11 days/ 10 nights
“Western Iran: Splendid Heritages” is an ideal trip to discover the Azerbaijani culture and two villages well-known for their eco-architecture. This tour through the north and northwest region of Iran, in addition to the breathtaking landscapes, offers us the opportunity to discover 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.
“Western Iran: Splendid Heritages” is a dive into the history of Persia through the sites of great historical importance such as Soltaniyeh and Takht-e Soleiman. We will also visit the most fascinating villages of the country: Masouleh Village, near the Caspian Sea, and Kandovan, the Iranian Cappadocia. The wonder of the trip to Iran, Saint Stepanos Monastery, allows us to follow the traces of the Armenian presence in Iran. We will also visit Sheikh Safi Mausoleum in Ardebil, the city that allows us to know better the history of the philosophical and religious school of Sheikh Safi, who established the ideological basis of the Safavid dynasty. 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, a village located on the slopes of the Mount Alborz. Finally, we arrive in Takht-e Soleiman, Soltaniyeh and Zanjan, the capital of Iranian copper and knife. The multi-ethnic character of Iran is highlighted through these cities.
“Western Iran: Splendid Heritages” is a journey through Gilan region and the north and the Azerbaijan region in the northwest of Iran to Qazvin, Tabriz and Takht-e Soleiman 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.|
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° Day; Tehran- Qazvin
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.
- We will finish the visits with the Historical Tehran Gate and the Tomb of Hamdullah Mostofi; geographer, poet and famous Iranian writer from the Ilkhanid period of the 13th century. This brick tomb is built in Azerbaijani style under the Ottoman influence. Its turquoise conical dome is considered the unique feature of this building. The tomb has an area of more than 380 square meters, including a courtyard of 350 meters.
Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
3° Day; Qazvin - Masouleh
Gilan Province enjoys pure nature, unspoiled landscapes, history and abundance of natural resources. As for gastronomy, the cuisines of the Caspian region makes this area one of the most outstanding, with an extensive variety compared to the rest of the country. In Gilan, we are going to taste typical dishes of this area that mostly include Iranian rice, fresh fish, goose or stew and marinated veal accompanied by aromatic herbs and tasty pomegranate sauce. Approximately 11 million people inhabit the shores of the Caspian Sea, and the main urban centers are located on the southern and western shores of Iran’s coastal cities.
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 biological diversity of the Caspian Sea with a high rate of endemism makes it one of the richest ecosystems in the world. It is worth mentioning that the Hyrcanian forests on the southern coast of this sea have been registered on the UNESCO Heritage List.
Finally, we should mention the most important fishery resource for the Caspian Sea economy, the sturgeon. The largest sturgeons measure more than 4 meters, weigh approximately 500 kilos and feed on crustaceans, mollusks and worms. Iranian caviar as well as pistachio and saffron create the most remarkable products of Iran.
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 in a restaurant and accommodation in a traditional village house.
4° Day; Masouleh - Bander-e Anzali - Ardebil
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 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° Day; Ardebil - 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.
Arrival in Tabriz. 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.
6° Day; Tabriz - Jolfa - Tabriz
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.
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.
Return to 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.
7° Day; Tabriz - Kandovan
The entire day is dedicated to the excursion to Kandovan Village, located in a wonderful valley of Mount Sahand with a picturesque panorama, famous for houses carved out of volcanic rock. Due to the conical shape and the type of excavations, the houses can be easily cooled or heated depending on the season.
Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at a traditional house.
8° Day; Kandovan - Takht-e Soleiman
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.
Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at a traditional house in Takab.
9° Day; Takht-e Soleiman -Zanjan
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.
- 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.
Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
10° Day; Zanjan - Soltaniyeh - Tehran
Departure to Tehran. On the way, we will visit Soltaniyeh City:
- 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.
Arrival in Tehran. Dinner and overnight at Ibis hotel at the airport.
11° Day; Tehran- - Destination Country
Transfer to Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA) departing Tehran to destination country.