Isfahan

is a metropolis surrounded by desert and semi-desert districts from east and Zagros Mountains from the west. The distance between the south of the capital of Iran and this city is about 414km and it is located at the height of 1575 m above the sea level and enjoys a moderate climate and partly regular seasons. Isfahan consists of 6 districts, 14 cities and 19 rural districts with many historical heritages and natural landscapes, which made Isfahan to be the 3rd biggest city in Iran, after Tehran and Mashhad.  Isfahan is a district with Iranian civilization and culture which contains many heritages from all historical eras that registered in the list of historical monuments.

This city is one of the valuable archaeological centers, parallel to world-class areas, and many of its artifacts has been registered in the list of monuments and it has a high universal position for  art, economy, science, industry, commerce and tourism. The name of Isfahan comes always along with Zayanderud River; also, it is properly called Nesf-e Jahan (means “half of the world”) as one of the most spectacular places in Iran. Isfahan has been always a significant and glorious city in transportation and commodity exchanges because of its strategic axis along the Silk Road in the past and its heritage of ancient art, commerce and industry, at this time.

According to the history, Isfahan has been the industrial pole of the country. What placed Isfahan in this economical position is big industries such as iron foundry, automotive, military, aircraft, gas accessories and installations, Mobarakeh steel complex, refinery, polyacrylic , and different ceramic, tile making, stone, mine and stone cutting and textile factories. Also, this city is the center of Iran’s handicraft on which a great part of the province’s economy depends.  Tourism has also prospered in this city. Isfahan is always a living place for different ethnics and religions and one of the most significant centers for immigration of different religions’  believers including Islam, Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian. People in Isfahan speak in Esfahani accent, a tonal accent with some differences in pronounce, vocabulary, and even structure in comparison with Persian standard language.

A glimpse on the Persian Carpet

Persian Carpet (Quali) has been considered as a sublime embodiment of timeless beauty and elegance over thousands of years in human history and it has constantly evolved into a more elegant and artistic creation throughout its existence. It has always been an essential part of Persian culture and a staple of each Iranian home. For centuries, Persian Carpets have been appreciated for their high quality, uniqueness and the fact that they are handwoven. The variety of Persian Carpets is somewhat impressive if you put some thought into it; from large carpets knotted in workshops to lively patterned village carpets and charming nomadic carpets. These hand-woven arts are not only limited to carpets. There are other relative structures with different materials, design executions and techniques, that have also made a special place for themselves in Persian culture such as Gabbeh, Kilim and Palas

The journey through the world of antique Persian Rugs is not only a treat for the eyes, but also a journey through culture. The patterns, the sizes and the colors are all rooted in deeper meanings and sometimes, possibly stories. Stories of past generations and their traditions.

Theoretically, it is implied that a Persian Rug would have to be at least 80 years old to be considered “antique”.

Persian Carpets

Hand-woven Persian Carpets

As the Persian carpet has been a subject of interest amongst many people including us, Kalout team has taken the elaborate decision to present this historical and cultural legacy through our eyes. We are beyond ourselves to be able to share this gem with our international friends and clients.

Brief History

A significant part of the movement of the Persian floor covering lies related to the different leaders of the nation all through time. By vanquishing Babylon in 539 BC, Cyrus the Great was struck by its quality, which led him to present the craft of rug making into Persia. Numerous history specialists credit Cyrus for this cultural and artistic impression. It is said that the burial chamber of Cyrus the Great, at Pasargadae close to Persepolis, was secured with valuable rugs.

Renowned conventional Iranian floor coverings caused some zones to incorporate Mashhad, Tabriz, Arak, Isfahan, Kashan and Kerman. Notable assortments of Persian carpets, some from the previously mentioned cities and provinces include Khorasan, Herat, Shiraz and Hamedan.

Through history, until the 19th century, people from nomads to kings, only utilized the rugs from Persia as floor coverings and decorations. Generally, the word carpet was used for any cover, such as a table cover or wall hanging. However, afterwards it has been seen with a fresh pair of eyes, as a genuine art form.

Nowadays, these carpets are appreciated not only as artworks but also as investment worthy pieces. The experience of seeing and feeling a genuine antique Persian rug in person, can be truly powerful.

Iranian Carpet

Antique Persian Rug

The orientation of carpet weaving in Persia goes back to more than 2,500 years ago. At first, carpets and rugs were made as simple necessities to cover the floors, protecting people from the cold and damp and provided them with warmth and comfort. However, through time, the skill and craft of weaving carpets gradually evolved to the creation of art works that passed down from generation to generation over the centuries.

In the past, it was believed that the geometric designs and symbolic figures protect the Persian rug’s owner from misfortune and evil. As for the tribal rug designs, the pattern of animals, people, and everyday objects, are a classic example of art imitating life. Persian antique rugs are one-of-a-kind masterpieces and luxury design items, which can make a house, feel like a home. Not to mention they have been quite popular amongst Europeans aristocrats like England and Germany, especially during the 1850’s. Due to their timeless elegance, hand woven Persian rugs are an unbeatable, must-have piece among designers.

During the Safavid Period, Persia was an ancient and powerful empire embracing lands from Africa to India. The largest flourishing carpet producing areas were the now modern-day cities of Tabriz, Herat, Kashan and Kerman. The Safavid Dynasty encouraged many other kinds of arts as well, which stepped into the original foot prints of the art of carpet weaving, including painting, calligraphy and intricate weaving. Nowadays these patterns have made their way onto the nomads traditional clothing, table cloths and animals’ saddlebags. There are also certain woven curtains, which are mainly used to divide a room from another. These detailed weavings and pattern are not only bound down to nomadic areas. Modern day fashion is no stranger to intricate weaving or crosshairs. Many hand-made rugs with intricate designs, which passed down from one generation to another, have survived for hundreds of years, as they were so well crafted and cherished. These specific rugs are evidence of a rich heritage and culture.

Iranian Rugs

A local woman hand weaving a Persian carpet

Persia is considered one of (if not the most) varied carpet producing regions of the Middle East. However, the golden era of Persian Carpets really began after the foundation of the Safavid Dynasty and during the 16th and 17th centuries, Persia produced many of the great masterpiece carpets, which are still in existence today.

The display of Persian carpet from outside in & International legacies

As briefly mentioned, the rugs from Persia also made their way west to Europe. Persian Carpet started a long journey of display from Spain, which was initially introduced to the art from Northern Africa and Morocco and ended up in Southern Europe.

As of today, the most famous Persian carpets came from Tabriz, which are referred to as the Twin Ardabil Carpets. These carpets have made it in the permanent collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum and Los Angeles Country Museum.

Sheikh Safi Persian carpet at the Victoria and Albert museum

Sheikh Safi Persian carpet at the Victoria and Albert museum

It is only fit to introduce some of these fine carpets to paint a picture of how mesmerizing they actually are. Let’s not forget that with Kalout international tours, all these treasures would be personally introduced to our visitors.

A beautiful rug belonging to Northwest Persia is the animal” carpet, half of which is in Kraków Cathedral, Poland, and half in the Museum of Decorative Arts, Paris. Another legacy of antique Persian carpet is the great hunting” carpet, which now is in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan. A deep blue field, where hunters dash after their prey, covered with a compelling network of blossoming stems surrounds a scarlet and gold medallion which brings this magnificent design to finish. The words inscribed with the museum display read: “It is by the efforts of Giyath-ud-Din ʿJami that this renowned carpet was brought to such perfection in the year 1521.”

The world’s oldest hand-woven carpet is the Pazyryk Rug, which dates back to 2,500 years ago. This piece includes Iranian and Achaemenid motifs. The carpet is currently kept at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

And lastly, Silk carpets woven to surround the shrine of Shah Abbas the second in Qom were the last superior achievements in Persian Carpet weaving. The pattern is beautiful, the colors are varied and in harmony with each other. The piece is dated and signed by Nimat Allah of Joshaqan.

Silk Persian carpet

Silk Persian carpet

The market and value of Persian carpets

Hand-woven Carpet is one of Iran’s key non-oil exports, considering Iran makes three quarters of the world’s hand-woven carpets.

The Persian Carpet is pretty popular among European (Germany for instance) and American Aristocrats and interior design or art connoisseur in general.    

The value of the Persian carpet is determined by various factors, including the beauty, intricacy and authenticity of designs, durability of colors, the quality of materials and the knots as well as the years of labor spent for producing each carpet.

According to estimates by the Iranian Industry, Iran annually makes around 400 tons of hand-woven carpets, the majority of which are exported to other countries.

The display of a few grand Persian carpets for an auction

The display of a few grand Persian carpets for an auction

The authentic Persian carpet has lost a part of its share in the international market as replicas with lower price and quality from China, Afghanistan, Turkey and Pakistan have flooded the market. Regardless of other countries’ replicas and Monets of the Persian Rug, real Persian art connoisseurs believe this particular Iranian handicraft still maintains its status in the world.

Moreover, the unique features of the Persian Nomadic Rug have made it impossible for other producers to copy the exact handicraft.

According to the recent reports, over the past decade, the Persian Carpet Industry has experienced one of the roughest times in its era. Nonetheless, it still stands on top of its game due to its deep roots.

Fun facts

Khosrow Carpet: There has been a legendary, royal silk carpet woven with an intention of nothing but magnificent beauty, dedicated to the divine role of the king, a mythical king who turned each season around and promised the return of spring and earth’s fertility. The Spring of Khosrow Carpet made for the audience hall of the Sāsānid palace at Ctesiphon

Khosrow Carpet  was a representation of the Garden of Eden, which in other words symbolized a promise of eternal happiness.

Unfortunately, this masterpiece has not survived throughout time. According to written records, the motifs and superior embellishments of this piece were mind blowing. Just to train your imagination, picture a royal garden with watercourses, paths, rectangular flowerbeds and blossoming shrubs and fruit trees, which were the main motifs and patters of this carpet. A literal yellow brick road, woven in gold and each flower pedal, fruit or bird was worked in with pearls and different jewels. The border was not just woven out yarn like ordinary carpets. This border was by itself, a smaller frame holding the scene of a meadow, solid with emeralds. It’s truly a shame to miss out laying our eyes on such a terrific piece. 

 Qab Qabi( Frame pattern)carpet

Qab Qabi( Frame pattern)carpet

It is referenced in numerous western records that Iranians stroll on nurseries, sky and suchlike that were weaved on twist and woof. Iranian heaven had seven dividers to keep evil spirits from entering inside, the example which has been seen in the arrangement of Persian Gardens too.

The general state of the Iranian rug is square or square shape, to help to remember the four old style components, the four fundamental headings and the example of nurseries. At the point when the circle joined the rug conspire, it has become to look like a sanctuary, keeping each consecrated thing inside it. In Islamic time the hover set in the focal point of the square shape territory, to be the uprightness of presence. The Islamic craftsmanship sought after to take earth to the sky and carry the sky to earth, and how decent rug has carried out this responsibility.

Gold threaded rugs (In Kashan)

Around the 17th century, the rise of lavish lifestyle and luxury, lead to the production of gold- and silver-threaded carpets. Some were even costume ordered or exported to Europe, due to the good relations between the two countries at the time. It is believed that the main producing city for these rugs were Isfahan and Kashan. As the Persian Carpets, particularly the silver and gold-threaded one were first exhibited in Paris, many believed that the rugs were actually European.

The gold thread Persian rug with silk from Kashan

The gold thread Persian rug with silk from Kashan

Iran Carpet Museum

As Iran is one of the major carpet producers in the world with an immaculate history attached, it would only be just to have a museum dedicated to this art. The Iran Carpet Museum, located northwest of Laleh Park in Tehran, is a visionary representation of all the rave on Persian Carpet, its evolution and history. The architecture of this building is something that your eyes won’t miss as you approach. A façade resembling a carpet weaving loom, casting shadows on the walls, is not only a visionary but also a practical shelter to cool down by. Even though this museum has many photography hot spots, it should be mentioned that flash photography in not allowed inside. You will not miss visiting this Museum, traveling with Kalout tours.

Kalout team has expert guides who will make sure that you won’t miss out on the one of a kind adventure to visit Iran Carpet Museum. Not to mention that you will be hearing all about the history and culture, right there in the moment, along with the introduction of some of Iran most famous carpets.

Iran carpet museum in Tehran

Iran carpet museum in Tehran

The building is divided into two exhibition galleries on two floors, with each exhibition displaying different styles from varies regions and backgrounds. In short, the ground floor belongs to permanent exhibitions and the upper floor is designed for temporary exhibitions and regional displays. The overall collection of Iran Carpet Museum holds more than 150 pieces, dating from the 17th century up to the current creations.

Closer

Iran has many roots and cultural authenticities to rely on when it comes to proving its originality. However, putting aside all the fuss and marketing competitors, what captures anyone’s heart regarding Iran’s cultural aspects, is the warmth, the hospitality and sheer humbleness of the people who contributed to this art.

As Kalout Tours is quite familiar with the enthusiasm regarding Persian Carpets, visiting carpet weaving workshops and traditional Bazaars are usually squeezed in most of our classical and cultural itineraries, passing through popular cities such as Tehran, Kashan, Na’in, Kerman, Shiraz and Isfahan, where you can witness the art of weaving, which open the doors to a trail of Iran’s history, culture and nature of this ancient land. Most tourists are drawn to purchase one fine piece as a souvenir to have as a memoir of their trip to the land of 1001 nights.

Introduction

As a lovely and amazing city, Isfahan has embraced three UNESCO world heritage sites, plenty of cultural and architectural attractions and friendly hospitable local people. However, walking into Jolfa district would fascinate every visitor in a different way; it feels as if you have traveled back in time and you are in a different period of history. Let’s not forget to mention that there are 13 churches in this district right now but Vank is undoubtedly shining as the most gorgeous one. Vank Cathedral is a must-see attraction in Iran, a masterpiece representative of artistic expression of Christians in Iran and Armenian living place in 400 years ago.

History

About 400 years ago, the Armenians migrated from Azerbaijan to settle in Jolfa district of Isfahan in search of a haven, due to the Armenian genocide occurred in Yerevan during Ottoman war. Jolfa is still famous as a quiet area with European setting and architecture.

Vank is a historic church dating back to Shah Abbas the second period (1642 – 1666) having the reputation of training high rank priests in Christian world; that is why Vank is considered as one of the most noticeable churches among Armenians. Besides being an impressive Cathedral, Vank is the largest museum in Isfahan due to possessing an outstanding collection of historic documents during the last 400 years which makes it one of the most well-known Armenian centers in the world.

 

Vank
Vank

Architecture and Design

Displaying a mix of Islamic and Armenian architecture, this church covers an area of approximately 4000 square meters including the main church and its courtyard, monastery, belfry, library, museum, clock tower, Bishops’ room, community halls and tea house; considering the Vank garden and green spaces around, it is about 9000 square meters.

The height of the walls from the yard to the roof of the second floor is about 11.75 meters. Unlike many other Armenian churches in Iran which are made of stone, the main construction material in Vank Cathedral is clay.

The exterior walls are covered with brick and tiles designed with winged angels can be seen everywhere while the interior walls are covered with plaster and eye-catching paintings which is the most splendid feature of this building. The magnificent artistic decorations in different parts of the church, such as inside the dome, walls and arches are mainly originated from the holy Christian book. These paintings mainly represent stories from the Holy Bible, Jesus Christ from the birth to the ascension, day of resurrection and the judgment, heaven and hell. A combination of Persian floral ornaments and Armenian national motifs are also evident on the ceilings and walls. The display of frescos on tiles with glorious gold and blue frames has created a pleasant and lovely setting inside the church. The cost of all paintings and decoration of the church was provided by “Avdic Stepanos” which are unique among Armenian churches.

Vank

Museum

Vank museum is a not to be missed place in Isfahan. One of the most significant and most  comprehensive collections of biblical manuscripts are kept and displayed here. The museum keeps 700 handwritten books, a variety of objects related to Armenian community in Isfahan such as Safavid costumes, European paintings brought back by Armenian merchants, tapestries, embroidery, and other ethnological exhibits related to Armenian culture and religion.

Visiting various collections in this museum would be one of the most interesting parts of your tour. The precious paintings related to Safavid period, painted by Armenian and European artists are unexampled. There are stunning collections of porcelain and clay dishes, collections of wooden works consisting of instruments, furniture, clock, etc. and eye-catching metal objects including gold and silver jewelries, belts, frays, etc.

The exhibition of Armenian textiles, traditional hand woven and embroidery are quite appealing to any visitor’s taste.

Vank Cathedral enjoys possessing 170 sheets of crucial historical commands, 22 of which are depicted in this museum today. Belonging to 17th to 19th century, these political orders are mostly related to the emigration of Armenians, offering religious and commercial privileges to them and tax rules for residents of Jolfa district.

And last but not least, the most highlighted object at Vank museum is a piece of hair, belonged to an 18-year-old girl on which a sentence from old testament has been written with a diamond pen in 1974. You can read the sentence through a microscope kept by the side.

Opening hours

9:00 am till 6:30 pm

Location

Vank Church alley, Jolfa District, Isfahan, Iran

Contact

(+98) 3136243471

The most historic monuments of Iran
If Iran’s history is divided into three part,  prehistoric periods, ancient Iran and Islamic period.The temples of Choghazenbil, Persepolis and Jame Mosque of Isfahan are the best of the architecture of this era.

 

Chogha Zanbil

Dur Untash or Chogha Zanbil an ancient Elamite temple in the Khuzestan province south of Iran. It is one of the few ziggurats outside of Mesopotamia. It is about 30 km south-east of Susa and 80 km north of Ahvaz.In 1979, this structure was the first Iranian monument to be listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The ancient city of D?r Untash or the historic site of Choghaznbil in the 13th century BC was built by “Ontas Nepirisha”, the king of Ilam.
The “ziggurat” is an Akkadian name used in Mesopotamia and Ilam for temporal temples.
The Chogha Zanbil ziggurat has a square shape with a length of about 105 meters.This building is made entirely of bricks and mud and sometimes baked bricks.The temple was built on seven floors, which now has 5 floors.The monuments were decorated with glazed bricks, gypsum, and ornaments of faience and glass.
Thousands of baked bricks bearing inscriptions with Elamite cuneiform characters were hand-engraved.Glazed terracotta statues such as bulls and winged griffins guarded the entrances to the ziggurat.
Orientalists consider this building the first religious building in Iran.

 

 

 

Persepolis

Takht-e-Jamshid or Persepolis the capital of Achaemenid Empire(550–330 BC) is located 80 Km from Shiraz city in Fars province.It exemplifies the Achaemenid style of architecture. UNESCO declared the ruins of Persepolis a World Heritage Site in 1979.In 518 BCE, the construction of Persepolis began as the new capital of the Achaemenids in Pars.The founder of Persepolis was great Darius, after whom his son Xerxes and his grandson, Ardeshir I, expanded to expand it.Historians believe that Alexander the Great, Macedonian commander in the 330 BC, invaded Iran and set fire to Persepolis.The Sassanid kings also have inscriptions on Persepolis at Tacher Palace.After the entrance of Islam to Iran, they also considered this place worthy of a thousand pillars or forty minars, and linked them with characters such as Suleiman Nabi and Jamshid.
Another historical monument related to the Achaemenid is Naghsh-e-Rostam.These Achaemenid temples are located 6 km from Persepolis.The Naghsh-e-Rostam includes the shrines of the kingdoms like Darius the Great / Xerxes / Ardeshir I and Darius II.

 

 

 

Jameh Mosque of Isfahan

This mosque is one of the most important and oldest religious buildings in Iran.The Mosque of Isfahan is a reflection of Byzantine and classical art in the form of a traditional Islamic building.This mosque is a complete collection of Iranian architecture from the early Islamic centuries to the Safavid era.This mosque is a collection of the best of Iranian architecture that includes the most beautiful tile, the most beautiful Minbar and the most magnificent altar.The mosque has 4 Ivans and 8 entrances, each of them has been constructed in different periods of history.The four porch of the mosque identifies the method of Iranian mosques, which has become popular in other mosques after its construction.The entrances around the mosque indicate the extensive connection of the mosque with the old urban fabric.

It is one of the oldest mosques still standing in Iran, and it was built in the architectural style of four-iwan, placing four doors face to face. An iwan is an open vaulted room. The qibla iwan on the south side of the mosque was vaulted with muqarnas in the 13th century.

 

CONGREGATIONAL  MOSQUE  (MASJED  JAME)

masjed_jame_hamedan

In Islamic countries there is a congregational mosque in every city. In fact, the most important mosque in any city is called the Jame Mosque. Friday preaching or prayer is recommended to the Shiites and community mosques in cities are used for the Friday preachers. Large areas were allocated in the large cities.
Masjede Jame in Isfahan is the most notable mosque in Isfahan. It is an encyclopedia of Iranian and Islamic art and architecture. Step by step development of Iranian art and architecture can be seen in this complex. It takes at least half a day to visit different parts of it. The complex shows different structures from different centuries, which date back to the 10th century to the 18th century.
The oldest part was built on a Sassanid fire temple, which belonged to the Zoroastrians. The first part of the mosque dates back to the 8th century. The second mosque or part belonged to 1030.
During the Buyid Dynasty in 908-932 one of the oldest parts was built. In Buyid, a court of several prayer halls was built. In later centuries changed in the mosque.
Saheb Ibn Ebad was a learned minister of the Buyid dynasty who lived in Isfahan and played a major role in the development of Isfahan. The Seljuk Dynasty extended the mosque in the 11th century.
The jame mosque shows specifications of Iranian mosques. It has a courtyard and there are four large Eivan (Grand Arches). It has one of the largest courtyards in Iran.
Four Eivans are connected by two storey arcades. Eivans are from the 15th to 17th century. These arcades are decorated with tiles. Some of these tiles are glazed and some are inlaced. There are two marble pools in the courtyard. One of these basins is covered by a structure that reminded Saint Kabeh of Mecca. Muslims were able to practice the Hajj rites before they traveled to Mecca.

View Masjede Jame

 

THE  SOUTHERN  EIVANS

This Eivan is known as Soffe Saheb Ibn Ebad. The present Eivan dates back to Seljuk period. There are two beautiful minarets on the top of Eivan, which are 35 meters high, and belong to Aq- Qunlu era.
Interior and exterior parts of Eivan are beautifully decorated with tiles and tile mosaics. The inscription comes from the Safavid dynasty. On the back of this Eivan there is a wonderful sanctuary called “Nezam Al Molk” dome.
Nezam Al Molk was a popular vizier of the Seljuk dynasty. This dome was built in 1030. The dome reminds us of Sassanid architecture.
There is fantastic calligraphy in Kufic script, which dates from the 11th century around the dome. The name of Nezam Al Molk can be seen in the calligraphy. The dome is one of the most glorious domes of Iranian mosques.
The base of the dome is in a rectangular shape, which is transformed into a circular dome. This is a pre-Islamic technique, but the size of the dome can not be compared with pre-Islamic domes, which were much smaller than this high monument. Ornaments of the Mehrab (prayer benches) and also marble stone of the lower part belong to the Safavid era.

NORTHERN  Eivan

Jame mosque

HYPOSTYLE  HALLS  &  TAJ AL MOLK  DOME.
Sofe – ye Darvish (Eivan) is from Seljuk dynasty. Fabulous ornamentations of this Eivans belong to later period. Specifications of ornamentation are different from other parts of the mosque. The magnificent stuccoworks are from Shah Soleiman Safavid.
Behind the Eivan, there are successions of hypostyl halls, which come from different times. At the far end is the tall dome of the Taj Al Molk. Taj Al Molk was a Vizier from the Seljuk Dynasty. He competes with Nezam Al Molk. This magnificent dome was built by the command of Taj – Al Molk.
Interior decoration of Taj Al Molk dome is unique in all Iranian mosques. It is a single shelled dome. Fortunately the dome and its decoration have not been damaged. Great varieties of designs are made of plaster and small pieces of bricks are a splendid sample of huge artistic work. In fact there is a collection of designs which have survived for more than 900 years. The dome is without any Mehrab (prayer- niche).
One of the entrances to the mosque is located next to the dome. For those architects who are seeking traditional adornment, the dome is considered a museum of decorative designs. The Kufic calligraphy around the dome’s base dates back to 1080 and covers the name of Taj Al Molk. The Khaki dome is about 18 meters high and about 9 meters in diameter.

THE WESEREN EIVAN
The western Eivan is called Soffe – ye – Ostad. The original construction belongs to Seljuk dynasty. The beautiful tile and tile- mosaic work belong to era of Shah Sultan Hossein.
This Eivan is considered a wonderful museum of Iranian and Islamic calligraphy. Various types of calligraphy such as Solth, Nastaliq, Bannaeis and geometrically designed calligraphy have decorated inner parts of Eivans. For those artists who have selected calligraphy as their field of art, this Eivan has a lot to teach. Next to the Eivan, there is a door that opens to another part of the mosque built by Sultan Oljeitu. One of the most fantastic mehrabs is in this part. Many Iranians consider this Mehrab has a unique structure. It shows an excellent stucco work from the year 1310.
Unfortunately, it was damaged at bombing of Isfahan. There is an old wooden minbar in this part.
The Mehrab’s design shows a combination of calligraphy, imaginary flowers, blossoms and leaves which is a masterpiece in Islamic world. Such a fantastic work can be created by a unique faithful stucco work artist.

THE WINTER GALLERY (BEIT AL SHETA)

Jame Mosque

Each part of the Jameh mosque is a masterpiece of art and architecture. This winter gallery from Timurid era is one of the beauties of Iranian architecture, dates back to 1447.
Every part of it looks like tents used by Timurid. This part is quite cool and warm during the hot summer season during the cold days of the winter season. The style of the winter gallery is almost self-sufficient for heating and cooling systems. Daylight is reflected to Beit Al Sheta through small windows covered with slices of marble stone. The architect has made ideas from tents to create this part.

EIVAN  SHAGERD (SOFFEH- YE  SHAGERD)
It was originally built during the Seljuk period. Ornamentation is from Seljuk and IL – Khanid periods. Fortunately his ornamentation from Seljuk and IL Khanid has not been damaged. The calligraphy of this Eivan is from Shah Soleiman Safavid.
The central part of Eivan has a structure which is similar to Eivane Ostad, on the opposite side. Next to this Eivan there is a corridor leads us to a Madreseh (Theological School) from Mozafarid era.

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Reaching Nisf Jahan with limited time and unlimited wishes, setting aside all worries of this or that world, fully living in those moments

Treasure remains hidden in distant lands. I can’t exactly describe how and when the idea got stuck in my imagination. I feel a curious combination of mysteriousness and sacredness associated with the wordtreasure. Things like vessels, gold pots, jars, stones, carpets and never-deciphered writings do not come to my mind when I think of the word treasure. Instead, whenever I come to imagine some distant land, a vague yet strongly moving idea of ‘holy mystery’ weighs in on me.

Isfahan-Iran-tourism

 

Isfahan epitomised that distant land for me. So when a few years back, I sat in the bus destined to Isfahan from Tehran, I was under the spell of the idea of a treasure that was going to be uncovered in the next few hours. I looked through the window and wondered at Isfahan Nisf Jahan (half the world) and the half-hidden sun.

I dropped the curtain abruptly. Secrets should not be revealed so fast.

It took us almost six hours to reach Isfahan, a city of 17th century Safavids, capital of Persia in the 16th and 17th centuries, city of Hasht Bahisht, Maidan e Naqsh-e-Jahan, Imam Mosque, Chehel Satoon, Chahar Bagh Boulevard, mosques, bridges and of Zinda Rood (Zayanderood).

In Isfahan, one strongly notices Iranians’ unwavering love for their ancient culture. They have preserved, maintained and promoted old texts, monuments and even rituals.

As I was about to reach Isfahan, I tried to unpack the meaning of Nisf Jahan. People have put this single city against the rest of the world because of its sheer splendid beauty. I too had read and listened about the unmatched beauty, the splendour of its gardens, palaces, mosques, historical buildings, bazaars etc. Suddenly, an idea flashed into my mind: this mundane and the world hereafter both makeJahan-e Mukkamal (the whole world). This particular Islamic interpretation seemed more valid. Muslim Kings have been in pursuit of emulating and creating the Heavenly Paradise as it has been described in the Holy Scripture. Isfahan might have been a copy of Bahisht, the other yet complementing half of the Jahan.

As I got out of the bus, I felt tired, as were the seniors accompanying me. Contrary to my expectations, first impression of Isfahan was more of an ordinary city. The first people who ‘warmly’ welcomed us in the ‘paradise’ were not Hoors or Ghilman but taxi drivers, not speaking Arabic or our mother tongue but Persian. They were looking for good fortune among foreign people while we too were in search of a treasure in a foreign land. A clash of interest was apparent.

Imam Mosque.

Imam Mosque.

Airports, railway stations and bus stands of all major cities of the world offer a unique opportunity to understand how two strands of worldliness (on the part of taxi drivers) and disinterestedness (on the part of travellers) collide as well as cooperate. Anyhow, we did hire a taxi and arrived at a hotel. It is a long story how we shopped for hotels, bargaining and finally succeeding in getting a room in a comparatively low-rent hotel.

After having a cup of black tea, we left the hotel. I must admit how much I loved the ‘black tea’ in Iran. I couldn’t enjoy Doogh-e-Goshfil and Burgers. Chulo Kababs were delicious but, unfortunately, weren’t for me since I am allergic to rice.

We had limited time — we had to leave for Tehran the next evening — but wishes unlimited. We decided to see all what we could on foot. We started our journey from the main tree-lined boulevard that wasn’t not too far from our hotel. I was reminded of Agar Firdos Bar Roo e Zameen Ast/ Hameen Ast o Hameen Ast Hameen Ast.

It was May which is not hot in Isfahan. It was as mildly cold as Lahore is in February. Cool shadows of breezy trees standing in a symmetrical order along both sides of the wide metallic main road were soothing. Chirping of birds deluded us into a world that is discoloured by globalisation. There were shops on both sides of the boulevard but the bustle of big cities was absent.

 

Si-o-Seh Pul.

Si-o-Seh Pul.

The markets on both sides of the road made it seem like a western city. Most people wore western clothes, except perhaps the headscarf which has been made compulsory after Inqilab for women in Iran. Iranian women seem to have carved a way to assert their freedom by putting on tight jeans and shirts and with an unflinching love for cosmetics.

In Isfahan, one strongly notices Iranians’ unwavering love for their ancient culture. They have preserved, maintained and promoted old texts, monuments and even rituals. They have also incorporated ancient cultural values and ‘world-view’ in their ‘new’ architecture. This we observed while visiting Hasht Bahisht, Maidan e Naqsh-e-Jahan, its adjacent bazaars, Imam Masjid, Chehel Satoon, bridges of Zinda Rood and reliquaries.

Converting to Islam has not made them skeptical, disdainful or disrespectful to their earlier history and its texts and heroes. We in Pakistan need to learn from Iran in this regard.

The most exciting experience was visiting the three red bridges — Pol-e-Khaju, Si-o-Seh Pul, Pol-e-Chobi — built in 17th century by the Safavids on Zinda Rood. They seem to redefine the meaning and purpose of bridging the brinks. If you really want to connect the two shores, you will have to create a kind of ambience that could make the act of crossing a true, deep experience of bridging two different worlds and diverse perspectives.

Crossing Si-o-Seh Pul (bridge having 30 arches) was a marvellous experience. We literally stopped at every step, praising the wonders of architecture.

In the evening, we spent an hour at a café built under a bridge. I could never forget the moments while sipping black tea, listening to the whispering of slow waters of Rood mixed with the twitter of evening birds and radiant faces of Iranian people. In those moments, I was able to set aside all kinds of worries of this or that world, fully living in those moments. I felt fortunate to have finally grasped the ‘holy mystery’ of Isfahan.

 

Mesr Desert

The Mesr Desert is located in the far east of Isfahan province in central Iran, 420 km far from Isfahan, and 371 km far from Yazd. Mesr is a desert and also an oasis in the central desert of Iran, Dashte-Kavir.

Reaching the Mesr Desert is easy, although you need to change directions several times from the major cities of Iran, around 250 kilometers drive onto the Naein-Tabas road from Isfahan west to east. After passing Farokhi and Nasrabad villages, there is a sign showing off-road direction:” Toward Mesr.” Upon 43 kilometers drive from the sign across the sand hills, three green spots will appear from far, similar to three emeralds next to each other.

Mesr desert is one of the most beautiful and also one of the hottest deserts in Iran.

A few moments later, while the absolute silence of desert is your only company, you will find yourself in the first emerald land, Amirabad. The road is totally flat which is considered as one of the wonders of Iran’s central desert and surprises every Eco-tourist. The sand hills around the village are known as “thrones” since strong wind has shaped the surface, forming strange and attractive figures. Amirabad is a vast and prosperous farm with a deep well. Mesr’s residents are the owners of Amirabad, where even a drop of water is as precious as gold; the well provides drinking and agricultural water for Mesr.

Mesr desert is one of the most beautiful and also one of the hottest deserts in Iran.

By exploring Amirabad, for a moment, you completely forget that you are in the center of a desert. As if you are walking in a village in northern Iran: The weather is pleasant and cool and the wheat and barley farms are green, specially in the spring. In Amirabad, the road is split and the left road goes across the golden sand hills to Jandagh, a city on the Na’in-Tabas-Damghan main road. The right path directly goes to the second emerald, the center of Mesr.

Mesr desert is one of the most beautiful and also one of the hottest deserts in Iran.

Mesr desert is one of the most beautiful and also one of the hottest deserts in Iran.

Mesr desert is one of the most beautiful and also one of the hottest deserts in Iran.

Nain Attraction Spots

Nain lies 170 km north of Yazd, and 140 km east of Isfahan. With an area of almost 35,000 km², Nain lies at an altitude of 1545 m above sea level. Like much of the Iranian plateau, it has a desert climate, with a maximum temperature of 41 °C in summer, and a minimum of -9 °C in winter.

More than 3,000 years ago, Persians learned how to construct aqueducts underground to bring water from the mountains to the plains. In the 1960s, this ancient system provided more than 70 percent of the water used in Iran. Nain is one of the best places in the whole world to see these qanats functioning.

Unique to Nain are some of the most outstanding monuments of Iran: the Jame Mosque, one of the first four mosques built in Iran after the Arab invasion; the Pre-Islamic Narej Fortress; a Pirnia traditional house; the Old Bazaar; Rigareh, a qanat-based watermill; and a Zurkhaneh (a place for traditional sport).

Besides its magnificent monuments, Nain is also famous for high-quality carpets and wool textile and home- made pastry called “copachoo.” Some linguists believe the word “Nain” may have been derived from the name of one of the descendants of the prophet Noah, who was called “Naen”. Many local people speak an ancient Sasani Pahlavi dialect, the same dialect spoken by the Zoroastrians in Yazd today. Other linguists state that the word Nain is derived from the word “Nei” (“straw” in English) which is a marsh plant.

Nain Congregational Mosque

Nain’s congregational mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Iran. But it still has its original architecture and is in use and protected by Iran’s Cultural Heritage Organization. According to the French professor, Arthur Pops, the mosque’s foundation dates back to the 9th century. It has a very simple plan, but very beautiful. The mosque contains a central rectangular courtyard that is surrounded by hypostyles on three sides. At one of these hypostyles, the mihrab of the mosque is located. It is a niche on the wall that shows the direction of “Qebleh” in Mecca, the holy city that Moslems pray toward five times a day. This mihrab has an amazing stucco work decoration, probably created during the 9th or the 10th century. Beside it, there is a wooden altar with delicate wooden inlay work. The Mosque also has a 28-meter-high minaret belonging to the Seljuk Era, the 10th century.

Pirnia Traditional House

Pirnia traditional house and ethnology museum is situated opposite the congregational mosque. A typical example of this region’s desert houses, in terms of architecture and art, belonging to the Safavid Period. The house consists of an exterior, an interior, a deep garden, a silo room and all the facilities of a lord’s house. When you enter the house and pass the first corridor, you reach an octagonal room called “hashti”, a waiting room for visitors. Beautiful paintings, amazing plasterwork of Qur’an stories, a book of famous poems and calligraphy frames decorate the living room. First, the judge of Nain lived there. Then, during the Qajar Period, the governor of Nain lived in this house. Just a few decades ago, the house was purchased by the Ministry of Culture and Art. After renovation in 1994, the house was converted into the desert ethnology museum.

Nain’s Mosallah edifice

Nain’s Mosallah edifice is another must-see. Its vast garden was a popular recreational area until recently. The mausoleum inside the Mosallah was a pilgrimage site for visitors. There is a water reservoir (ab-anbar) on one side of the garden, which can be accessed through a stairway. Water in this reservoir got cooled by two wind towers. It was in use until a few years ago. The architectural style of Mosallah has the characteristics of Qajar dynasty, and a number of literary, political and religious figures are buried at this site. “Mosallah” is an Arabic word for a place of prayer, but no one knows if any praying was ever done at this location. Mosallah is an octagonal mausoleum of dervishes and Qajar and Pahlavi political figures. It’s encompassed by a military fort from Qajar era, with a high wall. The pistachio trees around the turquoise-domed mausoleum and two tall wind towers make the complex really photogenic.

Narin Ghale

Narin Ghal’e is one of the most important monuments of the province dating back to the period before the advent of Islam in Iran, and has been recorded as one of the national buildings. This ancient castle has been constructed on top of Galeen hill and overlooks the city. It seems that upper floors of the building have been reconstructed and belong to the Islamic era. One part of the building was destroyed in the course of road construction during the reign of Pahlavi II.

is one of the most important monuments of the province dating back to the period before the advent of Islam in Iran, and has been recorded as one of the national buildings. This ancient castle has been constructed on top of Galeen hill and overlooks the city. It seems that upper floors of the building have been reconstructed and belong to the Islamic era. One part of the building was destroyed in the course of road construction during the reign of Pahlavi II.

Nain’s bazaar

Nain’s bazaar is a remarkable historical attraction. It extends 340 m from the Gate of Chehel Dokhtaran to Khajeh Khezr mosque, and is connected by main alleys, and tributary passages, to various neighbourhood centers. The bazaar has two main crossroads (chahar su). Parts of it have been renovated, and its many varied stalls were active until a few years ago. However, at present, the bazaar is almost deserted, since the retailers have moved to the city’s street shops. Some important monuments, such as the Sheikh Maghrebi mosque, Khajeh mosque, and Chehel Dokhtaran’s Hosseinieh are nearby.

Fatemi House

Fatemi House is the largest traditional house in Nain. It’s opposite Narin Castle, beside the old bazaar. The house belonged to a very influential family in Nain. It consists of a large number of sections, each with a different function: summer and winter living rooms, resting rooms, stable, silos, corridors, dining rooms for guests, and other facilities. Most of the rooms are furnished with stained glass windows, inlaid wooden doors, and plasterwork. The house belongs to the Cultural Heritage Organization.

The Dasht-e Kavir, is one of two deserts dominating the region’s landscape, is a mix of sand and salt as blinding in its whiteness as it is deafening in its silence. Dasht-e Kavir, is also known as “Kavir-e Namak” and “Great Salt Desert”, is a large desert lying in the middle of the Iranian plateau, around 300 kilometers east-southeast of Tehran. Dasht-e-Kavir desert is approximately 800 kilometers long and 320 kilometers wide, and composed of mud and salt marshes. Millions of years ago, this region was occupied by a salt-rich ocean that covers a small piece of continent in what is now central Iran. As the time passes, the ocean gets dried up, it left behind a layer of salt as much as 6 to 7 kilometers thick.

Therefore, over the time, the layer of salt was buried under a thick layer of mud; however salt has a fairly low density lower than the layer of mud and rocks underneath which the salt layer lay. So it taking place pushing up through the overlying sediment and finally, over millions of years, the salt broke through and formed domes. The salt domes of Dasht-e Kavir are probably some of the best examples of this geological marvel. Thus, geologists have recognized about 50 large salt domes in this region. Some of the domes have been eroded away by wind and rain exposing its cross-section.

Dasht-e Kavir

However, the desert climate is arid and receives little rain and snow each year, but the surrounding mountains on all side, provide plenty of runoff to create vast seasonal lakes, marshlands and playas. Temperatures can reach 50 °C in summer, and the average temperature in January is 22 °C. Though it looks like a firm surface, the salt crust is only a few inches thick, below which lies soft grease-like mud the Iranians called “Charbeh” that is really difficult to get out of if one were to get stuck. Due to arduous travelling to Dasht-e Kavir, it is very dangerous. The soil is sterile and not appropriate for cultivation. In summer the hot temperatures cause extreme vaporization, which leaves the marshes and mud grounds with large crusts of salt. Heavy storms frequently occur and they can cause sand hills reaching up to 40 m in height. Some parts of Dasht- e Kavir have a more steppe-like appearance.

Dasht-e-Kavir desert is almost uninhabited and only partly explored. Wild sheep, camels, goats and Persian leopards also live in the mountainous areas. Hence, human settling is restricted to scattered oases, where wind-blocking housing constructions are raised to deal with the tough weather conditions. Some live in the hills and the surrounding mountains. Against the odds, oases exist within these desolate environs, home to villages that are sustained by the wells of sweet water that have been part of desert mythology for centuries. Vegetation in the Dasht-e Kavir is adapted to common plant species like shrubs and grasses can only be found in some valleys and on mountain tops. So, the most widespread plant is mugwort. The Persian ground jay is a bird species living in some parts of the desert plateaus, along with Houbara bustards, Persian gazelles, camel, goats, leopards, larks and sandgrouses.

Moreover night life brings on wild cats, wolves, foxes, and other carnivores, the Persian onager and Asiatic cheetah can be seen. Lizards and snakes live in different places in the central plateau. The extreme heat and storms in Dasht-e Kavir cause extensive erosion, which makes it almost impossible to cultivate any lands almost uninhabited and knows little exploitation. Camel and sheep breeding and agriculture are the sources of living to the few people living on its soil. For irrigation, Iranians developed a sophisticated system of water-wells known as qanats. These are still in use, and modern globally used water-revenue systems are based on their techniques.

 

Dasht-e Kavir, or the Great Salt Desert National Park, is a large desert lying in the middle of the Iranian plateau about 300 kilometers east-southeast of Tehran. A total surface area of about 77,600 km2 makes it the Earth’s 26th largest desert. This desert stretches from Alborz mountain range in the north-west to Dasht-e- Lut in the south-east and is partitioned between the Iranian provinces of Khorasan, Semnan, Tehran, Isfahan and Yazd. This amazing desert is about 800 kilometers long, and more than 320 kilometers wide, and composed of mud and salt marshes. Tens of millions of years ago, this region was occupied by a salt-rich ocean that surrounded a small piece of continent in what is now central Iran. As the ocean dried up, it left behind a layer of salt as much as 6 to 7 kilometers thick. Over time, the layer of salt was buried under a thick layer of mud. But salt has a fairly low density, lower than the layer of mud and rocks underneath. So it started pushing up through the overlying sediment and eventually, over millions of years, the salt got out and formed domes. The salt domes of Dasht-e-Kavir are probably some of the best examples of this geological phenomenon.

Dasht-e Kavir’s climate is arid and receives little rain and snow during the year. However, the surrounding mountains on all sides provide plenty of runoff to create vast seasonal lakes, marshlands and playas. Temperatures can reach 50 °C in summer, and the average temperature in January is 22 °C. Day and night temperatures during a year can differ up to 70 °C. Rain usually falls in winter.

The desert soil is covered with sand and pebbles. There are marshes, seasonal lakes and seasonal river beds. The hot temperatures cause extreme vaporization, which leaves the marshes and mud grounds with large crusts of salt. Heavy storms frequently occur and they can cause sand hills reaching up to 40 m in height. Some parts of Dasht-e-Kavir have a more steppe-like appearance.

Geologists have identified about 50 large salt domes in this region some of which have been eroded away by wind and rain exposing its cross-section.

Although it looks like a hard surface, the salt crust is only a few inches thick, below which lies soft grease-like mud that Iranians call “Charbeh”, which is extremely difficult to get out of if one gets stuck in. Due to this fact, travelling in Dasht-e-Kavir is extremely dangerous. The soil is sterile and not suitable for cultivation. The desert is almost uninhabited and only partly explored. Human settling is restricted to scattered oases, where wind-blocking housing constructions are raised to deal with the harsh weather conditions. Some live in the hills and the surrounding mountains. Wild sheep, camels, goats and Persian leopards also live in the mountainous areas.

Travel to Iran without Isfahan is not complete

According to tourists who visited Iran and Isfahan, it is one of the most beautiful and most visited cities in Iran. It seems that there’s something in Isfahan that makes the city so likable.As it’s got some of the highlights of a trip to Iran, the absolute majority of tour operators plan the itineraries in a way that Esfehan is the first or the last stop before leaving Iran.
These special features of Isfahan can be divided into several categories.

Natural scenery

Zayande Rood

The most important and most significant natural effect in Isfahan is Zayandeh Rood River
A river with historic and beautiful bridges that give the city a dazzling effect.This 400 km long river in the provinces of Chaharmahal Bakhtiari and Isfahan, besides the special effects of nature, has provided a great deal of sports facilities for tourists.At the side of this river in addition to the farms and the lush forests have created areas for rafting and recreational sports.There are parks on both banks of the river for kilometers and this lets the people from Isfahan and environs to spend some time relaxing in the shade of the trees, stroll with friends and family and revitalize themselves and enjoy their time.Some of the royal gardens of Safavids (16th to 18th centuries) were irrigated this way.Zayandehrood’s historic bridges like the 33 bridges and khaju have provided a beautiful and deceptive effect to the river.Zayandehrood’s historic bridges like the 33 bridges and khaju have provided a beautiful and deceptive effect to the river.Walking along these bridges is one of the attractions of tourists.

City Planning of Esfehan

Chaharbagh Street

A lot can be said about the city planning of this beautiful city.
First of all, it’s green.You see several fully-shaded streets in different parts of the city as well as pedestrians, especially on Chaharbagh Street, one of the most beautiful streets of Isfahan.There’s such a broad shaded space in the middle of the street that city hall has placed benches for the people to sit down and relax.
As I mentioned before, there are parks along the river on both banks of the north and south. You can go jogging, walking, etc. for hours.
You can go on a picnic and hire a boat and go peddling.There are also good highway system and overpasses and underpasses that helps you make your inner city trips shorter and more comfortable.

Historical Monuments of Esfahan
Isfahan is known to “Half of the world or museum city “This slogan of Isfahan represents an abundance of Historical monuments
Cultural and Artistic in this historic city.The Iranian architecture of every historical period has its own charm, but as far as structural techniques, tiling and decoration are concerned, there are no other ancient monuments in Iran that could match the buildings of Esfehan.
Undoubtedly, Naghsh-e-Jahan or Imam Square is at the center of these fantastic arts.The early 17th century square with its magnificent monuments and colored shops all around created a unique setting that you will not see anywhere else in Iran.This unparalleled collection includes the Royal Palace, Jame Mosque,
Royal mosque and market collection as well as other royal palaces around the square that have all contributed to making this place an unforgettable one.
There are other mosques such as the ancient Esfehan Friday mosque which are astonishing and worth visiting.
You should add to this unique collection the churches, old houses, the Zoroastrian fire temples, as well as the historical minarets of Isfahan.
So add a free day at end of your schedule for these historic monuments.

Vank Cathedral

Handicrafts of Esfehan and Its Artists
In most parts of Esfahan, and in particular in Imam Square, you can shop, art galleries and workshops of handicrafts where you can see the actual artists and craftsmen who are creating beautiful works of art.Large collections of artistic works, carpets, miniature paintings, etc. make Esfehan the city for shopping during your stay in Iran.
These artists will welcome you in their colorful stores and you can visit these valuable artworks.These people are keeping this Iranian art alive by following the traditional styles of centuries of miniature painting in Iran.

Armenian Quarter of  Jolfa
Armenians have long been living in Iran and their history has been linked to Iran’s culture and civilization.Many regions of Azerbaijan and other cities of Iran have long been the home of Armenians.The existence of various historical churches in Iranian cities reflects the history of these people in Iran.
The Armenians of Isfahan from the time of Shah Abbas(17th century) settled in the southern part of the Zayandeh River.Jolfa is the quarter worth visiting for both its fascinating churches as well as culture. In this part of the city, you can get acquainted with the Armenian climate of Isfahan.You can find all the special Armenian elements, such as the hotel’s café restaurant and their stores, you can enjoy spending time in and having something to drink.Coffee is part of Armenian culture. So, if you want good in an interesting atmosphere, Jolfa is the place.

Isfahan and Tourists

People
The last section is about hospitable local people of Isfahan, who are so proud of their city and happy to welcome foreign travelers.This city is not only for tourists but also for Iranians themselves as one of the destinations of tourism
Every year in different seasons of the year, like the New Year, Noruz, Iranian New Year, as well as summer holidays, millions of Iranian travelers visit Isfahan and explore its beauty.So, the local people have got the reason to feel proud of their legacy.
Esfehan, because of what you have read so far, is where people have been very exposed to tourists. Tourism has brought business and employment to the city. The local population is happy to see tourists and is useful to them.
In general, if there is a reason why some travelers come back to visit Iran again and again, they are kind, generous and hospitable people. You must see it to appreciate it.

iran-esfahan-imam-detail-geoex

iran-esfahan-imam-detail-geoex

Everyone says you’ll be surprised by Iran (except for those who say, you’re nuts for going — and they’d probably be the most surprised of all). So I went in expecting to be surprised, but I still wasn’t prepared.

I was surprised by the red poppies bursting out all over the landscape, the snowcapped mountains where I’d expected desert, and the national commitment to mystical poetry and song. The most profound surprise of all was the genuine warmth of the people. From Tehran to Tabriz to the smallest village in the desert, people went out of their way to express appreciation at our visit. In Yazd, a restaurant owner went so far as to place an American flag on our table and blast “The Star-Spangled Banner” from the speakers, causing the other patrons to rise from their seats out of respect. Now, that’s surprising.

Below are a few of my favorite memories:

The palace was a pleasant surprise — an equivalent place in Europe would be overrun with tourists and selfie sticks. Instead, it was magnificently quiet; you could hear the babble in the fountains and the chattering of parrots overhead.

iran-jess-silber-geoex

iran-jess-silber-geoex

I had my picture taken by a young Iranian couple who were also strolling around Golestan, being tourists themselves. They were thrilled to see a group of Americans touring their capital.

One thing that surprised me about Iranian cities was the fun public art. I expected to see lots of sober portraits of the Supreme Leaders, Khomeini and Khamenei, and yes, I did see those. But I didn’t expect colorful murals and whimsical sculptures, and I saw lots of those, too. I think the picture above is actually an advertisement, but it’s a nice reminder of how Iranian cities can be joyful places, not just somber ones.

On Iran's rural border with Azerbaijan, set within a canyon and reachable only by a steep walk, the centuries-old St. Stephanos Church feels like it's in a different world from cosmopolitan Tehran.

On Iran’s rural border with Azerbaijan, set within a canyon and reachable only by a steep walk, the centuries-old St. Stephanos Church feels like it’s in a different world from cosmopolitan Tehran.

Iran’s Islamic architecture is dazzling, no surprise there. But there are other religions in Iran, and exploring sites sacred to Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism was a surprise highlight. Saint Stephanos Church is a long drive from the closest major city; perched just across the border with Azerbaijan, it holds court in a canyon of red rock that feels like one of the archives of time.

The Iranians that we met on the "Treasures of Persia" trip were always eager to have their picture taken with us. Same goes for this group of guys who ran into us at St. Stephanos Church.

The Iranians that we met on the “Treasures of Persia” trip were always eager to have their picture taken with us. Same goes for this group of guys who ran into us at St. Stephanos Church.

We visited Saint Stephanos on a weekend, and it was busy. At each corner and courtyard of the church complex, we were approached by people who wanted to welcome us and chat with us — or take their photo with us. Kathie is pictured here with a group of gentlemen who wanted to immortalize the visit.

A spring fills this volcanic crater at Takht-e Suleiman, Iran - it's easy to see why it was considered a sacred site to different civilizations throughout Iranian history.

A spring fills this volcanic crater at Takht-e Suleiman, Iran – it’s easy to see why it was considered a sacred site to different civilizations throughout Iranian history.

At first I was a bit skeptical as we walked up to Takht-e Suleiman, a windy mountaintop UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’d driven hours through mountain landscapes to get there, and as you approach, you can’t see much except the crumbs of ruins. But the opaque, blue-green pool in the center of the site, formed in a volcanic crater, brought into focus how magnificent and spiritual it was. “One of the most sacred places in Iran,” our trip leader, Sylvie, said, and it was pretty easy to see why.

As with so many other places in northern Iran, we pretty much had the whole site of Takht-e Suleiman — all of its chambers, tunnels and temples — to ourselves to ponder and explore. Here, our national guide, Peyman, is explaining the Zoroastrian fire temple that once burned here.

The atmospheric ruins of Takht-e Suleiman, a sacred site in rural Iran.

The atmospheric ruins of Takht-e Suleiman, a sacred site in rural Iran.

There was just one other group of tourists visiting the ruins at Takht-e Suleiman that day, an older couple strolling with a young man. The woman asked me to take a photo with her. After the young man had taken the picture, the woman squeezed both of my hands in hers and kissed both of my cheeks. I don’t think anyone has ever been so happy to take a picture with me in any other country I’ve visited.

Military service is compulsory for most young men in Iran. These two soldiers serve their time as guards at the crumbling Anahita temple, a pre-Islamic ruin in the town of Kangavar, dedicated to the Zoroastrian goddess of water.

An Iranian woman in Kangavar offered warm bread to some members of our group. At first we declined, trying to adhere to the Iranian custom of taarof, which governs etiquette, but as you can see, eventually the aroma of warm bread overcame us.

Persepolis! Ancient cities haven’t always been my thing — in the Roman Forum I was preoccupied by the scrawny cats begging between the columns — but this site is magnificent from the very first approach. The city was a ceremonial capital for the Achaemenid kings, built on these tremendous stones that heave it toward the sky like an altar, and decorated with astonishing carvings and reliefs. It was more recently famous for being the site of the last Shah’s final big party in 1971, which lavishly celebrated 2,500 years of Persian civilization and provoked the outrage of then-exiled Khomeini.

This third-century relief at Naqsh-e Rustam, just a few miles from Persepolis, depicts the beginning of an empire: Ardashir, the first Sassanid king, is receiving a ring of kingship from the Zoroastrian deity Ahuramazda. The empire only ended four centuries later with the arrival of Islam in Iran.

This third-century relief at Naqsh-e Rustam, just a few miles from Persepolis, depicts the beginning of an empire: Ardashir, the first Sassanid king, is receiving a ring of kingship from the Zoroastrian deity Ahuramazda. The empire only ended four centuries later with the arrival of Islam in Iran.

The highway from Shiraz to Yazd follows historical trade routes, passing the same desert mountains as the camel caravans of previous centuries.

The highway from Shiraz to Yazd follows historical trade routes, passing the same desert mountains as the camel caravans of previous centuries.

The highway from Shiraz to Yazd follows historic trade routes, passing the same desert mountains as the camel caravans of previous centuries.

I’m posing here with a gentleman who has greeted travelers to the Towers in Silence, a Zoroastrian ruin on the outskirts of Yazd, for years — maybe decades. “Over the years I’ve come here, he’s gone through three different donkeys,” our guide explained, “but it’s always the same man.”

Kathie admires the tile work and calligraphy at the Friday Mosque in Yazd.

Only 20 columns support the ceiling of the Chehel Sotun, or Forty Column Palace. The other 20 are created by the reflection in the pool at the entrance to the palace.

Only 20 columns support the ceiling of the Chehel Sotun, or Forty Column Palace. The other 20 are created by the reflection in the pool at the entrance to the palace.

Only 20 columns support the ceiling of the Forty-Column Palace. The other 20 are created by the reflection in the pool at the entrance to the palace.

Esfahan's Forty-Column Palace has an impressive variety of mustaches depicted in the artwork on its walls. On the day we visited, they honored their mustache heritage with a make-your-own-Persian-'stache station.

Esfahan’s Forty-Column Palace has an impressive variety of mustaches depicted in the artwork on its walls. On the day we visited, they honored their mustache heritage with a make-your-own-Persian-‘stache station.

The Forty-Column Palace might have only had 20 columns. What it had in excess was mustaches depicted in its artwork and frescoes — an impressive variety. On the day our group visited, the palace happened to have a temporary exhibit dedicated to this mustache heritage, including a “make your own historical Persian mustache” station that we took full advantage of.

The exterior of the Imam Mosque, in Esfahan, is covered in ornamental red bulbs to honor the birthday of the Hidden Imam, a Messianic leader believed by some Shia to be living in secrecy among the people.

Lots of people have written about the beauty of the Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque in Esfahan. I am happy to confirm that they were all correct. It’s a masterpiece. The mosque was built in the 17th century as a private mosque for the women of the Shah’s family. The pious women were invisible while at prayer thanks to a long, curving hallway that twists away from the entrance doors.

As our trip wound to a close, we stopped in the village of Abyaneh, in the Karkas Mountains north of Esfahan. It’s beloved for its historic red-brick houses and its fruit leather (it tastes better than it sounds).