Howdy all. Well, last week I gave you a little imagining of what you needed to know if you were heading to Iran. What I wanted to do was a bit of a follow up this week where I talk about some of the places that are worth visiting. Most of them that I write about, and probably all, will be places that I have been. Which means reaching back far into my memory and pulling out the memories I have from 2004, because although I do still have my photos, my diaries I do not have.
I am going to approach this city by city. When I visited I went from the Zahedan Border Crossing to Kerman driving through Bam. Then to Yazd, Shiraz, Isfahan, Tehran and finally Tabriz on my way out to Turkey. I did a day trip or two along the way as well.
Okay, so it seems logical to start with the capital, the place, if you’re not coming via a land crossing, you start with. The thing is, I don’t really remember much at all about my time in Tehran. I didn’t stay long, it was easily my least favourite city in Iran, but you know, people do like it too so I won’t just write it off because it’s such a big city.
One thing I did not visit which looks utterly amazing is the Golestan Palace, which is ornate and rich in colours, the interior just looks absolutely stunning, so I would definitely suggest giving this place a go. I only have websites and pictures to go by, but this look incredible.
I did visit a museum and I believe it was the National Museum of Iran. I had a bit of a tour guide who talked about life in Iran and that was what I remember about the museum, I think it’s pretty stock standard for these kind of museums, full of very very old pots and other ceramics.
Tehran is famous for its ‘teahouses’, and I went to one one evening and it was charming and a beautiful building. And if I could find images of it online I might just be able to tell you its name. But, alas, I cannot. All in all there is more to Tehran than I experienced by such a long way and just a little web-surfing has revealed there are markets and a contemporary Art Museum which I think would be really interesting and give the visitor such a different insight into the country. Although it’s really not my cup of tea, if I was to return I think I would seek this out.
Let’s go southwards now to the second city (possibly, I might just be making that up) of Iran, the one that every visitor raves about, the charming Isfahan. Or Esfahan, if you prefer, and that is the way I used to write it. Until the internet corrected me! Isfahan is the perfect city for just chilling in Iran, a city to savour because it’s stunning, simply stunning. It has two major points of interest. Firstly the huge square – Naqsh-e Jahan Square, one of the biggest public squares in the world. It is also known as Imman Square, or Meidan Eman.
The huge public square itself is a highlight. It has two mosques off it, The Abassi Great Mosque is the bigger and grander of the two, standing at one end of the rectangular ‘square’. There is also the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque off to one side opposite the Aali Qapu Palace on the other. There are tea houses and a covered market at the other end. It’s really the sort of place you could easily spend a half-day if not more exploring.
The Zayandeh Rud is the main river through the city and a walk along and across it is one thing you simply must do in Isfahan. The bridges are highlights, the main one being the Si O Se Pol bridge with 33 arches, but there are many others including the Choobi Bridge which has teahouses underneath, surely a unique place to have a cuppa!
Other places I went included the Chehel Sotoun Palace, which has lovely gardens and some beautiful paintings inside. There is also the Isfahan Bird Sanctuary, which is pretty much what the title suggests, but may not be worth your time. There is an Armenian Monastery with a beautiful church as well in Isfahan, Armenian refugees fleeing from Turkish persecution came to Isfahan back in the 1600s.
Yazd is a city made primarily out of mud and mudbrick, and in itself is a great place to visit just to walk the streets and see what they could make out of earth and water. There are plenty of mosques and palaces etc worth visiting, I can’t really be sure which ones I did and which ones I didn’t.
However I do know that I took a great little day trip around Yazd which took it’s participants to some truly remarkable places. Some weren’t so far from Yazd, but ultimately we headed right out into the desert to this mountain, where we climbed stairs to reach a beautiful Zoroastrian Temple in the caves with a burning flame. I believe the temple is called or is at a tiny village called Chak-Chak or Pir-eSabz. It’s quite special and is around 72km from Yazd.
We also stopped at an abandoned mudbrick village near Yazd, and the name of that I believe is Kharanaq. We could walk through the old houses, it was pretty special all told. We also visited a mausoleum, maybe a couple of famous poets, which are always important to people in Iran and beautiful buildings. The last thing on the one-day tour was the towers of ‘Silence’, which are two large towers just outside Yazd where they used to leave dead bodies, centuries ago I think now, for the vultures. At sunset, hauntingly beautiful. There were a few other places we stopped – we saw this ‘windcatcher’ building I remember for example. But a lot was covered in a single day and 17 years on it’s really hard to remember. But Yazd is a special city with loads around it and if you do come to Iran, this is one place that’s really worth it. Well, okay, most parts are!
So Shiraz is a lovely city a south of Isfahan and south-west of Yazd. It’s also a place for day trips – I did one that took me to Persepolis, an ancient city. It dates back to 518BC and it’s an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was the head of the Achaemenid Empire, then the Macedonian Empire. There are loads of bass reliefs and columns, it’s a really impressive place, even in most of it is destroyed. It clearly appears (at least) to have a Roman influence with all the columns.
The Naqsh-E-Rostrum site is a site with these huge tombs in the face of cliffs. It’s incredible, it dwarfs you and this is something seen on a day-tour from Shiraz with Persepolis. I should point out that tours in Iran are basically just a driver with you in the car, holding on for dear life as he pushes his car as fast as he can. Usually to around 160km/h.
In Shiraz itself there’s a wonderful carpet market to check out, and mausoleums to poets also abound. The most prominent one seems to be to the poet Saadi, and I think this is the one that I visited. The Arg of Karim Khan is a citadel in Shiraz and probably the main thing to see in the town. It’s a great place to explore, and if you’re lucky you might find this picture of the Ayatollah Khomeini and snap a hilarious photo like I got!
Tabriz & Kandovan
In the north-west of the country and is a nice place, again with a love of poets. There is the Maqbarat-o-shoara, which is actually a mausoleum to ALL the poets, ancient and modern. So you really see how important poets are to Iranian life and culture! I didn’t see much else there because I met a group of students and lost day or two there chatting and being invited to people’s homes.
However, I did get to nearby Kandovan, an easy day trip by public transport from Tabriz. It’s an amazing little town in the mountains famed for its spring water. People come from over Iran to Kandovan and pump the water from below the earth into huge containers and take it home. It also is where caves were created in the mountains due to volcanic activity many centuries ago now and people have turned them into houses. It’s Iran’s little Cappadocia in some ways. Well worth visiting.
Kerman and Elsewhere
So finally, my first stop in Iran was Kerman. And here I was taken so many places with very little idea of where I went by the family I stayed with. I did visited the market which was cool and the old bath houses where they have clay models of people in interesting positions! But really I don’t remember the places well in Kerman, which is more reason to return some day.
Bam is an ancient city which was destroyed by an earthquake not that long before I visited in 2004 (the earthquake was in late 2003). Nobody was visiting in 2004 but these days there has been a little restoration and visitors do go there. Mashhad is one place I want to go one day. It is a holy city for Muslims, who go to visit the Holy Shrine of Iman Reza. The only reason I didn’t go was because it was a long way from all the other places I visited, in the north-east corner of the country.
So folks, I think that just about does it. For my experiences at least. One day I really do want to go back to Iran and see the places both that I didn’t get to and the ones that I visited. If you’ve been, perhaps you can add to this list? Thanks for reading today, Take care and May the Journey Never End!