15 Days
Duration
Summer
Dates
3/10
Physicality
visit
UNESCO World Heritage

Iranian Azerbaijan and Kurdistan

15 days/ 14 nights

 

“Iranian Azerbaijan and Kurdistan” is an ideal trip to discover Azeribaijani culture, Orthodox churches, bazaars on the Silk Road and the Jewish holiday Purim. This tour, in addition to the breathtaking landscapes, offers us the opportunity to discover places of worship and the world’s quintessential bazaar called the Bazaar of Tabriz, visited by famous explorers of the Silk Road, including the great Venetian traveler Marco Polo. Tabriz is located in the northwestern part of Iran, East Azerbaijan. This fascinating city, nestled on the slopes of Mount Alborz, reveals itself to the visitor by its exuberant nature and rich Azerbaijani style architecture. This style defines, from the very first moment, an anthropological divergence due to the fact that the ancient Azeri language is mostly spoken in the region of Iranian Azerbaijan.

“Iranian Azerbaijan and Kurdistan” is a dive into the history of Persia through the sites of great historical importance such as Takht-e Soleiman, Bisotun and Babak Fort. We will also visit the most fascinating places of the country: Masouleh Village near the Caspian Sea, Bazaar of Tabriz, Bazaar of Qazvin, Mausoleum of Avicenna, the typical Kurdish Village of Palangan and the Kurdish House of Sanandaj, the city that allows us to know better the history of Kurdish people and enriches our cultural background. Iran hides great treasures that are only discoverable by visiting the beautiful architecture of Seljuk era in Azerbaijani cities. After visiting Qazvin, the journey continues to Masouleh and then to Ardebil, the city of Safavid philosopher and thinker Sheikh Safi. From Ardebil, we will head to Jolfa where we will visit the Saint Stepanos Monastery hidden amidst the picturesque mountains of northwestern Iran. The journey continues to Tabriz, Sanandaj, Kermanshah and Hamadan where we will have the opportunity to learn about the history of the Medes in Ecbatana and visit the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai. Finally, we arrive in Zanjan, the capital of Iranian copper and knife. The multi-ethnic character of Iran is highlighted through these cities.

“Iranian Azerbaijan and Kurdistan” is a journey through the Caspian Sea region and the northwest of the country to the Kurdistan where the popularity, the elegance of nature and the hospitality of its inhabitants will satisfy even the most demanding.

DEPARTURE/RETURN LOCATION IKA International Airport
DEPARTURE TIME Please arrive at least 3 hours before the flight.
INCLUDED
Domestic flight Accommodations
Local transportation Professional guide
NOT INCLUDED
Entrance fees
Meals

1

1° Day; Country of origin - Tehran

Departure by scheduled flight to the capital of Iran, Tehran, located at the foot of Mount Alborz. Welcome and greetings by SITO TRAVEL’s tour guide at the airport. Transfer to hotel and check-in.

2

2° Day; Tehran

Starting the trip with a full day city tour in Tehran, the most dynamic and effervescent city of Iran. With a population of over 8 million, this bustling city reflects its complexity in a chaotic atmosphere like any other metropolis. However, Tehran is a cornerstone of modern history as it offers its extraordinary museums to travelers among which are National Jewelry Museum that has the most important collection of precious jewels in the world.
Iran’s concern of artistic developments, recent architectural interventions and the revival of many traditional style cafes has made the city a fascinating labyrinth that holds a surprise for visitors at every corner.

Visiting Tehran:

• National Museum of Iran exhibits history, art and culture through archaeological findings from the sixth millennium BC to the Islamic era, the 7th century AD. There is a wonderful collection of ceramics, pottery and bronze in this museum and, in addition, every six months, a temporary exhibition is organized with the most valuable archaeological objects, borrowed from other museums such as Venice, Berlin, etc.

• Golestan Palace, located near the Grand Bazaar, is a remarkable complex that has its roots in the 16th century, when Tehran slowly transformed from a simple village into a real city. Golestan means “garden of flowers”, a name that honors wonderful Persian Gardens in the place. The contemporary Iranian history is so indebted to this complex where Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was crowned claiming himself the successor to Cyrus the Great. Next, we visit the entrance to Tehran Grand Bazaar where, among its 10 kilometers of galleries, is possible to find any imaginable object.

• National Jewelry Museum (open only from Saturday to Tuesday) is located in a large vault with a 25 cm thick door in the basement of the Central Bank of Iran. The museum houses royal jewels, precious stones, a globe set with gems, a variety of tiaras, the crowns of the Pahlavi and Qajar dynasties, and the world’s largest pink diamond, Darya-e Nour (182 carats). This diamond was brought to Iran as a symbol of Nader Shah’s victorious campaigns in India in 1739.

The Carpet Museum is an alternative to the National Jewelry Museum.

• A pleasant walk across the Tabiat Bridge (Pol-e Tabiat), a modern landmark of the Iranian capital, Tehran. Tabiat Bridge is a pedestrian area, built on one of the main highways of the city connecting two green hills (two public parks). The bridge was designed by a 26-year-old Iranian woman, “Leila Araghian”. Since its inauguration in 2014, it has won many international awards. The designer has expressed that this work has been conducted with the purpose of bringing people together.

Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.

3

3° Day; Tehran - Qazvin - Masouleh

During the reign of the Achaemenids over the Persian Empire a 3000 kilometer road called the Royal Persian Road was built by the order of Darius I connecting various satrapies from present-day Iran to the Mediterranean Sea, passing through present-day Turkey.

The Royal Road was originally part of the major trade route, the Silk Road, stretched from the city of Ecbatana in Hamadan to the port of Izmir (Smyrna) on the Aegean Sea in Turkey. Darius I, during his reign, ensured constant control over the Royal Road so that he could guarantee the security and continuous connection between all the satrapies of the Achaemenid Empire. This road had several stops and it took ordinary passengers three months to go over, while the imperial messengers with fresh horses crossed it within nine days. This road served as the main link between the East and the West with Alexander the Great’s conquests in Asia Minor. In fact, he established the farthest city of the Macedonian Kingdom, Alexandria, along the road and opened a sea route from the Indus River delta to the Persian Gulf.

The routes of the Royal Persian Road, turned into the Silk Road today, have been very divergent according to the historical-economic conditions of the countries crossed: from the Far East, the Silk Road directed travelers toward Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Iran passing through Nishapur and Semnan to reach Tehran, Qazvin and Tabriz and then headed to the Aegean Sea. The origin of Qazvin dates back to the heyday of trade along the Silk Road in Iran. However, with the relocation of the Safavid capital from Tabriz to this city, it also became a political and commercial center. Today, Qazvin offers its fascinating places inherited from the prosperous past of this city.

In the morning, departing for Qazvin to discover its magnificent historical sites:

• We will walk through the elegant Saray-e Sa’d al-Saltaneh, one of the most spectacular places in the traditional bazaar of Qazvin. This brick caravanserai contains several entrance gates, some of which are connected to the surrounding streets and others are connected to different parts of the bazaar. The entrance gates open into a vestibule of beautiful architectural style. There is a Chahar-Sough on the south side with a dome on top. Around this cross-shaped passageway, there are 16 chambers with a height of 1 meter and carved wooden doors.

• Shahzadeh Hossein Shrine, a religious complex that includes a mosque and the mausoleum of the son of the eighth Shiite Imam, buried in Mashhad. The mausoleum is reminiscent of a palace with a walled garden, rows of plants, small iwans, niches, tombstones and precious tile decorations. The facade of the main gate consists of six ornamental minarets. The tomb is covered by a yellow-blue dome. The central part of the building is decorated with numerous mirror mosaics, and the interior of the shrine is decorated with mirrors, crystals and chandeliers, typical elements of places of worship and shrines.

• Chehel Sotoun, the Safavid pavilion, was originally part of the first Safavid palace complex in 1596, the only remaining construction from that period. In this pavilion, the decorative elements of the Safavid and Qajar dynasties are clearly distinguishable: tiles, mainly from the Qajar period, in the outside, and murals from the Safavid structure in the inside. In the development of architecture, the Chehel Sotoun Palace in Qazvin anticipates a particular style during the Safavid reign also in other cities of Iran such as Isfahan and Zanjan.

Departure to the Masouleh Village, located in the middle of the mountains, very close to Rasht, on rocky slopes. The peculiar architecture style of this village makes the roof of the lower houses the courtyard of the upper houses and the front areas of the houses and roofs are used as sidewalks. The materials used for the construction of the houses are local, mostly stone in irregular shapes with mud and lime. This type of housing represents the knowledge of past generations by adapting the geographical conditions to the building technology. Masouleh Village is one of the most picturesque villages in Iran that, under the constant control of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, has preserved its eco-architectural charm.

Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay in a traditional village house.

4

4° Day; Masouleh - Ardabil

Geographically, the Caspian Sea is the largest lake in the world with a salinity of over 13.7%. Historically, the Caspian Sea was the border between Europe and the Middle East, a barrier that, over the centuries, has contributed to the intercultural exchange between people and inhabitants of its shores. The southern part, the Iranian coast, is formed by fine sand, slit and a series of marine terraces bordered by Mount Alborz. The ascent to the north of the country allows us to familiarize ourselves with another culture of Iran, the Azerbaijani culture.
Our journey continues to Ardebil Province through the spectacular Gardane Heyran. On the way, we will visit the lagoon of Bandar-e Anzali, a port city on the Caspian Sea.

Arrival in Ardebil. We will visit Sheikh Safi al-Din Khaneqah and Shrine Ensemble, mausoleum of the mentor of Islamic Sufi (15th century).

The history of the Safavids is highlighted through the mystical figure of Sheikh Ishaq Safi al-Din, mentor and master of Islamic Sufi brotherhood based in Ardabil, in present-day Azerbaijan, Iran. Sheikh Safi’s reputation is indebted to his religious ideology that later became the official religion of the Safavid dynasty. In fact, Shiite Islam and its development in Iran has its roots in the ideological study and school of thought of this mentor of Ardabil.

Sheikh Safi al-Din Shrine is considered as one of the most important ones in Iran. During the Safavid period, many politicians, travelers, writers and merchants came from Germany, France and Britain to Iran to visit the city of Ardabil and wrote about this shrine. The construction of this shrine started in the early 16th century and completed the late 18th century. It is a Sufi spiritual retreat that uses traditional Iranian architectural forms. The builders made the most of the space to provide several sections that have served multiple functions including library, mosque, school, mausoleum, cistern, hospital, kitchens, bakery and some offices. The site incorporates leading to the shrine in seven segments reflecting the seven phases of Sufi mysticism, separated by eight gates representing the eight attitudes of Sufism. It also includes richly decorated facades and interiors, as well as a remarkable collection of ancient artifacts displayed in the side room next to the tombs of Sheikh Safi and Shah Isma’il, the founder of the Safavid dynasty.

Shah Isma’il had a remarkable talent in the military field. He succeeded in reunifying the existing bringing autonomous states, small monarchs or feudal states in the Iranian territory. Moreover, Shah Isma’il started a new phase of international relations with the Republic of Venice, the Papacy in Rome and France, in order to demonstrate his diplomatic interest in European countries.
On the other hand, the danger of Ottoman attack constantly threatened the Safavids and other Iranian dynasties until the defeat of the Ottomans in war conflicts.
According to Tavernier, the famous French traveler who visited Iran during the reign of Shah Abbas: “although the land around Ardabil was excellent for the cultivation of grapes, there was no developed wine industry in this city. That is, in this city there are very strict rules regarding the prohibition of alcohol consumption. The presence of Sheikh Safi al-Din Ardabili and the respect due to him would have been the main cause of such behavior.”
Adam Olearius wrote that due to the sanctity of Sheikh Safi al-Din, the use of gold or silver was forbidden, therefore, on the the days of mourning for Imam Hossein or other occasions, only wooden or ceramic spoons and plates were used.

The Bazaar of Ardebil was a commercial crossroads as it connected the road from Tabriz to the countries bordering the Caspian Sea. The strategic position, the presence of mountains and the vast plains of Ardebil enrich its ancient bazaar with carpet stores, herbalist shops and a remarkable variety of honey.

Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.

5

5° Day; Ardabil - Kaleybar

Departure to Kaleybar and visit of the impressive Babak Castle, named after its owner, Babak Khorramdin. This fortress is a fortified complex built in the early 9th century. The castle has been identified as the refuge of Babak Khorramdin, leader of the Khurramite movement, who fought in Azerbaijan against the Abbasid Caliphate between the late 8th and the early 9th centuries. As such, the castle has become a symbol of Iranian nationalism. Every year, the castle becomes the meeting point of Iranians from Azerbaijan who gather at the foot of the castle during the commemoration of Babak Khorramdin. The festival falls on the first weekend in July.

According to most historical sources, the beginning of the Babak revolt took place in 816-17 during the reign of the Abbasid caliphate Al-Ma’mun, when the Khurramites began to penetrate neighboring districts causing insecurity in Azerbaijan. Later, the governor of Armenia noticed that his father Hartama ibn Ayan, despite his loyalty to Al-Ma’mun, was whipped and imprisoned by order of the caliph and was killed in prison at the request of Minister Fazl ibn Sahl. Hartama planned to rebel and wrote to local commanders to provoke enmity against Al-Ma’mun, but he died. Babak, to whom Hartama had written, took actions against Al-Ma’mun’s government. At first, Al-Ma’mun paid little attention to Babak’s revolt, evidently because he was living in distant Khorasan and was preoccupied with such problems as the appointment of his successor and the backlash in Baghdad. Therefore, particular circumstances at the time and popular hostility towards Arab rule led Babak and his supporters to organize a revolt. Babak’s defeat severely damaged the Khurramites, but they survived. The descendants of his followers obviously continued to live. (Due to the location and altitude of the castle, the visit will be done according to the weather).

Dinner at the restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.

6

6° Day; Kaleybar - Jolfa

Tourists often travel to Iran not only in order to visit Persepolis, but also the monuments of Islamic culture, the splendor of mosques of the Islamic period and, in general, something that is somehow related to the rituals of Islam. All this, of course, is understandable, but we should not overlook the presence of religious minorities and especially the places of worship where they practice their faith. To give an example, we should know that in northwestern Iran there are several ancient churches recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. In Iran, the limited population of Catholics is divided into three different rites: Assyrian-Chaldean, Armenian and Latin, and five dioceses. Out of the Iranian population; 98.79% are mainly Shiites (including 5-10% Sunnis), 0.37% Christians and 0.84% others (including Zoroastrians and Jews). The criterion that makes this religious mixture fascinating is the arrival of religions in Iran, the spread of faith and the construction of places of worship, which are found in different areas depending on the presence of the related communities. For example, in the central and southeastern area there are Zoroastrian fire temples, while in the northeast and in Isfahan there are Catholic churches and in the western part of Iran, there is the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai, the place of worship par excellence of Judaism.

All this makes our trip more interesting by deepening our knowledge about different religions present in Iran. Along the Aras River, between the border of Iran and Azerbaijan, we will visit a traditional house of the Qajar era.

Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.

7

7° Day; Jolfa - Tabriz

We continue the journey to the other amazing place of worship: Saint Stepanos Monastery, an Armenian cathedral dating back to the 9th century AD. The church is located in a mountainous area where the Aras River meanders in the valley of the Iranian border very close to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. In fact, the monastery is located in the middle of the lush nature of the border area and is a synthesis of Iranian and Byzantine architecture which later became known for the peculiar style of typical Armenian architecture. Its octagonal bell tower has a salmon-pink color (orange-pink) due to the rocks of the surrounding mountains. As the monastery has a wooden and metal gate, a fortified enclosure, and a series of towers by which the night watch was carried out, it resembles a fortress from afar. Next to the prayer hall there is a cloister where there are many rooms to accommodate the seminarians who spent part of their lives following the courses of the monastery’s religious school. This area has been a transit route for merchants, armies and devotees.

Arrival in Tabriz. We will take a walk around the garden of Shah Goli, also called El Goli, the largest water reservoir to irrigate the gardens of Tabriz up to the Tehran Gate. During the Safavid period in the 16th century, it underwent some changes and a two-story building was constructed in the middle of the pond under the command of the governor of Tabriz and son of Abbas Mirza, crown prince of Iran. Today, the building, the park and El Goli pond create the most popular and crowded tourist attraction in Tabriz.

Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.

8

8° Day; Tabriz

The region of Iranian Azerbaijan occupies a small territory compared to the total area of Iran. Azerbaijan region was a kind of international agora, which observed all the geopolitical movements of the Safavid and Ottoman empires, as well as the arrival of Christian evangelists for the propagation of Christianity. Tabriz has a fundamental role in the modern history of Iran as the initial phase of one of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution took place in this city.

Today Tabriz, the capital of East Azerbaijan Province, is not only among the metropolises of Iran, but also considered as an important industrial center of tiles, tractors, textiles and carpets. It is also famous for the production of dried fruits. The foundation of this historic city dates back to 1500 BC whose few historic buildings remain standing due to tremendous earthquakes. In 2012, Tabriz was selected as the most beautiful city in Iran and was named the tourism capital of Islamic countries in 2018. Tabriz was the capital of Iran during several dynasties such as Ilkhanid, Qara Qoyunlu and Safavid. In addition, it was the residence of the royal family and the crown prince during the Qajar dynasty. This city credited with the title of “the city of the firsts” contains the historical complex of Tabriz Bazaar, the largest covered bazaar in the world. From a cultural point of view, what highlights the importance of Tabriz is the cultural and religious exchange with the neighboring countries such as Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Visiting Tabriz and its rich history will give us an opportunity to reflect on socio-historical events such as the Tobacco Protest, the Constitutional Revolution and the economic crisis during the Qajar dynasty, and to visit the churches of the first martyrs in Christianity.

After breakfast, visiting the capital of East Azerbaijan:

• Tabriz Archaeological Museum: where a repertoire of historical objects, mainly discovered in excavations in Azerbaijan, is displayed in three main halls. This collection tells us about the passage of Persian art from Iran to the West. One of the most interesting areas will obviously be that of ceramics and terracotta dating from the 12th and 13th centuries AD, when Persian calligraphy had an artistic influence on decoration of objects. In addition to the National Museum of Iran in Tehran, the Museum of Azerbaijan has the largest collection belonging to different periods of Persian history.

• Blue Mosque: built in 1465, by order of the ruler Jahanshah, an art lover and also a poet of the Turkmen dynasty Qara Qoyunlu. It was not only a mosque but a large complex containing a library, a dervish convent, a garden, baths and a mausoleum. Following an earthquake in the 18th century, today only a part of the mosque has remained standing thanks to the collaboration and restoration of archaeologists. The particular style of this mosque, very different from others, is known as the Azebaijani style which is even unusual in the Persian world, especially because it confirms an Ottoman influence in Tabriz. Among the photographers, attracted by this mosque, we could mention Luigi Montabone -Italian photographer- who photographed the mosque in 1862. Here is a description of Ella Maillart- Swiss traveler, writer and photographer- of this fascinating mosque: “This particular feeling when you are in love and you think you have never understood, until then, the splendor of the sky at midnight when stars, not equal no each other, shine with such brightness that they seem to come toward you. This extraordinary mosaic makes you dream of a corner where each star is a colorful flower.”

• Tabriz Bazaar: an exceptional complex that includes about 35 km of covered walkways, with more than 7000 shops, 24 caravanserais and 28 mosques. The main activity inside the bazaar was the manufacture of carpets, but it is also famous for its jewelry and goldsmiths, the sale of dried fruits, spices and the famous cheese of the region called Lighvan. The bazaar of Tabriz in Iran is a traditional bazaar and was the center of economic life where most of the activities of the inhabitants took place. Architecturally, the bazaar contained several buildings whose shape was adapted to the low winter temperature of Tabriz. The Tabriz bazaar is a shining example because it includes almost every conceivable example of a complex suitable for economic activities: stores, workshops, warehouses, trading houses, caravanserais, passages and intersections. In addition, the second section of the bazaar was devoted to places related to other socio-religious activities: mosques, Koranic schools, spaces dedicated to religious ceremonies, traditional Iranian gymnasium (Varzesh-e Pahlevani), tea houses and taverns. In short, this commercial labyrinth can make us lose hours and hours in its beauty where we will have a unique sensory experience. Just walking and taking a deep breath, you will be intoxicated by the aroma of freshly ground cinnamon, the wool of Saray-e Mozaffari carpets, fresh cheese and Barbari bread, the typical bread of the Azeris of Iran, freshly baked.

Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.

9

9° Day; Tabriz - Takht-e Soleyman - Takab

We continue the journey to Takab. On the way, we will visit a magical place in Iran called Takht-e Soleyman. This archeological site of the Sassanid era is hidden among the picturesque mountains that accompany us during the trip and beautify the road. Takht-e Soleyman, in addition to its prestigious history, brings together a number of criteria to understand better the Zoroastrian culture and their place of worship. The refined beauty of Takht-e Soleyman where water and fire are reconciled surprises any visitor.

The archaeological site of Takht-e Soleyman, in northwestern Iran, is located in a valley surrounded by volcanic mountains of Zanjan Province. The site includes the main Zoroastrian shrine, partially reconstructed during the Ilkhanid period in the 13th century, as well as a temple dedicated to Anahita from the Sassanid period, 6th and 7th centuries. The architecture of the fire temple, as well as that of the kings’ assembly halls and other palaces, influenced significantly the architectural development during the Islamic period that took place after the dissolution of Sassanid rule in the 7th century AD. Takht-e Soleyman is also associated with beliefs much older than Zoroastrianism, as well as significant biblical figures and legends.
The site consists of an oval platform that rises about 60 m above the surrounding valley. It has a small artesian limestone well, which formed a lake 120 m deep. From there, small streams carry water to the surrounding land. The Sassanids occupied the site from the 5th century, building the royal sanctuary on a platform. The sanctuary was surrounded by a 13 meter high stone wall, 38 towers and two entrances to the north and south. The main building is the Zoroastrian fire temple or Azargoshnasb which is located on the northern shore of the lake. This temple, built of brick, has a square plan typical of Sassanid fire temples. This Sassanid architectural criterion became an exemplary model for the construction of other places of worship in the Islamic period.

Arrival in Takab. Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.

10

10° Day; Takab - Sanandaj

The origins of the Kurds can be traced back to an Indo-European people who settled in the region of Kurdistan. The Kurds are members of an ethnic and linguistic group living in Iraq, Syria, southeastern Anatolia, and the Zagros Mountains in western Iran. Most Kurds live in contiguous areas of Iran, Iraq and Turkey, a loosely defined geographic region called Kurdistan. Iran and Iraq each officially recognize these entities: the western Iranian province of Kurdistan and the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. The Kurdish language is an Indo-Iranian language close to Persian and Pashto. The Kurdish population is estimated at 25 to 39 million, including communities in Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Syria and Europe.

The nomadic lifestyle of the Kurds was mainly based on livestock and pastoralism on the plains of Mesopotamian and the hills of Turkey and Iran, although most Kurds practiced marginal agriculture as the mountainous area prevented to grow cereals and provided the opportunity to plant trees such as walnut and pomegranate. The enforcement of national borders since World War I has prevented seasonal migration of flocks, forcing the majority of the Kurdish population to abandon their traditional lifestyle and opt for sedentary life by engaging in herding and farming; while others engaged in non-traditional works

From an anthropological point of view, Kurdish culture is radically linked to their lifestyle in the mountains, i.e., the formation of societies and villages in the Zagros valleys, the typical Kurdish houses and the constant work in spring and summer to be able to fight the freezing cold in winter. In short, snow, cold and low temperatures define the basic criteria of the Kurdish ex-nomadic society. Kurdish culture, in addition to poetry, clothing, architecture and traditional festivals, preserves a kind of music still practiced by Kurdish families in Iran. It is interesting to know that in Iranian Kurdistan, there is a culture related to the production of pomegranate and during the harvest season, villages hold an annual festival in which women bring the first pomegranates on a copper tray and men attend the parade playing euphoric music with the typical Kurdish musical instrument, the sitar.

Arrival in Sanandaj, capital of the Iranian Kurdistan region. We will visit the Archaeological Museum of Kurdistan, Asef Mansion, Jameh Mosque and Bazaar of the historical center that reminds Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan. The visit of Sanandaj highlights the multi-ethnicity of Iran, as walking through the streets of the city, one can discover the tradition, facial features, language and traditional clothing of the Kurdish people. (In case of closure of museums or bazaar, the visits will be completed the next day before leaving Sanandaj).

Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.

11

11° Day; Sanandaj - Kamyaran - Kermanshah

Departure to Kermanshah, on the way, we will visit the Kurdish Village Palangan, 120 km from Sanandaj. The peculiar style of this village on the rocky slopes, as in Masuleh, makes the roof of the lower house the courtyard of the upper house. The materials used in the construction of the houses are mostly stones in irregular shapes together with mud mortar and lime.
In most cold cities, the courtyards of the houses are located one and a half meters lower than the sidewalks, so that during the rainy season, running water from streams and rivers can enter the garden and water storage tanks.

To heat the interior space, which remains the biggest problem in the mountainous areas of Iran, a traditional method is used: Korsi. Under a table, they place a metal basin filled with charcoal burning without flame or smoke. The table is set with a very thick blanket called Lahaf Korsi covered by a mat, Ru Korsi, to protect it from food stains. Family members sit around the Korsi on large cushions pulling the blanket to cover the rest of their body. Due to the low height of the table, tea and snacks are served on the same table.

After visiting Kamyaran, we leave for Kermanshah:

Kermanshah Province is located on the strategic road that connecting Mesopotamia to the Iranian plateau. This road was militarily and commercially important, especially for the lapis lazuli and silk trade. In addition, the surrounding area is rich in prehistoric and historical sites such as Bisotun and Taq-e Bostan. Excavations carried out in the local caves has revealed the prehistoric human presence in this area. Bisotun was almost constantly occupied from prehistoric times until the accession of Darius I to the throne. These Neolithic testimonies precede the appearance of civilizations by different peoples. From the third millennium B.C., the Babylon-Ecbatana road, capital of the Medes in Hamadan, was used as a military route to invade the territory of the Medes by the Assyrians.

The Achaemenid and Sassanid remains and inscriptions near Kermanshah in Bisotun and Taq-e Bostan fascinated early Muslim writers to such an extent that prompted them to give imaginative interpretations of these pre-Islamic scenes and inscriptions. The depictions of Khosrow II and the Sassanid kings have been interpreted more accurately.

Between the end of World War I and the fall of the Qajar dynasty (1918-25), twelve governors, mainly military leaders, served as governors of Kermanshah. During the Pahlavi period, Kermanshah notables (secular and religious) participated in the oil nationalization movement. Following the July 21, 1952 uprising in Tehran, demonstrators in Kermanshah, wearing shrouds, marched to the capital in solidarity with Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq and his supporters. After the 1953 coup, Teymur Bakhtiar, commander of the Kermanshah garrison, was called to Tehran to head the new military governor of the capital.

• Taq-e Bostan: After the fall of the Parthians, the Sassanids regained power by founding a new Persian empire: the Sassanid Empire. The name Sassanid identifies the dynasty, founded by Ardashir I, which ruled Persia between the Parthian rule and the Islamic conquest in 651 AD. The term Sassanid derives from Sasan, who was a priest of the temple of Anahita – the goddess of water – in Istakhr, a city in Fars, which was at that time a kingdom of the Parthian Empire. Babak, his son, governor of the city, taking advantage of the succession disputes between the pretenders to the throne of the empire at the beginning of the 3rd century, revolted and proclaimed himself king of Persia. Ardashir I, also known as Artaxerxes by Greek speakers, defeated the Parthian army and, consequently, the Sassanid Empire extended its colonies further and further by conquering the remaining Iranian and Mesopotamian provinces. Ardashir crowned himself at Ctesiphon in 226 AD and called himself Shahanshah (king of kings). Taq-e Bostan is the only place where one can learn more about the details of a bas-relief of the Sassanid period representing the succession of power with the presence of very relevant characters such as Mitra and Anahita. The largest bas-relief, under the largest arch, represents the royal hunting scene par excellence where hunting details abound as if it were an illustrated book.

Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.

12

12° Day; Kermanshah - Hamadan

In the morning, departure to Hamadan. On the way, we will visit Bisotun, declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, whose fame is indebted to monumental inscription on a rock that was ordered by Darius I. Then, we continue to Kangavar to visit the Temple of Anahita (the goddess of water).

• Bisotun: is located on the ancient trade route that connects the Iranian plateau to Mesopotamia and has remains from the prehistoric to medieval period, Achaemenid, Sassanid and Ilkhanid. The main monument of this archaeological site is a bas-relief and a cuneiform inscription commissioned by Darius the Great when he ascended the throne of the Persian Empire in 521 B.C. This bas-relief represents Darius holding a bow, symbol of his sovereignty, and crushing the bust of a man lying on his back before him. According to the legends, this figure is Geomat, the magician of the temple, who claimed to be the king of the throne whose assassination allowed Darius to take power. Around the bas-relief, about 1,200 lines of inscriptions tell the story of Darius’s battles in 521-520 B.C., against the governors who tried to divide the empire founded by Cyrus the Great. The inscriptions are written in three languages: Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian. The oldest, written in Elamite, narrates the legends about the king and the rebellions. It is followed by a Babylonian version of the same content. The last part of the inscription is particularly important, since it was when Darius first introduced the Old Persian. The inscription, being the only Achaemenid monumental inscription, has great importance as it documents a specific historical event: the re-establishment of the Persian Empire by Darius I the Great. It also testifies to the mutual influences in the development of monumental art and writing in the region of the Persian Empire. In Bisotun, there are also traces of the Mede period of the VIII-VII century BC.

• The historic center of Hamadan, from the urban design point of view, has a circular layout which, in some respects, has been directly inspired by Ecbatana. In fact, the Imam’s Square today has a fundamental role in meticulously explore the city and know about the changes undergone during a deep renovation in the last decades. Imam Square with its main streets (six in total) connects the central area with various neighborhoods and places of great social and religious importance, including the Great Bazaar of Hamadan, the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai and finally Avicenna Mausoleum, great Persian philosopher and physician Abu Ali Sina.

• Avicenna Mausoleum: He was born around 980 AD in Afshana, a village near Bukhara in Khorasan. His father, who had left Balkh a few years earlier, was a governor. A few years after his birth, the family moved to Bukhara. The capital was a very active cultural center that attracted the attention of scholars, including Avicenna. He did his early studies with the most prominent teachers of the time. Given the availability of teachers and libraries, his father’s high position in the Samanid administration, and his precociousness, at the age of eighteen, Avicenna was fully educated in the Greek sciences.
Avicenna began his professional career at the age of eighteen as a physician. After his father’s death, he was also assigned to an administrative position, perhaps as a district governor. He wrote “the Canon of Medicine” which was used as a reference book in many medical schools, including Montpellier until 1650. His writings were not limited to the field of medicine but also included music, metaphysics, chemistry, philosophy and rhetoric. Avicenna Mausoleum is a complex located in Avicenna Square that features a library, a small museum and a spindle-shaped tower inspired by Kavus Tower.

Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.

13

13° Day; Hamedan - Zanjan

The Medes, of Indo-European origin, settled on the Iranian plateau, the present Iran. At that time, there were many small principalities and different linguistic and ethnic groups: the Gutis, the Lullubis and the Kassites. Later, in the 8th century BC, the importance of the Medes increased considerably. Finally, in the seventh century, the whole of western region of Iran and some neighboring territories were attributed to the power of the Median Empire. The focal point of the Medes’ policy was undoubtedly the northwestern region, the center of which was the famous city of Ecbatana or Hamadan. The name of the capital of the Medes appears in the inscription of Darius I at Bisotun as Hegmataneh, and is transmitted by Herodotus and other authors as Ecbatana. When the Medes were subjugated to the Persians and welcomed into the new empire, they occupied important positions of power in such a way that they were indistinguishable from the Persians by the Greeks.

From the end of the 9th to the beginning of the 7th century B.C., the Media region was bounded by the Zagros Mountains in the west, the Garrin Mountains in Lorestan Province in the south, the Qaflankuh Mountains in Zanjan Province in the northwest, and the Dasht-e Kavir Desert in the east. Its neighbors were the kingdoms of Gizilbunda and Mannea to the northwest, and Ellipi and Elam to the south.

The morning begins with a visit to the ancient capital of the Medes:

• Ecbatana: according to Herodotus the ancient city of Ecbatana is an architectural complex built on a hill surrounded by seven circles of walls, one rising above the other. The battlements of these walls were painted in various colors and the roofs and columns were covered with silver and gold plates. It can be seen that in the sixth century BC, as proven by Achaemenid inscriptions, Median goldsmiths decorated the walls of the royal palaces of the imperial capital of Susa. However, Median art remains a matter of speculation. Apparently, this situation lasted until the royal palaces of Ecbatana were discovered and studied.

• Mausoleum of Esther and Mordechai: Hamadan is the guardian of one of the most important events of the Jewish people, Purim. In this city, we will have the opportunity to explore a historical event that took place during the reign of Xerxes, the king of the Achaemenids. In fact, the holiday of Purim is celebrated annually on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar. It commemorates the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people from the plot of the evil Haman, which was the holocaust of all the Jews in his kingdom. Esther, the wife of Xerxes, intervened on behalf of the people and denounced Haman’s plan to the king. The 14th of Adar was then chosen as the date for the celebration of Purim.

We leave to Zanjan where we will visit the Bazaar complex, Jameh Mosque and the Anthropological Museum of Zanjan.

• Anthropological Museum (Rakhtshooy Khaneh): is a building that dates back to the Qajar period and exhibits typical clothing of the Azeri people of the Zanjan region. Actually, the museum was an old traditional washhouse located in the main historical street of the city. Since Zanjan is surrounded by mountains and is located at 1630m above sea level, its temperature is mostly low. Thus, a washhouse would facilitate the washing of clothes in an enclosed and warm place that housed the women of the neighborhood to wash, dry and mend clothes. The washhouse consists of two parts: the part dedicated to the management and the washing room of rectangular shape equipped with a running water jet. On the upper floor, where the management room used to be, there is an area dedicated to the manufacture of Zanjan handicrafts such as oriental slippers. The word “babouche” derives from the Persian word “Papush” (composed of pa (foot) and push (cover)) and therefore, from the French word couvre-pied or babouche.

Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.

14

14° Day; Zanjan – Soltaniyeh - Tehran

In the morning we visit Zanjan Bazaar Complex. Then we leave for Tehran. On the way we will visit Soltaniyeh archaeological site:

• Zanjan Old Bazaar: The harsh winter and extreme cold are the main reasons for the construction of public places and bazaars in the western part of Iran. Zanjan Bazaar is an important example whose details are observable in its brick vaults and narrower and lower passages than similar bazaars in warmer areas. The vaults prevents heat exchange between the interior and exterior and the small space of the bazaar creates a comfortable environment for the people inside, so that the heat produced by the activities, lamps and heaters in the stores can lower the winter temperature of the city and make the bazaar passable even in the coldest time of the year. To light and air-condition the passages, the roofs are usually equipped with holes at the tip which, in addition to letting in natural light from the ceiling, create visual harmony. Along the way to the bazaar, there are many stores that make and sell all kinds of knives, especially the typical Zanjan folding knives.

• The Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore: also known under the name of the dome of Florence Cathedral (Duomo), was built in 13th century as the roof of the transept of Florence Cathedral. It is considered the closest structure to the Dome of Soltaniyeh. The construction of the cathedral began in 1296 by the Florentine architect Arnolfo di Cambio, although the realization of the dome remained a problem for over a hundred years. The project was finally entrusted to Filippo Brunelleschi, who erected a double-shell dome with a height of 39 m. The dome, which took 16 years to be built, is one of the most important and impressive architectural achievements of the 15th century. As Piero Sanpaolesi has shown, the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, by applying the double-shell structure, may have been inspired by the one in Soltaniyeh, located about 300 km southeast of Tabriz. For about thirty years, it was the summer residence of the Ilkhanid Mongolian tribes.

The dome of Soltaniyeh, the largest brick dome in the world, about 48.5 meters high, rests on a high octagonal construction, each side of which is nearly 80 meters long. The dome, covered by turquoise tiles, is surrounded by eight minarets. The interior, a perfect octagon, on each side has a large, tall iwan that at the bottom is divided into two superimposed planes: the lower with a downward door or niche and the upper with a loggia to look into. Each floor opens to a different panorama. In order to discover the symbols, floral motifs, geometry, calligraphy and symmetry of Iranian architecture, one must contemplate every corner of this building which, with its chromatic beauty, will leave any visitor speechless.
We continue our journey to Tehran. Dinner and overnight at Ibis hotel at the airport.

15

15° Day; Tehran - Destination Country

Transfer to Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA) departing Tehran to destination country.

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