Iran, the second largest country in the Middle East, is steeped in history. Our second tour in this country will take you to the lesser known, but no less fascinating north-western region. Travel with us from Tabriz, once an important trading centre of the Silk Road, south via Takab and Sanandaj to Kermanshah and then east to Tehran, the capital. On our journey through the country we will visit the most important modern cities, explore famous excavation sites such as Takht-e Soleiman and marvel at Achaemenid and Sassanid rock reliefs at sites such as Bisotun and Taq-e Bostan to name but a few. This tour
takes you through the ages of Ancient Persia from the earliest beginnings up to great empires once ruling these vast lands.
- Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Bazaar of Tabriz
- Visit Hasanlu Tepe, one of the most famous archaeological sites of the region, once a major local trading centre
- Visit Takht-e Soleiman, another great UNESCO World Heritage site
- Marvel at the famous rock reliefs of the region, including those at Bisotun of Darius the Great and the Sassanid examples at Taq-e Bostan
- Historic Churches
- Great Cities
- Special Access
- All Inclusive
Our flight departs for Tabriz, a historical city in north-western Iran, situated in the Quru River Valley.
Upon arrival in Tabriz we check in to our hotel and take some time to unwind after our journey. Before dinner we enjoy a leisurely stroll through the city and meet some of its mainly Azerbaijani residents. A relaxing start to the trip.
Tabriz is ours, as we take a full day to discover its many highlights. We begin with a visit to the local Azerbaijan Museum, the second largest museum in Iran. Here we find artefacts from regional excavations including those from Hasanlu, which we will be visiting tomorrow.
We also witness the outstanding architecture of the historic bazaar complex, once one of the most important trade centres on the Silk Road. These lively shops and immaculate walkways make up the largest covered bazaar in the world and were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010.
This morning we take a trip around Lake Urmia, the 6th largest saltwater lake on the planet, and the centre of the Mannaean kingdom in the 10th to 7th centuries BC. Here, we see the enormous rock relief at Salmas which depicts two Sassanid rulers, most likely Ardashir I and his son, Shapur I.
We continue to Hasanlu, a large excavation site inhabited from the 6th millennium BC to the 3rd century AD. Hasanlu is particularly famous for its well preserved ruins, which were unearthed over twenty years by archaeologists from Pennsylvania University. Somewhat ironically, the excellent state of the remains is largely thanks to the city’s fiery destruction by Iron Age invaders, which kept the settlement preserved in a state of stasis.
At Maragheh we marvel at the observatory, which was built in 1259 AD and was the largest of its time. The observatory attracted scholars from various regions of Iran for astronomical studies – some international scholars even made pilgrimages from as far away as China.
This city is also famous for its funerary towers, such as the Gonbad-e-Kabud, or Blue Tower. On our visit we learn about the ceremonial practices which occurred here, and admire its ornate geometric decorations, which resemble Penrose tiles.
We journey on to Takab this afternoon, a gem that gleams from within a stunning volcanic valley.
From Takab we travel to the nearby Takht-e Soleyman. Legend has it that King Solomon would imprison monsters in a crater nearby – and that he created a pond that still flows here today. We explore the archaeological remains at this enchanting UNESCO World Heritage site, said to have influenced much of the subsequent development of Islamic architecture. Intriguing traces of former civilisations include the walls of a former fortified settlement from the 5th century BC, as well as a Zoroastrian fire temple housing one of the “Royal Fires” before which Sassanid rulers would humble themselves in advance of their ascents to the throne.
This afternoon we make our way to the charming city of Sanandaj, a hub of Kurdish history and culture.
We enjoy an illuminating morning in Sanandaj, where we visit the local museum, which houses all manner of relics from the Kurdestan province, as well as finds from further afield in Iran. The building itself is resplendent with gorgeous multi-coloured windows – well worth a special visit in themselves. Afterwards we take a stroll around the old bazaar, a impressive domed building which has been in use since the Safavid period.
In the afternoon we travel through the mountains to Kermanshah to explore the city. Established by Sassian kings in the 4th century, Kermanshah is bursting with sights, and acts as a significant stopping-off point for pilgrims on their way to the holy cities of the west.
We could not come to this area without driving out to Mount Bisotun, where the famous rock relief of Darius the Great is located. Carved around 500 BC, the accompanying multilingual inscription is equivalent to the Egyptian Rosetta Stone and ultimately led to the deciphering of the cuneiform script.
At Taq-e Bostan we view a prominent series of Sassanid rock reliefs in the heart of the Zagros Mountains. Among these fine representations is the Investiture of Ardashir II, as well as multiple images depicting the overall vastness and power of the court.
Hamadan is generally believed to be one of the oldest cities in the world – it is thought to have been occupied by the Assyrians in 1,100 BC. Here we make our way to Hegmataneh Hill for an encounter with ancient Ecbatana, the Median capital of the late 8th century and still of great importance under Seleucid and Parthian rule. The city even features in the Hebrew Bible under the name Achmetha.
Excavations of Ecbatana have been extensive – the oldest tools so far found in the soil date back as far as 1,400 BC – and it is thrilling to peer into the trenches as yet more of this “place of gathering” is unearthed.
We head towards Tehran, stopping at Soltanieh to visit the Gonbod-e Soltanieh Mausoleum, which has the oldest double-shell dome in Iran. In the afternoon we explore Qazvin, an ancient capital in the Safavid dynasty. Here we discover the brightly coloured Imam Hossein Shrine.
On the last day of our tour we visit Tehran’s National Museum, one of the world’s leading museums of history and archaeology. Amongst its 300,000-strong collection of antiquities is the still-bearded Salt Man of Zanjan, thought to have been a miner from the 3rd century AD, whose remains were wonderfully preserved by the salt in which he was laid.
We continue to the newly refurbished Islamic Museum next door, where we get up close and personal with a host of priceless artefacts, before rounding off the day with a well-deserved farewell feast.
We set off from Tehran and fly 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
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