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7 Memorable Days in Iran

By Petra Sander

Esfahan nesf-é jahan (Esfahan is half the world) is a famous 16th century saying that epitomises the grandeur of Iran. Iran is steeped in history from the magnificent ruins of Persepolis to grand mosques and beautiful gardens. A land that has given birth to exquisite poetry and enshrines the 'Darya-ye-nur' (Sea of Diamond), the largest uncut diamond in the world. We were a group of eleven members of the German Speaking Women's Association of Dubai who were going to spend seven days together in Iran. Looking at our itinerary, the trip promised to be eventful and exciting.

Teheran, the Capital City
Shiraz & Persepolis
Abarkuh & Yazd
Jame Mosque & Zoroastrian Fire Temple
Esfahan & Abu Qapi Palace
Friday Mosque & Chehel Sotun Palace
Meeting with Prince Mansour

  • Monday, March 4:
    7:55 a.m. Emirates flight Dubai - Teheran
    Check-in at Azadi Grand Hotel, Lunch break at Tea-house, Visiting the Niavaran Palaces
    Meeting with the German Speaking Women's Club of Teheran

    As our plane approached Teheran, we got a little nervous. Or as Katja, one of my fellow travelling companions, said, The real 'exciting' part of this journey was when the airplane started the descent for Teheran. Suddenly you could see eleven female tourists trying to get into their black Abayas. As we were not really used to it, especially the headscarf, we had our difficulties. But finally, everyone of us was correctly dressed and so we could leave the plane and made our ways to customs. It's good to pay a little attention to the habits of the country that you are going to visit. To be honest, I did not feel very uncomfortable in the Abaya. The only problem was the headscarf, because I did not know the proper way to fix it around my head,it was constantly gliding down my hair.

    Tehran - The Capital City

    At the airport we were greeted by our tour guide who joined our group for the whole week. Next thing, we exchanged our money for Iranian currency. For USD 100, we got 793,000 Iranian Rials. Feeling like millionaires, we drove to the Azadi Grand Hotel, checked in and directly left again for our lunch break at a small tea-house somewhere in the north of Tehran, up in the mountains.

    Tehran was made Iran's capital in the 18th century. With a difference in elevation of more than 500 meters, and a population of nearly 10 million in an approximate area of 600 square km, modern Tehran is situated on the northern fringe of the great central plateau and at the foot of the southern slope of the impressive mountain chain of Alborz. With a high point of 5610 meters, Damavand is the highest mountain peak in Iran located almost in the centre of Alborz mountain range. Damavand is higher than all west Asian and European mountain peaks. It is located only 69 km northeast of Teheran and you can see it from nearly everywhere in the city. Heide was ecstatic at the view, 'Upon arrival in Tehran my first impression were the beautiful snow covered mountains in the background of the city. It was just such a wonderful view.'

    After a sightseeing stop at the Niavaran Palaces, we spent the afternoon with Mrs. Reyels, wife of the German Ambassador at their residence. We had the chance to learn more about Iran from members of the German Women's Club in Tehran.

  • Tuesday, March 5:
    Early morning Iranian Air flight to Shiraz
    Sight-seeing tour through Persepolis and Naqsh-e Rostam, Lunch break on the way back to Shiraz, Visit of the Hafez mausoleum, Stop at tea-house, Stroll through the Bagh-e Eram Garden, Check-in at Aryo Hotel, Shah Cheragh Mausoleum, Bazaar, Dinner at the Aryo Hotel.
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    Shiraz & Persepolis

    On our second day we took a very early Iranian Air flight to Shiraz in Fars Province. This province is one of the oldest civilization centres and was the capital for Iranian Kings for centuries.

    The magnificent ruins of Persepolis lie at the foot of Kuh-i-Rahmat, or 'Mountain of Mercy' in the plains of Marv Dasht. The exact date of the founding of Persepolis is not known. It is assumed that Darius I began work on the platform and its structures between 518 and 516 B.C., visualizing Persepolis as a show place and the seat of his vast Achaemenian Empire. He proudly proclaimed his achievement; there is an excavated foundation inscription that reads, "And Ahuramazda was of such a mind, together with all the other gods, that this fortress (should) be built. And (so) I built it. And I built it secure and beautiful and adequate, just as I was intending to."

    But the security and splendor of Persepolis lasted only two centuries. Its majestic audience halls and residential palaces perished in flames when Alexander the Great conquered and looted Persepolis in 330 B.C. and, according to Plutarch, carried away its treasures on 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels. From the time of its barbaric destruction until A.D. 1620, when its site was first identified, Persepolis lay buried under its own ruins. At Persepolis one should not miss Naghsh-e Rostam. where you can see the four tombs believed to be those of Xerxes, Darius I, Artaxerexes and Darius II, the Achaemenid kings.

    Hafez Mausoleum
    After a stroll through Bagh-E Eram, a famous and beautiful garden at Shiraz, we went to Hafez Mausoleum. Hafez was one of the most popular and best known poets of Iran. He was born in Shiraz in 1326 A.D. and our tour guide told us that there are many who consider his work as the greatest masterpiece of Persian literature. His name was Shams-uddin Mohammed, but nicknamed as Hafez, i.e. the memorizer of the Holy Quran. Hafez learned Islamic theology, Arabic literature and other branches of arts before starting his composition of poetry based on his own philosophy. It was 64 years after his death that a dome was constructed over his tomb and during the reign of Karim Khan Zand a mausoleum was erected.

    In the evening two more exciting experiences awaited us: in order to visit the Shah Cheragh mausoleum we had to learn how to wear a chador as it is one of the few Shia'ite shrines accessible to the discreet non-Muslim. Shah Cheragh was the brother of the Eight Imam Reza. The tomb of this ninth-century martyr draws thousands of pilgrims annually. Through the donations of devoted pilgrims and local residents, craftsmen embellished the shrine chamber where thousands of pieces of inlaid mirrors reflect the light.

    Finally we had the chance to spend some money at a local bazaar. The heart of an Iranian town or village is still the bazaar where one can go to buy and bargain, hear the current gossip, drink tea and pray. Living in Dubai we are used to bargain and very quickly we found our first souvenirs and bought some sweets, then returned to our hotel for dinner and a good sleep.

  • Wednesday, March 6:
    Bus trip to Yazd, stops in Pasargadae and Abarkuh on our way, Check in at Yazd Azadi Hotel, Visit of the Mir Chaqmaq Mosque by night in Yazd, Walk through bazaar, stop at tea-house, dinner at the Malek-o-Tojjar restaurant.
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    Abarkuh & Yazd

    Wednesday morning, our third day, we went by bus to Yazd, in the centre of Iran. On the way we passed through Pasargadae where we visited the tomb of Kyros II and later on came to Abarkuh. In the middle of this little town there is a cypress which is supposed to be more than 1000 years old. People come to tie colourful clothes into the old and gnarled branches, each fabric representing a wish.

    While we were having a tea break at the cypress young Iranian girls shy but curious came to meet us. Beatrice from our group loved to talk to these girls, Wherever we went they flocked around us, talked to us and even serenaded us with their national anthem. They could not get enough looking at us bizarre and sometimes blonde strangers in Abayas and headscarves. Their excitement and laughter were endless. They were so curious, openhearted, approachable and so full of joy and life that they truly charmed me.

    After crossing two mountain passes at about 2000 meters above sea level, we arrived in Yazd, checked into the Yazd Azadi Hotel and after having a shower to refresh ourselves from the long hours we spent in the bus, we had a look at the Mir Chaqmaq Mosque by night. This mosque is famous on account of its splendid portal and façade.

  • Thursday, March 7:
    Visit of the Jame Mosque, stroll through the old part of the town Yazd, visit of the Zoroastrian Fire Temple and Towers of Silence, Bus trip to Esfahan, Stop at a martyr's cemetery, Check-in and dinner at the Abbasi Hotel in Esfahan
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    Jame Mosque & Zoroastrian Fire Temple

    An impressive gateway in Iran is the Jame Mosque - the great soaring 14-century edifice, called the Masjed-e Jam, also known as the Friday Mosque. It is crowned by a pair of minarets, the highest in Iran. The portal's façade is decorated from top to bottom in dazzling tile work, predominantly blue in colour.

    Next stop on our list was a Zoroastrian Fire Temple in the middle of Yazd. The fire kept in this temple has been lit for more than 1000 years. About 15 km to the south-west of Yazd city we visited the Towers of Silence. These are three impressive buildings remaining from several other structures on hilltops outside where the bodies of the dead Zoroastrians would be brought to the foot of the tower so that a ritual ceremony could be held in presence of the relatives and friends of the deceased.

    The body was then carried by the priests into the tower where it was laid on the flat stones on the ground –thus avoiding that earth, water, and fire, the divine elements be contaminated, the soul of the defunct person having already been by Ahura Mazda, the great and wise god. In a short time the body would be torn apart by the passing vultures and crows. The bones were then thrown into a circular pit in the centre of the tower. At the foot of the towers stand the remains of the buildings, which once served for the funerary ceremonies. When the towers were still used for Zoroastrian burials, only the priests were allowed into them. Nowadays, however, some of them have been opened to the public. Beneath the hill there are several other disused Zoroastrian buildings including a defunct well. The custom of exposing corpses in a tower of silence largely disappeared throughout the Zoroastrian world around 50 years ago.

    Esfahan Province
    We continued our journey by bus and drove off to Esfahan city. Esfahan Province is situated in a wide area in Iran plateau. Zayandeh Rud, which is the greatest and the most famous river in the centre of Iran, irrigates along its 360 km course most of the agricultural lands. Since ancient times, the kings of various dynasties were interested in Esfahan Province for being the centre of government, due to the fertility of its agricultural lands and being located between Zagros Mountain and central plain of Iran. Esfahan is counted one of the richest provinces in Iran, due to having many tourists visiting the monuments which remained from different periods. Most of these historical places are from the Saljuq and Safavid periods.

    Abbasi Hotel
    Early evening we arrived at the Abbasi Hotel and had dinner at one of the restaurants in the hotel. The Abbasi Hotel is one of the most charming intra-city caravansaries of the Safavid era, built during the rule of Shah Sultan Hossein (1694-1723), the last Safavid King. Since 1979 it is called the Abbasi Hotel and is supposed to be the most beautiful hotel in Iran. Today the complex includes an alluring court built in the style of Iranian gardens, 227 rooms, suites and apartments, restaurants, a coffee shop and a traditional tea-house.

  • Friday, March 8:
    City tour through Esfahan and stop at all three bridges and Vank Church, Visit of the Meidan-e Imam square, Masjed-e Imam Mosque and the Ali Qapu palace, stop at tea-house, stroll through the bazaar, dinner in a small restaurant at the Imam Square.
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    Esfahan & Ali Qapu Palace

    We went on a city tour through Esfahan and walked on three bridges across the Zayandeh Rud. The most impressive one for me was the Bridge of 33 Arches, or Si-o-Se Pol. It is called Si-o-Se Pol (in Farsi meaning 33 bridges) because it embraces 33 arches. The Bridge is a continuation of Chahar Bagh, the principal street in Esfahan. Built at the beginning of the 17th century at the order of Shah Abbas, it is also named after the general-a famous war- chief- who was put in charge of the work. It is 45 feet wide and 175 yards long, which makes it the longest bridge of Esfahan. Even here, in the southerly bridgehead we found an tea-house and while walking over the bridge we had the chance to listen to traditional folk songs sung by two elderly men.

    Vank Church
    Our next stop brought us to Vank Church in Julfa, the Armenian district in Esfahan. There are three churches in Julfa, of which the most important is the Vank church also called the Church of the Saintly Sisters. The Julfa Museum is also housed in this edifice. By contrast to its modest exterior, the cathedral's interior is lavishly decorated with interesting and colourful paintings. This cathedral is very famous among other of Esfahan in so far as the architecture and artistic decorations are concerned. There are many inscriptions inside and outside the church whose contents invite the readers to pray for the constructor of the church and his descendants. The inscriptions also suggest that the church has been built in 1692 during the reign of Shah Abbas the second.
    We continued our tour after lunch and made it to the historical centre of the town at the Imam square. The present Maidan-e Imam (formerly Maidan-e Shah or Royal Square) was created in 1612 A.D. under the Safavid Shah Abbas dynasty. It is a rectangular square which is 500 m long and 160 m wide. Some two hundred lower and upper chambers have been constructed on all four sides of the Maidan and in former times the place has been used for polo and most probably public executions. On all four sides of the square you will find impressive buildings. To the north the gate to the covered streets of the bazaar, to the east the Sheikh Lotfollah mosque, opposite on the west side the Ali Qapu Palace and to the south the great Masjed-e Imam mosque.

    Ali Qapu Palace - the 'Magnificent Gate'
    It was named such because it was right at the entrance to the Safavid palaces. The building, another wonderful Safavid edifice, was built by decree of Shah Abbas the Great in the early seventeenth century. It was here that the great monarch used to entertain noble visitors, and foreign ambassadors. It was here that Shah Abbas, for the first time, celebrated Navroze, the New Year's Day.

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  • Saturday, March 9:
    Visit of the Friday Mosque, Stop at a carpet shop, Lunch break, Visit of the Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque and the Chehel Sotun palace, Shopping tour through the bazaar
    8:45 p.m. Iranian Air Flight back to Tehran and another night at the Azadi Grand Hotel.

    Friday Mosque & Chehel Sotun Palace

    The Friday Mosque in Esfahan is a dynamic expression of some 400 years of Iranian Architecture encapsulated into the small area it occupies. In some ways it therefore brings together many of the themes and decorative ideas which achieved individual expression in other monuments throughout the city.

    The great Chehel Sotun Palace was one of nearly 300 built in Esfahan when it was the capital of Iran. This Safavid palace was largely completed under Shah Abbas II (1642-1667), although work may have started on the palace as early as 1598, and is said to derive its name from the pillars which dominate the talar (farsi for veranda). There are twenty of these laid out in three rows of six with two additional ones on either side of the main entrance. When these are reflected in the water of the pool the number is made up to forty, the Farsi for which is "chehel". The magnificent veranda, is the dominant feature of the palace and the slender columns, over 40m tall.

    We finished our sight seeing in Esfahan by visiting the Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque. We still had some time and leisure for our favourite tea-house at the entrance to the bazaar before we sadly had to leave Esfahan to catch our plane brining us back to Tehran.

  • Sunday, March 10:
    Visit of the Golestan palace with a real prince, stop at teahouse, lunch break at the Ferdossi Grand Hotel, stop at the Iranian National Bank for the Jewellery Museum, meeting with the German Speaking Women's Club of Tehran
    21:15 p.m. Emirates flight Teheran – Dubai

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  • Meeting with Prince Mansour

    (in pic: The author is at the left with her friends and Prince Mansour at the Golestan Palace Garden)

    On our last day in Iran, we had the pleasure of meeting Prince Kayhan Malek Mansour, a direct descendant of the Kajar kings who ruled in Iran for two centuries until 1925. Prince Kayhan Malek Mansour showed us around the impressive Golestan Palaces. The last King used to hold New Year and Birthday Salams in the Coronation Hall, where Ministers, foreign Ambassadors and other dignitaries in full dress offered their congratulations to the King of Kings.

    We later visited the National Bank of Iran to have a look at the jewellery exhibition in the heavily guarded vault of the bank. Here at the National Jewels Museums we saw an impressive display of many jewels. The National Jewels Museum is the dazzling unique collection of jewels in the world. This precious treasury has a fascinating history that goes back several centuries. The jewels have been collected by many kings and conquerors who were so thrilled by their possession that some of them had their names, together with dates, carved on certain big-sized gems. There are more than 40 showcases at the gallery and numerous invaluable jewels, gems and many antique articles for decoration, warfare, and items of every day use each being generously ornamented and studded with hundreds of precious stone, turquoise, and pearls. Amongst others I should mention the Darya-ye-nur (sea of light) diamond, weighing 182 carats, said to be the largest uncut diamond in the world or the Peacock Throne, made in 1798 with 26,733 gems or the Jewelled Globe, made in 1869 with 51,363 precious stones.

    Finally we were invited by Gabi, a member of the German Speaking Women's Club in Tehran who had organized a carpet exhibition at her home to give us a last chance to spent our remaining pocket money. With Gabi and some of here friends we easily chatted away the last hours of our holiday to Iran. Many of us in our group enjoyed the trip so much that we have resolved to come here to Iran again one day...

Compiled by Shanti Kalyaan
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