Come with us to Iran!

Iran does not belong to the trendy tourist destinations. This is a great blessing, because if the stunning beauty of the country, its urban civilization, the kindness of the people, the multitude of historic monuments, the sophisticated music and art, and the great Iranian cuisine were widely known, we would not be able to step away from the many tourists, and would not be able to invite our readers to such exclusive tours, like this one, with which we begin to ramble in Iran.

We begin, I say, because Iran is a huge country. From one corner to the other, two thousand five hundred kilometers, and this is just one way. And at the same time, a very diverse country, with so many attractions, from the spring floral splendor of the Kurdish mountains to the amazing colors of the desert of Kerman, the thousand-year-old cities to the caravanserais of the silk roads, the nomadic tribes to the centuries old bazaars, where in the spring the tribes bring down in colorful procession the carpets woven in the mountains during the winter. To see all this, we must return several times. On our first tour, between 22 October and 1 November, we will travel along the central historical axis of Persia, the chain of ancient cities from Tehran to Persepolis.

Soheil Nafisi: همه فصلن دنیا Hame-ye faslân-e donyâ, “All the seasons of the world”. From the album ترانهای جنوب Tarânehâ-ye jonūb, “Southern Songs” (2010). Already quoted in this favorite post, together with the photo of Alieh Sâdatpur.

Our plane departs on 22 October at noon and arrives in the late evening from Vienna via Istanbul to the international airport south of Tehran, from where we will immediately go by rented bus to Kashan, lying about two hours away. In fact, the next day is Iran’s largest religious celebration, the day of Ashura, and if we are this lucky, we must attend it in a traditional town such as the many-thousand-year-old caravanserai city, Kashan. Apart from the series of celebrations, processions and public ceremonies encompassing the whole city, we ramble in the old town built of clay, see the historical merchant houses, and in the evening we dine in a traditional tea house next to the five-hundred-year-old Safavid garden, a world heritage site. We will stay in a four-hundred-year-old merchant house, transformed by young managers into a traditional-style guest house (we will write more about it, together with an interview).

On 24 October, Saturday we make a bus excursion to the mountainous area south of Kashan. We pass by the Natanz uranium enrichment center (taking photos is strictly forbidden, but looking is not), we stop by the 13th-century mosque of Natanz, built by the Mongol khans, and then we reach Abyaneh, the Red Village. We walk the town and its surroundings, have picnic at the creek (where our friend Hamid, the local hotel owner delivers us lunch on donkey-back), and in the afternoon we get back to Kashan. We look around in the bazaar of Kashan – which will have been closed the previous day for the ceremony –, and in the evening we cook Persian dinner together with Farshad, the young Kurdish manager of the guest house.

On 25 October, Sunday morning, we go by bus to Isfahan, two hours away, while stopping at some beautiful sights and traditional villages. Isfahan is the most beautiful city of Iran, which was also its capital for centuries. In this and the following day we tour the city. From our hotel in the center, through the huge bazaar, we reach the main square, which is considered by art historians to be among the world’s ten most beautiful squares. We visit the Imam Mosque, decorated with the blue tiles of Armenian craftsmen, the thousand-year-old Friday Mosque, we ramble in the eight-hundred-year old and still vivid Jewish quarter, the largest Jewish center in Iran, and we cross the five-hundred-year old Si-o-se, that is, the Thirty-three-hole Bridge, to see the Armenian quarter over the Zayande, that is, Life-giving river. We will visit Persian gardens and palaces, will begin the hopeless attempt of going through the entire bazaar, see nomadic carpets, have dinner in old tea houses, listen to traditional concerts.

On 27 October, Tuesday morning, we go by bus to Yazd, the caravanserai town on the edge of the desert. We submerge into the maze of the old town built of clay, which is even more archaic than that of Kashan, and visit still-working caravanserais, mosques many centuries old, merchant houses, sanctuaries. The Zoroastrian religion of ancient Persia – which is tolerated by Islam as a “religion of the book” – has the most followers in Yazd, so we will visit Zoroastrian shrines and “towers of silence” outside the town, where the bodies of the dead were placed to decompose, so they may not contaminate the sacred elements of earth, water and fire. We will have dinner in a traditional caravanserai, and the next day we will make a bus excursion to the most beautiful part of the Iranian desert, which is a national park.

On 29 October, Thursday, we go by bus to Shiraz. This is the longest stretch of our journey, about 400 kilometers, but we do it on highway, while repeatedly stopping at beautiful sights, historical monuments, and, most importantly, at Persepolis, the capital of ancient Persia, magnificent even in its ruins. There I will offer a very detailed art historical tour about the well-preserved buildings, reliefs and royal tombs. Late in the afternoon we arrive at Shiraz, where on that day and the next morning we visit the old city, the bazaar, the beautiful mosques and merchant’s houses. In the afternoon we go back to Tehran on a domestic flight.

In our last day, 31 October we summarize our impressions in Tehran. In the young capital, founded in 1790, there are not many historical monuments, so we will walk in the modern downtown, have a picnic in the Taʿbiat Park, at the world’s largest pedestrian bridge, opened in the past year, and in the evening we will have our farewell dinner a thousand meters higher, under the mountains and next to a brook, in a traditional tea house of the Bohemian quarter of Darband. We fly back in early morning via Istanbul, arriving in Vienna about noon.

On Iran and the Persian culture we have already written a great deal in río Wang, and we will write even more, especially about the places we intend to visit. The posts about Persia are continuously collected in the post Persian letters, look back again and again. And if you are curious about anything, tell us. We are happy to write posts on order, too.

The participation fee, which includes the hotels with breakfast (one bed of a twin/double room), the long distance and rented buses, the domestic flight from Shiraz back to Tehran, and the guide-craft of a Persian-speaking and Iranian culture-savvy art historian, that is, me, is 700 euros. Add to this the cost of the flight ticket (Vienna–Istanbul–Tehran and back is now 330 euro, but you can of course take the flight which is most convenient for you), and the cost of the Iranian visa, which is about 100 euros. The deadline for application is 20 August, Thursday, at the usual e-mail