Iran has been a dominating influence in the eastern world since 4000 BC and is probably one of the most fascinating countries, both historically and culturally, in the world.
It is also a very large country with much to offer the intrepid tourist. Beyond its rich historical sites and magnificent mosques, Iran boasts beautiful deserts and mountain ranges where nearly two million nomads still move their herds of sheep and goats from the green valleys in the winter to the heights of the Zagros mountains in summer.
The Safarid monarchs and later the Qajar rulers chose Tehran as their capital from the late 17th century and built palaces like the Golestan Palace which is today one of the main attractions in the capital.
A city worth dedicating two days to explore, there are many very interesting museums such as the Glass and Ceramic Museum, the National Museum of Iran, the Carpet Museum and above all, the National Jewel Museum housed and extremely well protected in the basement of the Central Bank of Iran.
With its fabulous Jameh mosque with two 48-metre-high minarets, Yazd is a must-visit city. This desert town is also famous for its forest of Badgirs, wind towers, that catch the wind from any direction and are used to cool large water reservoirs under the city’s homes. The result is pleasantly conditioned homes during the hottest periods of the year.
In the 11th century Shiraz was said to rival Baghdad in importance and became the most important artistic centre in the Middle East. With some of the most beautiful mosques in the country, an amazing bazaar, the Karim Khan citadel, the grave of Hafez (the famous Persian poet of 1325-1389) and the nearby archaeological site of Persepolis, Shiraz is an important stop on any visit to Iran.
In the 16th century Esfahan was nicknamed ‘half the world’ and even much later was ranked by 20th century European writers to be equal amongst treasured places like Athens and Rome. Considered by many to be the jewel of Iran, the town is crossed by the Zayandeh River in a similar way to that of the Seine in Paris. Five magnificent ancient bridges built during the Shah Abbas dynasty in the 1600s join the two sides of the town.
The Jameh Most of Esfahan is the largest mosque in Iran and was constructed over 800 years. It is an incredible example of Islamic architecture and is still used today as a main place of worship.
Naqsh-E-Jahan square, built by Shah Abbas the Great in 1602, is at 512 metres long and 163 metres wide, the second largest square in the world after Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Originally designed as a polo ground, it is surrounded by Persia’s most exquisite mosques and palaces.
In the southeast of Iran near the border with Pakistan, the unique Kaluts Desert has unusual mud castle-like formations which have been created by the wind eroding the large deposits of mud found at the foot of the Payeh mountains. Further east is the desert oasis of Bam, famous for the delicious dates produced by the thousands of palms growing there. Bam is also renowned for its mud brick citadel known as Arg-e-Bam. In the town of Rayen there is another well-preserved mud brick citadel to visit and any visit to Bam should include time at the fabulous Bag-e-Shahzde palace. Built in 1873 by one of the last Qajar princes, the palace has impressive gardens featuring spectacular water features and magnificent trees.