The Ziggurat of Iran: from Elamites to Persepolis
12 days/ 11 nights
“The Ziggurat of Iran: from Elamites to Persepolis” is a journey to discover the ancient civilization of the Iranian plateau by following the traces of the Elamites, through the rigorous temple in the historical region of the Fertile Crescent; the ziggurat of Choga Zanbil. In Elam, located in southeastern Iran, which later became part of Persia, a process of acculturation took place between Elamite and Iranian elements over several decades which resulted in their political power precisely during the Achaemenids.
During the journey from Shushtar to the capital of Darius I the Great in Susa, we will admire the most glorious cities of Iran: after visiting Tehran, the modern capital of Iran, the journey continues to Ahvaz, Shiraz, Yazd and Isfahan. These are the most historical cities located in southwestern and central Iran that represent the history of Iranian civilization and enrich our cultural background.
Few places in the world are able to offer us the opportunity to visit a temple of the pagans belonging to the 13th century BC, a Zoroastrian fire temple and Iran’s most beautiful mosque in Isfahan. In Iran, religious culture is a relevant point in such a way that there is a metamorphosis between the cult of Zoroastrianism and Shiite Islam. The procedure of religious changes arouses a great interest since even today on your trip to Iran you can visit some places of worship of the great religions of the world such as: the Ziggurat of Choga Zanbil in Susa, the Fire Temple in Yazd, the Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque in Shiraz and the Vank Cathedral in Isfahan.
Travelling is the only way to discover the mesmerizing wonders that reveal themselves to our eyes during the tour. Passing through Ahvaz, Shiraz, Persepolis, Isfahan, Tehran and Kashan we will have no choice but to admire a land full of beauty that with its seductive charm narrates a genuine history inherited from the ancient civilization of Elamites.
|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- Ahvaz
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. In order to discover the real Tehran, one must not be fulfilled with only visiting the museums, but also it is highly recommended to dive into the urban bustle, enjoying the contrast between modernity and tradition present in its many cafes and bazaars. It is the only way to get to know its culture and the lifestyle of the inhabitants of the metropolis.
- 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-Ahvaz. Arrival in Ahvaz. Transfer to hotel and overnight stay.
3° Day; Ahvaz - Susa - Shushtar - Ziggurat - Ahvaz
The entire day is dedicated to sites of great importance in terms of history and archaeology. To understand the history of Iran, it is indispensable to know the oldest civilization on the Iranian plateau: Elam. At the time of the third dynasty of Ur, this term was used to designate a region in eastern Mesopotamia. A few centuries later, around the 18th century BC, and shortly before Hammurabi ascended the throne in Babylon the term Elam was also attributed to the rulers of Susa. In fact, this word was born to indicate generally the foreigners who lived in the mountains east of the Mesopotamian plains at the time its elite took power in the city of Susa, making prominent what was previously limited to remote valleys of the Zagros mountain range.
- Ziggurat of Choga Zanbil: the Elamite religion is not an easy matter to understand since most of the epigraphic and archaeological sources come from Susiana, a region under the great influence of Mesopotamian culture. Consequently, many Sumerian and Akkadian deities benefited from temples and cults in both Susa and Elam. Throughout the period of Elamite authority on the Acropolis of Susa, there were temples dedicated to both Suso-Mesopotamian divinity and properly Elamite deity. In fact, there is a clear impression that polytheism was, as in Mesopotamia, the omnipresent religion in the life of Susans. From time to time Babylonian evangelists had to appear before the king, traveling about 35 km from Susa to the southeast, where Untash-Napirisha founded a new city called Dur-Untash, today known under the name Choga Zanbil. The said toponym, which means basket mound, probably originated in reference to the mass of land formed by atmospheric agents into the rounded form of an upside down basket. The ziggurat has four floors embedded vertically on a square temple with a height of more than 50 m, surrounded by numerous buildings, temples and palaces, protected by three walls. The ziggurat is formed by a massive structure of raw brick, reinforced by wooden beams with external cladding in fired brick. Each floor of the ziggurat has a specific function: at the top is the sanctum sanctorum with an altar and statues of the patron deity, to which only the priest-king had access. On the intermediate floors there are writing schools and along the stairs, there are the rooms of the priests. In the lower part are the storerooms and clay tablets on which the contracts or the amount of goods delivered to the temple are recorded.
In the facade, in addition to knob design, there are rows of brick whose visible face has inscriptions. Among every ten uncarved bricks there is one carved with the following inscription:
“I, Untash-Napirisha, son of Humban-Numena, king of Anshan and Susa, desirous that my life be continually one of prosperity, that the extinction of my lineage not be granted when it shall be judged (?), with this intention I built a temple of baked bricks, a high temple of glazed bricks; I gave it to the god Inshushinak of the Sacred Precinct. I raised a ziggurat. May the work which I created, as an offering, be agreeable to Inshushinak.”
Then, we continue the journey with a visit to the Shushtar Watermill Complex, where you can admire houses, mills and an exemplary model of hydraulic system belonging to the Sassanid period.
- Susa: the city of Susa was under Mesopotamian or Elamite rule (2400-1500 B.C.) until the Achaemenids dominated Persia and later all the ancient kingdoms of the Near East as far as Egypt. For the Mesopotamians, attracted by the natural wealth of the Iranian plateau not found in their territory such as wood, stone and metal, this city probably constituted a stop to ship goods eastward from the Elamite territory. By the 6th century BC, under the leadership of Cyrus the Great and then Cambyses II, the Achaemenids had already conquered most of the African and Asian lands known by the names: Mesopotamia, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Palestine and Anatolia (Asia Minor). At the beginning of the 5th century BC, Darius the Great ruled the Persians whose strategy was not based on new conquests, but to organize perfectly the inherited empire. He divided the imperial territory into 20 provinces which were called “Satrapy” and their governors were called “Satrap” (protector of the land). Although the satraps was endowed with military and civil powers, they could be deposed by order of the king. At that time, there were no roads except for a few short ones leading from a city to its sanctuary or seaport. To connect all parts of the empire, Darius undertook the extraordinary task of building a 2683 km long road, the Royal Road, connecting Susa in central Asia to Sardis on the Mediterranean. Susa, during the reign of Darius and Xerxes, became the political and administrative capital thanks to the connections provided by this road. Before Darius, this city was the capital of the kingdom of Elam and in 1175 BC, the ruler Shutruk-Nahhunte brought spoils from Babylon to Susa including the famous stele with Hammurabi Code. The city after being devastated by the attack of Assurbanipal, the last king of Assyria, it became the imperial residence of the Achaemenids in 646 BC.
Return to Ahvaz. Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.
4° Day; Ahvaz - Shiraz
Departure to Shiraz, by the long route between Khuzestan and Fars, two regions that allow us to visit the ruins of the city of Bishapur and the bas-reliefs of the Chogan Strait (Tang-e Chogan).
After the fall of the Parthian Empire, the Sassanids regained power by establishing a new Persian Empire: the Sassanid dynasty. The name Sassanid refers to the dynasty that ruled Persia from the Parthians until Islamic conquest in 636 AD. This term is derived from Sassan, the name of a priest at the Temple of Anahita (the goddess of water), in Istakhr. This city in Fars was part of the Parthian Empire. Babak, governor of the city, took advantage of conflicts over the succession of pretenders to the throne and at the beginning of the 3rd century rebelled and proclaimed himself king of Persia. Ardashir I succeeded his father and expanded his rule to neighboring provinces to the point that Artabanus IV, Parthian ruler, declared war against him. In this war, the Sassanids defeated the Parthian army and began to conquer the Iranian and Mesopotamian provinces and Shahan Shah (king of kings) was crowned at Ctesiphon in 226 A.D. After him, his son Shapur I ascended the throne in 241 A.D. continuing the expansionist policy of his father concentrating on eastern Afghanistan, Asian steppes and westward to the Mediterranean and Roman borders.
- Bishapur, the ancient capital of the Sassanid Empire, was built with the help of Roman soldiers defeated by Shapur I in the battle of Edessa in 260 A.D. ending with the imprisonment of Emperor Valerian. On both sides of the Chogan River, a little further from the town of Bishapur, we will be surprised by six large bas-reliefs on the rocky coast on which the Sassanid emperors carved their victories.
After visiting Bishapur and the bas-reliefs on both sides of the river, we continue along the beautiful mountain road to Shiraz.
Arrival in Shiraz. Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
5° Day; Shiraz - Persepolis
In the morning after breakfast, we visit Shiraz:
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- After lunch, we leave to 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.
Near to the archaeological site there is a historic structure acting as a hotel that once hosted archaeologists and team leaders working during the excavations of Persepolis in the 1930-40s. In the 1960s and 1970s, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, and his wife Farah Diba went to this hotel for the 2500 Years of the Persian Empire Celebration.
After the visit, we return to the hotel and in the evening we will have the opportunity to walk around Persepolis.
6° Day; Shiraz - Naqsh-e Rostam - Pasargadae - Yazd
Departure to Yazd. One the way, we will visit the archeological site of Naqsh-e Rostam.
- 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.
- The journey continues with the 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
- Halfway before arriving in Yazd, we will 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.
Arrival in Yazd. Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.
7° Day; Yazd
To understand the root of Zarathustra’s philosophical thought, one must be familiar with its fundamental principles. Zarathustra’s teachings, serving as ethical criteria, delimited the boundary between good and evil. Zoroastrianism, known as the world’s first monotheism, has existed for 3000 years in Iran. According to Zarathustra, Ahura Mazda, creator of the world and omniscient, is the extreme opposite of the forces of darkness, headed by the representation of evil, Ahriman. Therefore, Zarathustra’s followers have to choose between good and evil and contribute with their own actions to save the world. After the arrival of Islam in the 7th century, this religion, belonging to the ancient Persian Empire, was abandoned by most people. You will hear the names “Ahura Mazda” and “Ahriman” many times during your trip to Iran; the first means “wise Lord”, characterized by infinite light, omniscience and goodness (benevolent spirit), as opposed to the second one, “evil spirit”, the lord of darkness, violence and death.
Breakfast. The whole day is dedicated to visit Yazd, one of the most interesting cities in Iran.
- 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.
In Fahadan, in addition to the wind towers, there are other monuments worthy of admiration. Due to the safety of the city, in the early 13th century many intellectuals and scientists took refuge there during the Mongol invasion of Persia, led by Genghis Khan.
- 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.
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 and overnight stay at the hotel.
8° Day; Yazd – Meybod - Nain - Isfahan
After breakfast, departure to Isfahan. To reach the city of Isfahan, we have to cross two desert towns: Nain and Meybod.
Along the way, we visit the town of Meybod with the characteristic hand-painted ceramic factories.
In Meybod, we visit a caravanserai, a traditional icehouse and the brilliant tile and ceramic industry. The term caravanserai is composed of kārwān (camel caravan) and sarāy (building) indicating a building or set of buildings intended to accommodate travelers and merchandise, both as a stopover on commercial roads and as a point of arrival or storage of goods near the entrance to cities. The caravanserai was divided into two different social categories: royal and popular.
- 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.
We continue the journey to the desert town of Nain, famous for its handmade carpets.
In Nain, on the other hand, we visit a splendid mosque with an octagonal minaret, a beautiful prayer niche “Mihrab”, a qanat and the Museum of Ethnology.
- Jameh Mosque of Nain with an interesting Mihrab and the Old Bazaar, now fallen into disuse.
At the end of the day, we arrive in Isfahan, one of the most beautiful cities in Iran.
Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
9° Day; Isfahan
The highlight of the itinerary is Isfahan. This city is a historical image that completes the journey in Iran. It is no coincidence that Isfahan attracted Pasolini’s attention to shoot some scenes of his film in Naqsh-e Jahan square. There is a Persian saying: “Isfahan is half of the world.” In fact, the flourishing of Islamic-Iranian architecture was born here in Naqsh-e Jahan Square where the turquoise blue dominates the domes of mosques and the sky above. Over time, the former polo field was converted into the home of valuable art workshops. The Safavid era corresponds to the third Persian Empire which restored Iran’s power and established a new country based on political, religious and military relations. The presence of Vank Cathedral (also called St. Savior’s Cathedral), run by the Armenian Christian community since 1605 AD makes a good example of this city. However, the Safavid power was represented through art and thus, a phase of “Renaissance” of Persian civilization, culture and art was born in Isfahan. The Islamic Renaissance period in Iran sees artistic lightning under the rule of the Shah Abbas I (1587-1629). In Isfahan, in a matter of seconds, every traveler’s dream of Middle East comes true: Iran and the appeal of the Renaissance, Chehel Sotun Palace and the magnificent ceiling of the Music Palace of Ali Qapu Mansion.
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.
10° 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.
11° Day; Isfahan - Kashan - IKA Airport in Tehran
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.
- 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.
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.
Transfer to Tehran airport, dinner and overnight stay at IBIS hotel.
12° Day; Tehran- Destination Country
Transfer to Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA) departing Tehran to destination country.