As Seen in…
Places to visit in Iran and on our tours of the Silk Road
Why visit Iran?
On a scale that is hard to imagine, Iran’s modern day 1.65 million km hold a plethora of surprises for the intrepid visitor. Its 31 provinces stretch from the Zagros Mountains in the west to the Afghanistan massif in the east, from the Caspian to the Gulf. A wilderness desert lies searingly hot at its heart, but the multitudinous mountains experience high levels of annual snow and maintain the flow of its rivers in the west and north.
The present Islamic Republic of Iran is the inheritor of a land and sundry cultures which have seen the ebb and flow of great empires and invasion from all sides. The evidence of these lies in and around so many of the country’s towns and cities and is gradually becoming a draw to visitors who truly know their world history. For here the Achaemenid Empire had its origins: Cyrus the Great, whose dynasty ruled from India to the Danube and Tian Shen on the Chinese border to Ethiopia, established a capital at Pasargadae in the 6th century B.C. where his tomb dominates the ruined palaces, gardens and streets that lie beneath the mountains which encircle the Murghab plains.
His descendant, Darius II is reposnsible for one of the world’s most spellbinding archaeological highlights at Persepolis. Here, a great city, surrounded by rugged hills, desert and woodland reveals the awesome might of the Persian Empire: colonnaded ruins draw you into a world of long ago, an infinity of carvings of ancient warriors and their ubiquitous king march with you, as you lose yourself in this astonishing ancient place of legend. Yet, as the ruins testify, all was to crumble into decay with the sacking of the city by Alexander The Great in 330 B.C.. Annals tell that it took 3,000 of his camels to carry away the rich spoils of the pillaged Persepolis. After Alexander, the Seleucids, then the great Parthians who challenged Roman expansion and the Sassanids – last of the Zoroastrian dynasties – followed, whose dessicated and crumbling palace at Sarvestan still remains. Seismic change came in 637 when the forces of Islam swept across continents, bringing religious and cultural change, challenging the old hierarchies and entrenched power bases of the ruling elite. Seljuk Turkic tribes re-established the Silk Road, stabilised the region and embarked on a glorious building spree of mosques, minarets and mausoleums many of which are still in evidence and laid the foundations for the successive Muslim dynasties that followed.
Into this world crashed the Mongols in 1218, their huge destruction and slaughter even bringing an end to the Assassin cult’s stronghold of Alamut in the jagged Alborz Mountains. Factionalism, turmoil and civil wars followed, but the Safavids(1501-1736), Qajar dynasty (1757-1924) established peace and the latter set Tehran up as its capital. By the 20th century, modernisation under the rule of Reza Shah and his successors did not hold back the need for popular and religious change, leading to the revolution of 1979 and the establishment of the religious based state.
For decades a perceived air of secrecy had shrouded Iran from the world, and it is only now that the rich vein of history and culture is beginning to be truly tapped.