Journey to the Land of One Thousand and One Nights
15 days/ 14 nights
“Journey to the Land of One Thousand and One Nights” is an intense journey during which we will discover all corners of this vast and fascinating country. In other words, the journey is a dive into the history of Persia through which you will find the traces of Xerxes and Cyrus the Great. Iran hides great treasures that are only discoverable by visiting the splendid cities and the caravan centers on the Silk Road. After visiting Tehran, the modern capital of Iran, the journey continues to Kashan, Yazd and Kerman, located near the fascinating Lut Desert. These are the most fascinating cities of Iran located in the center of the country whose peculiarity is their desert area. After visiting Kerman and the magnificent Rayen Citadel, the journey continues to Shiraz, the city of poets, where we will visit Persepolis and Pasargadae following the traces of the civilization of ancient Persia.
“Journey to the Land of One Thousand and One Nights” is a round-shaped journey through the central region of Iran where the archaeological sites, the elegance of the cities and the hospitality of its inhabitants will satisfy even the most demanding. Due to its dry continental climate, the itinerary “A Journey to the Land of One Thousand and One Nights” is possible all year round.
|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
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.
After breakfast, we will walk through the streets of Tehran, to discover its particularly unique rhythm.
- National Museum of Iran exhibits history, art and culture through archaeological findings from the sixth millennium BC to the Islamic era, the 7th century AD. There is a wonderful collection of ceramics, pottery and bronze in this museum and, in addition, every six months, a temporary exhibition is organized with the most valuable archaeological objects, borrowed from other museums such as Venice, Berlin, etc.
- Golestan Palace, located near the Grand Bazaar, is a remarkable complex that has its roots in the 16th century, when Tehran slowly transformed from a simple village into a real city. Golestan means “garden of flowers”, a name that honors wonderful Persian Gardens in the place. The contemporary Iranian history is so indebted to this complex where Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was crowned claiming himself the successor to Cyrus the Great. Next, we visit the entrance to Tehran Grand Bazaar where, among its 10 kilometers of galleries, is possible to find any imaginable object.
- National Jewelry Museum (open only from Saturday to Tuesday) is located in a large vault with a 25 cm thick door in the basement of the Central Bank of Iran. The museum houses royal jewels, precious stones, a globe set with gems, a variety of tiaras, the crowns of the Pahlavi and Qajar dynasties, and the world’s largest pink diamond, Darya-e Nour (182 carats). This diamond was brought to Iran as a symbol of Nader Shah’s victorious campaigns in India in 1739.
The Carpet Museum is an alternative to the National Jewelry Museum.
- A pleasant walk across the Tabiat Bridge (Pol-e Tabiat), a modern landmark of the Iranian capital, Tehran. Tabiat Bridge is a pedestrian area, built on one of the main highways of the city connecting two green hills (two public parks). The bridge was designed by a 26-year-old Iranian woman, “Leila Araghian”. Since its inauguration in 2014, it has won many international awards. The designer has expressed that this work has been conducted with the purpose of bringing people together.
Dinner at a restaurant in Darband, the north of Tehran at the foot of the mountain. Transfer to the hotel and overnight stay.
3° 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 with a splendid roof and Agha Bozorg Mosque and Madrasa, a Koranic school.
Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at a traditional hotel.
4° 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.
5° 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.
- 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.
6° Day; Yazd – Kerman
Due to Kerman’s strategic position, this city enjoys a great history. Kerman, located in the southeast of the country, opens the way to India and Pakistan and from the south leads to Bandar Abbas and the Persian Gulf. In fact, Kerman was one of the satrapies of the Persian Empire which provided access to the cities of Babylon, Susa and Persepolis. During various dynasties, the importance of this city was never diminished even in the Sassanid (3rd century A.D.) and Safavid (16th-18th centuries) eras. Kerman offers a fascinating bazaar to all lovers of popular places where they meet different ethnicities and races.
Despite intercultural exchange between Kerman and neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, the anthropological hallmark of the region is undoubtedly a group of Iranian tribes, Baluchi. The Baluchis are an ancient and authentic Iranian ethnic group who have preserved their customs since ancient times. They settled in Iran in the 12th century and in the Mongol period their territory became known under the name “Baluchistan”. As for the meaning of the controversial word Baluch, people disagree: some say it means nomad, while others say it is an old Persian word meaning is “the cock’s crest”.
After breakfast, we leave for Kerman passing through Rafsanjan, the Iranian city famous for its green gold fields, the pistachio.
- On the way, we will stop to visit Zeinodin caravanserai, a circular caravanserai, unique in Iran, which always fascinates visitors. There is no other place in the world that provides such an extraordinary experience. To reach the beating heart of this magical place, you need to climb the stairs that lead to the roof of the caravanserai, from where you can admire the landscape of the high mountains before your eyes. Just look out over the plain and imagine the caravans crossing the deserts.
Arrival in Kerman in the afternoon.
During the trip to Iran, you can visit two magnificent complexes that have remained from the Safavid era; considered as the only elements of Renaissance architecture. The first is Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan and the second one is in Kerman, Ganjali Khan Square. Both works are contemporary, but with different monuments and decorations from each other. On one hand, the focus of the constructions was magnificent mosques in Isfahan, and on the other hand they built an elegant caravanserai and a wonderful hammam (Turkish bath) in Kerman. In Gajali Khan Square, there is a water cistern, a wind tower under which was the coin minting was located. They represent the architectural divergences largely adapted to the climate and governmental needs of the 1600s.
- Ganjali Khan Complex: In almost every oriental country there is an ancient hammam to visit, but what distinguishes this bath from others is its majesty and breathtaking beauty. This thermal complex is divided into three different parts: frigidarium (the place to take cold baths), tepidarium (the room of warm baths) and caldarium (the room of hot bath). What highlights the beauty of this bathhouse is the decoration of the walls and the position of the pools in the first room. Each space was reserved exclusively for a particular social class: the descendants of the Prophet, clerics, nobles, merchants and farmers. In addition to the regular tiles, majolica tiles with bright instructions have also been used at all times. If you want to see the sundial, you should enter the royal hall where you can see a stone block with a thickness of 10 cm. People used to measure the passing of time standing over this stone and called it the sun dial.
Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.
7° Day; Kerman - Kalut - Rayen - Mahan - Kerman
Departure to the Kaluts desert. In Shahdad, the last inhabited area on the edge of the Lut Desert, there is a very special Nebka, also known under the name Tamarix, which in the Lut Desert reaches a height unequaled by any other desert on the planet. In the east of the desert, there is a not very high plateau that is covered with a layer of salt, although the center of the desert is sculpted by the wind in a series of parallel ridges and hollows whose height reaches up to 70 meters. After visiting Shahdad, the journey continues to discover the Yardang, the ridges created by the erosion caused by wind, which lie shortly after the village. Yardang is known by the name “Kalut” in Persian, while it is etymologically derived from Turkish. The Kaluts are believed by the locals to be the work of jinns, supernatural creatures in pre-Islamic Arab world. Actually, they are formed by wind blowing in the same direction that has resulted in the erosion of the rocks over the millennia. Dasht-e-Lut is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Iranian Nature. During the short rainy season in spring, snow melt from the Kerman Mountains floods the area, although within a short time it dries up and leaves rocks, sand and salt behind.
- The journey continues to Rayen, a splendid citadel made of adobe, a typical example of ecological desert architecture in the Sassanid era in the 4th century AD. Rayen Citadel was divided into several places and quarters: dwellings reserved for the elites and ordinary people, bazaar, grain store, part of the bourgeoisie and royal castle. The citadel has 15 towers with a corridor that allowed the soldiers to move from one to another and the holes at the apex of the towers were used to monitor the citadel, from above, by archers every movement around the fence. Rayen is located approximately 2200 meters above sea level, so the desert landscape and the mountain behind the citadel offer a picturesque image to the visitor.
- In the afternoon, we leave for Mahan on the way back to Kerman. The blue dome of Shah Nematollah Vali Mausoleum, one of the most important figures of the religious doctrine called “Sufism” in the Middle East, immediately catches the eye. After that, we continue to the Prince’s Garden (Baq-e Shahzadeh), a unique model of Persian gardens where the cascading waterfalls make the Persian Garden a real paradise on earth in the heart of the monochromatic desert of Kerman.
Return to Kerman, dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
8° Day; Kerman - Shiraz
Landscapes and routes are part of the trip. The dominant colors of each site give a clue to the traveler about the locals. Passing through the pistachio fields in Kerman, we can see the farmers pampering the trees. Summer is the ideal time to walk among the treasures of the zone that produce one of the best agricultural products in the whole country. The pistachio tree can reach up to 5m with leaves composed of three leaflets, violets, dioecious flowers, gathered in panicles and yellowish or reddish fruits, similar to those of the olive tree, containing an aromatic and sweet seed. Etymologically, the term pistachio comes from the Latin pistacium borrowed from the Greek (Pistakion) that had come from the Persian (pesteh). Apart from its pleasant taste that it leaves in the mouth, it has defined a particular green color, pistachio green.
We continue the trip with a visit to one of the oldest mosques in Iran in Neiriz with a fabulous Mihrab.
On the way, we will also visit the Maharloo Lake, a seasonal salt lake with pink marshes, an absolutely cinematographic panorama of the pink salt workshops.
- The Sassanid Castle in Sarvesan (the Sassanid palace) is one of the main baroque style castles that has remained from the Sassanid period. The Sarvesan Palace was a hunting lodge, built by King Bahramgur, where he went to hunt zebras. This palace dates back to the 5th century AD and is an excellent example of dome construction. For those who are interested in the fundamental basis of mosque construction during the Islamic period, it is recommended to contemplate the simple formula of multiplication by 4, which has been used in the elevation of the dome. This dome, based on a square plan, takes on a circular shape through the protruding brick tubes at each corner.
In the evening, arrival in Shiraz. Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.
9° Day; 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Khan School whose decorations of pink and blue flowers with birds refer to the fresco paintings of the Safavid palaces.
- Qavam House (Narenjestan Garden): It dates back to the Qajar period (1880). The name of the garden “Narenjestan” comes from sour orange or bergamot trees, so we are not surprised that Shiraz is the most famous city for its bergamot trees found in the streets of the city. The pavilion in the middle of the garden was a place where people went for administrative purposes and public meetings were held, as well as those between dignitaries and nobles of Qajar.
Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.
10° Day; Shiraz - Naqsh-e Rostam - Persepolis
After breakfast, we will visit the Tomb of Hafez.
- 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!
- After that, 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.
- 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.
Dinner and overnight stay at a hotel in Persepolis.
11° Day; Shiraz - Pasargadae - Isfahan
- After breakfast, 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.
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.
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
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.
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).
Transfer to Tehran airport, dinner and overnight stay at IBIS hotel.
15° Day; Tehran - Destination Country
Transfer to Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA) departing Tehran to destination country.