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.





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.


travel trip adventure pictures photographer fotografo fotografia viajes periodismo periodista aventura viaje oliver munoz phototempus retrato portrait muñoz tehran isfahan yazd farsi khaju iran persa iman jomeini shahrekord bakhtiari Naqsh-e Jahan hakim kashan abyaneh kurdistan garmeh zurkhaneh shiraz Mashhad Shah Cheragh Nasir al-Mulk qeshm howraman uraman marivan palangan sanandaj bandar abbas Paiposht Laft minab


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 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.


Nishapur meaning “New City of Shapur” is one of the oldest city of Persia dating back to Sassanid Dynasty. It has been the home of great thinkers of Persia. Though Nishapur was demolished and burnt to ground in Mongol Invasion, it raised from ashes again after a while and became an important city in Islamic era. Tourists should not miss visiting Nishapur Highlights while they are passing this beautiful city. Here are some:

A Gem Garden of Nishapur

A Gem Garden of Nishapur

Mausoleum of Attar Neyshaburi

The Mausoleum of Attar Neyshaburi, the great mystic poet Attar (1150-1220), also known as the Martyr Poet, is a small octagonal monument covered by a turquoise dome. Born and raised in Nishapur, he dedicated his life to study mathematics, poetry and hagiography. Nevertheless, the Mongols, unfortunately murdered the famous Persian Poet who has a heavy influence on Hafez Shirazi, in 1220. He is known for his masterpiece The Conference of the Birds (or Dialogue of the Birds), written in the form of an allegory. Groups of birds are in search of search of divine wisdom, called Simorgh, literally means “Thirty Birds”. In the end, only thirty birds succeeded in finishing the journey and surprisingly they found out that they themselves are Simorgh.  Here is a piece of The Conference of Birds:

If Simorgh unveils its face to you, you will find

that all the birds, be they thirty or forty or more,

are but the shadows cast by that unveiling.

What shadow is ever separated from its maker?

Do you see?

The shadow and its maker are one and the same,

so get over surfaces and delve into mysteries

(The Conference of the Birds by Attar, translated by Sholeh Wolpe)

Mausoleum of Attar Neyshaburi

Mausoleum of Attar Neyshaburi

Mausoleum of Omar Khayyam

Born in 1048, Omar Khayyam was a great Persian philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and poet who wrote his poetry in four lines known as Rubaiyats.

He was born in a small village near Nishapur and passed his early education in there. Then he headed to Samarkand, another province of Persia then. His genius in astronomy, physics, mathematics and Poetry made him famous all over the Persian Empire quickly. But his world fame came to him in the middle of the 19th century, when his poetry was translated into English by Edward FitzGerald, an English poet and writer. His mausoleum was designed by Hooshang Seyhoun, a well-known Iranian architect, in Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Period.

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

(The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward FitzGerald in 1889)

Mausoleum of Omar Khayyam

Mausoleum of Omar Khayyam

Kamal al Molk Tomb

Known as Kamal-ol-Molk, Mohammad Ghaffari, one fo the greatest painter of Iran, born in Kashan in an affluent family of Ghaffari in 1848. In his teens, he decided to move to Tehran to further his education, enrolled in Dar-ul-Funun, and got the attention of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar who invited him to his court and because of his mastery titled him as Kamol-al molk (Perfection of Land). His paintings mostly includes portraits of courts men, landscapes, royal camps and hunting grounds, and different parts of royal palaces.  Kamal-ol-Molk died in Nishapur, Iran, in 1940 and buried next to Attar.

Kamal al Molk Tomb

Kamal al Molk Tomb

Mirror Hall

Mirror Hall, which he believed to be his best work. He painted it over a five-year period

Complex Amir Chahmak in Yazd (Yazd)

(Amir Chahmak)

Meydan-e Mir Chaqmaq mosque is dominated by a wide portal facade and poked two outrageously sharp, more than 50 meters high minarets in the pale blue afternoon sky.

In the middle of the XV century, when Jalaladdin Chahmak, commander of Shahrokh Timurid, became ruler of Yazd. He and his wife Bibi Fatima Khatun built a complex with the purpose of improving the city, which became known as the Amir Chakhmak complex. This is one of the most significant historical complexes in the city of Yazd, located in the heart of the old city. A valuable complex of structures consists of a mosque, teki, Haji Kanbar bazaar, Bibi Fatima reservoir and other buildings. The complex of Amir Chahmak as a monument of the XV century is listed in the list of famous historical monuments of Iran. The area of ​​Amir Chahmak in the Safavid era was known under the same name. In the reign of Shah Abbas, some of these monuments were restored. On the eastern side of the Amir Chakhmak square is the Haji Kanbar bazaar, built by Nizam-addin Haji Kanbar Jahanshahi. After coming to power in the city of Yazd Jahanshah Kara-Kuyunlu, other monuments were built by his order. Subsequently, on the entrance portico of the market was built a sublime beautiful building in the style of other tekha Yazd. The construction works of the Amir Chakhmak mosque ended in 1437. It is considered to be the most beautiful after the Cathedral Mosque of Yazd.

The Amir Chakhmak Mosque with mosaic tiles and curved arches in terms of space, beauty and authority is also known as the “New Cathedral Mosque”. In this complex there are two reservoirs – Bibi Fatima and Haji Kanbar. Reservoir teka Amir Chakhmak currently functions as the “Water Museum”.

Amir Chahmak

Play watch and Nakhl

Towering over two minarets, this three-storey building serves as the grandstand for the Ashura Passion Play, in which the fight and death of Imam Hoseyn are staged. Each year to Ashura, the tenth day and highlight of the Shiite Mourning Month, Muharram, 200 million Shiites commemorate the Battle of Karbala, which ended in 680 AD with the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson, Imam Hoseyn, and the split of Islam into Sunnis and Sunnis Shiites finally sealed. Ashura, the tenth day of the month, is called Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar. This day is significant for all Muslims around the world and is celebrated on various occasions. On the square is also the heavy “Nakhl” wooden scaffolding. This is hung in the Ashura rites with black cloths and carried around on the shoulders of mourners. It symbolizes the shrine of Imam Hossein. The so-called “Naql” is adorned with black cloths, banners and with the portrait of Imam Hossein in the mourning procession on the 10th Muharram and then worn by well-built Porters through the city.

Amir Chahmak

The Jame Mosque of Yazd

The Jame Mosque (Friday Mosque) is the grand assembly mosque of Yazd City. It was begun between 1324 and 1327 on the site of a former fire temple and a Seljuk mosque. It was funded by Seyed Rokn od-Din, who came from the wealthy Yazd patrician family. It was extended in 1365 and is today one of the outstanding buildings of the 14th century in Iran. The mosque is crowned by a pair of minarets, the highest in Iran (48 m). The facade of the portal is decorated with dazzling tiles, mainly in blue. Within the mosque is a long, arcaded courtyard (cream). Behind a low-lying Ivan (hall) is an altar chamber, a room cooled by a ventilation system. This chamber under the squat tiled dome is decorated with faience mosaics and its high faience mihrab (prayer niche indicating the direction of prayer) from 1365 is one of the most beautiful of its kind.

Especially worth seeing in the vicinity is the mausoleum Rokn od-Din – this has a turquoise dome with blue grid. The grave structure is characterized by the magnificent, reminiscent of floral carpet patterns paintings of the inner dome around which runs a tape. Here is buried Rokn od-Din, who founded the Friday Mosque and created many foundations. The mausoleum is visible from all elevated points in Yazd and is about 700 years old.

When entering the prayer ivan of the Jame Mosque, a Friday mosque, as the word “Jame” already says, it gets really atmospheric. Even the richly decorated with tiles and mosaics entrance portal lets the head fall for many minutes in the neck and shocked by the prayer rugs still in the interior of the octagonal, half-open and richly decorated patterns.

You can end your beautiful day with a tour of the old town, marvel at the beautifully decorated dome of the Rokn-od-Din mausoleum (tomb of the founder of the Friday Mosque of Yazd).

After a short stroll through the relatively manageable bazaar of the desert city, you land unexpectedly in a particularly atmospheric place. In a mausoleum on the boulevard Salman-e Farsi stands the shrine of Prince Fazel. It is worth visiting the place because the green color will give you a calm and relaxing time.

As you would expect from one of the oldest continuous civilisations in the world, Iran and Iranians have created many ingenious and revolutionary things and concepts we now take for granted. From the postal service to the refrigerator, here are 10 inventions you probably didn’t know were Iranian.

Human Rights

The Cyrus Cylinder has been historically recognised as the the world’s first universal charter of human rights. Created in 534 BCE, the Cyrus Cylinder is constructed out of clay and inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform script, and predates the Magna Carta by one millennium. It was discovered in Babylon in 1879, and is now kept in the British Museum in London.

The Postal Service

‘Chapar Khane’ is a Persian term for the first postal service system used during in the Achaemenid Empire. It was created by Cyrus the Great and later developed further by Darius the Great as a method of communication throughout the Persian lands. The system comprised of a series of stations along a 2,500 m highway throughout the empire, where the ‘Chapars’ would ride horseback, delivering post from one part of the kingdom to another.

The refrigerator

In 400 BCE, the ancient Persians created the world’s first ever refrigerator. The Persian word for fridge – Yakhchal – translates as ice pit, which is very much how the modern day fridge started out. The original structure had a domed shape somewhat like a small mountain, and it was used to store mainly ice but also sometimes food items.


Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarazmi was a Persian scholar (750-850 AD) in Baghdad. His work spanned the fields of mathematics, astronomy and geography during the Abbasid caliphate. Today, he is best known for the method through which he taught algebra as an independent science. For this reason, he is hailed as the founding father of algebra.

Sulphuric acid

Zakariya Razi (865-925 AD) was a pioneering Iranian scholar who discovered alcohol and sulphuric acid. Nowadays, sulphuric acid has a wide range of uses and applications, including as drain cleaner, as an electrolyte in lead-acid batteries and in various other clothing products.


Although there is some dispute as to whether the game of chess originated from India or Persia, the earliest mentions of chess in writing can be found within Iranian literature. The oldest surviving chess pieces came from the Persian lands, thus reinforcing the belief that chess originated in Persia.

The guitar

The earliest version of the modern day guitar exists in the form of the tar or lut – a wooden instrument on which strings were plucked to produce music.

Important discoveries in modern medicine

Ibn Sina or Abu Ali Sina is known more commonly in the Western world as Aveccina. He is considered to be one of the most significant physicians, astronomers and thinkers of the Islamic Golden Age (8th-13th centuries). After qualifying as a physician at the young age of 18, he went on to produce his most famous works – ‘The Book of Healing’, and ‘The Canon of Medicine’, an encyclopaedia of medicine.

The first monotheistic religion

Zoroastrianism is considered to be the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, founded by the prophet Zarathustra over 3,500 years ago in the city of Yazd, which is now in Iran. Estimates suggest there are around 190,000 Zoroastrians worldwide today.

Qanat (water irrigation)

The qanat was a water management system used in irrigation, which dates back to the pre-Achameinid era. The oldest known qanat is in the city of Gonabad in Iran, which after 2,700 years still succeeds in providing drinking and agricultural water to people today.



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.

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).

A General view of Soltaniyeh mausoleum

A General view of Soltaniyeh mausoleum

The ancient town of Soltaniyeh is located approximately 40 km west of Zanjan on the old road of Zanjan-Qazvin. Driving from any direction, you can redirect a bit into the present town of Soltaniyeh and pay a short visit to a fantastic World Heritage Site, Soltaniyeh Mausoleum. This town thrived under Oljayto, the Mongol king of Ilkhanid dynasty in Iran (14th century) and turned into the capital city of Iran.

He decided to build this burial structure in early 14th century because of his religious interest in Imam Ali, the first Shiite Imam as well as the rest of the Shiites’ imams. Eventually, he communicated with the religious leaders of Najaf and Karbala, today’s Iraqi cities, and got informed that exhumation weren’t allowed in Islam. According to many researchers, as he wasn’t allowed to bring back the bones of all the Imams to this mausoleum, he was the person who was finally buried there. Of course, some other researchers disagree with this assumption.

Historical Background

Although settlement had started in this area since first millennium, it was at the time of king Arghun of Ilkhanid dynasty around the end of 13th century that decision was made to further develop this area. He constructed a summer residence there due to the rich pasture for horses. Then, his son, king Ghazan came up with a decision to build a city there, of which little information is handed over to us. Later, his son, Oljayto, the first Ilkhanid king who converted to Islam, enlarged the city and called it Soltaniyeh, meaning imperial.

The ancient city was continuously inhabited until 16 and 17 century and together with Tabriz, Soltaniyeh turned into one of the main stops on Asia-Europe trade route. Several caravansaries were built along such routes. Some of them are close to this city which was a major stop on this well-known route.

The Monument of Soltaniyeh Dome

Inscription decoration at the ceiling under the Soltaniyeh dome

Inscription decoration at the ceiling under the Soltaniyeh dome

Soltaniyeh Dome, a highlighted accomplishment of Iranian architecture, is among the top three huge historic buildings in the world. The other two structures are Santa Maria Cathedral in Florence, Italy and Ayasofya Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

What distinguishes Soltaniyeh mausoleum, known as Soltanieh dome by many, is the substantial success of Iranian architects of that time. Building this burial structure, they had proved their achievement in innovative engineering creating spatial proportions, architectural forms and eye-catching decorative patterns using ground-breaking techniques at their time.

At the south west of the ancient city, a royal citadel was built with surrounding walls and watch towers with a moat around it filled with water to make sure it’s well-protected. The mausoleum was also built inside this royal citadel section. The construction continued for almost 10 years and resulted in an architectural masterpiece in central and western Asia.

There were three main sections in this mausoleum: The domed chamber, cellar and Torbat Khaneh. Most of the decoration have been applied to the inner part of the structure of the domed chamber. The cellar, the entrance of which is situated inside the domed chamber, is supposed to have accommodated the grave of the person(s) for whom the mausoleum is built. And Torbat Khaneh (meaning the house of holy earth), refers to the section attached to the domed chamber and originally allocated to the corpses of Shiite Imams.

Structure of Soltaniyeh Mausoleum

Islamic art if form of painted inscription of Koranic verses, holy names, etc.

Islamic art if form of painted inscription of Koranic verses, holy names, etc.


Obviously, like many other examples of Islamic architecture of 13 and 14 centuries, bricks and mortars have been the main construction materials used to build the monument. It’s built on a rectangular plan together with the spaces around the domed chamber. The space allocated to the domed chamber is in octagonal shape. Symmetry has been firmly observed in the construction. There are several ideas about the main and other entrances to this Mausoleum. Seemingly, there must have been three doors leading visitors to the inner part of the building. The floors have been treated with alabaster stone creating a clear white surface.

The double-shell dome is approximately 50 meters high with a diameter of approximately 25 meters. This indicates how heavy it is – 200 tons! Various sections of the structure have been joined to one another using dented wooden beams made from pine trees saturated with particular kinds of oil to make sure they could reduce the structure’s tension. The incredible fact about the structure is that its foundation is maximum 90 centimeters deep into the ground, not more. It has resisted against more than 300 earthquakes so far suffering some damages, but it still stands there with its entire splendor.

Plaster work decoration of the balcony under the dome at Soltaniyeh

Plaster work decoration of the balcony under the dome at Soltaniyeh

On top of the octagonal structure, what you see from outside is a series of eight minarets standing at the corners of this 8-corner structure. The blue dome is shining inside the space surrounded by these minarets. You won’t see much decoration on the façade of the structure from outside. As a matter of fact, you will notice the magnificence of the monument when you visit inside the building.

Decorations inside Soltaniyeh Dome

Inscription by plain & glazed bricks inside Soltaniyeh mausoleum

Inscription by plain & glazed bricks inside Soltaniyeh mausoleum


The Islamic arts used at this monument are of various forms. The decorative elements applied in Soltaniyeh Mausoleum are:

  • Brick decorations
  • Plasterwork decorations
  • Inscriptions
  • Tile works
  • Painted decorations
  • Stone decorations
  • Wooden decorations

The interior walls have been largely decorated by plaster and glazed bricks. The fascinating inscriptions and motifs have been made with plasterwork. The ceiling of the balcony just under the dome, which can be seen from outside, has got unique orange-color plaster works in form of geometric and plants patterns and inscriptions.

Orange-color decoration of Soltaniyeh balcony under its dome

Orange-color decoration of Soltaniyeh balcony under its dome


There are religious inscriptions uniquely worked out in small and large sizes and particular scripts of kufic and Thuluth. Sometimes plaster has been used for this art and sometimes glazed bricks. The study of the content of these inscriptions indicates the political-religious developments of Oljayto’s ruling period.


Allah Allah Domes at Sheikh Safi al-Din Khangah & Shrine Ensembles

Allah Allah Domes at Sheikh Safi al-Din Khangah & Shrine Ensembles


Shah Ismail ascended to power in early 16th century and founded Safavid dynasty in North West of Iran. He and his successors were the followers of a Sufi who had died three centuries before their time, but had kept his popularity and respect among the people. The World Heritage Site I’m going to explain here is the burial place of Shah Ismail and Sheikh Safi as well as a few other dignitaries of Safavid Era. It’s named after this Sufi: Sheikh Safi al-Din Khangah & Shrine Ensembles.

Who Was Sheikh Safi al-Din?

Courtyard between various structures of Sheikh Safi-al Din Shrine Complex

Courtyard between various structures of Sheikh Safi-al Din Shrine Complex


This Sufi used to live 700 years ago, meaning 3 centuries before Shah Ismail came to power. He was the son-in-law of the Grand Master of Sufi orders in Iran, Sheikh Zahed Gilani. As a spiritual leader of his time, Sheikh Safi inherited Zahediyeh from his master, a Sunni Muslim, and transformed it into his order called “Safaviyya”, believing in twelve Imam denomination of Shiite branch. As he’d been given the Ardabil and its dependencies, Safaviyya managed to gain authority over all those areas.

Eventually, the followers of this order managed to obtain the political and military control over that area. In early 17th century, a group of his followers headed by Shah Ismail founded Safavid dynasty in Iran and brought a religious government to power. This was the second time in Iranian history that religious-political leaders ruled the country. The name of this Dynasty comes from the name of this Sufi. So, the monument I introduce here is called “Sheikh Safi al-Din Khangah & Shrine Ensembles” after him.

Who Was Shah Ismail?

Ceiliing decoration inside Sheikh Safi-Al Din Shrine

Ceiliing decoration inside Sheikh Safi-Al Din Shrine

He was born in Ardabil and turned into a fervent follower of Safaviyya militant order and founded Safavid dynasty. He unified Iran at a time when foreign invasions and political influence had strongly weakened Iranian authority over its territory. This was the largest and mightiest empire established in Iran after the Arabs’ invasion leading to the Iranian political decline.

Shah Ismail brought together different parts of Greater Iran – all the countries ruled by major powerful Iranian empires from Medes to Qajar era. These countries and territories included Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, North Caucasus, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even some parts of today’s Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, and parts of Turkmenistan. Iran became a strong nation again. He converted Iran from Sunni Islam to Shi’a Islam. This differentiated religious and national identity of Iranians and helped Iran’s territorial integrity. Many argue this was a wise political movement strengthening Iran as a nation.

He was also a prolific poet composing poems in both Azerbaijani and Persian. His pen name was Khatai.

Sheikh Safi al-Din Khangah & Shrine Ensembles

Khangah is a spiritual retreat in the Sufi order. This UNESCO site is a complex consisting of several sections with different functions: a mosque, mausolea, a library, a school, a hospital, a cistern, kitchens, a bakery, and some offices. Iranians refer to it all as “Sheikh Safi Shrine in Ardabil”. In addition to its historical significance, the site is of high value in Iranian architecture. Also, from Islamic architecture point of view, it’s a landmark of Safavid era.

Entrance to Sheikh Safi al Din Shrine in Ardabil

Entrance to Sheikh Safi al Din Shrine in Ardabil


The ensemble in this complex refers to a series of spectacular inherited items including:

  • A series of richly decorated and preserved facades and interiors, and
  • An exemplary collection of antique artifacts.

Altogether, it constitutes a rare collection of unique elements of medieval Islamic architecture.

The construction of Sheikh Safi al-Din Khanghah & Shrine Ensembles started in 16th century and continued till the end of Safavid rule, 18th century.  It’s an artistic and architectural accomplishment of Iranians setting an example for all such Sufi retreats built later in Iran. Aesthetics and religion have come together and created a beautiful complex in Ardabil. The dark blue tiles, gilded ceilings of the interior and space allocation for various functions in carefully devised plan and proportion have made it a unique collection of structures.


The ceiling inside the Sheikh Safi al-Din Shrine

The ceiling inside the Sheikh Safi al-Din Shrine

afavid architecture is the heir of its predecessors, Ilkhanids and Timurids. Therefore, their arts and architectural features are clearly distinguishable. The delicate ornamentation and spacious inner sections at Sheikh Safi al-Din Khangah & Shrine Ensembles represent the new architectural style of this era.

The social, religious and cultural influence of the Safavid period have lead to the formation of Safavid architecture. The other Sufi shrines built after that have been largely inspired by it.

Other Details About Sheikh Safi Shrine in Ardabil

The famous Ardabil Carpet is in Victoria & Albert Museum

The famous Ardabil Carpet is in Victoria & Albert Museum


The famous “Ardabil Carpet” was an Iranian masterpiece and the best carpet woven in Safavid period for this complex. It’s now in Victoria and Albert Museum in London. A copy has been recently woven in Iran, which is kept by this shrine.

Chinaware at Chini Khaneh of Sheikh Safi Shrine Complex in Ardabil

Chinaware at Chini Khaneh of Sheikh Safi Shrine Complex in Ardabil

Chini Khaneh is the name of a section of this Sheikh Safi Shrine that accommodates several Chinaware from a collection imported from China during Safavid era. A lot of them were plundered at the time of Russians’ invasion to Iran. Most of the vessels displayed here bear the seal of Shah Abbas indicating he had endowed them to this shrine.


Sheikh Safi al-Din Khangah & Shrine Ensembles is  collection you don’t want to miss if you travel to Iran one day. It’s a magnificent set of buildings with circular dome chambers accommodating tombs of Safavid kings, princes, Sufis, etc. The domes themselves known as Allah Allah are quite spectacular.


Alamout Castle, Headquarter of Ismailis

Alamout Castle, Headquarter of Ismailis


Ismailis are, in fact, a sub-branch of the Shiite Muslims who are known by various names like Ismailis, Bateni, Qermati, Saba’ie, etc.

The point of diversion between them and 12-Imam Shiite branch (the dominant branch in Iran) began after the 6th Imam, Jafar-e-Sadeq. Unlike the Twelvers who believe the 7th Imam is the 6th Imam’s son called Musa Kazem, Ismailis believe that the next righteous Imam is his other son, called Ismail.

This sect of Shiites is also called 7 Imam Shiites or Seveners, because of their belief in the 7th Imam. Ismail’s son had to follow up the leadership of his followers behind scenes, because Ismilis were afraid of their enemies especially Abbasid Caliphs. The leadership of Ismailis still goes on in a hidden manner.

Fatimids’ Caliphate

It was in 10th century that Ismailis founded a government at North Africa under the name of Fatimids Caliphate system. Since then, they turned to be a strong power in the Islamic world and grew much mightier than before. Their ruling realm was gradually expanded to other countries like Egypt, Syria, Iraq, etc as a result of summoning some people as missioners who tried to absorb more and more followers.

The Situation in Iran

Baghdad, then, was the capital of Seljuks who believed in the Sunni branch of Islam (then and now the dominant branch in the whole world of Islam). On the other hand, the Seljuks were the invaders who were defending the previous invaders, Arabs. Like Baghdad Caliphs, Seljuk invaders were Sunnis after they had converted to Islam. Although the majority of Iranians were Sunnis too, they had been treated by both of them as the invaded nation.

The caliphate system at North Africa declined, but did not collapse. Their movement was renewed and continued for another 170 years in Iran under the leadership of Hasan-e-Sabbah and his successors. He set his headquarter in a fortress up in the mountains of the central Alborz called Alamut fortress and led his followers from there. His successors maintained the leadership of Ismailis from Alamut fortress until 1256. It was in 1256 that Mongols seized the Ismailis’ castle. They had to go on with their activities for some time in a hidden way and then escape to the eastern neighboring countries, most of all, to India.

Since the leaders of Ismailis were interested very much in studying and researching, they founded a well-known library in India to which many famous researchers were attracted. When in Iran, they had also had very well-provided libraries.

Facts & Fictions

Western writers and travelers have written stories describing the beliefs and works of Ismailis that are not approved by Ismailis.

The common theme of such stories is as follow:

“There is an old man who is the head of Ismailis living in a castle high in the mountains difficult to reach. There he has made an example of how heaven has been elaborated in Koran to tempt the young sons of his subject villagers to do whatever he wants. Instead, they could enter the heaven promised by God.

This elder of mountains was as highly respected as a prophet by the villagers. Their sons of 12 to 20 years of age were sent to such fortresses to be taught of Ismailis? doctrine of Islam, to be acquainted with the quality and value of heaven (with all its tempting joys like streams of milk, honey, water and wine and beautiful female angels, etc) and to be prepared to do whatever the elder wants them to do; meaning killing an enemy by a gold-made dagger presented to them by the elder.

At the end, either killed or victorious, they could enter heaven. To start to be prepared to do their mission, they were given hashish (the Arabic word from which “assassin” has been derived) to deprive them from referring to their sound mind and have them act according to the elder’s commands.”

It is noteworthy that Ismailis are called Assassins by Westerners. The word “Assassin” comes from the Arabic word “hashish”. There was not such substance in Iran at the time of Ismailis. The Seveners of Iran did not speak Arabic and did not take hashish. So, it will not be a proper name to attribute to them.

But Ismailis reject these stories and introduce themselves as the true followers of Mohammad, the prophet of Islam. They believe that the lack of understanding of the philosophy of martyrdom in Islam by the western writers has led them astray. Ismailis were going out to different cities and countries after being trained to invite others to their religious doctrines.

Hasan-e-Sabbah was an activist of his time against the Turk invaders, Seljuks, occupying Iran and supporting Sunni Abbasid Caliphs. As a matter of fact, they were the first political oppositions who had their enemies killed.


He was born at Qom, one of the early settlements of Arabs in Iran and a center of Twelvers in the early 11th century. He went on with his religious schooling at Rey, near Tehran, center of Ismailis activists. First he was against them, but later became the leader of them inviting others to this doctrine too. He set up his fortress at Alamut in an area where people were the last Iranians converting to Islam. The area was called Daylam and the people were always warriors disobeying Arabs and other invaders. In politics, they wanted their own independent dynasties and in religion, they wanted a branch different from that of Arab invaders.

Hasan-e-Sabbah managed to get some Seljuk officials assassinated in Iran and turn to be the major threat to ruling Seljuks. During this period of 170 years, Hasan-e-Sabbah and his successors created dreadful nightmares for the enemies of Iranians until, Hulagu, the Mongol seized the Alamut fortress.

Ismailis’ Famous Fortresses in Iran

Some of the preserved fortresses in Iran are: Alamut (north of Qazvin), Lambesar (near Shahrud river), Gerd kuh (near Esfehan), Khalenjan (near Esfehan), Meymoon Dezh (at Rudbar) and Samiran (near Manjil – the best preserved in its area out of many).

Tomb of Bayazid Bastamy, 14th Century Sufi

Tomb of Bayazid Bastamy, 14th Century Sufi


Mysticism is the heart-felt recognition obtained through revelation and intuition. Sufism has been defined in different ways. To better understand these two concepts, one can get a perception by comparing practical and theoretical mysticism.

Practical mysticism is the most audaciously wanted perfection and the highest spiritual interest that expresses human relations and responsibilities within and toward himself, his community and God. It takes a spiritual journey as a way of life.

Theoretical mysticism deals with the interpretation of existence.

It relies on revelatory and heart-felt principles and bases in its reasoning. In fact, Sufism is the practical aspect of mysticism.

Islamic Mysticism

Islamic scholars believe that Islamic mysticism and Sufism are adopted from the spirit and truth of Islam, but there have also been influencing attitudes entering into it from the mysticism of other religious communities.

The Islamic school of Basra, a city in present day Iraq, in mysticism and Sufism transformed devoutly Sufism to loving Sufism. The school of Khorasan was strongly based on rebuking oneself in people and/or God’s presence. People’s approval was believed to block their hearts from stepping toward God.

There are various methods in Sufism to be on the way toward the truth:

  • The method of devotion;
  • The method of revelation and recognition; and,
  • The method of pantheism.

The Way to Recognize The Truth

  1. A Sufism disciple, in his spiritual journey, must obey his master and go through eight austere stages to get intuition that is altogether the way to recognize the truth.
  2. Seeking,
  3. Refining morality, including degrees like repentance, refrainment, abstention, poverty, patience, reliance, contentment and submission. It is also inclusive of undergoing some states felt by heart. They are the feelings of being in carelessness, closeness to God, love, fear, aspiration, enthusiasm, observation, assurance, certainty, and praising.
  4. Having enthusiasm and anxiety,
  5. Loving,
  6. Getting perplexed,
  7. Becoming void, and
  8. Believing in one sole being.

There has been different people taking these stages in various ways and pioneered several orders of Sufism like Noorian, Hakimian, Qaderian, Sohrevardian, Molavian, Safavian, Nematollahian, Naqshbandian, etc.

Khaneqah or Khanegah

It is the residence and private place for Sufis to concentrate on their devoted life. These buildings consisted of bathhouses, stables, dance halls (ceremonial religious dancing), mosques, classrooms and a few other facilities.

Code of Dressing

A coarse cloak (Kherqeh) has been what a high spiritually ranked Sufi presented to another Sufi of lower rank. They are differently named depending upon various occasions under which they are presented to a Sufi.

Spiritual Dancing

Among some orders of Sufis, in occasions like thanksgiving, they follow an old tradition of playing music and dancing. Sama’ is a spiritual means to persuade Sufis to dance, which is mixed with spiritual rejoicing.

The Influence of Mysticism on Human Life

Mysticism and Sufism have influenced the societies they have grown in. True Sufism have put positive impacts on the others resulting in great changes like: producing balance in religions, respecting humanity, teaching uprightness and liberalism, purifying heart, associating with people, tending to cooperation and devotion, leading people toward the truth, introspecting, teaching love and kindness, ignoring the gravity of death, believing in the importance of human beings, helping religion to flourish, helping the richness of literature and so on.

Therefore, Iran’s culture is abundantly indebted its richness to the mysticism and Sufism that is still deeply rooted in its present cultural condition. Knowing mysticism helps to examine the today’s society in Iran as well as other fields impacting people’s lives.