The Charm of the Bazaars
A sensorial experience
15 days/ 14 nights
“The Charm of the Bazaars” is an ideal trip to know the three most popular and important corners of Iran: Tabriz, Shiraz and Isfahan. This tour, 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.
“The Charm of the Bazaars” is a dive into the history of Persia through the most fascinating bazaars in the country: Qazvin Bazaar, Zanjan Bazaar, Vakil Bazaar in Shiraz and Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan. Iran hides great treasures that are only discoverable by visiting the beautiful architecture of the cities and reaching the isolated caravan centers located on the Silk Road. After visiting Tehran, the modern capital of Iran, the journey continues to Tabriz, Kandovan, the Iranian Cappadocia, Jolfa, Chaldoran with its magnificent churches nestled in the picturesque mountains, and then to Qazvin, Kashan and Yazd, in the central area of Iran where you can learn about Zoroastrianism. Finally, we continue to Isfahan and Shiraz, the city of poets, where we will visit Persepolis and Pasargadae following the traces of the civilization of ancient Persia.
“The Charm of the Bazaars” is a journey through the northwestern region of Iran, Iranian Azerbaijan, to the region of Fars in central and southern Iran where the archaeological sites, the elegance of the cities 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- Tabriz
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.
- 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.
Transfer to Mehrabad Airport to catch the domestic flight Tehran-Tabriz. Arrival in Tabriz. Transfer to hotel and overnight stay.
3° 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. We will also visit the rocky village of Kandovan and 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.
- Afternoon 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.
Return to Tabriz. We will take a walk in the garden of Shah Goli, also called El Goli.
Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.
4° Day; Tabriz - Saint Thaddeus Monastery - 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.
- The day is devoted to the visit of the beautiful Thaddeus Monastery (Kara Kelisa), also called Black Church, the name is due to the color of the stones used in the construction of the church. In Azeri language, “kara” means black. St. Thaddeus Church is one of the oldest and most remarkable monuments belonging to Christianity that has remained till today. Its great importance for the Armenian Orthodox community of the country comes from the claim that the church is considered to be the first in the world which was built in 68 AD by one of Jesus’ apostles, St. Thaddeus, who came to Iran with the aim of preaching the teachings of Christ. The church consists of two parts: a black structure, the original church building from which it takes its name, and a white structure, the main church that was added to the west wing of the building in 1810.
- 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. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.
5° Day; Tabriz - Soltaniyeh - Qazvin - Tehran
We leave for Tehran leaving Tabriz behind. On the way, we stop in the city of Soltaniyeh, and then we continue to Qazvin, the ancient capital of the Safavids where we are going to visit a magnificent bazaar on the Silk Road. Finally, we arrive in the Iranian megalopolis, Tehran.
- 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.
Qazvin in one the five most important cities in terms of historical attractions. The foundation of Qazvin dates back to the period of Shapur I, 4th century AD. The highlights of this city are economic, cultural and social places such as mosque and caravanserai. This city besides being a crucial node on the Silk Road, also was the capital of Iran for 57 years in the Safavid era. On our visit, 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.
Arrival in Tehran. Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
6° Day; Tehran- Qom – Kashan
Going south from Tehran, we will reach Qom, the second most sacred city of Iran dominated by Fatima Masumeh Shrine, sister of the eighth imam of the Shiites and descendant of the Prophet; Ali ibn Musa al-Reza, and daughter of the seventh imam, Musa ibn Ja’far. Fatima Masumah was born in 789 AD in Medina. On her way to Marv to visit her brother in 816, she became ill (or was injured during the looting of the caravan) and was taken from Saveh to Qom, where she died at the age of 27. Annually, thousands of Shiites from all over the Middle East take part in pilgrimage rituals at the Masumah shrine in Qom. In the shrine complex, there is a part called the burial chamber to which Muslims are allowed to have access.
Arrival in Kashan, the city of caravans, on the edge of the Dasht-e Kavir desert.
- In Kashan, there is also Bagh-e Fin, one of the most famous Persian gardens you can visit during the trip to Iran. The Fin Garden was designed by Shah Abbas I (1557-1629), as an earthly vision of Paradise. The concept of the Persian garden appeals to the soul only by listening to the melody of spring water overflowing into different canals. Today, the central pond called “camel’s throat” (Shotor Galu) is responsible to distribute water to all side channels, using the simple theory of communicating vessels. In 16th century, the Persian Garden in Iran became particularly important as Shah Abbas I chose it as the ideal place for the royal coronation when he ascended the throne. Two centuries later, the Qajar kings also chose the Persian Garden of Fin as the operational headquarters of the court. Among the greenery of Fin Garden, only cypresses and sycamore trees can explain the symmetry and elegance of its design. On the other hand, there are some extraordinary frescoes from the Qajar era. To find out the secrets of the garden, we need to pass by the Fin Bath (Hammam-e Fin), known for the suicide, or rather, the assassination of Amir Kabir, the reformer of Qajar government.
- We will visit Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse, the Safavid period thermal complex with a hydraulic system and a particular heating system. In fact, by climbing to the roof of the hammam, we will have the opportunity to observe the details of the integrated systems of the complex.
- We end the day by visiting Agha Bozorg Mosque and Madrasa, a Koranic school whose architectural plan is very peculiar, built on several levels. The lower rectangular level is dedicated to the rooms of the seminarians while the upper level is a large terrace to practice religious rites and finally the middle level under the dome of the mosque has a peculiar shape of prayer hall suitable for countries with dry climate. It has two large iwans, one in front of the mihrab, with two minarets and a brick dome, and the other by the entrance.
Dinner at a restaurant and overnight at the hotel.
7° Day; Kashan - Ardestan - Nain - Meybod – Yazd
Kashan always represents an exemplary model to learn more about its local culture. In addition to the existence of its millenary hill, Kashan is also known for its 19th century villas, also called bioclimatic houses. It is necessary to know that Kashan has a desert climate and very hot summers. The invention of the city’s inhabitants led to the birth of a house in two or three different levels making easy to cool or heat the rooms depending on the season. The importance of the city is not only based on the variety of houses, but it is mainly known for the production of high quality rose water.
In fact, the trip to Iran now takes on its original scent of rose petals grown in the hills of central Iran. This beautiful city, located in a green oasis, still houses some of the most beautiful traditional houses in the area, such as the magnificent house of the wealthy merchant Tabatabai. During the visit, some details of a patriarchal house come to light, where the head of the family, father (pedar), gathers the children in the same villa in order to facilitate family access and economic management. Furthermore, this 19th century mansion highlights two criteria of Iranian-Islamic architecture: introversion and extroversion.
After visiting Tabatabai House, departure to Yazd. On the way, we visit Jameh Mosque of Nain with an interesting Mihrab, the Old Bazaar, now fallen into disuse, and the Ardestan Mosque.
Along the way, we visit the town of Meybod with the characteristic hand-painted ceramic factories. In Meybod, we visit a caravanserai and a traditional icehouse.
- Meybod Icehouse (Yakhchal): it is a trullo-shaped construction mainly used for storing ice during the summer. Ice production took place during the winter in the basins outside the ice house and its conical shape protected the inner tank containing ice from the sun. The diameter of the tank, corresponding to the level of the entrance door, even reaches 13 meters and gradually decreases to 6 meters. Therefore, the internal height of the icehouse from the lowest part to the highest point of the dome was 21 meters.
Arrival in Yazd. Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
8° Day; Yazd
Breakfast. The whole day is dedicated to the visits of Yazd, one of the most interesting cities in Iran and the ancient Zoroastrian center.
- Atash-Kadeh (Fire Temple): It is a mistake to think that Zoroastrians worship fire. Before going to a Fire Temple, where the sacred fire is always burning, one must recognize fire as a sacred element according to the philosophy that considers it the source of purity and light. This is the right way in which Zoroastrians practice their religion. The fire has been burning for more than 15 centuries without being extinguished even once. The duty of the temple magician is to empty the ashes and supply wood to keep the flame burning for practitioners to draw it upon as a source of good.
- Jameh Mosque of Yazd: The two tallest minarets in Iran rise from the portal of this mosque, with a height of 48 meters. This mosque is not only famous for the height of the minarets, but also for the splendid main portal, decorated with inlaid majolica tiles; it is in fact an artistic masterpiece that offers one of the most fascinating works of Iran. In order to observe the details of the cut of tiles, you need to approach the main facade.
- Historic center and ancient district of Fahadan: Yazd owes its fame mainly to the architecture of the old town, entirely built of adobe. The most important monuments of the historic center, however, are the “wind catchers” (Badgir) perceptible from afar. For this reason, Yazd is also known as the “city of wind towers”. These towers, called Badgir, serve to provide the necessary ventilation since the houses do not have many windows to the outside. During the day, Badgirs remove hot air from the inside and, at night, conducts fresh air from outside into the building. The system takes advantage of two environmental conditions in the region: the difference in air pressure and temperature.
- Water Museum: In Iran, especially in desert areas like Yazd, there was an underground irrigation system that supplied the oases with fresh water from the underlying aquifers through a system of underground canals up to 20 kilometers long with inspection wells called “mil”, artificially excavated along the path of the canal. These vertical shafts ensured access to the underground tunnel, both for water withdrawal and to facilitate the necessary maintenance works.
The canals, in Persian known as Kariz or Qanat, were dug by yielding the natural inclination of the ground, so that they conveyed water from the aquifers to farmlands or inhabited centers. This system not only minimized the loss of water by evaporation, but also prevented the contamination of drinking water. The Water Museum gives us the opportunity to know the details of this millenary work.
- Towers of Silence: A place where everything stops. It contains a cemetery that was used until about 70 years ago, very different from the common ones as it was a sacred place for the Zoroastrians. The deceased were taken to the top of the tower by special workers called “Salar”, the only ones who had the right to touch the dead. The corpses were left inside circular buildings and there, thanks to the atmospheric agents and the vultures, they turned into bones and were later transferred to the well in the middle of the tower, where they would find a perpetual rest. The four elements of nature: air, water, fire and earth are considered sacred by the Zoroastrians, so they did not tend to contaminate the earth with burial of human remains, therefore, there was no cremation for the same reason. The dominant silence in this place is deafening, deep and only softened by the sound of the wind.
Later, in the neighborhoods of the old town, surrounded by walls, we can visit refined traditional houses without entering sites such as Seyed Rokn Addin Mausoleum, the cenotaph of the 12 Imams, dating back to the 12th century, with the inscription in Kufic letters of the names of the 12 Shiite Imams and Alexander’s Prison (Zendan-e Eskandar).
The old Bazaar of Yazd, Amir Chakhmaq Complex and Dowlat Abad Garden.
In the evening, we visit Zur-Khaneh, a typical place dedicated to traditional Iranian sports. Originally, Zur-khaneh was founded to instruct soldiers in the armed forces during the Persian Empire (this visit depends on the day and time of training sessions).
Dinner at a restaurant, transfer to the hotel and overnight stay.
9° Day; Yazd - Abarkuh - Pasargadae - Shiraz
In the morning, we leave for Shiraz. Halfway before arriving in Shiraz, make a visit to the city of Abarkuh: a particular urban example where the construction of the houses involved the use of adobe (bioclimatic architecture) acting as an insulation system during the summer and winter. The same system has been applied in the construction of an ancient icehouse (Yakhchal) that supplied and produced ice in the hottest months of the year. In Abarkuh, we visit one of the oldest cypresses in the world which according to some sources is about 4000 years old.
The purpose of a cultural trip is to enrich the traveler’s knowledge. Pasargadae, the first political and diplomatic capital of ancient Persia, makes it possible and also demonstrates sagacity of his brilliant general known as Cyrus the Great. He, the father of all Medians and Persians, celebrated the conquest of Babylon with a declaration defined as the basis of the first charter of human rights: the Cyrus Cylinder that is a clay document whose content also includes the freedom of the exiles as well as the Jews. The archaeological site of Ancient Persia, Pasargadae, among its ruins, highlights the simple square-shaped Tomb of Cyrus made of stone blocks, reminiscent of a Mesopotamian ziggurat at first glance. Cyrus the Great with the construction of the tomb wanted to respect his origins, that is, the ancient Iranian civilizations. In addition, he also managed to surprise Alexander the Great centuries after his death in the summer of 530 BC. It is said that in the inner chamber he had written a message to all conquerors including Alexander the Great who burst into tears after hearing his words:
“O man, whoever you are and wherever you come from, for I know you will come, I am Cyrus who won the Persians their empire. Do not therefore begrudge me this bit of earth that covers my bones.”
- On the way, we will make a visit to the archaeological site of Pasargadae, the first capital of the Persian Empire founded in 546 BC by Cyrus the Great during his reign. In Pasargadae, the real Pardis or Paradise was born: the “Persian Garden”. Among the monuments and ruins of the site, there are three royal palaces and a magnificent bas-relief: The Private Palace of Cyrus the Great, the Audience Hall and the Tomb of Cyrus. Pasargadae was once surrounded by two rivers that flowed through a peculiar irrigation canal into the Persian Garden and entered the city after having been purified.
Arrival in Shiraz. Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
10° Day; Shiraz - Persepolis - Shiraz
The city of Shiraz is the capital of the administrative region of Fars or Pars. A single moment of reflection on the last word is enough to realize that we are in the geographical heart of Iran’s history where the Persians built Parse, also known as Persepolis: the city of the Persians. The historical relevance of the region is not limited to the Achaemenid era, as Shiraz covers a vast historical axis that goes from the 4th century BC to the 1700s. In Shiraz, Persian poetry becomes truly tangible; the gardens, bazaars and mosques of its historic center, steeped in culture, embraces every visitor. The city’s inhabitants take refuge in their homes at noon to reappear around the Arg Citadel in the afternoon, where activity continues until late at night. The people of Shiraz are known for their taste for nature and picnic and are considered to be the liveliest and funniest people in the whole country.
To discover the Dionysian atmosphere of Shiraz (the name of the city says it all, as it refers to the shape of a snake), the traveler should not miss visiting the tomb of the Persian poet and mystic “Hafez” or wandering the alleys of the Vakil Bazaar where so many European traders came in search of the famous product of the god Bacchus.
- Persepolis is a sacred city founded by Darius I the Great in 524 BC to celebrate Nowruz festival (New Day), the Persian New Year, on 21st March. Persepolis was conquered and burned by Alexander the Great in the revenge for Xerxes’ plundering in the Median wars. The excursion to Persepolis explains in details this majestic city, built by the best craftsmen of the world who received wages and insurance according to the royal law. In this place, we will come to a deep understanding of its architecture by contemplating the wonderful bas-reliefs of the Apadana Palace.
Among the ruins, we can visit its imposing palaces that never fail to impress travelers: the Palace of 100 Columns where the King used to receive the generals and the Audience Hall of the Apadana Palace with a square plan and six rows of columns, up to 19 meters high, which includes the brilliant anti-seismic system to hold the ceiling in case of shock. The access stairways depict Satrap’s processions and the imperial guards called the Immortal soldiers.
Return to Shiraz:
- Saray-e-Moshir Caravanserai: originally a traditional bazaar, it has been used as a museum and traditional restaurant and tea shop. After the Islamic Revolution it was closed for some years. It has become a place where handicrafts and products of all kinds are produced, located next to the Vakil Bazaar. A world of dreams that lets the imagination fly.
- Vakil Bazaar: a unique construction that thanks to its brick architecture and vaulted roofs, fresh air circulates here in summer as well as in winter.
- Tomb of Hafez: a Sufi mentor, the great poet of the 14th century A.D. The sweetness of Persian philosophy was born between the lines of Hafez’s poems. What immortalizes this poet is beyond the meaning of his poetry, his Sufi thought, which makes him outstanding for all readers. The surprise lies in the fact that Hafez’s words are related to Bacchus and Venus. Therefore, reading Hafez’s Divan is like taking a walk in his paradisiacal garden to understand the contradiction that exists between Dolce Stil Novo and modernity: it may seem a subversive poem!
Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.
11° Day; Shiraz - Naqsh-e Rostam - Isfahan
Before departure to Isfahan we will visit:
- Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque: The term “elegance” finds its true meaning inside this sacred space with its splendid polychrome majolica tiles. The springtime of Shiraz is reflected surprisingly on the walls, stained glass windows and the exquisite tile decorations. This mosque, a masterpiece of the late 1900s, also known as the Pink Mosque, is a welcoming place where the chromatic world from the rose petals, iris and so on catches the eye at first glance.
- Naghsh-e Rostam is a necropolis and a stunning place where the stone tombs of the great Achaemenid kings are still preserved. It is no exaggeration to say that this site is the richest one among all from the archaeological point of view in Iran since in this place lies a magnificent bas-relief of the Elamites, 1300 BC, particular forms of royal tombs inscriptions in ancient Persian, 400 BC, and finally the very important Sassanid documents and manuscripts of the Middle Persian, 300 AD. In a single archaeological site, one can contemplate the history of Iran from the Elamites till the defeat of Valerian, the Roman emperor, against Shapur.
Arrival in Isfahan in the evening. Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.
12° Day; Isfahan
Breakfast. The whole day is dedicated to visit the city walking through the streets of Naqsh-e Jahan Square and handicraft stores.
- Royal Square or Naqsh-e Jahan: (the image of the world) located in the center of the city, was redesigned by Shah Abbas I. There are two arches in the large central square of Naqsh-e Jahan (512 by 163 meters). On the southern side, there are many handicraft stores selling miniatures, turquoise work, enamels and traditional fabrics. Naqsh-e Jahan Square was home to an elite of merchants who sought artistic refinement. In the square, there are still the pillars that served to delimit the Polo field built 400 years ago.
- Queen’s Mosque or Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque: is a magnificent masterpiece of the Safavid era that stands in a harmonious atmosphere. Shah Abbas I selected the talented Iranian architect, Ali Akbar Isfahani, as the chief builder of the mosque which lasted almost 17 years. On the shah’s order, this mosque was dedicated to his father-in-law the Lebanese theologian who would later have a Koranic school in Isfahan. The architect Isfahani’s masterpiece put into practice an innovative pattern that never existed before. The mosque, in fact, has neither minarets nor internal courtyard, nor an ablution basin. The prestigious exterior and interior decoration, the play of lights towards the altar, the glory of the calligraphy with a background of the lapis lazuli and finally the complexity and beauty of the floral motifs under the dome have made Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque the most beautiful mosque in Iran.
- Royal Mosque: (today is known as Imam Mosque) puts before our eyes the genius of the architect Isfahani. Once you finish visiting the interior space of the mosque, in the middle of Naqsh-e Jahan Square – former Polo camp –, you can see the unusual grandeur of the minarets and a clever and completely voluntary deviation of the architect in order to create an aesthetic harmony with the square. The Imam Mosque is a unique masterpiece where every decoration and every particle finds its meaning in geometric symmetry. In this place, the inner courtyard is decorated with an ablution basin around which there are the four majestic iwans that represent the glory of the use of blue color in the sacred Islamic space. In addition to the decorative beauty of the two-layer dome – 36.3 m internal height and 51 m external height–, from southern iwan applies a peculiar system to amplify the sound or the calls of the adhan. It is advisable to walk there and listen to the pleasant echo of footsteps.
- Ali Qapu Mansion: the palace where the sovereign used to welcomed his guests. Ali Qapu Palace has six floors and a gate connecting the square to the Chehel Sotun Palace. From the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, you have a view of the palace terrace with its 18 columns. This masterpiece consists of the incorporated details such as the pond on the 5th floor, the stucco ceilings, the type of materials and ornaments used on the walls of the building which highlight the oriental world and, finally, the spiral staircase that leads up to the enchanting music hall decorated with stucco that depicts vases and other similar themes which together help to enhance the acoustic space of the hall.
- Chehel Sotun Palace: (40 Columns Palace) is the pavilion where the king held ceremonies. A few steps from the square, another magnificent Persian Garden shines in the courtyard of this palace that embraces one of the delights of the Safavid Renaissance: the pavilion is still alive in the heart of the Persian Garden as if the luxury of real life had never ceased there. In this place, we will see the masterpiece of miniature art which, by admiring the paintings and the stories they tell, open a door of culture and anthropology to familiarize us with the most important characters in the history of the Middle East in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Dinner at a restaurant and overnight at the hotel.
13° Day; Isfahan
Iran’s multi-ethnicity is a relevant factor in understanding Iran today. While some of today’s nomads have been living in the Iranian plateau for centuries, other ethnic groups such as Turkmens or followers of other religions, such as Christians, came to Iran for geopolitical reasons and recognized Iran’s tolerance towards other ethnicities and religions. One need only think of the particular case of the Armenians who were forced to move to Iran on the orders of Shah Abbas I. In fact, the Armenians of Jolfa region of Armenia, in the 1920s, left their homeland, devastated due to ongoing conflicts between the Ottomans and the Safavids, and after arriving in Isfahan, the Armenian patriarchate began a new socio-religious phase by setting up new headquarters and communities. The Jolfa district of Isfahan welcomed the Armenians, and Shah Abbas I, in a manuscript signed by himself, allowed them to establish new commercial and religious relations, giving them a certain freedom, fully supported by the Safavid court. The Armenians opened an important trade route in the heart of Isfahan, the Safavid capital. The headquarters of the Armenian caliphate was centralized mainly through the publication of new religious texts using the Gutenberg invention in Iran. The beauty of the architecture and the details of the murals in Vank Cathedral surprise any traveler.
- Vank Cathedral: and its adjoining museum tell the story of the Armenian diaspora who have lived outside their homeland for over 300 years. Iran not only knew how to welcome its guests, but also protected them from serious conflicts that threatened their social life in the Armenian neighborhood of Isfahan. Today, in the courtyard of the Vank Cathedral, the Armenians have opened a new museum of anthropology, with such precision and care, where you can immerse yourself in the real culture of a country so far, thanks to the information displayed in the galleries of these historical exhibits of the Armenian people. But this is not the end of the story since Vank Cathedral – not the only church in Isfahan – invites the Armenian community to religious celebrations and, most importantly, genocide commemorations. Every year on April 24, the Armenians gather at Vank Cathedral in order to commemorate the victims of the Armenian genocide in 1915. As you enter the elegant courtyard of Vank Cathedral, you will notice one of the most important Armenian historical monuments, dedicated to the deported Armenians.
- Jameh Mosque of Isfahan: passing through Isfahan means to be surprised and immersed in the local culture. To get from the Jolfa district to the Jameh Mosque of Isfahan, we have to cross the Zayandehrud which defines the border between the two religious quarters of Isfahan. Crossing the Armenian quarter and entering the very popular district of the Jameh Mosque is one of the most important visits as we can admire the progress of Iranian-Islamic architecture that occurred from the seventh century until 1900. Therefore, it is not wrong to point out that Isfahan Jameh Mosque is the oldest and most complete of its kind in the whole country. Here, details are infinite and spaces are immense. In the 14th century, an exemplary model of altar, called the Oljato mihrab, was born in this mosque. The building has a complex stucco composition consisting of three-dimensional inscriptions blended in floral and geometric carvings. The mosque has two clearly recognizable spaces, even for inexperienced people: the interior and the exterior. The admiration of the monochromatic bricks inside and the turquoise blue outside is unavoidable. The transition from one space to the other allows us to travel back in time, especially when we are under the magnificent Taj al-Moluk dome, considered to be the most beautiful brick dome of Iran.
- At the end of the visits, we throw ourselves in the crowd. In Isfahan, as one visit ends, another begins, and the traveler unconsciously prepares to listen to the city’s narratives, as if Scheherazade were reading them directly from “the Arabian Nights”. Those who love to get lost in the alleys and spend time with the people, should know that it is time to enjoy walking among the stores with the scent of perfume and spices as there is a bazaar right at the main entrance of the mosque. After a 40-minute walk, you can reach Naqsh-e Jahan Square. Before following the covered corridors of the bazaar, one can satisfy his curiosity by visiting the synagogues of Isfahan’s Jewish community. This is speaking of multi-ethnicity in the true sense of the word and not easily found in other parts of the world.
- Visit the historic bridges over Zayandehrud: Si-o-Se Pol (33 Arches Bridge) and Khaju Bridge (Pol-e Khaju).
Free time. Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.
14° Day; Isfahan - Natanz - Abyaneh - IKA Airport in Tehran
On the way, we stop in the city of Natanz to admire its Jameh Mosque and Abdol-Samad Mausoleum.
We continue the journey along the Karkas (vulture) Mountains to join an incredible adventure, walking through one of the oldest traditional villages of Iran, Abyaneh, in a valley. This village, with an altitude of more than 2200 meters above sea level, dates back to the Achaemenid era of the 4th century BC. Abyaneh, characterized by the red ochre color of the houses, is surrounded by the ruins of the Sassanid dynasty belonging to the 3rd century A.D. Another characteristic of this village is the rose pattern on the long white scarves of the women. (Depending on the season and the weather this visit can be included or excluded).
As the sun sets and its rays brighten, the route back to Tehran becomes more noticeable, as if the journey to Iran has just started. It is time to pack the suitcase, which returns loaded with excitement, enthusiasm and a lot of culture. Normally, travelers worry about the cost of overloading their luggage, and as the color of the sky darkens, they are thinking about how to arrange souvenirs and gifts; they like to buy everything from pistachios to fabrics and turquoise stones. There is no doubt that everything will fit, except one thing: the hospitality of the people we met in the markets, historical sites and restaurants. This image is engraved in their hearts and is an unforgettable memory that the traveler will carry with him everywhere. Above all, it will be a good incentive for all those who have enjoyed this trip to return to Iran for the second time.
We continue our journey to Tehran. Dinner and overnight at Ibis hotel at the airport.
15° Day; Tehran - Destination Country
Transfer to Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA) departing Tehran to destination country.