Tehran, the Capital of Iran, is located on the south hillside of the Alborz mountain range with the height of 900 to 1800 m above the sea level.
Tehran climate is greatly defined by its geographical location surrounded by the mountains in the north and by desert in the south. Accordingly, the north of Tehran enjoys a cold and arid weather but the south is largely warm and arid..
Tehran consists of three parts as “Kan“ , ”Markazi“, and “Aftab“; three cities named “Tehran“, “Bomehen“, ”Pardis”; and four rural districts. Demonstrating the traditional and modern architecture, Azadi square symbolized Tehran in the past and Milad tower plays this role, at present. As the capital of Iran, Tehran is a populous city and one of the most significant urban centers in the world experienced the modernity before the other cities of Iran.
Placed in a large area, Tehran is one of the biggest, most significant metropolitans in the world. In other word, it is the center of all affairs, government, politics, economy, culture, work, commerce, history, science, industry and production and it is why people are mostly inclined to immigrate to here and the population is continuously increased.
Locating on the hillside of Alborz mountain chain and near Damavand, the highest volcanic peak of Iran, Tehran embraces the unique attraction and landscapes where one of the most important historical attractions is placed. Tehran residents speak in Persian standard language. Different religious groups live together in Tehran.
The other side to ancient Iran, with an abundance of culture & history, is its breathtaking four season nature which has no shortage of scenic views. Among the very best sits the holistic Mount Damavand wrapped in snow on its cap all year round, a popular destination for trekking lovers.
The volcanic Damavand, inactive for more than 38500 years, rises above the clouds at 5671 meters (18606 feet) and has crater with a 400-meter diameter. The region harbors a great variety of wildlife, vegetation and natural features such as huge glaciers & sulfuric hill at the peak besides its hot springs situated in lower level skirts.
Cited in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, Damavand has deep roots in Persians beliefs and faith. There are 16 routes towards the peak with various degree of difficulty, making the Mount one of the most accessible peaks globally in class of 5000+ meters.
The southern face climb goes all the way up from Polur Village and your journey begins here. Your trekking adventure to Damavand summit starts from Polur. Read on to find out about the most exciting climb in Middle East happening to be the highest!
Itinerary of Damavand Trekking Tour is found here.
A heaven in the heart of hot summer days, the mountainous village of Polur (Pūlūr) becomes an ultimate destination for trekking camps base, most of which heading towards the splendid Mount Damavand – the highest peak in Mid-East.
Located at a height of 2300 meters, Polur sees dozens of wildflowers growing after snowmelt runoff occurs in mid-April followed by flourishing of yellow & Anemone flowers in late May & June.
This serene area, booming with tourists, backpackers and climbers specially in hot seasons, is believed to be home to some ancient hoards, artifacts and other treasure troves which besides the perfect weather has drawn attention to itself. Although some of these are based on legends, there’s been Glasswares & Ceramics dating back to Parthian, Sassanids and early Islam era of Iran found here.
Other belief of the villagers is that, long back in time there once lived maidens of a legendary King up here in a citadel worshiping Water.
This castle resembles the one in Firouzabad Shiraz, namely Qaleh Dokhtar (The Maiden Castle) – a castle made by Ardashir I 209 AD.
The highest waterfall of Mazandaran Province, Shahandasht Waterfall at a height of 180 meters is one of many tourist attractions of the area which is near Polur village, an approximate 40-minute drive away.
A rock climbing site in Polur Complex welcomes climbers in different types such as Bouldering, Top Rope & Competition in a 900 square meter area.
Rineh Hot Spring
On south face climbs you’ll come across one amazing natural gem, the Rineh Thermal Springs. Located 21km away from Mount Damavand this natural attraction has several bathtubs and pools.
Different options of residence are available here and people mainly come here for its therapeutic properties from Metropolis of Tehran and other nearby towns each and every day.
The pleasant weather combined health benefits of thermal waters has made Rineh a popular spot not only for mountaineering adventurers but also for others looking for some quality leisure time.
Goosfand Sara (Sheepfold) or Modque Base camp
Goosfandsara is a mountain camping site located at 3050m altitude and is one main point as a stop in trekking to Damavand Summit. In this area there is a small mountain shelter or refuge, a mosque called Saheb Zaman (or Saheb al Zaman) and a sheepfold!
The climbing season sees to itself a lot of SUVs transferring climbers and their equipment to this campsite. Mules and porters are other means of transport available here on your way to the last campsite called Bargah Sevom.
Third Camp – Bargah Sevom
Coming up to the next and the last camp before reaching the top, is located Bargah Sevom at a level of 4150 meter. Standing up there you already are getting breathtaking views under your feet.
There is an old shelter, considered the oldest camp of Mount Damavand, and a newer hut built in 2009.
The trek towards the summit would take roughly 5-7 hours depending on physical conditions.
Plan your trip to Damavand as the best time is just now. This trek to the very top of Damavand has been labeled as a MUST and will be a unique experience you’ll never forget.
By Omid Mirzaie
Damavand volcano is a majestic stratovolcano located 70 km NE of Tehran and 70 km south of the Caspian Sea. Mt Damavand is the highest peak in the Middle East and the second highest volcano in Asia (after Kunlun volcano in Tibet).
Damavand last erupted about 7,300 years ago. There are no historical eruptions, but fumaroles at the summit crater suggest that the volcano is still active.
Damavand is located on the tectonically active thrust and fold belt of the Alborz Mountains.
It is a massive stratovolcano with a volume of about 400 cubic kilometers and consists of a younger cone that was constructed during the past 600,000 years above an older, 1.78 million years old edifice, remnants of which were previously thought to be part of a caldera.
Damavand has only few flank vents. Most activity has been from the summit crater, which has erupted a series of radial lava flows, mostly of trachyandesite composition. Most eruptions of Damavand seen to have been effusive, and only one significant explosive deposit is known, a welded ignimbrite that was produced about 280,000 years ago.
The latest activity occurred about 7300 years ago and produced lava flows from the summit crater that cover the western flank.
Looming high above the wind-scoured steppes of the Alborz Mountains – the crescent range that divides the Great Salt Desert from the fertile Caspian coast – Damavand’s dimensions make a mockery of its limited renown outside its homeland. Based on its summit’s most widely cited height of 5,671m, this is the highest point in Eurasia west of the Hindu Kush. It’s also the highest volcano in Asia, and it’s this aspect of its physiology that lends Damavand its near-symmetrical lines, the graceful form of a stratovolcano that has lain dormant for 10,000 years.
But the thing that had struck me most that first day on the mountain, wending up the vague mule-trails on its north-eastern flank, was how much it transfixed the eye. Though surrounded by lesser peaks in every direction, Damavand still cut an aloof and imperious figure. We’d come here to bag a peak, and found ourselves on a pilgrimage to a country’s geographical heart.
As dusk fell, a cloud inversion filled up the northern valleys like a tidal surge, blanketing the lowlands to leave behind an archipelago of mountaintops nudging above a rolling purple ocean. Every ten minutes the clouds’ tendrils clawed up the slope and lapped at our feet.
The only direction left to look was up. After a fitful night, we broke camp with the dawn, each lamenting the thin air and lack of sleep. Damavand’s broad topography means that the journey to its summit starts high, and night one had been spent at the already heady altitude of 3,800m.
Mercifully, our second day’s trek was a short one, spent engulfed in a mist of condensation that filtered out the scorch of the sun. we climbed over ground covered in hardy, dew-soaked flowers, flourishing in soils made fecund by the ashy deposits of ancient eruptions. Three hours’ march took us to the ice-line at a translucent slick the shape of an inverted teardrop. We stopped to replenish empty water bottles from the glacial run-off, while the guides grumbled about wider issues down on the plains.
“On the north side, the Siyouleh Glacier used to stretch all the way down to 4,000m; now it finishes 600m higher up the mountain,”
As we shivered over this forlorn remnant of Damavand’s colder past the country below was feeling the burn.
A little past midday, above a cruddy slope of light brown pumice, the base camp hut came into view, looking like a miniature aircraft-hanger around 10m long by 4m wide, its semi-cylindrical roof striped orange and blue. Inside we found a shrine to past expeditions. The gloomy room reeked with the musty smell of anxious nights, while all over the bare-brick walls and sheet-steel ceiling, swirls of Persian graffiti – Islamic invocations and summit posts – reflected the human tendency to leave a mark where humans seldom tread.
We unfurled our sleeping bags on a dirty wooden platform, strewn with woven plastic sheets and discarded pistachio husks, and chugged down some sugar-laden tea. The plan for the afternoon was to ascend ‘Himalayan style’, ditching our gear in the hut and then trekking up to 4,900m or so to accustomise lungs to the lofty altitude, before heading back down for supper and sleep.
Lightning darkens the mood
The weather ignored the script of course. Bound by the Englishman’s congenital over-excitement at the sight of weather that’s not drizzle, we scampered outside when the snow started tumbling out of the firmament in heavy, thumb-sized dollops. But this was only a prelude to something more sinister, its coming heralded by a thunderclap of biblical fury and a fizz in the air that crackled in our ears: lightning hunting for a salient point to strike.
So much for Himalayan style. For the next four hours we were confined indoors while a scything wind consumed the shelter, jeering us as it rattled the opaque Perspex windows.
At 6.30pm, as the light began to fade, quiet finally returned to the mountainside. Their tantrum exhausted, the clouds fled downhill like a sheet being drawn back to reveal a whole new mountain: starkly placid and dressed in two inches of snow. On the craggy promontory that overshadowed the hut, we submitted offerings to a 2m-high, meticulously crafted rectangular cairn in thanks for the turn in providence, and gritted our teeth against the biting chill.
The scene below – a replay of last night’s surreal cloudscape – was suitably magical, for this was a mountain swathed in myth. In the Shahnameh, the poet Ferdowsi’s epic 11th-century distillation of Persian folklore, this region was the scene of a showdown between the hero Fereydun and Zahhak, a tyrant king said to have fed his pet serpents on his subjects’ brains.
Confronting his nemesis on the slopes of Damavand, Fereydun smote Zahhak with his ox-head mace, imprisoned him within the mountain and usurped the crown. His benevolent rule lasted for 500 years.
In the centuries since, the spectacular ridge on which we stood, and which delineates much of the north-east route from here on up, has come to be known as the Takht-e Fereydun – Fereydun’s throne. Zahhak, meanwhile, remains trapped in the earth that lay beneath our feet, his vengeful rages expressed in the sulphurous billows that belch daily from the summit crater.
with the sun rising at our backs, we set off up the spine of the ridge, eyes squinting in the direction of the summit – from here a blazing white dome, defiant and still impossibly remote, framed against an auspicious cobalt sky.
With boots crunching through snow hardened by the night winds, I reassured myself with the knowledge that we were embarking on the business end of what is a relatively uncomplicated climb. “Basically a walk-up,” one website had declared reassuringly as I researched the trip from the comfort of sea level. “Technically easy and physically moderate.”
As long ago as 1837 it had proved straightforward enough for the English explorer W Taylor Thomson to achieve the first recognized ascent, no doubt attired in tweed and probably taking pot-shots at the Asiatic wolves and black bears, now so rare in the region, with his musket.
Braving the elements
But I also knew that we had been unlucky with yesterday’s sudden squall. The previous evening, Mohammad, who likes to quantify things, had conceded that Damavand snow showers only occur about 15% of the time in the summer months, and that the snow cover was likely to make the climb around 25% more difficult than it would be otherwise. How much harder could things get, I pondered nervously, if the elements turned again?
The digital display on Nasir’s GPS flickered past 5,000m, and we stopped to take stock of rapidly deteriorating conditions. This morning’s plucky breeze had become a biting gale, while an angry carpet of slate-colored cumulus was working its way up the slope to the east, threatening to converge with the wispy penumbra coalescing about the summit. The icy wind had left my extremities numb, and I couldn’t help but recall images of frostbite victims from the Everest disaster book in my luggage, a regrettable choice of holiday reading.
Taking on this mountain means dueling with its fickle winds. Like other prominent peaks around the world, Damavand has a weather system all of its own: hot air blowing up from Iran’s parched interior bombards the mountain’s southern flank, yielding storms that are sudden, unpredictable and capable of quashing the ambitions of the most seasoned summiteer.
In the early 1970s, the man widely considered the greatest alpinist in history, Reinhold Messner, learned this lesson the hard way when a storm swept in and sabotaged his summit bid. Henceforth, Messner, whose normal playground is the death-zone of the Himalaya, would describe Damavand as “that little hill that defeated me”.
Determined to outdo the great Tyrolean but far from sharing the “little” sentiment, our single file trundled on, heads bowed in submission to the eye-watering headwind. (Later, recuperating in a Tehran café, we calculated our average speed on the way up: 1.2km/h.)
At 5,400m we were within touching distance of ‘the gate’, a gap between two rocky outcrops, like a half-finished barricade, through which lay our goal. Cheered by its apparent proximity we urged Nasir onwards. “Ten minutes from here,” said the indefatigable Azerbaijani, fibbing brazenly in a last-gasp attempt to raise our spirits – it turned out to be more like 40.
Smell to high heaven
Eventually, at a little before noon, we clambered onto the roof of the Middle East, a barren plateau festooned with ugly, Sulphur-yellowed stones. It seemed a slightly anti-climactic end; enveloped in cloud, we had no sweeping views of the land below and no fresh mountain air.
Instead, an acrid smoke contaminated each breath, as fumaroles within the snow-covered crater – the reason behind the rocks’ jaundiced coloration – pumped out a noxious brew of gases from the center of the earth. The stench served as a reminder of Damavand’s earthly purpose: a pressure-valve built by nature to relieve the earth-shuddering friction at the conjunction of the Arabian and Eurasian plates.
Even so, at 5,650m, we congratulated ourselves at being the highest earthbound people for thousands of miles around. To find humans suffering at higher altitudes you would have had to travel east to the Pamirs, west to the Rockies, and south to Kilimanjaro.
In a fit of clarity that belied my exhaustion, it struck me then that Damavand was indeed an appropriate symbol of the multifarious melting-pot that is modern Iran. Heightened over millennia by the eruption of successive layers of lava, this is a mountain borne of ferment and upheaval. Like the country in which it resides, a hostile reputation had disguised a place that was magnificent to behold and engrossing to explore.
For now, it merely slumbered, a sleeping giant waiting to be discovered.
Tea first reached Iran by caravans traveling the Silk Road 450 years before the modern Christian era. Residents were largely coffee drinkers until the seventeenth century but now consume four times the world average for tea.
The beverage is served hot at almost all social occasions and family gatherings.
Every morning, in houses all over Iran, a gas burner flickers to life under a kettle that will continue to boil all day. It boils through morning prayers, lunches of rice and kebabs, afternoon conversation and late into the evening meal, sustaining talk of politics, gossip and news well into the night.
The kettle contains tea, one of the most important cornerstones of Iranian culture, and the tea house is its centuries-old keeper.
Tea production is a major industry in the Caspian Sea area and a large part of its economy. Before 1900, there was no tea production in Iran, but in 1895, an Iranian diplomat named Kashef Al Saltaneh decided to change that.
At the time the English had a strict monopoly of tea production in India, with rigid rules against non-Europeans engaging in this trade. Kashef Al Saltaneh, who had studied in Paris as a young man and was fluent in French, went to India, posed as a French businessman, learned the trade and smuggled some tea saplings and seeds to Iran.
After six years of experimentation, he introduced his first product to the market, and started the industry that revolutionalized the economy of two northern states, Gilan and Mazandaran, and made Iranians avid tea drinkers.
He is known today as the father of Iranian Tea, and his mausoleum, in the city of Lahijan, houses the tea museum.
Further reading reveals that Kashef Al Saltaneh’s other honorable titles include Prince Mohammad Mirza, Iranian ambassador to India, and first mayor of Tehran. Moreover, the stash that commenced the tea plantation might have actually been 3,000 saplings!
Tea houses, or chaikhanehs, have been in existence since the Persian Empire. They gained prominence after the 15th century, when coffee was abandoned in favour of tea leaves that were easier to come by through China’s Silk Road.
Though once the purview of men, chaikhanehs have increasingly become frequented by all members of society, and especially by Iran’s large youth population.
Iranian tea comes in a variety of subtle flavours, but its defining characteristic is its deep reddish-brown colour, which tea-drinkers can choose to dilute with water depending on their preference. Despite its cultivation in the country’s northern provinces, other teas from Sri Lanka and India are also widely consumed as the country imports a majority of its tea in order to meet the large demand.
Most chaikhanehs will serve tea on the stronger side unless otherwise indicated by the drinker. The stronger the tea, the higher the concentration of tannin and caffeine, so a good cup of tea is like a good cup of coffee for those who take it straight. Because of its bitterness, many prefer to have sugar with their tea. The traditional way to do this is to take a sugar cube and place it between your teeth. You then sip the tea and allow the sugar to melt. Iranians, especially in colder regions of the country, find this a convenient way to drink multiple cups. Crystal, or rock sugar, can be found throughout the country and bought in spice shops for this specific purpose.
The taking of tea is a ritual unto itself: most meetings or formal occasions will begin with the offering of tea, and most meals will end with it. Some chaikhanehs have takhts, or low-rise platforms covered in rugs and pillows that you may recline on. Remove your shoes before doing so; most meals are served on a tablecloth laid at your feet.
Traditionally, tea is served from a samovar, a heating vessel originally imported into Persia from Russia. Literally meaning “self-boiler”, the samovar is used to keep water hot for prolonged periods of time through a fuel-filled pipe in the middle of the structure that heats the contents surrounding it. Made from copper, brass, silver or gold, the samovar is still used throughout Russia, central Asia and Iran, and ornate versions from the -Qajar dynasty may still be found in use.
Chaikhanehs come in all shapes and forms, from the simple kitchen-turned-tea room in villages to ornate venues in urban centres, and from underground venues to popular tourist destinations.
The Azari Tea House in Tehran is one of the most famous chaikhanehs known to tourists and locals, with its detailed architecture and traditional decoration. In existence since the 14th century, this chaikhaneh on Vali Asr street contains one of the more interesting embellishments to emerge from tea house culture: teahouse painting.
The must-see places of Tehran no visitors should miss!
Si-e Tir Street
Unbeknownst to even many locals, a synagogue, church, and Zoroastrian fire temple sit together harmoniously on the cobblestone Si-e Tir street. Haim Synagogue hosted Polish Jewish refugees during the Second World War, and as this number increased, a second Ashkenazi synagogue was built adjacent to it. Holy Mary Church is across the street from Adrian Fire Temple whose flame was brought from the temple in Yazd. Be careful as you walk in this area as it gets more crowded the farther north you walk, and motorcycles are merciless, often creeping up behind you on the sidewalk!
Every weekend, Parvaneh Mall’s multi-storey parking garage converts to a Friday bazaar and should be experienced even if you aren’t in the market for buying anything. The first few floors are a treasure trove of antiques with everything from home décor to vintage photos, records, and gramophones. As you ascend, you’ll find unique handmade products by local artists and art gallery paintings being sold at a fraction of the retail price. Go early to avoid the crowds and to have the most choice.
Jomhuri Avenue between Ferdowsi Ave. and Shirvani Alley
The peaceful Vanak Village sits just north of bustling Vanak Square. One of Tehran’s oldest neighbourhoods, this area was once known for its grand gardens, but the charm nowadays lies in its narrow alleys (some just 90 cm wide), wooden doors, and sun-dried walls. The Iranian Garden is modelled after the typical Persian gardens and is especially picturesque when it’s drowning in colourful tulips. Vanak Zurkhaneh, a gym of traditional Persian martial arts inscribed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, and Saint Minas Armenian Apostolic Church are other sites to visit in this area.
ranian Garden, Saberi St., Tehran
In the chaos of downtown Tehran, you may be surprised to find this oasis of serenity. Built as a summer retreat during the Qajar era, Negarestan Palace was later converted to Iran’s first modern university where the famed lexicographer Dehkhoda wrote the comprehensive Persian dictionary. This palace currently acts as a museum, housing some of painter Kamal ol-Molk’s masterpieces. The outdoor cafe in this lovely setting has, needless to say, become extremely popular with locals, and if you’re lucky, you may even get the table under the Hafezieh, a structure modelled after Hafez’s mausoleum in Shiraz.
Negarestan Garden, Tehran
One of the most beautiful historical buildings of the Qajar dynasty is Masoudieh Palace. Aside from its historical significance dating back to 1879, this palace allows visitors to fully experience its culture and history in the cosy cafe, with its traditional architecture and stained-glass windows and whose servers are local theatre actors. A walk around the gardens and fountains will complete the outing to this unforgettable palace.
Masoudieh Palace, Mellat St., Tehran
Zahir od-Dowleh Cemetery
North of Tajrish Square off Darband Street is the quiet Zahir od-Dowleh Cemetery where Iran’s most prominent artists and cultural figures have been laid to rest. Known as the cemetery of poets and musicians, among the most famous names here are musician Gholamhossein Darvish Khan, 19th century poet Iraj Mirza, and the 20th century poet best known for her feminist point of view, Forough Farrokhzad. The sound of chirping birds under the canopy of trees provide a serene setting where Iranians still come to pay their respects.
Zahir od-Dowleh Cemetery, Darband, Tehran
This majestic house once belonged to the artist son of Tehran’s mayor during the Qajar dynasty. Along with a private and public wing, it has some the most exquisite tiles throughout the house. The museum displays some of Moghadam’s art and other objects he acquired during his travels. Enough can’t be said about the surrounding gardens as they completely remove visitors from the hubbub of the city centre and offer a tranquil respite.
Moghadam Museum, Emam Khomeyni St., Tehran
Completed in the mid-70s, these residential towers once housed some well-known Iranian figures. Though the towers aren’t particular noteworthy themselves these days, the ground floor is littered with trendy cafes and restaurants and is therefore a popular hangout with the young Tehrani crowd. Homemade Iranian cooking at the cozy Mahtab Cafe and delicious Asian noodles and sushi at Wasabi are just some of the eateries all nestled within these towers. A stop at Aknoon Gallery is a must to check out the modern-meets-traditional Persian art, fashion, and jewellery.
ASP Towers, Tehran
Naser Khosrow Street
The oldest street in Tehran, Naser Khosrow has some of the most iconic landmarks. Delve into the past by first passing Darolfonoon School, Iran’s first modern school founded by Amir Kabir, a prime minister of Iran, in 1851. Further along, the gothic architecture of Saraye Roshan, one of the first commercial centres, is sure to stand out as unusual in Iran. The twin towers of Shams-ol-Emareh peek out from behind the buildings, and right across the street is Marvi Alley Bazaar with its plentiful shops, boutiques, and delicious street food.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Forty-Column Palace. The other 20 are created by the reflection in the pool at the entrance to the palace.
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).
During Mehrabad’s status as Tehran’s international airport, it was Azadi Tower, the sentry to the capital city, that welcomed all visitors. A silent witness to Iran’s major historical events, this tower remains Tehran’s most iconic landmark. Read on to learn a brief history of the Azadi Tower.
In 1966, 24-year-old architecture student Hossein Amanat won a competition to design a building paying tribute to the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire. The monument, formerly known as the Shahyad Tower, was completed in 1971. Combining elements of both pre- and post-Islamic architecture, the 165ft (50-meter) tall skeleton is clad in 8,000 blocks of white marble from Esfahan that are cut into various geometric patterns. It marks the west entrance to the capital city and stands on a 540,000sq ft (50,000sq meter) cultural complex known as Azadi Square, which integrates principles of the traditional Persian Garden through its immaculately landscaped lawn, pristine flowerbeds, and streaming fountains. All of these elements make Azadi Tower, or Freedom Tower as it’s also known, a favorite spot for foreign tourists eager to Instagram their arrival in Tehran.
Historically, political demonstrations have taken place against the backdrop of Azadi Tower, a solemn onlooker. These days, however, one of the only politically inspired events to take place at this site is the annual celebration of the 22nd of Bahman (February 10th), which commemorates the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. On this day, Iranians march from all parts of Tehran, eventually convening at this square.
Visitors who fly domestically will catch a bird’s-eye view of this gatekeeper before landing at Tehran Mehrabad International Airport and being swept up by the maelstrom of traffic around the massive square. By taking the stairs or elevator to the top, you can behold buzzing, modern-day Tehran. The crypt museum, on the other hand, displays various ancient cuneiform tablets, ceramics, and pottery, as well as a replica of the Cyrus Cylinder (the original of which is housed in the British Museum). It is also a concert venue during the Fajr International Music Festival, held every year. In 2015, Tehranis flocked to see German artist Philipp Geist’s Gate of Words, in which Azadi Tower was used as the canvas for a light installation, with words of peace, love, and freedom poetically shone in Persian, English, and German to live music. This has the tower playing less of a political role nowadays and acting more like a cultural ambassador.
Although there are some beautiful high-rises and phenomenally innovative villas and residential towers in Tehran, there’s no doubt the most spectacular ones are those that have withstood the test of time. From European influence to modern takes on the traditional, here are 10 of the most impressive buildings in the capital of Iran.
Walking along Valiasr Street, you cannot help but be captivated by a mansion that demands attention. Behind Ferdows Garden sits a Qajar-era estate that houses the Iran Cinema Museum. The most delightful feature is the balcony, with its walls and columns adorned in detailed floral plasterwork and arched wooden-framed windows. The exhibitions take you through Iran’s century-old film industry, and the surrounding cafés allow you to admire the building (and check out Tehran’s artsy crowd) a little longer as you sip on some tea.
Cinema Museum, Valiasr St., behind Bagh-e Ferdows, Tehran, Iran,
On Naser Khosrow Street, one of the oldest streets in Tehran, stands the bewitching Saraye Roshan. Established in 1932 as one of the first commercial centers, this gothic-inspired building is strikingly unusual in the setting of Iran. While the faces and statues, nearly nonexistent elsewhere in Iran, are more reminiscent of European architecture, the symbol of Zoroastrianism in the center, Ahura Mazda, gives it a distinctly Persian flavor.
Saraye Roshan, Naser Khosrow Street, Tehran, Iran
Sitting amidst a luxurious Persian garden, the Time Museum not only has an extensive collection of timekeepers, but the building itself is the epitome of authentic Iranian architecture. This 80-year-old manor once belonged to Hossein Khodadad, a well-known Iranian merchant, but now serves as a museum to showcase numerous clocks and watches. The pastel-blue exterior boasts windows that resemble cream-colored lace, and the inside does not cease to dazzle with it decorated ceilings, plasterwork, and colorful orosi (stained-glass) windows.
Tamasha-gah Zaman, Zaferaniyeh St., between Kafiabadi St. and Baghdadi St., Tehran, Iran,
Abgineh Museum of Tehran
The remarkable Glassware and Ceramic Museum is housed in a beautiful Qajar-era building constructed 90 years ago by Ahamd Qavam as his private residence and work office. It later served as the embassy of Egypt, before turning into a museum in 1976. It gracefully blends European and Iranian architectural styles with a Russian staircase to connect the first and second floors. The ornate plaster, carved wooden columns, and crystal chandeliers make the interior of this building just as beautiful, if not more so, as the exterior.
Abgineh Museum of Tehran, 30th Tir St., Tehran, Iran,
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013, Golestan Palace consists of a group of royal buildings that once served as the seat of government during the Qajar era. It exemplifies a fusion of Persian and Western design, with immaculate archways, mirrored halls and ceilings, and decorative tiles all placed within the confines of a lavish Persian garden. Words don’t do justice to the ancient Persian badgir, windcatchers, and exquisite varied mosaics bordering the rounded windows, which are among the many highlights.
Golestan Palace, Panzdah-e Khordad Square, Tehran, Iran,
Although it comprises part of Golestan Palace, Shams-ol-Emareh, or Edifice of the Sun, is a masterpiece deserving its own recognition. The monarch Nasser-ol-Din Shah started with the idea to build a tower that gave a panoramic view of the city, and in 1867, construction was finished two years after it began. Twin two-tiered towers sit atop the structure with arched windows, intricate tile work, and an open hall in the center. Though it’s not possible to climb to the top, it’s easy to imagine Nasser-ol-Din Shah’s success in achieving his desired view.
Shams-ol-Emareh, Panzdah-e Khordad St., Tehran, Iran
One of the buildings of the Sa’ad Abad Complex and perhaps the most beautiful is the Green Palace. It was built at the end of the Qajar era and later remodeled by Reza Shah, serving as his residence for one year, before turning into a guest house. Brought from mines in the Zanjan and Khorasan provinces, the marble used to construct its exterior has a unique hint of green. Just as elaborately designed are the interiors, with a mirror hall and a Persian rug woven over a period of seven years, among their other ostentatious features.
Green Palace, Sa’ad Abad Complex, Alborzkooh St., Tehran, Iran
Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art
The largest art museum in Iran, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art is an impressive concrete feat in itself. To design this building, architect Kamran Diba was inspired by integrating traditional Persian architectural elements with modernity. This is particularly embodied in the four structures sitting atop the building, which resemble a modernized twist on the windcatchers of ancient Persia.
Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, North Kargar St., Tehran, Iran,
Masoudieh Palace is one of the most beautiful historical buildings of the Qajar dynasty. Built in 1879, this palace has witnessed many events, including the formation of the first ministry of education and the establishment of the first official library. Among its characteristic traits are the plasterwork, mosaics, and gardens. Today, it’s a popular spot with visitors brunching in its cozy cafe with stained glass windows, before walking around to snap some photos of the picturesque edifice.
Masoudieh Palace, Mellat St., Tehran, Iran
Built in 1972, City Theater deserves regard for its cylindrical design that combines both the traditional and modern. The standing columns add geometric patterns to the roof, which are then filled in with ceramic tiles. The grand entrance is made of wood, giving it a warm, earthy feel. It contains several stages and continues to be a top venue for the performing arts.
Teatre Shahr, Enghelab St., Tehran, Iran,
Tehran has a happening art scene, and every Friday afternoon, galleries around the city open to display exhibitions of well-known and up-and-coming young artists. Your idea of modern Iran is sure to change after viewing not only the contemporary art but also the catwalk-like style of fashionable Tehranis who come to see and be seen in these galleries. Sip on some tea as you contemplate the works, meet the artists, and maybe even purchase a piece from the next big name.
Conquer Valiasr Street
At nearly 12 miles (19 kilometers) long, Valiasr is the longest street in the Middle East, running from north to south, and dividing Tehran into east and west. This tree-lined avenue has wide sidewalks and cascading water features that offset the hum of traffic. Starting at Rah Ahan Square in the south, you’ll pass some of Tehran’s best sites, including Saee Park, Mellat Park, and the City Theater, which also make nice resting spots, before reaching Tajrish Square in the north. Take notice of the street sculptures and art projects along the way. Not feeling up to the walk? Consider taking the bus for all of the sights, but none of the exertion.
Play dress up
Many of Iran’s historical sites offer the opportunity to play dress up in Qajar-era clothes, but why not do it against the backdrop of a palace from the same period? You’re sure to be doing some sightseeing at Golestan Palace, so while you’re there, toss on some royal clothes and feel like a noble as you pose alongside silver antiques, ruby pomegranates, and colorful mosaics. When you’re done, you’ll snap back into present-day Tehran, with your pictures ready in the blink of an eye.
Be transported to old Tehran
Once known as the “Champs-Élysées of Tehran”, Lalezar Street is a far cry from its former days as a thriving hub of cafés, cinemas, and theaters. Named for the tulip gardens that were once plentiful, the first modern boulevard of the city is now lined with lamp and chandelier stores, but you only have to glance up to catch a glimpse of old Tehran. You may get lost in your imagination as you reconstruct broken windows and the happenings behind them. Among the forgotten jewels on and around this street is the former Grand Hotel, home of renowned writer Sadegh Hedayat, and Ettehadieh House, an early 20th-century-style Iranian mansion where the popular 1976 TV series, My Uncle Napoleon, was filmed.
Get an adrenaline rush at Tochal
Located in the north of Tehran, Tochal has something for everyone. For a more relaxing time, catch a skyline view of the capital or strike out on an early-Friday-morning hike to station 1 or 2, where you can enjoy breakfast with a view. Those after some more excitement can try archery or zip-lining in the complex. Even though Shemshak and Dizin are more popular ski resorts, taking the telecabin to station 7 will throw you in the middle of white, powdered mountains, without having to venture too far from the city.
Tour Qasr Prison Museum
One of the oldest political prisons in Iran, Qasr Prison was originally built as a Qajar palace by Georgian architect Nikolai Markov and combines elements of Persian and European architecture. It was later converted into a prison for several decades until it finally closed for good. It reopened in 2012 as a museum, with the surrounding area transformed into a public park. Framed photos of male and female political prisoners hang around the entrance while a few former inmates lead guided tours, providing first-hand accounts of the atrocities they endured during their time behind the bars of this hauntingly beautiful prison.
Dine among the intellectuals at Cafe Gol Rezaeieh
Along the cobblestone streets of Si-e Tir sits a quaint, unassuming café that’s easily overlooked if you don’t know what it is. Throughout its 70-plus years, Cafe Gol Rezaeieh has been the scene of Iran’s writers and artists. Displaying framed pictures from old magazines and photos of prominent figures in literature and cinema, its quirky, cluttered décor makes it feel like a museum of Tehran’s artistic scholars and their inspiration. After a day exploring the nearby museums, stop here to try the café’s famed appetizers and meals, which include borscht (beetroot-based soup) and homemade Persian stews.
Learn about Iranian communication before the smartphone
Before the Telegram messaging app took the nation by storm, communication in Iran was vastly different. Rather underrated, the Post and Communications Museum takes us through the history of Iran’s postal system and exhibits various collections, from stamps, post boxes, and horse-drawn carts that delivered mail, to the first telephones and radios. Perhaps just as exciting as the exhibits themselves is the architecture of the building, which gives us yet another example of architect Nikolai Markov’s innovative designs.
Ascend Tehran’s three towers
Ranging from ancient to modern, these three towers shouldn’t be missed. The oldest of the trio, the 12th-century Tughrul Tower is located in the city of Ray (connected to Tehran by metro) and serves as the tomb of Seljuk ruler Tugrul Beg. Further north, Azadi Tower combines pre- and post-Islamic architecture and is the symbol of Tehran. Finally, Milad Tower is the most modern of the three and is the sixth-tallest telecommunication tower in the world. The elevator to the observation deck will give you a view of Tehran from about 300 meters (984 feet).
Catch some culture
In addition to the many annual music and film festivals on offer in Tehran, there are other concerts on an ongoing basis in various locales. Whether it’s the Tehran Symphony Orchestra at Vahdat Hall, musical concerts at Milad Tower, or adaptations of Western plays in Iran Shahr Theater, you’re sure to find something almost every night of the week.
Tehran, the capital city of Iran has got plenty of interesting things to offer to culture-oriented travelers. It is highly recommended to visit Tehran at the beginning of your trip to Iran for several reasons. Everything happens in Tehran first!
Visit Tehran to See Its Modernization Process
When you take a tour to Iran, make sure you spend some time in Tehran. The very first observation of any traveler to Tehran is its size, number of cars, crowd of people, etc. A city with an area of 750 square kilometer and the population of over 8,500,000 cannot continue its traditional life. It has to shift its nature into a modern one. This transition is an interesting one. Visiting Tehran provides an opportunity for you to explore its modern aspects.
Visit Tehran’s Cultural Centers
There are lots of Culture Houses in Tehran in which various activities are performed. There are art classes, movie theaters, art exhibitions, book stores, etc.
There are several theater halls in Tehran where different plays are performed. Artists are supported by local enthusiasts who are keen fans.
Iranian movie industry has gained huge amount of global attention in post-revolution era. There are good numbers of new movies made in Iran for their fervent fans. Most of these actors and actresses are from Tehran.
There are some music concerts from time to time in Tehran where pop, classical, traditional, etc musicians play and sing for the music lovers. The frequency and size of such events in Tehran are much larger than those of other cities of Iran.
Visit Tehran’s Museums
Tehran’s Iran Bastan museum is the best of its category among the national museums of Iran. The exquisite items on display at this museum can give you a thorough insight in what you will go through during your tour to Iran.
Royal palaces of Qajars in Golestan palace compound are great examples of architecture at this period. Also, the items showcased at its galleries provide you with a view on Qajar kings’ lifestyle. Sa’ad Abad palace compound as well as Niavaran palace compound introduce the lifestyle of Pahlavy dynasty that ended in the revolution at 1979.
Museums of various arts like contemporary arts, Under-Glass Painting, calligraphies of Reza Abbasy, Glassware and Potteries of Abgineh, etc are the best in their genres. The unique Treasury of National Jewels leaves every visitor in great shock with nothing equally dazzling and ornate anywhere in the world.
Carpet Museum presents its visitors with an exclusive collection of the best examples of Iranians’ art in one place. The items on display at this museum cannot be found anywhere else in any carpet galleries or stores across Iran.
Parks in Tehran
There are lots of parks and green areas in Tehran and a lot being planned to be opened to public. In addition to the obvious use of fresh air and peaceful setting of parks, there are other activities going on in these places. Some parks are just for women. Some offer classes on various traditional and modern arts. Some are hangouts for certain groups who exercise on regular basis. And a lot more …
Bazaars are not the only centers of purchasing goods anymore. People need a different type of place for their shopping. Shopping malls of Tehran are not the largest ones in Iran, but the quality of the items offered there are some of the best. Entertainment areas for children, coffee shops, restaurants, etc are among the points of interest at such places. Taking a walk in one of such places in Tehran provides good comparison point when you travel to the traditional cities of Iran.
If you happen to arrive in Tehran in skiing season, there are a couple of possibilities to go skiing around the city. The largest skiing field in the Middle East is in Dizin, close to Tehran. You may take a skiing tour to Iran in Winter as well.
Every weekend in Iran, Thursdays and Fridays, lots of people go hiking and walking at the mountain paths located at the north of Tehran where the high mountains are. This sport activity happens during weekdays as well, but if you want to see large number of people, make sure you choose weekends.