Iran | Kings, Shahs and Gardens
A land of mystery, and unparalleled hospitality, Iran is rich in antiquities. The country is intricately decorated, whilst its monumental legacy bears witness to the sweep of its epic history. We will explore the Persian Kingdom - one of the greatest powers of the ancient world, and walk in the footsteps of Cyrus the Great, Darius, and Xerxes at their palaces.
In Shiraz and Esfahan we view splendid Islamic architecture which rival the great cities of the silk road. We are delighted to be able to return to Iran, and very lucky to have the unparalleled expertise of our Guide Lecturers to introduce the sweep of Persian history and archaeology. This tour sold out fast in 2016 - don’t miss your chance to see this great land!
- Visit ancient Persian majesty at Persepolis, Naqsh-e Rustam, and Pasargadae, and trace the mysterious Zoroastrians
- Uncover old-style Iranian hammams, stunning architecture, and the finest example of a Persian Garden in the world
- Enjoy special lectures by archaeologists, conservators and researchers, who will give unique insights into their work to protect local heritage
- Historic Churches
- Great Cities
- Special Access
- All Inclusive
We depart for the Persian city of Shiraz.
Landing in Shiraz we enjoy a comfortable transfer to our centrally-located hotel. This afternoon we take a gentle stroll around the city, visiting the 19th century Narenjestan Palace, with its mirrored porch and Victorian-inspired artwork. We also pay a visit to the Rose Mosque, with its pink-tiled interiors, and the Tomb of Saadi, a striking mausoleum dedicated to ‘The Master’ of classical Persian poetry – a pilgrimage site for many an Iranian.
We make our way to Firuzabad, the site of an ancient city drowned by Alexander the Great, catching sight of the Maiden’s Castle in the distance – a 1,800-year old ruined palace crumbling into the slopes.
The biggest highlight of the day has to be our visit to the Sassanid Palace of Ardashir. This incredible domed structure is thought to have been constructed for King Ardashir I in 224 AD as a place of social gatherings. Its honey-coloured bricks and gigantic, sun-pierced rooms are simply astounding, and must be seen to be believed.
We begin our day of sightseeing at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Archaemenid Empire, and a wonder of the ancient world. Situated on a 125,000 square metre terrace, and cutting into Rahmet Mountain, the earliest remains of the site date back to 515 BC. As we explore this expansive and grandiose complex we learn about its creator, King Darius I, who invited architects from across the realm in order to fulfil his palatial vision.
In the afternoon we view the famous rock reliefs at the Naqsh-e Rustam necropolis –further evidence of the might of the Archaemenids.
After breakfast we drive out to Pasargadae, the multicultural capital of the Archaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great. Here we find the palace, gardens and tomb of King Cyrus, designated a World Heritage site thanks to their value as “exceptional testimonies of Persian civilisation”. The eclectic range of architectural styles here provides evidence of an empire that respected the diversity of its inhabitants. It is widely considered to be the first empire to do so.
Following our arrival back in Shiraz we enjoy the delights of Eram Garden, a 13th century “Paradise” design featuring ornamental palms and pools.
This morning we set off for the historic city of Kerman in south-eastern Iran, on an epic all-day journey through fabulous scenery. Expect desert peaks, charming villages, and stunning national parks. En route we stop at the mysterious Sassanid Persian Palace at Sarvestan, thought to have been either a Zoroastrian fire temple, or a governor’s residence. The true function of some of its buildings remains unknown.
Mountain-fringed Kerman welcomes us in the afternoon. The city has been a capital for several dynasties throughout the ages, and boasts an impressive cultural heritage as a result.
We journey to Mahan to see the Shah Nematollah Vali Shrine, tomb of the celebrated Iranian mystic and poet, Shah Nematollah Vali, who died in 1431 at over one hundred years old. A resplendent turquoise dome sits atop an ornate mausoleum complex, to which numerous rulers have made their contributions. We also pay a visit to Shazdeh Garden, a fine and princely estate decorated with a pool and water fountains, originally built in 1850.
This afternoon we return to Kerman to explore monuments of the Hammam-e Ganjali Kahn complex, a 16th-century square surrounded by bazaars, as well as an exquisite bathhouse and the historic Ganjali mint.
We make our way to the winding, atmospheric streets of Yazd, the “City of Windcatchers”, a beloved destination for visitors to this region. Here we visit the Zein-o-Din Caravanserai, a dazzling inn located on the old Silk Road; former haven for travelling traders.
Later we discover the Zoroastrian Atash Behram fire temple, which legend says was begun with the ash of a group of Khorasan refugees over 1,000 years ago. A sacred fire continues to burn here, and plays a central role in ritual purification ceremonies.
We finish the day at the covered bazaar, which has stood on this site since the 9th century. Explore stalls selling local cloth and handicrafts – we are spoilt for choice.
On our second day in Yazd we visit the Towers of Silence, funereal hilltop structures where bodies lay open to the elements in order to be feasted upon, and carried away, by the vultures. Although these particular towers are now defunct, the Zoroastrian practice of sky burial continues to this day.
We proceed to the famous Jame Mosque, with its fabulous tiled exteriors – recognisable from the 200-rial banknote – and the Water Museum, a historic attraction which explains the fascinating process of achieving hydration in the middle of the desert.
We travel to Meybod, a mud-brick town of pre-Islamic origin some 1,800 years old. We wander the impressive Narenj Castle, an ancient citadel with walls that remarkably conceal an early plumbing system. Views of the surrounding desert extend for miles around.
On to Na’in, where we enter the Jameh Mosque, one of the oldest in Iran, built in the 9th century, and still in use today.
Our destination this afternoon is the wonderful city of Esfahan, a treasure trove of incredible buildings and tree-lined boulevards amid the plains of the Zayanderud River. We base ourselves here for our next few days of sightseeing.
On the first of our two full days of encounters with Esfahan, we begin by visiting the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, a fantastic site of some 90,000 square metres, lined by buildings from the Safavid era that include the imposing Lotfollah Mosque and the Imperial Bazaar. The sight is jaw-droppingly sublime.
Later we visit Chehel Sotoun Palace, a lavish pleasure pavilion and reception hall built by Shah Abbas II in the 17th century. The name Chehel Sotoun translates to “forty columns”, and derives from the reflection of its entrance in the outside pool: twenty wooden columns elegantly doubled by the water.
We wander through the Armenian Quarter of New Julfa, one of the oldest Armenian districts in the world. Sources state that this area was established at the start of the 17th century by the Shah in order to house Armenians fleeing persecution from the Ottoman Empire. The refugees were welcomed in part for their knowledge of the silk trade. We also visit the Khaju Bridge, which links the Khaju quarter on the north bank with the Zoroastrian quarter across the Zayandeh River.
As part of this unusual tour we see the Vank Cathedral, a beautiful fusion of Iranian and Armenian architecture which gleams with golden murals and motifs.
We depart Esfahan this morning and transfer to Tehran, Iran’s modern capital.
On the way we stop at Kashan, a city famed for its production of tiles and pottery. A destination favoured by Safavi kings seeking rest and relaxation, Kashan’s Fin Gardens were designed for Shah Abbas I as a Persian ideal of paradise, and are admired the world over. A array of water features adds to this World Heritage site’s restful ambience.
We arrive in Tehran and check in to our comfortable hotel. It is time to get acquainted with the capital…
Our morning kicks off with a visit to the National Museum, one of the most prestigious museums of history and archaeology in the world. Amongst its vast collection of artefacts is the body of the Salt Man from Zanjan, thought to have been a miner from the 3rd century AD. His body was recovered, preserved, from the salt in which he was buried.
Just next door is the newly refurbished Islamic Museum, containing various beautiful artefacts, including a spectacular painted door from the 14th century, which once indicated the direction of Mecca from the mosque in which it was housed.
After lunch we continue to Golestan Palace, the “Palace of Flowers”, said to be Tehran’s oldest monument. This Qajar complex includes the astounding Marble Throne, the Pond House, and the aptly-named Brilliant Hall – a room full of intricate mirror-work. Do not forget your camera!
Our last day in Tehran begins with a trip to the Carpet Museum, which showcases the exceptional skills of Persian carpet makers. Here we find the remarkable Pazyryk carpet, which was discovered in ice in Siberia, and is thought to date from the 5th century BC. The museum’s exteriors maintain the carpet theme, designed as they are to resemble a giant loom.
The Reza Abbasi Museum hosts us next and delights with its foremost collection of Persian art, with exhibits spanning four millennia, from 2,000 BC to the present. We round off the day by visiting Niavaran Palace, a dynastic residence housed in glorious gardens.
Tonight we enjoy a farewell dinner, and raise a glass or two to our holiday’s many highlights.
We transfer to Tehran airport for our flights home.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
5 nights in a brand new hotel in Shiraz
2 nights in a modern hotel in Kerman
2 nights in a to-be-confirmed hotel in the desert city of Yazd
4 nights in a beautiful centuries-old hotel in historic Isfahan
3 nights in a palatial hotel in Tehran
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