Visit Alamout Castle | The Most Famous Assassins | Fortress in Iran

Alamout Castle, Headquarter of Assassins

Alamout Castle, Headquarter of Assassins

A trip to Alamout castle is full of wonders. It’s a hidden place among the high mountains of the Alborz, which assassins used as a stronghold for almost a couple of centuries to organize resistance against the foreign invaders occupying Iran. The incredibly hard terrain and location of the path to Alamout fortress had kept it from the eyes of the passer-bys.

You can only discover the genius choice of location and its marvelous architecture when you visit this Ishmaelite stronghold at the North East of Qazvin.

The Alamout Castle Itself

There are around 20 castles identified as Ismailis’ strongholds around Qazvin, where Alamout is located. Some local governors of the region, especially those known as the Alborz rulers, had used it as their own fortress. Hasan-e-Sabbah, the famous Iranian leader of Ismailis managed to make a plan to seize it without fighting or killing anyone. Therefore, it wasn’t built by him. First, he came to the area to work as a teacher and then found some allies inside the castle and via them, Hasan-e-Sabbah entered the stronghold and asked the previous owners to leave.

The constructional materials of this castle are bricks, gypsum, sarooj (traditional cement in Iran) and similar materials. It’s got four stories carved inside the rocks as well as several guard posts to have a good look over the valley. When you’re up there, you can see all around and beneath the hill. That’s why they call it Alamout – “Eagle’s Nest”.

Best Time to Visit Alamout Castle

If you plan to visit this site in Spring, April and May are the best times. If you go there in Fall, September and October are the best time. During these months, you can avoid the extreme heat or cold and there would less likely be any unpleasant weather conditions.

In Spring, when you drive toward this area, you will see the soft curves on the hills covered by natural grass creating a velvet-like scenery. The sunshine would also be pleasant and enjoyable. Coming from a polluted city like Tehran or other similar cities, you will certainly appreciate the huge amount of pure oxygen and astonishing landscape.

How to Reach Assassins’ Stronghold

Today, when you travel from Qazvin to Alamout, you have to cross high mountains and take hundreds of curves on a good road asphalted all the way for approximately 120 km. On the way, you will see the awesome mountains and difficult pathways the people had to take on the ancient times. You will wonder how they could make such a journey to find a fortress that isn’t easily noticeable.

On the other hand, because of the extremely cold winter time in this area, it’s unimaginable how people could survive in this remote place. You will find it amazing why they chose this location as a perfect hideout from which they planned and organized the hit-and-run missions.

You should bypass “Moalem Kelayeh” village on the way 20 km before getting to another village called “Gazorkhan”. From there, there’s few hundred meters to the foothill where the only pathway leads to the entrance of the castle. The interesting point is you get there and you cannot easily pinpoint where it is, because Alamout Castle is carved inside a huge rock that looks like every other rock on this mountain range.

About Ismailia

This sub-branch of Shiites Islam is known as Ismailia that is historically known as assassins in the Western world. It didn’t originate in Iran. The followers of this belief had entered the political realm of other countries like Syria before Iran. The founder of this movement in Iran is Hasan-e-Sabbah who traveled to west Asia and North Africa and learned about them before coming back home.

He used to be a fervent Sunni Muslim arguing with Shiites first.  Then, he traveled to Egypt and Syria as a result of which he converted to Ismailism. The political situation of Iran and people’s living conditions under foreign occupation led him to take this idea very seriously and use his leading capability in organizing volunteers fighting against the enemies, Seljuks.

Ishmaelite movement in Iran is an example of a nation resisting against the foreign invaders’ oppression at home and how to cast fear in their hearts to create the feeling of insecurity in them. Iranians couldn’t mobilize an army to fight against Seljuks then. Therefore, the only way to show them they were not welcomed and should not feel at home was to assassinate their people in charge. This is the core of this movement and unlike the claims of other sources, young people didn’t attack officials to kill them in hope for getting to the heaven and enjoy paradise. Shiite Islam emphasizes on Martyrdom very much, but this was more of a political movement that naturally any nation may have picked as an inevitable method.

Ismailis in Iran (Assassins)

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).