, the Khaju Bridge built in the mid-17th century by Shah Abbas also serves as a dam of the river
Moving west again is the 150-meter, 21 arch Chubi Bridge built to irrigate royal gardens close by
The next historic bridge is the almost 300m, 33-arch Si-o-Seh, which also serves as a dam for irrigation purposes and was built by a general of Shah Abbas. Strolling along the river with stops at the many teahouses near the ancient bridges is a pleasant way to spend time in Esfahan
The bridges themselves are illuminated at night.
Accommodation in Esfahan Places to stay in Esfahan include the four star Chehel Panjereh Hotel, the three star Venus Hotel with breakfast included, the budget, one star Viana Hotel and the four star Safir Hotel
The five star Attar Hotel offers luxury rooms with free Wifi.
Access - Getting To Esfahan There are daily flights from Esfahan to Tehran, Shiraz and Ahvaz with less regular air connections to Mashhad, Zahedan, Kerman and Bandar-e Abbas
There are also some international flights to Kuwait and Dubai. There are buses to many destinations including Tehran (7 hours), Hamadan (8 hours), Kermanshah (10 hours), Rasht (12 hours), Mashhad (22 hours), Tabriz (16 hours) and Yazd (5 hours). There are regular trains to Tehran (approximately 7 hours)
South east to Kerman or Bandar-e Abbas, change in Ardakan.



Hamadan

Hamadan (Hamedan) province is situated in a mountainous area in the centre of western Iran
Mt
Alvand is tallest peak in the province at 3,574 meters and with much of the area located well over 1,700m above sea level, it has the coldest and longest winters in the whole of Iran
A cool and pleasant summer climate does however attract tourists escaping from the intense heat elsewhere.
Ali Sadr Cave
One of the most famous natural attractions in Iran, the Ali Sadr Cave, is situated approximately 100 km north of Hamadan City
The cave is in fact a sealed underground lake of crystal clear water, quite unlike river caves whose water flows out through an exit
Thus the cave is completely devoid of plant or animal life.
Discovered by chance by a shepherd around 40 years ago, 14 km of caves have now been explored with 4 km now arranged for tourists to explore by boat and on foot
The main chamber is 100m across at its widest and has a ceiling 40 meters high with the second largest not much smaller than this one, making Ali Sadr Cave, the largest water cave in the world. With numerous stalactites and stalagmites (some over 10 meters tall) and walls covered with mineral deposits unique to this cave, visitors are surrounded by scenes of magic and splendour
An artificial entranceway which once guided water out of the cave to the surface bears an inscription dating back to the reign of Darius I (521-485 BC).
Hamadan City
Assyrian inscriptions dating back to 1100 BC mention, Hangmatana, the ancient name of Hamadan but the city had almost certainly been populated since the 3rd millennium BC making it the oldest city in Iran and one of the oldest in the world
It was here in 673 BC that the first Median capital was established under the name of Ecbatana, meaning "place of assembly". From 549 BC, after he last of the Median kings had been defeated by Cyrus the Great, the city became the summer capital of the Achaemenid kings who would come here to escape the baking heat of Susa. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that, at the height of its glory, Ecbatana was a shining jewel of the ancient world with buildings plated with precious metals and seven layers of city walls, the inner two being coated in silver and gold
From the time of Alexander, the city suffered many invasions and lost much of its wealth and importance though it remained the summer capital during Parthian and Sassanid times. The city was captured by the Arabs in 644 and its name was changed to Hamadan
For several centuries it prospered as a commercial hub and provincial capital
In the latter half of the 12th century the Seljuks made Hamadan their capital and so it remained for fifty years until 1220 when the city was destroyed by the armies of Tamerlane. In the following centuries, wars with the Ottoman Empire caused further destruction and as a result, little remains of the city that predates its partial reconstruction in the 17th century
The modern city of Hamadan was built according to a plan by the German architect Karl Fritsch with six avenues radiating like the spokes of a wheel from a central square.
Sang-e Shir (Stone lion)
The only remaining relic of the ancient history of Hamadan, this 2.5-meter long stone statue of a lion, now badly eroded by time, has been tentatively dated as far back as Median times
It has also been said that the statue may have been commissioned by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC to mark the grave of his general and friend Hephaiston who died in Hamadan
It is now situated in a park in the south east part of the city. The Grave of Avicenna Avicenna is the name by which the great Persian scientist and philosopher Ibn Sina is known in the West
During his lifetime he wrote 450 books on a wide range of subjects and is considered by many to be the father of modern medicine. Avicenna died in 1037 near Hamadan
The current construction dates back to 1952, its predecessor having been destroyed by an earthquake in 1948
The tower design was inspired by the Gonbad-e Kabus funerary tower which is located in the city of the same name in Mazandaran Province, northeast Iran
The tower houses a small museum dedicated to his life and works
Beside the grave of Avicenna is the grave of his great friend Abu Said.
The Grave of Esther and Mordechai
According to legend, this is the last resting place of Esther, the Jewish princess and wife of Xerxes I, along with her uncle Mordechai who, it is said, persuaded the king to allow Jewish colonies to be established throughout the Persian Empire. However, the shrine has also been attributed to a much later Jewish Queen of the Sassanid period who persuaded her husband Yazdegerd I to establish a Jewish colony in Hamadan in the early 5th century AD
The construction is a simple brick building on a square plan that dates from some time between 13th and 17th century. The architectural style reflects that of Islamic shrines but bears inscriptions in Hebrew from the Torah and the Ten Commandments
Situated alongside the tomb is a synagogue and a Jewish cemetery.
Gombad-e Alaviyan
A 12th century Seljuk mausoleum belonging to the Alavi family though whose grave it houses is unknown
The interior is decorated with stucco carved with arabesques and inscriptions in Kufic which are considered some of the most beautiful of the Seljuk Period. Though the original domed roof has not survived, the tomb is still a fine example Seljuk architecture and is similar in style to the Gombad-e Sorgh ("Red Tower"), in Maragheh, East Azerbaijan.
The Ganj Nameh Inscriptions
20 km from Hamadan, high in the Alvand mountains are two cuneiform inscriptions, each in the Ancient Persian, New Elamite and New Babylonian languages, carved side by side on a large granite stone
The left hand inscription tells of the conquests of the the Achaemenid King Darius I (522-486BC) and gives thanks to the god Ahuramazda who bestowed upon him the right to rule. An identical inscription can be found at the gates of the Apadana Palace at Persepolis
The second inscription is identical in content to the first but instead tells of Xerxes I (486-465BC), son of Darius
Before these inscriptions were translated it was believed that they contained instructions directing the reader to the location of undiscovered treasures of the Achaemenid Empire, hence the name Ganj Nameh which means "treasure letter"
The inscriptions are located on a mountain pass that merchants on the Silk Road would have seen on their travels.
Hamadan Province Access
There are buses to many destinations including Tehran (5 hours), Esfahan (8 hours), Rasht (6 hours) and Ahvaz (9 hours).



Kashan


Traditional Architecture In Kashan
The beauty of Kashan's architecture is in how it relates to its surroundings
Mountains create a natural boundary on one side of the city, the desert flanks the other. The famous traditional architecture of the city is a direct result of thousands of years of adaptation to the dry desert summers. Badgir (wind-catcher) The most eye-catching feature of Iranian desert architecture is the badgir
These are square towers which rise a few metres above the roof of the house
Each face of the badgir opens into a separate chimney-like air shaft which leads right down to the lowest level of the house.
The slightest air movement in any direction is caught by the tower's openings and is funnelled around ducts which run behind the walls
These ducts also double-up as water channels so the air passes over cool running water before passing in through vents in the walls. Houses For All Seasons In Kashan
Traditional homes in Iranian desert towns are usually built around a central courtyard with windows, doors, arches and other architectural features facing in, rather than out.
Traditionally, activities in the house change location with the seasons.
In winter, the family would gather in the south-facing side of the house which has larger windows to make the best of the winter light
Then in summer, more activities would take place in the north-facing side where the windows were smaller. Height and depth are also put to good use
On a flat, open desert plain, the only place to escape from the sun is to go underground and so traditional Kashani houses are typically built on four levels, two of which are below ground
On both sides of the courtyard steep steps lead down to a sardab which is kept cool by permanent shade and fresh breezes wafting through vents in the walls
The difference in temperature is just as if you had walked into an air-conditioned room. One level deeper still is the kande (dug-out) which is a small chamber cut from the very earthen foundations of the house
This room makes the perfect natural refrigerator. By taking the trouble to harness wind and water the architects of Kashan built air-conditioning systems without the benefit of electricity and plumbing without the aid of pipes
Sadly, these days, with the perceived benefits of technology, little importance is given to the old, organic ways
Take a walk along the rooftops of the bazaar and you'll see many old houses that are rapidly returning to the dust from which they came. A small number of traditional Kashani houses have been restored and opened so that the public can see their ingenuity
After visiting them you wonder why the whole city can't return to the elegance of the old ways.
Access - how to get to Kashan
There are trains to Esfahan (4 hours), Tehran (3 and a half hours), Yazd (6 hours), Kerman (10 hours) and Bandar-e Abbas (19 hours)
The train station in Kashan is north of the city center. Buses run to many destinations including Qom (2 hours), Tehran (3 and a half hours), Esfahan (4 hours) and Yazd
The bus station is on Molla Sadra Boulevard.



Kerman


Situated in the foothills of the Payeh mountains on the edge of the Dasht e Lut desert, Kerman (كرمان‎) survives on water brought to the city by an intricate system of qanat water channels. Dating back to the Sassanian period of the third century AD, Kerman is best known today for its world-famous, elaborately designed carpets, including kelims (goats hair carpets), jajims (silk and wool rugs) and shawls, which are hand-woven in hundreds of small workshops dotted around the city. The city was the main stop-over for visitors on their way to the ancient citadel of Bam to the south east, but is an interesting destination in its own right.
Things to see in Kerman
Kerman's attractions include the now restored 17th century bath-house - the Hamum-e Ganj Ali Khan with its wonderful frescoes depicting people and animals
The large, historic Bazar-e Vakil, parts of which date back to the Safavid period, is an interesting area to shop and admire the architecture. The nearby Jameh Mosque dates back to the early 14th century and is noted for its splendid blue tiling
The Imam Mosque, built in the Seljuk period is also worth a visit for its intricate reliefs
The Moshtari-ye Mostaq Ali Shah mausoleum is the resting place of a noted Sufi mystic and was constructed in the Qajar period with fine stucco and tiles
The Sheketeh Farsh carpet factory can be visited and is a good place to see the techniques of carpet weaving at first hand. On the outskirts of town is the mysterious Gonbad-e Jabaliye stone dome, which puzzles experts as to its origins but may date to the second century CE and be either a tomb or an observatory.
Access - how to travel to Kerman
There are flights to Esfahan, Zahedan and Tehran. Buses run to many destinations including Bam (3 hours), Bandar-e Abbas (8 hours), Tehran (15 hours), Mashhad (16 hours), Esfahan (12 hours) and Yazd (6 hours). A daily train to Tehran (approximately 13 hours) goes via Yazd, Kashan and Qom.



Kermanshah


Similar to the Ganj Nameh inscriptions in Hamadan, the carvings at Bisotun are set high in the rock face by an important trade route for all travellers to see
The site is 30 km from Kermanshah City near the village of Bisotun. Bisotun is the Arabic equivalent of the Old Persian name "Bagestan" which means "place of the gods"
The site is located near to a spring where caravans would stop to gather water while on the way to or from Afghanistan or the Mediterranean. The route between these two areas had been used from as early as 10,000 BC and was especially important for the trade of lapis lazuli and soapstone
The inscription is approximately 15 meters high by 25 meters wide at a very inaccessible 100m above ground level. Presumably this was in order that the inscription be safe from tampering hands
It shows a life sized bas relief of Darius I with two attendants leading away 10 smaller figures chained at the neck, representing defeated enemies. The winged god Ahuramazda floats above giving his blessing to the King, confirming that Zoroastrianism was the faith of Darius and the nation
The accompanying text is in the same three languages as the Ganj Nameh inscriptions in Hamadan, Old Persian, New Elamite and New Babylonian and was as instrumental in the deciphering of cuneiform, a previously lost script. It was a British army officer, Sir Henry Rawlinson who undertook the challenge, first translating a list of the names of kings in 1835 with the help of a parallel text by the Greek historian Herodotus
On a second visit in 1843, Rawlinson braved the chasm to reach the Elamite and Babylonian sections and the translations were made known to European academics by 1846. The text itself tells the story of the accession of Darius to the throne after he foiled the attempted intrigue of a high-ranking priest who claimed to be younger son of Cyrus the Great and usurped the Achaemenid throne
Darius defeated the impostor, quelled subsequent rebellions and proclaimed himself king of the Empire, having the Bisotun inscriptions carved in 520 BC as a statement to this effect
Later, in the time of the Seleucids, another statue was carved lower down the rock face, this time of the Greek hero Hercules. He is shown reclining with his right hand on his knee and a cup of wine in his left, wearing a lion skin to denote power
His mace lies to his right and there are olive trees carved into the rock face behind him
According to evidence found at the site, the Hercules statue dates back to 148BC. There are also other carvings at the site dating back to the period of the Arsakids
One represents King Mithradates II (123-83BC) with many subjects paying tribute to him
Other features of the Bisotun area include caves formed during the Mesolithic Period (40,000–35,000 BC) and the remains of a Sassanid palace and garden.
Taq-e Bostan
Located 4 km north of Kermanshah City, the gardens of Taq-e Bostan have a 2,000 year history
According to archaeological evidence it was first constructed during Parthian times between 250-224 BC and was used as a recreational hunting ground for noblemen
The name Taq-e Bostan means "arch of the garden" and refers to two large caves cut into the rock face of the neighbouring mountainside carved with bas reliefs. The more interesting of the two reliefs depicts King Khosro II (591-628), known as Khosro Parvis ("Khosro the Victorious"), receiving the ring of power from the Zoroastrian god Ahuramazda and a second ring from the water god Anahita
The lower part of the relief shows a powerful representation of the King on horseback and in full battle dress
This larger arch was carved during the period 591-628 when the armies of Khosro II had taken Jerusalem and it seemed as though the glory of the Achaemenid Empire had been restored in Sassanid times. On the side walls of the arch are reliefs of hunting scenes which are likely to be representations of Khosro Parviz hunting in this garden
The left wall shows the king hunting wild boar from a boat with members of his retinue including musicians and elephant handlers in attendance
Also on the left is a relief showing the king having finished the hunt with a light shining from behind his head
The right hand wall shows gazelles which have been speared being carried on the backs of camels.
Kangavar
In the small town of Kangavar, located on the road between between Hamadan and Kermanshah are the ruins of a temple to Anahita, goddess of water and fertility, dating back to the 2nd century BC
The temple was built on a raised stone platform 4.5 meters above ground level
This and the architectural style mirror many of the monumental buildings of the period
Historians of the ancient era describe the temple here as one of great importance and magnificent treasures. Indeed, modern investigation has revealed that the site covered an area 210 meters by 230 meters and that the pillars of the main hall once stood over 35 meters tall
The area is scattered with the remains of walls, staircases and pillars.
Kermanshah Access
There are daily flights from Kermanshah to Tehran. Buses go to many destinations including Tehran (9 hours), Tabriz (8 hours), Khorramabad (5 hours) and Ahvaz (10 hours)
For Hamadan take a savari (3 hours).



Kish


a semi-tropical resort island, 19 km off the mainland in the Persian Gulf, is a popular escape from the cold winters for well-to-do Iranians but as yet is really catch on with foreign visitors. Planned during the days of the last Shah as a getaway for prosperous Persians and international jet setters, Kish had a casino (now the Shayan International Hotel) and its airport was built large enough to receive Concorde. After the 1979 Revolution, Kish became a duty free shopping area to encourage continued tourism
Foreign nationals do not require a visa to visit Kish for a stay of up to 14 days
Foreign visitors are fingerprinted and have their passports stamped at the airport. The island maintains a more socially relaxed atmosphere than the mainland though alcohol is forbidden and women must wear the headscarf.
Kish Island Attractions Kish's mild climate make the island's fine beaches the main attraction
The beaches are segregated with the women's beach (Ladies' Beach) near the Kish Free Trade Organization Building. The coral reefs off the coast of Kish make for excellent snorkeling and scuba diving and there are a number of places offering scuba equipment and tours
Parasailing, jet skiing and water skiing are other fun activities on the island's beaches. The flat nature of the island also makes it ideal for cycling and bicycles can be rented from a number of outlets. Shopping and dining are the next most popular attractions after relaxing in the warm waters of the Persian Gulf
Kish is home to several shopping malls such as Padide Legend City, which includes a five star hotel and an amusement park with the world's largest anchor. The Damoon shopping center has a popular food court on its roof for dining al fresco. Kish has several amusement parks aimed at families with children
Kish Dolphin Park is perhaps the most well-known with a saltwater aquarium with species from the Persian Gulf, birds, reptiles and a dolphin show
The place has mixed reviews, though, both for the standard of the long, compulsory tour through the park and the welfare of the animals within. Ocean Water Park, a fun water park with numerous water rides and slides for kids, makes for a better experience for parents with youngsters than Kish Dolphin Park. Green Tree Park is a free park containing the oldest trees on the island. Kish has a long history and was explored by Alexander the Great's navy while its pearls were mentioned by Marco Polo in China
Of Kish's historical sights, the most impressive is Kariz-e-Kish, which is over 2,500 years old
A vast underground qanat or aqueduct to move water, the system of tunnels resembles an subterranean city
The water was filtered three times using coral and clay with the best water used for drinking and the rest in agriculture. There are some impressive ruins at the ancient city of Harireh, a settlement dating from the 8th century
One house has been restored and can be visited
There are ruins of ancient walls and a hammam, or bath. A popular photo opportunity or selfie is the Greek Ship at sunset
The boat, which was originally built in Scotland, ran aground in 1966
She was abandoned by her Greek crew and set on fire
Only the hull now remains.
Kish Island Accommodation Accommodation on Kish is generally in the high end range
Some places to choose from include the four star Lotus Hotel offers spacious, air-conditioned rooms with a free shuttle service to the airport and restaurant. The Grand Hotel is also four star and south of the Ladies' Beach
Rooms have a terrace overlooking the garden. The three star Kish Tamasha Hotel provides air-conditioned rooms with private bathroom
There is a free shuttle service to Kish International Airport.
Kish Island Access
There are regular daily flights to Kish International Airport from Tehran with Kish Airlines, Iran Air and Mahan Air
There are also flights to Esfahan, Mashhad, Bandar Abbas and Shiraz. There are connections by ferry from Kish to Bandar-e Charak and during the busy Nowruz period by catamaran to Bandar-e Lengeh. There are international flights to Dubai and Kish is a popular visa hop for foreign workers in the UAE.



Mashhad


often referred to as "Holy Mashhad" is home to one of the holiest pilgrim sites for Shia Muslims
The city, which draws millions of tourists every year, is a shopper's paradise
Blessed with a rich heritage and old world charm, Mashhad holds the promise of a unique travel experience. [Image: Mashhad, Iran.] Islamic dress code in Mashhad: women usually wear trench coats with trousers and cover their heads with head scarves History Mashhad, capital of Iran's Khorasan Province and Iran's second largest city, is known for the shrine of Imam Reza (A.S), the Eighth Imam of the Shia Muslims who follow Twelve Imams
Mashhad literally means "burial place of the martyr." The city started out as Sanabad, a stop-over for trade caravans traveling to and from Turkmenistan
It was only after the martyrdom of Imam Reza (A.S) at Tus in 818 and the construction of his shrine here that the city became a pilgrim site
The ruined city of Tus lies about 23 km from Mashhad. Bast The city of Mashhad has been built around the shrine of Imam Reza (A.S)
The holy areas in and around the holy shrine are known as Bast
The Bast forms a perfect circle and there is one circular road around it and four roads between the Bast and the rest of the city
The layout of the city is unique as these four roads point to the compass points in the north east, north west, south east and south west directions.
Sightseeing in Mashhad Imam Reza Shrine Complex
The complex is a city in itself and visitors are frisked by security at all gates
Women must observe shrine decorum and cover themselves with the chador, without which they will not be permitted to enter the complex
Apart from its religious significance, the complex is an architectural masterpiece decorated with intricate tiles, calligraphy, beautiful courtyards and porches
The complex also houses a museum, library and the very beautiful Masjid-e-Gohar Shaad of the Timurid period
Photography is not permitted within the complex.
Boq'eh-ye-Khajeh Rabi
The large structure with a blue dome was built to honor one of the apostles of the Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W)
One of the most important sites for Muslim tourists it is frequented by pilgrims and local Iranian families and can get quite crowded on public holidays.
Mosques and Mausoleums
The 15th century 72 Martyrs Mosque located just outside the city is one of the many mosques in Mashhad
The Nadir (Nader) Shah Mosque and mausoleum is a monument dedicated to the founder of the Afshar dynasty, who was responsible for the development of Mashhad city and expansion of the Imam Reza Shrine complex
Ferdosi Park and mausoleum and Gombade Sabz mausoleum are some other mosques in the city.
Gardens and Pilgrim Sites in Neishabur
Neishabur, a two hour drive away from Mashhad is a picturesque location dotted with beautiful gardens which are ideal for an evening visit or an overnight camp
The area has complexes that house relics of Imam Reza (A.S). Summer Resorts Summer resorts at Torogh, Torghabeh, Aklomod, Zoshk and Shandiz are excellent weekend getaways. Money Money changers are available on the streets in shopping areas and most jewellery stores around the city
American Dollars, British Pounds, Euros and even Indian Rupees can be exchanged freely
Credit cards, debit cards and travelers checks are not accepted anywhere.
Shopping in Mashhad Things to buy
Dry fruits, an assortment of salted nuts, saffron, Iranian sweets like Gez and Sohaan, precious stones like agates, turquoise, intricately designed silver jewellery studded with rubies and emeralds, eighteen carat gold jewellery, perfumes, religious souvenirs, trench coats, scarves, termeh, carpets and rugs are just a few of the delights on offer in the city's shopping areas.
Shopping Complexes and Bazaars
Bazaar-e-Reza, located near the shrine of Imam Reza (A.S), has many stores selling all kinds of goods while Sara-ye- Bazaar-e-Reza is a textile and fabric market. Places like the Shargh-Zit Trade Centre, Kuwaiti Bazaar, Proma Trade Centre, Almas-e-Shargh, Zist Khavar and Bazaar-e-bozorgh-e-markazy are other shopping areas that offer both variety and value for money. Food Iranian food is light and non-spicy
Travelers to Mashhad should try chello kebab (rice and fried meat balls), chello murgh (rice and chicken) which are specialties of Iranian cuisine and are served in all eating places
An assortment of freshly baked breads at the city's many bakeries is something that is peculiar to Iran, where people like their bread straight out of the oven
Ice-cream and mash melon milkshake are also worth a try. Black tea sweetened with sugar cubes is a popular drink and those in search of an authentic hot cup of tea must visit Hezardestan Traditional Teahouse, one of Iran's most famous tea houses
Furnished with Iranian antiques and rugs with live music playing in the background, it is the best place to savor the sights and sounds of life in the city.
Places to Stay
Spring and summer draw a number of visitors to Mashhad and travelers would do well to book accommodation in advance
Five and four star accommodations are available at the Palace International Hotel, Sinoor Grand Hotel, the Ghasr Talaee International Hotel, Pars Hotel (Tel: 0511 868 9201), Pardisan Hotel and Homa Hotel (Tel: 0511 761 1001)
Those looking for board and lodging within walking distance of the shrine of Imam Reza (A.S) can be assured of some good options such as Hotel Sharif, Ghadir International and Khayyam Hotel
See here for a full listing of hotels in Mashhad. Dress Code The Islamic dress code is strictly enforced in Iran and Mashhad is no exception
Women usually wear trench coats with trousers and cover their heads with head scarves
A chador is a must while entering religious places
Men are not allowed to wear shorts.
Mashhad - Getting There
Mashhad is well connected by road, rail and air to major cities across the globe and within Iran.
By Air International flights connect Mashhad International Airport with Istanbul, Bahrain, Dubai, Kuwait, Beirut, Jeddah, Doha, Dushanbe and Kabul. There are 2-3 flights everyday to Mashhad from the Iranian cities of Isfahan, Shiraz and Tehran
Kish Air offers a two hour flight to Mashhad from Kish Island.
By Road Gonabad is 260 km from Mashhad while Tehran is 900 km
Buses from other important cities coming in to Mashhad travel by night
There are no international buses arriving at the city.
By Train 3 trains offering different fares and facilities travel from Tehran to Mashhad everyday
The duration of the journey by train from Tehran to Mashhad is 10-14 hours
There is one daily train from Sarakhs and other trains from Turkmenistan, Ashgabat and Merv.
Getting Around
Mashhad is served by a comprehensive city bus service and a new metro
Line 1 and Line 2 are in operation with a further two lines in the construction and planning stages
The 24 km-long Line 1 connects Vakil Abad to Mashhad International Airport, the second busiest airport in Iran.
Weather
Cool year round temperature is the highlight of the city's weather
Summer nights here can be very cool and travelers to the city must carry light sweaters
The city can be very cold in the winter with the necessity for the appropriate warm clothing. A tourist city with accommodation options for all budgets, pleasant springs, mild summers, large beautiful parks, sites and summer resorts all make Mashhad a great place to visit.



Masuleh


Though Masuleh is one of Iran's most valued architectural treasures it is also one of its humblest. Here it is not the sweeping vision of a master architect or the glory of a great king that tourists flock to appreciate, but the simplicity of a traditional village in a spectacular location untouched by the modern age. Masuleh, Gilan Province, Iran. Masuleh is located about a one and a half hour drive away from the city of Rasht, less than an hour away from Fuman, in the foothills of Mount Talesh
In fact, the village literally grips the mountainside, hanging on as if it were in danger of plunging into the river at its foot. Masuleh, Gilan Province, Iran. The architectural style that makes Masuleh special can be seen elsewhere in Iran but not so perfectly preserved
In order to accommodate houses, a bazaar, 18 mosques and all the facilities of a village of just under 2,000 inhabitants, the roofs of many buildings double up as the streets of the level above. The height difference between the lowest and the highest points of this stepped village is about 100 metres
The car park at river level is as far up as motor vehicles can go – this being the only village in Iran in which automobiles are completely banned. Much is being done in Masuleh to maintain buildings in the old ways
Every year walls get a fresh coating of mud, giving the whole village an organic feel – as if the buildings have grown out of the earth of the streets. At the heart of the town is the bazaar which is a lively nest of alleys and stairways with cubby-hole shops selling a wide variety of handicrafts, freshly-baked sweets, a worrying preponderance of knives and all weaves and colors of silk scarves
One level above the bazaar are a number of restaurants and teahouses where you can lunch on kabab followed by tea and gheliyoon (hookah - tobacco water pipe). Stray up further and your chances increase of having a grumpy local chide you for not sticking to the "tourist areas"
Not everybody here is glad of the attention that their picturesque little town brings
However, most of Masuleh's inhabitants welcome the interest in their village and some even open their homes to guests for meals or overnight stays.
Getting to Masuleh
Masuleh is about 90 minutes from Rasht or 45 minutes from Fuman by savari (shared taxi). Both Rasht and Fuman can be reached by bus from Tehran
The journey from Rasht to Tehran via Qazvin takes about six hours
There are also buses to Tabriz and Hamadan, which take around nine hours. Iran Air has daily flights to Tehran and some flights to Mashhad.



Neishabur (Nishapur; Nayshaboor)

A scenic location which is about one and a half hours away from Mashhad, Neishabur is known for its distinct turquoise
In fact it is just the place to pick up bejeweled souvenirs in silver
The area is an expanse of greenery and many families camp over night in the gardens here. Neishabur is a former capital of Khorasan and the birthplace of Omar Khayyam, the author of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
The tomb of the poet is a modernist 1970s structure in a garden setting called Bagh-e Mahrugh. Neishabur also houses the relics of Imam Reza (A.S), the eighth Imam of the Shia Isna Asheris (Twelver Shias). The footprints of the Holy Imam are ingrained in a stone and many pilgrims flock here to see these imprints as well as fetch water from a stream that surged forth from this predominantly dry area when the Imam scratched the surface of the ground to get water for ablutions before prayer. Another beautiful and serene location in Neishabur is the Shrine complex of Imamzadeh Esmail and Imamzadeh Mahrukh, a 16th century domed mausoleum with detailed tile work. Neishabur is connected with Mashhad by a direct motorway through the desert scenery.
Access - Getting To Neishabur
Mashhad is well connected by road, rail and air to major cities across the globe and within Iran.
By Air
International flights connect Mashhad International Airport with Istanbul, Bahrain, Dubai, Kuwait, Beirut, Jeddah, Doha, Dushanbe and Kabul
There are 2-3 flights everyday to Mashhad from the Iranian cities of Isfahan, Shiraz and Tehran
Kish Air offers a two hour flight to Mashhad from Kish Island.
By Road
Gonabad is 260 km from Mashhad while Tehran is 900 km
Buses from other important cities coming in to Mashhad travel by night
There are no international buses arriving at the city.
By Train
3 trains offering different fares and facilities travel from Tehran to Mashhad everyday
The duration of the journey by train from Tehran to Mashhad is 10-14 hours
There is one daily train from Sarakhs and other trains from Turkmenistan, Ashgabat and Merv.



QAZVIN

Located northwest from Tehran, the historic city of Qazvin is the capital of Qazvin province
Known for its famous carpets, Qazvin is the jumping-off point for a visit to the fortresses of the Assassins in Alamut, 30km away. History. Founded in the Sassanian period in the 3rd century by Shapur II, Qazvin was briefly the Persian Safavid capital in the mid-16th century before the court moved to Esfahan
In between these two eras of prominence, the city was taken by invading Arab forces in 644 AD and ravaged by the Mongols in the 13th century
Situated on the strategic road between Tehran and the Caspian Sea, the city has long been fought over and Qazvin was occupied by the Russians during World Wars I and II
The city's long history means there is much of archeological interest in the area.
Attractions & Sights in Qazvin
Little remains from the period when Qazvin was Persia's capital, though the Chehel Sotun predates this period and was used as a Safavid royal palace
The building, with a large pool at its front, was built in 1510 and is located in what is now the town's central park
Chehel Sotun is attractively floodlit at night
The name Chehel Sotun means "Forty Columns" and refers to the reflection of the 20 wooden pillars of the building in the pool, which seems to double their number
The interior has a number of fine frescoes and paintings and also contains a recent calligraphy museum (Tel: 0281 223 3320).
The Imamzadeh Hossein shrine commemorates Hossein, a son of Imam Reza (765-818), the seventh descendant of the prophet Muhammad and dates from the 16th century
The facade is from the Qajar period and the building is topped by a fine blue dome with a fountain pool at the front.
The Jameh Mosque, said to be built over a Zoroastrian fire temple, dates from around the 10th century or earlier, has been remodeled over the ages and has a beautiful blue dome and interior relief calligraphy
The al-Nabi Mosque is from the Qajar period (1794-1925) with four large iwans in its courtyard. Qazvin Museum
The modern Qazvin Museum (Tel: 0281 223 4935) displays both modern art and ancient ceramics from Alamut.
Little remains of Qazvin's once proud city walls except for the Tehran Gate, the Rah Kushk Gate on Nadari Street and the Ali Qapu Gate
Domed water cisterns, cooled by wind towers include the Sardar cisterns and the Haji Kazem Cistern, but are not open to the public.
A few Russian-built buildings dot the city, vestiges of the brief Russian occupations in the the 20th century
These include the Kantur Church and the present Mayor's office (formerly a Ballet Hall).
Access - Getting To Qazvin
There are frequent buses from Qazvin to Tehran (2 hours, 30 minutes-3 hours) with fewer buses to Hamadan (3 hours, 30 minutes), Kermanshah (7 hours), Rasht (3 hours) and Mashhad. There are also trains to Tehran, Zanjan, Tabriz and Mashhad.



QOM

Situated 140 km south of Tehran on the edge of the Dasht-e Kavir salt desert, Qom (قم‎) is the site of the largest theological college in Iran
It was for this reason that the city was chosen by the Ayatollah Khomeini as the location from which he would direct the country's affairs from the time of his return from exile in 1979 until his death ten years later. History
Left in ruins by the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, Qom had regained its former glory by the 16th century and flourished under the Safavid Kings, who rebuilt the Hazrat-e Masumeh shrine complex on a grand scale
The shrine is second in importance only to the shrine dedicated to Imam Reza in Mashhad
Other attractions include the Feyzieh Seminary, the Azam Mosque and the museum and library of Islamic studies. Qom
The ten 14th century blue and gold domed sanctuaries visible on the city's skyline from the surrounding plains are a clear indication of the significance of Qom as a centre of Islamic worship and study
Altogether, Qom is home to 444 shrines dedicated to the descendants of the Imams.
However, the remains of a Sassanid era fire temple and evidence of a large population dating back to the 5th millennium BC show that the city itself predates Islam by many centuries
Qom is also famous for its carpets and tiles and a flat, sweet candy made from flour, pistachios and saffron called sohan. Religion in Iran.
The most important of the many religious sites in Qom is the Hazrat-e Masumeh, a mausoleum dedicated to Fatimah Masumeh, sister of Imam Reza
Fatimah was travelling to meet her brother in Mashad when she fell ill and died in Qom
The shrine which was erected in her memory soon became a popular site of pilgrimage and remains so to this day.
The current buildings mainly date from the Safavid Period (1501-1732)
Shah Abbas I (r
1587-1629) wished to discourage his subjects from making pilgrimages to sites outside of his kingdom such as Najaf and Karbala, which were then in the hands of his enemies the Ottoman Turks.
He thus began a large scale reconstruction of the Hazrat-e Masumeh and emphasised its importance as a place of worship
Shah Abbas and his three successors who continued the reconstructions are buried at the shrine
King Fateh Ali Shah (r
1797-1834) had the shrine lavishly restored, leafing the main dome in gold and adding many fine embellishments including highly detailed tile work.
Access - Getting to Qom
There are buses to many destinations including Tehran (1.5 hours), Hamadan (5 hours), Kermanshah (8 hours), Yazd (8 hours), Shiraz (13 hours) and Esfahan (6 hours). There are infrequent trains to Tehran (approximately 2.5 hours).



Shiraz

The natural base camp for any trip to Persepolis (60 km northeast of the city) and the ancient sites of Nagsh-e Rostam and Pasagadae, the bustling city of Shiraz has a lot to offer in its own right. City of Poets The tomb of Iran's most famous poet, Hafez. The tomb of Iran's most famous poet, Hafez Shiraz is cherished throughout Iran as a city of poets
Two of the very greatest, in a nation for whom poetry is perhaps the most celebrated art, were born and passed their lives there; the great sage Saadi and Hafez, the Persian Shakespeare.
Their resting-places, known as the Saadieh and Hafezieh respectively, are among Shiraz best known tourist attractions and represent what, for Iranians, are the essential qualities of this ancient southern city: elegance, repose and gardening. Gardening - an essential pastime
The garden might well be the ultimate symbol for Shiraz
Set in the parched hills of the dry Fars region, its inhabitants have managed to nurture some pretty fine public parks as well as their own private sanctuaries
If you're not from this part of the world and you think of countryside as pretty much an uninterrupted swath of green, you might not be particularly impressed. Persepolis, Shiraz, Iran. Shiraz is the base camp for the wonders of Persepolis Mosque, Shiraz, Iran. Mosque interior, Shiraz, Iran
A friend of mine described Shiraz, known affectionately in Iran as shahr-e gol o bulbul (city of the flower and the nightingale) as just another dusty middle eastern town
But that's missing the point
To raise a cyprus tree or a rose bush in a place where the average rainfall between June and September is precisely zero is a feat indeed, and each one is valued and marvelled over.
Shirazis, renowned for their laid-back attitude and unfailing hospitality, will probably suggest a tour of at least two or three gardens, or baghs
The most famous, the Bagh-e Eram, comprises a royal villa set in meticulously landscaped grounds
This place was a favourite haven of the Shah, and its only since the revolution that its glories have been fully accessible.
The house is not huge but its beautifully decorated and obviously fulfilled its role as a royal bolt-hole very well
In front is a reflecting pool graced by palm trees and leading off in every direction are cool gravel paths, shaded from the sun by orange trees heavy with fruit
Other Baghs to look out for are the orange grove or Narangestan of Ghavvam or the more secluded, smaller Bagh-e Afifabad
The latter was the Queen's personal retreat when she was in Shiraz
The royal quarters on the upper floor have been preserved whilst the basement is now given over to a museum of arms and armour.
Shiraz is situated in a fairly narrow valley running north-west to south-east, its easy to get up on the surrounding hills for a spectacular view of the city
Iranians are generally fond of walking, particularly in the evenings, and the municipality has landscaped a short but rewarding walk up to an old look-out post, which winds up a few hundred feet from the Bolvar-e Haft Tanan.
They've also terraced a large section of the famous Tang-e Allaho-Akbar or God is Great! pass, so-called because of the exclamation said to leave travellers lips as they see the city below for the first time
This is still the main road route into Shiraz, though the rush of cars now bypass the old gate, the attic of which contains an ancient Koran: passing underneath a Koran is said to bring good luck for the journey ahead. Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran. Nasir al-Mulk (Masjed-e Naseer ol Molk) Mosque interior, Shiraz, Iran The Old Town Child's dress at Vakil Bazaar. Vakil Bazaar
Many of Shiraz best historic sites are within easy reach of one another
The beautiful Vakil Bazaar, named for Karim Khan-e Zand who presided over Shiraz spell as capital city of Iran and was known as the Regent (Vakil), is great for carpets.
Its also possible to buy a variety of wares made by local tribes, chief among them the Ghasghaii, a traditionally nomadic people whose encampments can still be seen dotted around Fars
It also contains the enchanting Saray-e Mushir, an old two-story hostelry now occupied by artisans and bazaaris and centred around an ornamental pool. Shah Cheragh Shrine, Iran Shah Cheragh Shrine Hammam-e Vakil
Next door is the 18th century Vakil mosque and nearby the stunning Hammam-e Vakil, a bath house decorated with stucco reliefs and now converted into a fine restaurant
A little further south is Shiraz's main religious site, the Shah-e Cheragh mosque complex, worth seeing for the spectacular mirror-covered shrine of Hazrat Ahmad Ibn Mousa-Kazem, the brother of Imam Reza.
Of course Shiraz isn't all walled gardens and palaces
In fact, its a town of over 1,000,000 people though thankfully it doesn't suffer from the debilitating traffic and pollution of Tehran
The most obvious effects of the population boom are some ugly housing and hotel developments on the outskirts and good transport connections to the rest of the country.
Though it isn't a great centre of pilgrimage like Mashhad or Qom and doesn't offer the same number architectural treasures as Isfahan, if the idea of visiting somewhere that captures the essence of much of what it means to be Iranian appeals to you, it's not to be missed. Accommodation
Places to stay in Shiraz include the five star Zandiyeh Hotel, the popular Niayesh Boutique Hotel, the modern Sasan Hotel and the four star Elysee Hotel. Shah Cheragh, Shiraz, Iran. The shrine complex of Shah Cheragh houses the tombs of Syed Amir Ahmad and Syed Mir Mohammad Access - Getting to Shiraz
There are flights to a number of domestic destinations from Shiraz including Tehran, Ahvaz, Kish, Mashhad, and Bandar-e Abbas
There are also international flights to Doha, Bahrain, Kuwait and Dubai. There are buses to many destinations including Tehran (approx
15 hours), Hamadan (15 hours), Kermanshah (18 hours), Tabriz (24 hours) and Yazd (7 hours). Shiraz Metro. Shiraz Metro © Nima Farid Shiraz Metro
There is a metro in Shiraz
Line one with 20 stations opened in 2014
Eventually it is planned to have 6 lines
Line 1 runs 24.5 km with 19 underground stations and 1 surface station.



TABRIZ

Iranian Azerbaijan consists of the three provinces of the country's northwest tip; West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan and Ardebil
Bordering Turkey in the West and The Republic of Azerbaijan and Armenia in the North, the population of Iranian Azerbaijan is mainly Azeri with important Armenian and Kurdish minorities
The primary language of the region is Azeri, which is akin to modern Turkish
Apart from the predominantly Christian Armenian population, Azerbaijan shares the religion of Shii Islam with the majority of Iran. The region is mountainous, with most of the area situated over 1000 meters above sea level and many peaks exceeding 3000 meters in height
Lake Orumieh, a shallow salt lake some 5000 square km in area, is sandwiched between West and East Azerbaijan provinces and is Iran's largest lake after the Caspian Sea. Tabriz School miniature, Iran 15th century Tabriz School miniature painting Ardebil Carpet, Sheikh Safi Al-Din, Iran Ardebil Carpet, Sheikh Safi Al-Din . A small island in the middle of the lake is protected as a wildlife reserve for migrating birds including pelicans and flamingos
The climate of the region is hot and dry in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter with heavy snowfall
However, abundant water supplies make Azerbaijan one of the most important agricultural regions in Iran. Ardebil (Ardabil) City . Situated on a high plateau approximately 1400 meters above sea level, the city of Ardebil has a history dating back to the time of Piruz Shah of the Sassanids (459-484)
For centuries Ardebil was an important trading post between Russia and the Middle East before the rise of the modern state of Iran. . Captured by the Arabs in 642 and destroyed by the Mongols in 1220, Ardebil was briefly the capital of Azerbaijan during the 10th century before being superseded by Tabriz
During the Russo-Iranian war of 1828-30, Ardebil was occupied by Russian troops and many important sites were damaged and historical treasures looted. . Ardebil was the spiritual birthplace of Iran's first Shiite ruling dynasty, the Safavids
During the period from the end of the 13th century to the beginning of the 14th, a Sunni Dervish named Safi Al-Din founded the "Safavieh", an order of Sufi mystics who later converted to Shiism and established themselves in opposition to the ruling Mongol dynasty. . Over the next century, the order grew increasingly powerful and militant, culminating in 1501 with the successful conquest of Azerbaijan, and soon after, the whole of Iran by the young Shah Ismail I, a descendant of Sheikh Safi Al-Din. . The main historical attraction of the city of Ardebil is the mausoleum complex of Sheikh Safi Al-Din where Shah Ismail I and many of his descendents were also buried
The shrine was an important site of pilgrimage throughout the Safavid period (1501-1722) and underwent numerous improvements and embellishments to become one of the most beautiful of all Safavid monuments. . The floor of the shrine to Sheikh Safi od-Din is covered with a reproduction of the most famous carpet in the world – the Ardebil Carpet. Panorama of Tabriz, Iran Panorama of Tabriz, Iran Tabriz . The city of Tabriz is the capital of East Azerbaijan province and is one of the most important economic and political centres of modern Iran
Until the 1970's it was also Iran's second largest city after Tehran
Modern Tabriz is known for being particularly welcoming to foreign travellers and its younger generation have a good a command of English
Tabriz is situated north of the beautiful Mt
Sahand at an altitude of 1340 meters on a plain surrounded on three sides by mountains. . The plain slopes gently down to the northern part of lake Orumieh which is approximately 60 km to the West
A pleasantly mild summer climate makes it a popular getaway for Iranians living in the sun-baked interior and snowy winters bring large numbers of winter sports enthusiasts. . Though periodically plagued by earthquakes and war, the city of Tabriz has enjoyed times of great prosperity during Iran's history
The oldest records mentioning Tabriz are Assyrian stone tablets dating back to the 3rd and 4th centuries BC
They name a castle town which historians believe occupied the same site as the modern city though it may well be that Tabriz has an even longer history than this suggests. . Tabriz was the capital of Azerbaijan in the 3rd century AD and also under the Mongol Ilkhanid dynasty (1256-1353) when a great number of artists, craftsmen and philosophers migrated to the city
In 1392 the town was sacked by Tamerlane but was soon restored to its former glory under Turkman rule
Tabriz was also the capital of Iran from the beginning of the Safavid period until Shah Tahmasp I relocated to Qazvin in order to rule at a greater distance from Ottoman Turkey. . From this time until the modern period the city was fought over by Iranians, Ottomans and Russians and was even occupied by the Russians on several occasions in the 19th and 20th centuries
Tabriz began to re-establish itself as a major city when Iran opened up its relations with the West in the second half of the 20th century, once again becoming an important centre of trade and commerce. Panorama of Tabriz, Iran The vast urban sprawl of Tabriz, Iran Masjed-e Kabud (Blue Mosque) . Despite being heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1776, the Masjed-e Kabud (completed in 1465) remains one of Iran's most celebrated mosques
The plan, unique in Iran, consists of a square central chamber topped with a dome and framed on three sides by nine domed bays making it more akin to the Ottoman mosques of Turkey than traditional Iranian constructions. . Extensive reconstruction in the 1950s and 1960s has restored the mosque in form but it is the fragments of original tile work that really evoke its former grandeur
The deep blue colour of the tiles which gives the mosque its name was achieved with generous use of cobalt
On this lustrous background were painted delicate arabesques and calligraphic designs in gold and white
These tiles once covered the dome and all the interior walls. Bazaar-e Tabriz, Iran Bazaar-e Tabriz, Iran Bazaar-e Tabriz . Visitors throughout history have been amazed, delighted and shocked in equal numbers by the teeming splendour of the Bazaar of Tabriz and though its high vaulted ceilings do not ring with the raucous din that would have been heard in past centuries, its tarnished beauty is vivid testament to the importance of commerce in the history of this city. . This is one of the oldest and largest bazaars in the Middle East occupying an area of 1 square km with numerous caravanserais, mosques and schools accompanying the countless shops, warehouses and workshops that line the dusty concourses
The current bazaar dates from the late 18th century but its history goes back the 15th
Like all Iranian bazaars, the bazaar of Tabriz is divided into sections according to products and services, being particularly well known for silverware, jewellery, spices and, of course, carpets. Kelisa Dare Sham . The Kelisa Darre Sham is situated near the city of Jolfa near the Azerbaijan border
Set in dramatic mountain scenery, this church and working monastery was founded by the Armenian King Ashot in the 9th century though it is said that a church occupied this site as early as the first century AD. . Its oldest parts date back to the 14th century with the main building having been rebuilt in the late 16th century after being destroyed by an earthquake
The church is built in the style of Armenian or Georgian architecture with a bell tower and a cylindrical tower with a conical roof though archways featuring stalactite work are reminiscent of Persian mosque architecture
The exquisitely preserved exterior reliefs feature religious imagery such as angels and Armenian crosses. Urartu Bastam Palace . Situated 50 km east of the Turkish border and some 50 km north of the city of Khoy are the ruins of a mountaintop citadel constructed by the civilisation of Urartu who came to ascendancy in the area during the first millennium B.C
Clay tablets found at the site indicate that the ancient name of the citadel was Rusai Uru-Tur and that it was completed sometime between 685-645 B.C. . The palace was captured and destroyed sometime in the 6th century B.C
Excavations by German archaeologists conducted between 1967-1978 revealed the foundations and remains of a three-level construction including palaces, a large hall with many columns, a temple, storehouses, garrisons, stables and a defensive wall
All the constructions were built using sun-dried mud bricks on high stone foundations. Qar-e Kelisa (The Black Church) . The Qar-e Kelisa (The Black Church), also known as the Church of St
Thaddaeus is situated in foothills near the city of Siyah Cheshme
It is said that the disciple Thaddaeus (also known as Jude) was allowed to preach in the Armenian city of Edessa after healing the local king. . The city of Edessa became the first Christian city and a church was constructed in 68 A.D
- only the second ever in the short history of Christianity
The dark stone domed sanctuary from which the church gets its name dates back to the 10th or 11th century while the main body of the church is a pale sandstone construction. . This larger section, consisting of a 12 sided drum supporting a tent dome, was rebuilt after the church was damaged by an earthquake in 1319
Further additions were made in the 19th century
Reliefs typical of early Armenian churches decorate the outer walls
Some depict religious imagery such as effigies of saints and angels while others show battle scenes, hunting scenes and floral, geometric and arabesque patterns. . The inscription over the entrance gate reads "Abbas Mirza" the name of the general sent to the region by Nasser Al-Din Shah to fight the Russians
Today, the church is a working convent and still attracts Armenian Christian pilgrims from all over Iran. Takht-e Soleiman (Zendan-e Soleiman) . Takht-e Suleiman (Throne of Solomon) is one of Iran's most important ancient holy sites and was added to the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage Sites in 2003
Some say that the prophet Zoroaster himself may have been born here. . Situated in a mountainous area 30 km north of the town of Takab in West Azerbaijan province is a small lake 120 meters in depth fed by a spring deep in the underlying rock
Excavations around this lake revealed a the ruins of a religious complex with a history dating back to Achaemenid times
Since its foundation in about 500 B.C
the site was added to by Parthian, Sassanian and, later, Mongol rulers. . During Sassanian times, the square compound to the north of the lake contained extensive temple facilities to accommodate large numbers of pilgrims
These included a Zoroastrian fire temple reserved for the use of high ranking soldiers and members of the royal court and a temple dedicated to Anahita, the god of water, as well as a large hall for royal ceremonies
Much of the 13m high perimeter wall with its 38 towers can still be seen. . The site declined rapidly in importance after being destroyed by the Romans during the reign of Khosro II (590-628)
After several centuries of neglect, the site was revived under Mongol occupation and the fire temple and Western Iwan were rebuilt
3 km to the west of Takht-e Suleiman is a hollow conical mountain some 100 meters high with an 80 meter deep hole in the centre
Known as Zendan-e Suleiman (Prison of Solomon), a number of shrines and temples dating back to the 1st millennium B.C
have been excavated around its peak. Maragheh . City located to the south of Mt Sahand with a history dating back to the late 8th-early 9th century
Currently the trade and transportation centre of a fertile fruit-growing region
The name Maragheh refers to the excellent grazing land of the surrounding area to which the Mongols brought their countless horses. . So important did the city become to the Mongols that it was made capital of Azerbaijan for a period before Hulagu Khan relocated it to Tabriz
The city is well known as the site of an astronomical observatory built in 1259 by the astrology-addicted Hulagu Khan at the behest of his minister, the astronomer, mathematician and poet, Nasir Al-Din Tusi
Earthquakes and neglect from the 14th century onwards have left little but ruined walls of this once famous construction. . Much better preserved are four brick tower tombs, the oldest of which is the Gombad-e Sorgh ("Red Tower"), dating from 1147
Built on a square plan with red bricks laid to create geometric patterns, this tower is the first building in Iran to use decorative blue tiles
The ceiling of the inner hall is octagonal in shape and topped with a dome
Holes and windows were placed with mathematical precision in order to catch sunlight and moonlight at equinoxes and at certain times of day. . The Gombad-e Kabud ("Blue Tower") dates from 1196
This tower was once believed to be the resting place of the mother of Hulagu Khan but historians now doubt this
The tower has an octagonal base with stone foundations and brick walls
Each of its eights sides is decorated with elaborate geometric patterns as if it was a mehrab
The current roof is a somewhat makeshift replacement for a previously more elaborate design. . Tabriz Access . Tabriz has regular flights to Tehran and weekly departures to Mashhad. . There are buses to Tehran (10 hours), Esfahan (16 hours), Kermanshah (11 hours), Rasht (8 hours), and Shiraz (24 hours). There are also international buses departing from Imam Khomeini Square for Yerevan in Armenia, Baku in Azerbaijan and Istanbul, Turkey. . There are trains from Tabriz's train station behind Imam Khomeini Square in the west of the city
Overnight trains depart for Tehran, via Qazvin and Zanjan.



Yazd

Jomeh Mosque, Yazd, Iran. Jom'eh (Jameh) Mosque, Yazd, Iran History
Originally founded in the Sassasian period (AD 224-637), Yazd's heyday as a commercial and trading city was in the 14th and 15th centuries, followed by a subsequent decline
The railway from Tehran only reached the town in the days of the last Shah.
The ancient city of Yazd (یزد,) can lay claim to being one of the oldest, continuously inhabited places on earth
Rising out of the desert, the winding alleys and high mud walls of the houses of the town are straight out of the pages of a fairy tale.
Yazd is famous for its ancient ventilation system of badgirs (windtowers), designed to catch even the faintest of breezes and channel them to the buildings below
Yazd is also famous for its skilled qanat or water-channel diggers and the Yazd Water Museum pays homage to their ingenuity. Jomeh Mosque and the Roknoddin Dome in the foreground Jom'eh (Jameh) Mosque and the Roknoddin Dome in the foreground, Yazd, Iran Roknoddin Dome Yazd, Iran. Roknoddin Dome, Yazd, Iran Jameh Mosque
Yazd's most famous sight is the Jameh Mosque (Friday Mosque), an exquisite 14th century building with soaring 48-meter high minarets and a mosaic-decorated dome
The mosque is believed to have been built on an earlier 12th century Zoroastrian temple.
The unusual Amir Chakhmaq Complex pushes the Jameh Mosque as Yazd's must-see sight
Built in the 13th century the softly-rounded sunken alcoves form the facade of a takieh, a religious building used to perform the Ashura rituals to commemorate the martyrdom of the Imam Hossein (the third of the twelve successors to Mohammed, according to Shiite Muslims).
The building is floodlit at night and there are wonderful views of the town and the surrounding desert landscape from the third-storey
There is also a huge wooden palm leaf-shaped nakhl - used in the Ashura rituals to carry a representative martyr of the imam decked with swords, money and mirrors outside the building. Zendan-e Eskandar aka Alexander's Prison. Zendan-e Eskandar aka Alexander's Prison Bogheh-ye Seyed Roknaddin
Yazd's other places of interest include the nearby Bogheh-ye Seyed Roknaddin (Tomb of Seyed Roknaddin) with its striking blue-tiled dome, the so-called Alexander's Prison - a 15th century domed school building with a well in its courtyard, said to have been built by Alexander the Great and used as a dungeon
The Khan-e Lari is the well-preserved ex-home of a local merchant with traditional architecture and stained glass windows.
The Bagh-e Doulat Abad is an 18th century garden pavilion that belonged to the former shah, Karim Khan Zand, noted for its beautiful stained-glass windows and intricate lattice work. Ateshkadeh Fire Temple
Yazd has long been a center of the Zoroastrian faith and the Ateshkadeh Fire Temple is said to preserve a flame that has been burning continuously since 470 CE. >Museum of Zoroastrian History & Culture, Yazd, Iran Museum of Zoroastrian History & Culture, Yazd, Iran
In the outlying southern suburbs of town are a pair of defunct Zoroastrian Towers of Silence, where the bodies of believers were once left to the vultures after death
To find out more about Zoroastrianism, visit the Zoroastrian Museum of History and Culture in Yazd. Jome Mosque Arch. Jome Mosque Arch Goods From Japan delivered to your home or business. Goods From Japan delivered to your home or business Dolat Abad Garden (tallest wind tower in Yazd) Dolat Abad Garden (tallest wind tower in Yazd) Accommodation in Yazd
Hotels in Yazd include the two star Silk Road Hotels, the three star Mozaffar Traditional Hotel, the Fazeli Hotel Yazd, also three star and housed in a traditional building with stained glass and the four star Dad Hotel. Fazeli Hotel Fazeli Hotel in Yazd Access - how to get to Yazd
Yazd has daily Iran Air flights to Tehran (70 minutes) and twice-weekly departures to Mashhad.
There are buses to Tehran (10 hours), Esfahan (5 hours), Kerman (6 hours), Bam (9 hours), and Shiraz (7 hours).
There are daily trains from Yazd station, next to the main bus station in Rah Ahan Square in the south of the city, to Tehran (approx 8 hours)
The overnight trains depart for Tehran, via Kashan and Qom
There is also a daily train to Bandar-e Abbas (9-10 hours).