Tour Leader: Ben Churcher
In April/May 2017 21 NEAF members travelled to Iran to explore this extraordinary country so often misrepresented in the western press.
This tour began in Tehran, Iran’s capital: a busy, often smoggy city but with some fantastic museums to help us prepare for the trip ahead. Leaving Tehran we headed to the Caspian Sea and the very different world of Iranian Azerbaijan. Here rice paddies dominate the landscape framed by wooded mountains to the west and the Caspian to the east. Next, making Tabriz our base, we explored this unvisited but important city and journeyed out to Maragheh: home to a Mongol Period observatory and some fine Seljuk Period tower tombs. From Tabriz we then travelled to Zanjan visiting the incomparable Mausoleum of Oljeitu along the way. This towering edifice dates to the Mongol Period and demonstrates the ‘Persianization’ of the conquering Mongols superbly. From Zanjan we travelled up into the Zagros Mountains on a beautiful Spring day to visit one of my favourite sites, Takht-e Soleiman, once the home of one of the four imperial fires of the Zoroastrian religion.
Returning to Tehran we flew to Shiraz to complete the triangle of Shiraz-Yazd-Isfahan. We were now back on the tourist route – but with good reason as some of Iran’s most famous sites and cities are in this area: Sassanian Bishapur and Firuzabad, Achaemenid Persepolis and Pasargadae, Timurid Yazd, Safavid Isfahan and some very early mosque complexes at Fahraj and Na’in. In between we wandered the bazaars in Shiraz and Isfahan, explored Yazd’s old city and even got to see some of the sand dunes that typify Iran’s desert regions.
By the time we returned to Tehran we felt we had seen a lot of what this amazing country and its friendly, cosmopolitan people have to offer.