Our group of 12 had a new and very comfortable 45-seat Mercedes bus. We had Martin, a male Czech guide from MIR (our tour company), Pari, our female Iranian local guide, a bus driver and his assistant, all permanently with us. At many places, we also had local guides.

 

The tour was organized by MIR. It was their first group tour to Iran since 2001. They called it “Ancient Persia and Modern Iran.”  We divided our pictures into three groups: Ancient Persia, Islamic Iran, and People and Posters.

 

We drove some 2300 mi and our tracks are shown in yellow. We started in Tehran, drove to the Caspian Sea, visited Masuleh and back to Tehran. We flew to Yazd, drove to Kerman, to Shiraz, Esfahan, Kashan and back to Tehran.

 

The yellow dashed line at left shows our adventure. We flew from Tehran to Yazd after driving the Caspian.

 

 

 

Tehran is not a beautiful city. Iran has been in a run-down economy for years and looks like it. However, its proximity to snow-covered mountains reminded us of Innsbruck (which is an attractive city).

 

There are several palaces built by the Pahlavi Shahs. We didn’t think they were worth visiting except for historical interest.

 

Reza Pahlavi also built this inverted Y shaped Azadi (freedom) monument in 1971 to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of the Persian empire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tehran has several wonderful museums. One has a magnificent collection of Persian rugs like the late 18th century Tabriz on the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Persians developed calligraphy to incredible artistic forms like the example shown on the right.

 

 

The background of this page is also from a manuscript exhibited at the museum: a commentary on the Koran from the 12th century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Tehran, we drove north to the Caspian sea. On the way is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Masuleh, a town which has been continually inhabited for at least 1000 years. The village consists of irregularly shaped pale cream houses that are stacked almost on top of each other. We also found this clumsy little mosque quite charming.

 

These houses are also interesting because the roofs of one level are the walkways and open areas of the level above.

 

 

 

 

Returning to Tehran from the Caspian, we drove over a pass high enough that we drove past snow for an hour. After some museum-visiting using a different bus, we boarded a plane and flew to Yazd. Our bus driver had taken the bus there - 400 miles! - and he was there waiting for us!

 

Yazd’s old city, according to UNESCO, is one of the oldest towns on earth. Sun-dried mud bricks are the main building materials.

 

Yazd’s wonderful Zoroastrian sites are covered in the “Ancient Persia” part of this Iran website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The magnificent Jameh mosque dominates the old city of Yazd. Its entrance portal is flanked by very high (150 ft) minarets that are covered with 15thc . tile work

 

 

On the bottom left can be seen fine examples of badgirs (wind towers) which abound in Yazd and other places where it gets really hot. They are intricate ventilation systems  with artistically shaped chimneys that provide a pleasant breeze down in the living areas. The air flows down these “chimneys”, enters a room and often cools even more by being passed over a pool of cool water.

 

We can testify that these systems are very effective.

 

 

 

 

 

A comment on the wonderful tile seen on mosques and other buildings: since different colors require different firing temperatures, the highest quality, longest lasting and most brilliant designs are made by mosaics (i.e., each color is an individual piece that has to be shaped and arranged appropriately). This is a costly process.

 

Cheaper designs put multicolored imagery on one tile and all the colors are fired at the same temperature.

 

The picture on the right is a mosaic design of the Jameh mosque.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was a little side chapel with special entrance doors for women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In front of the Jameh mosque is a nakhl (date palm) which is used in Shiite religious ceremonies on Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram (first month of the Islamic lunar calendar). It commemorates the suffering and martyrdom of Hussein (son of Ali, grandson of Mohammed) who was carried away on a palm stretcher on that day in 680 CE in Kerbala. Some nakhls require 150 people to carry them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the left is the three-storey façade of the takieh (a building used during the rituals to commemorate the death of Imam Hussein). The takieh belongs to the Amir Chakhmaq complex and is one of the most recognizable and unusual buildings in Iran.

 

There is another huge wooden palm nakhl on the right side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the bazaar is the 17th c. bathhouse of Ganjali Khan. Notice the elaborate iconography on the ceiling which is quite unusual in Islamic art.

 

 

An ancient mud city dating from the Sassanian period, Bam was one of the most impressive tourist sites in Iran. Countless visitors (including Marco Polo) were awestruck by the city’s 38 towers, huge mud walls and the fairy-tale citadel, the Arg-e Bam. On 27 December 2003, a 6.8 earthquake leveled the city and killed 26,000 people.

 

With the demise of Bam, Arg-e Rayen became an ersatz Bam, sometimes called little Bam (about one quarter size of Bam). Our Czech guide Martin who had seen Bam and now visited Arg-e Rayen for the first time thought it to be quite impressive too. Anyway, we were impressed by its 15 towers, the 10 ft thick mud walls and the citadel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The city dates back at least 1000 years.

 

The citadel has been abandoned for about 150 years and was rebuilt in 1996.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We visited Rayen from Kerman where we were staying. In nearby Mahan we visited the mausoleum of a well-known Sufi dervish, the Aramgah-e Shah Ne’matollah Vali. The mausoleum dates from the early 15th c. with 18th c. additions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the long drive from Kerman to Shiraz, we stopped briefly at one of the many salt lakes.

 

 

 

 

 

A typical scene: large herds of sheep and goats - even crossing through cities. This one even had  a donkey with a cute little baby (one can see the donkey left of center in the back).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nassir-al-Molk mosque in Shiraz is one of the most elegant mosques in southern Iran. It dates from the late 19th c.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mosque is famous for its beautiful stained glass windows and elegantly crafted pillars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A garden with pavilion in Shiraz: the Bagh-e Naranjestan was built in the late 19th century and has a lovely atmosphere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the pavilion, one finds many Persian mirrors and we took a picture of us reflected by them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just outside the gardens that house the tomb of the adored Persian poet Hafez, this guy had a parakeet pick a piece of paper that told you your fortune.

 

 

 

 

 

Of all the Persian poets, Hafez is the most special. Iranians have a saying that every home must have two things: first the Koran, then Hafez. And many would reverse that order. Almost every Iranian can quote his works.

 

On the left is the tomb of Hafez set in a charming garden. It’s interesting to watch the locals relax and pay homage to their beloved poet.

 

Below is Hafez’ sarcophagus that everyone including Yvonne has to touch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the first verse of one of Hafez’ charming poems:

 

Sweet maid, if thou would’st charm my sight,

And bid these arms thy neck infold;

That rosy cheek, that lily hand,

Would give thy poet more delight

Than all Bokhara’s vaunted gold,

Than all the gems of Samarkand.

 

 

Isn’t that beautiful?

 

It’s really special to us as we’re visiting Bokhara and Samarkand in September 2007.

 

 

 

Esfahan is the most beautiful Islamic city we have seen. Its center plaza (roughly 550x200 m) is second in size only to Tiananmen square but first in harmonic balance and spectacular architecture. A night view of this shot is used as the title photo for this website.

 

The plaza is faced by three major architectural wonders: the Imam mosque shown on the left, the Lotfallah mosque, and the Ali Qapu palace.

 

A brilliant arrangement aligned the monumental entrance gate with its two minarets with the square while the Imam mosque itself faces Mecca. After entering the entrance gate one has to make a right turn to get to and into the mosque.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is not the Imam plaza, it’s the courtyard of our hotel in Esfahan. It was a beautiful place to stay. It is a restored caravanserai.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the Imam plaza, this is the splendid Sheik Lotfallah mosque, considered by some the most fabulous mosque in Iran. It was built in the early 1600s by Shah Abbas I. The dome with its cream-colored tiles changes colors throughout the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are many fountains throughout the plaza like this one in front of the Lotfallah mosque.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just opposite the Lotfallah mosque, is the late 16th c. Ali Qapu (‘Gate of Allah’) palace which was to serve as a monumental gateway to the royal palaces that lay in the parklands beyond. But it also served as a residence for Shah Abbas I. Even though it is being restored we were able to go up for the view over the square.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the intricate wooden ceiling supported by graceful columns of the elevated terrace of the Ali Qapu palace – which is about to be restored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the entrance gate of the Imam mosque. It has beautiful marble and intricate tile work. A closer look is below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of the entrance gate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A courtyard of the Imam mosque.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whenever one returns to the Imam plaza – and we did many times – day and night - there is a different mood. The next three pictures are evening scenes. On the right is the Lotfallah mosque.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The illuminated entrance gate to the Imam mosque.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dusk at the Imam mosque with the moon and Venus. It was an incredible mood.

 

 

 

The Jameh (Friday) mosque at more than 20,000 m2 is the largest mosque in Iran and also one of the most interesting as it comprises many Islamic styles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These examples from the Seljuk era are the finest brick work ever done (above and right.)

 

Note the squinches readying the square room for the round dome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the left is a 14th c. stucco mihrab with magnificent Koranic inscriptions and floral designs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is an unusually tall (150 ft) minaret of the Mosque of Ali.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mausoleum of Harun Vilayet has some high-quality frescos. Through the door, one can see the typical Shiites tomb illuminated in green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even Shiite iconography has its limits. The fresco on the left shows the prophet Muhammad but with the face blanked out.

 

 

We were very lucky to see a specifically Iranian event - a zoor khaneh. Our local guide found this for us. For centuries, zoor khanehs have been places where the Iranian martial arts are performed by athletes called pahlevan after renowned Sassanian warriors. Since medieval times, athletes have trained publicly in zoor khanehs. Part calisthenics, part gymnastics, part dance, the exercises were meant to prepare men for battle.

The drum, the bell and the cantor’s voice (upper left in the picture) set the pace. He controls the flow of events with quotes form the Koran, poems by Hafez and beats from his drums.

 

Swinging the heavy wooden clubs over one’s shoulder is one part of the exercise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juggling several of these clubs and having several of them airborne is another part of the performance (two of the clubs are in mid-air within the tan ellipse inserted by us). Push-ups and rapid dances (reminiscent of the whirling dervishes) are also part of the performance.

 

It was a unique experience and we have never seen something like this before.

 

 

 

It might look like a mosque but the building below is a Christian (orthodox) church (there is a cross on the dome). The priest below led a service remembering the Turkish genocide of Armenians. Christianity (like Zoroastrianism and Judaism) is recognized and tolerated even though their adherents are second class citizens. Within these church compounds we saw the only females without a head scarf in all of Iran. When they left the compound they had to again wear the headscarf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Esfahan is also known for a number of beautiful bridges that cross the river Zealander.

 

The two pictures on the left show the Khaju Bridge which dates from 1650. It has two levels of raised terraces, the lower containing locks to regulate the water flow.

 

It’s fun to see the locals stroll and relax.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yvonne (and a local couple, well at least she) drooling over gold jewelry. Everything is at least 18k.

 

Needless to say, some of it followed Yvonne home…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re now on our way north after leaving Esfahan.

 

As noted before, one is never far away from snow-covered mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like Masuleh, the village of Abiyaneh (70km S.E. of Kashan) is one of the oldest in Iran (UNESCO has it registered as a historical village).

 

Building materials are mostly mud, brick, and clay and the roofs of some houses serve as the courtyard for other houses higher up on the slope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Street in Abiyaneh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a good number of Islamic and Zoroastrian buildings in the village. Until the early 16th c. under the Safavids, the village remained purely Zoroastrian. Even today, Abiyaneh preserves its own unique dialect and way of life.

 

The women wear quite colorful floral patterns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kashan has a number of beautiful old houses. The Khan-e Borujerdi on the left was built in the early 19th c. The structure on top of the roof is a badgir (wind tower). The sticks are for maintenance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agha-Borzog mosque and madrassah of Kashan were built in the 19th c.

 

 

 

 

 

Bagh-e Fin is one of Iran’s most treasured gardens with its centuries old cypress trees.

 

In the foreground one sees the hole where water from a spring provides water for the gardens. These springs are often hooked up to water delivery systems or quanats that originate in the mountains and carry the water through long, underground pipe systems. Iran is thought to have more than 50 000 quanats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a huge memorial complex built for the Ayatolla (now Imam) Khomeini that is just outside of Teheran.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is also Islamic Iran today.

 

A restaurant in Teheran where we had lunch twice. It offered free wireless internet access and Yvonne is checking our email over lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shopping in the famous, huge bazaar in Teheran. Because of the few tourists one finds only locals and merchandise for them.

 

Can you find Yvonne?

 

It was occasionally a problem for Juergen to spot her. Especially from behind, women and girls all look alike.

 

We sent several emails from Iran. They contain more travel details and if anyone is interested in further reading to experience our Iran learning-curve, click on reports from Iran.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The end.