Naqsh-e Rostam, a rock cut tomb near Shiraz and on the road to the ancient city of Persepolis
Iran Image Gallery

Iran Overview

Iran is an exotic intriuging country sandwiched between what is arguably the most volatile region in the world. Iran stretches its frontiers to some pretty dubious neighbours and has tense relations with with most western countries. Iraq, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan are a handful of, the who's who of dictatorship, civil unrest, open conflict and religious extremism. Iran itself is frequently vilified as a global pariah why would anyone come anywhere near this place??… Because thats where you find out how unique and misunderstood this part of the globe really is, maybe because it's not at all what people think. The history, culture, landscapes and people are some of the very best the middle east has to offer. Better still, in a region of prohibitive bureaucracy, closed boarders and powder-keg conflict, Iran is an absolute breeze to travel through. The entry visa process, at least for Australians, is typically bureaucratic but by no means onerous, just a little strange. Rather than simply paying the visa fee in cash along with the application there was a bizarre process which almost seemed like an internet scam. It involved logging onto the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, uploading a photocopy of my passport, then making a payment through the Iranian equivalent of paypal to an account holder registered in Switzerland. Remember most western financial institutions and governments cannot deal directly with Iran but the Swiss have no qualms with accepting peoples money. Finally this process produced a reference number which was then used on the actual visa application form, the form was then posted to the Iranian embassy. Within a week, I had my visa. Fairly easy it just took a little shady transaction through Switzerland which added to mystic of travelling to Iran. If you have concerns about Iran being a police state, don’t. Although there are restrictions on taking pictures in a number of places, especially Tehran, if you play by the rules you will be all good. I’m sure there are secret police out there, and I’m sure they are very good at their job, which is probably why I didn’t see any. It’s also very likely that a small time traveller like myself wouldn’t so much as register a blip on the Iranian radar. In short, dress within the rules, don’t do anything illegal and you can expect nothing but easy going hospitality. Don’t waste your time looking over your shoulder, there’s far too much in front of you. If you want Silk Road, Arabian nights, ancient civilization and Islamic classical culture, then you want Iran.

Esfahan
Maku
Mashhad
Shiraz
Tehran
Yadz

Image Gallery

Photography provided by Footside

Naqsh-e Rostam, near Shiraz, Iran
Naqsh-e Rostam, near Shiraz
Imam Square, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Square, Isfahan
Yadz Skyline, Iran
Yadz Skyline
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis, near Shiraz
Imam Mosque, Imam Square, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Mosque, Imam Square, Isfahan
Arg Karim Khan, Iran
Arg Karim Khan
Qareh Kalisa Church, near Maku, Iran
Qareh Kalisa Church, near Maku
Persepolis Carvings, near Shiraz, Iran
Persepolis Carvings, near Shiraz
Gates of Haram and Ayatollah, Mashhad, Iran
Gates of Haram and Ayatollah, Mashhad
Ayatollah Painting, Tehran, Iran
Ayatollah Painting, Tehran
Yadz Skyline and surrounding mountains, Iran
Yadz Skyline and surrounding mountains
Jameh Mosque, Isfahan, Iran
Jameh Mosque, Isfahan
Panoramic view of Imam Mosque in Imam Square and the city of Isfahan at Night, Iran
Panoramic view of Imam Mosque in Imam Square and the city of Isfahan at Night
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches, Built in 1602, a key feature of the city of Isfahan, Iran
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches, Built in 1602, a key feature of the city of Isfahan
View of Mashhad from the hill top area of Kuhsangi, Iran
View of Mashhad from the hill top area of Kuhsangi
View of Persepolis from the Eastern Hillside overlooking the ruins, near Shiraz, Iran
View of Persepolis from the Eastern Hillside overlooking the ruins, near Shiraz
Yadz Old Town Alleyway, Yadz, Iran
Yadz Old Town Alleyway, Yadz
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Imam Square, Isfahan, Iran
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Imam Square, Isfahan
Naqsh-e Rostam, near Shiraz, Iran
Naqsh-e Rostam, near Shiraz
Imam Square, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Square, Isfahan
Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran
Golestan Palace, Tehran
Arg Karim Khan, near Shiraz, Iran
Arg Karim Khan, near Shiraz
Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Persepolis, near Shiraz
Gates of Haram, Mashhad, Iran
Gates of Haram, Mashhad
Amir Chakmaq, Yadz, Iran
Amir Chakmaq, Yadz
Jameh Mosque, Isfahan, Iran
Jameh Mosque, Isfahan
Chehel Sotoun Palace, Isfahan, Iran
Chehel Sotoun Palace, Isfahan
Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran
Golestan Palace, Tehran
Yadz Skyline from the Old Town rooftops with the surrounding mountains in the background, Yadz, Iran
Yadz Skyline from the Old Town rooftops with the surrounding mountains in the background, Yadz
Imam Mosque in imam Square and the city of Isfahan at night, Iran
Imam Mosque in imam Square and the city of Isfahan at night
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches, Built in 1602, Isfahan, Iran
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches, Built in 1602, Isfahan
Imam Mosque in Imam Square, Iran
Imam Mosque in Imam Square
Qareh Kalisa Church, near Maku, Iran
Qareh Kalisa Church, near Maku
Jameh Mosque, Isfahan, Iran
Jameh Mosque, Isfahan
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis, near Shiraz
Chehel Sotoun Palace, Isfahan, Iran
Chehel Sotoun Palace, Isfahan
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis, near Shiraz
Central Hall Pillars, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Central Hall Pillars, Persepolis, near Shiraz
Naqsh-e Rostam, near Shiraz, Iran
Naqsh-e Rostam, near Shiraz
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis, near Shiraz
Gates of Haram, Mashhad, Iran
Gates of Haram, Mashhad
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Imam Square, Isfahan, Iran
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Imam Square, Isfahan
Jameh Mosque, Isfahan, Iran
Jameh Mosque, Isfahan
Panoramic view of the Gates of Haram and outer area of the complex, Mashhad, Iran
Panoramic view of the Gates of Haram and outer area of the complex, Mashhad
Skyline of the city of Yadz from the ancient rooftops, Iran
Skyline of the city of Yadz from the ancient rooftops
Persepolis Sunset, near Shiraz, Iran
Persepolis Sunset, near Shiraz
Amir Chakmaq, Yadz, Iran
Amir Chakmaq, Yadz
Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran
Golestan Palace, Tehran
Yadz Old Town Alleyways, Iran
Yadz Old Town Alleyways
Imam Mosque, Imam Square, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Mosque, Imam Square, Isfahan
Si-o-Seh Pol, Isfahan, Iran
Si-o-Seh Pol, Isfahan
Chehel Sotoun Palace, Isfahan, Iran
Chehel Sotoun Palace, Isfahan
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Imam Square, Isfahan, Iran
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Imam Square, Isfahan
Imam Mosque, Imam Square, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Mosque, Imam Square, Isfahan

Esfahan

Text by Footside; Photography by Footside

Imam Square, Esfahan, Iran
Imam Square
Imam Square, Esfahan, Iran
Imam Square
Jameh Mosque, Esfahan, Iran
Jameh Mosque
Jameh Mosque, Esfahan, Iran
Jameh Mosque
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Imam Square, Esfahan, Iran
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Imam Square
Jameh Mosque, Esfahan, Iran
Jameh Mosque

Esfahan is pure class. The absolute highlight of Iran, it's a treasure trove of islamic architecture and culture. With probably the finest boulevards, bridges, palaces, mosques and minarets in the country. Esfahan is a classical delight and really is the best of the best in this country. The main drawcard is the massive Imam Square. Sealed in by arched shopfronts and blue tiled portals, the meticulously landscaped gardens are best appreciated from the viewing platform of the Ali Qapu Palace which competes with the minarets of the Iman Mosque for dominance over the Esfahani skyline. With a mountain backdrop this city is picture perfect Silk Road and should not be missed. Hang around till early evening as the square fills with families drinking tea, eating dinner and generally chatting over the call to prayer and sermons broadcast from loud speakers. Better yet, head to any hotel and a roof top restaurant will grant you spectacular night views of the illuminated city and sparkling square. Just off the main Imam Square are a number of decent museums and palaces. Chelel Sotun is the pick of the bunch and is famous for its 40 wooden columns which brace an intricately carved roof. One of the more pleasant palaces in Esfahan, the grounds and some of the ornate rooms boast a scattering of persian art which are well worth a look. All the main mosques in Esfahan are open and welcoming to travellers, but the Jameh Mosque has probably the biggest portal and dome in all of Iran which is just as well considering the tangled mess of alleys and covered bazaars that circle it. There's no clear direction on how to get there, just look up and head toward the towering minarets. Once inside you'll be dwarfed by the massive courtyard and towering gateway, but whilst you're there don't hesitate to explore the vaulted rooms of the attached covered complex. The one small disappointment in Esfahan were it's famous bridges. Not so much the bridges themselves as they are an architectural delight, but the bone dry river beds that they span. There is still some glory left in these multi tiered bridges, but the dusty river bed below makes for a sad sight.

Panoramic view of Imam Square and the city of Isfahan at Night, the top destination for the Travelling Backflip in Iran, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Panoramic view of Imam Square and the city of Isfahan at Night, the top destination for Footside in Iran
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches, Built in 1602, Isfahan, Esfahan, Iran
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches, Built in 1602, a key feature of Esfahan
Jameh Mosque, Isfahan, Iran
Jameh Mosque
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Imam Square, Isfahan, Iran
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Imam Square
Jameh Mosque, Isfahan, Iran
Jameh Mosque
Jameh Mosque, Isfahan, Iran
Jameh Mosque
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches, Isfahan, Iran
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches
Imam Square, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Square
Chehel Sotoun Palace, Isfahan, Iran
Chehel Sotoun Palace
Imam Mosque, Imam Square, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Mosque, Imam Square
Chehel Sotoun Palace, Isfahan, Iran
Chehel Sotoun Palace
Imam Square, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Square
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches, Isfahan, Iran
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches
Chehel Sotoun Palace, Isfahan, Iran
Chehel Sotoun Palace
Sheikh Lutf Allah Mosque, built by 1618, Imam Square, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Sheikh Lutf Allah Mosque, built by 1618, Imam Square
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches, Built in 1602, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches, Built in 1602
Imam Mosque, Imam Square, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Mosque, Imam Square
Jameh Mosque, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Jameh Mosque
Imam Mosque, Imam Square, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Mosque, Imam Square
Ali Qapu Palace, Imam Square, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Ali Qapu Palace, Imam Square
Imam Mosque, Imam Square, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Mosque, Imam Square
Imam Square, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Square
Imam Square, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Square
Imam Square, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Square
Imam Square, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Square
Imam Square, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Square
Imam Square, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Imam Square
Sheikh Lutf Allah Mosque, Imam Square, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Sheikh Lutf Allah Mosque, Imam Square
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran
Si-o-Seh Pol, The Bridge of 33 Arches

Shiraz

Text by Footside; Photography by Footside

Naqsh-e Rostam, near Shiraz, Iran
Naqsh-e Rostam
Persepolis Carvings, near Shiraz, Iran
Persepolis Carvings
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis
Arg Karim Khan, Shiraz, Iran
Arg Karim Khan
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis
Naqsh-e Rostam, near Shiraz, Iran
Naqsh-e Rostam

When I think of Shiraz I think of Persepolis, the 2500 year old Persian wonder-city of wealth, power and abundance that was famously put to the sword by the unstoppable Alexander the Great. This was 'THE' ancient site of Persia, whilst of course there are a few other ancillary sites, a couple rock cut tombs, for me Shiraz was all about Persepolis. There's nothing much in the city of Shiraz itself, well nothing that I found remarkable or noteworthy anyway. It's a big city of functional buildings and roadways. As a commercial centre, Shiraz just gets on with it, and to be honest, with a decent place to stay and some transport to Persepolis, Shiraz gave me all that I wanted. If you're really scratching for something to do in Shiraz, check the Arg Karim Khan. It's a small walled fortress smack bang in the middle of town. It's all pretty basic inside and the turrets are somewhat unstable reminding me of the 'leaning tower of Pisa'. For all my enthusiasm for Persepolis, first stop on the generic taxi tour was Naqsh-e Rostam. A series of four  massive tombs cut high into the desert cliffs. Built to be inaccessible to bandits, they nonetheless remain a clearly visible and imposing stamp of authority over the area. It's not possible to get inside, but the views from ground level are pretty spectacular. There's a few restored carvings around the tombs, they're nothing special but worth a look. Continuing on for a short drive to the footsteps of Persepolis, it was here that my Persian bubble truly burst. For years I had carried the image of an  eastern super city to rival the exploits of Rome and Greece. As the centre piece of Iranian archeology I must confess my disappointment at the remnants of this near mythical ancient city. What I saw, and in reality what I should have expected was a ruin site. And considering it was ruined by one of history's greatest destroyers, I shouldn't have expected much. Somehow I had constructed an expectation - perhaps shaped by the efforts of Egypt or by exposure to the Roman achievements in North Africa and neighbouring middle eastern countries - of a massive desert complex.

View of Persepolis from the Eastern Hillside overlooking the ruins, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
View of Persepolis from the Eastern Hillside overlooking the ruins

The initial Xerxes Gateway, provided the iconic introduction to Persepolis that I had hoped, but beyond the great pillars of the central hall the site consists mainly of low lying foundations and walls. With most of these foundations inscribed with various carvings and writings, there is certainly cause to linger, but ultimately they don't hold one's attention for long. Hiking the eastside hills to a couple of tombs are notable mainly for the excellent view over the entire site, but again, it was from this perspective that my disappointment was confirmed. Whilst still a thoroughly worthwhile site, which should be on any travellers Iranian itinerary, one's expectations have to be tempered by the understanding that since Persepolis was destroyed, it can not match the better preserved ancient sites of the west.

Naqsh-e Rostam, near Shiraz, Iran
Naqsh-e Rostam
Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Persepolis
Central Hall Pillars, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Central Hall Pillars, Persepolis
Central Hall Pillars, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Central Hall Pillars, Persepolis
Arg Karim Khan, Shiraz, Iran
Arg Karim Khan, Shiraz
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis
Arg Karim Khan, Shiraz, Iran
Arg Karim Khan, Shiraz
Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Persepolis
Naqsh-e Rostam, near Shiraz, Iran
Naqsh-e Rostam
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis
Central Hall Pillars, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Central Hall Pillars, Persepolis
Central Hall Pillars, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Central Hall Pillars, Persepolis
Central Hall Pillars, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Central Hall Pillars, Persepolis
Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Persepolis
Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Persepolis
Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Persepolis
Naqsh-e Rostam, near Shiraz, Iran
Naqsh-e Rostam
Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Persepolis
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran
Xerxes Gateway, Persepolis

Mashhad

Text by Footside; Photography by Footside

Gates of Haram, Mashhad, Iran
Gates of Haram
Kuhsangi, Mashhad, Iran
Kuhsangi
Gates of Haram, Mashhad, Iran
Gates of Haram

For me Mashhad is the Vegas of Iran. Built from the desert, this city of 2 million people runs 24/7 on a constant flux of transient travellers. Very different from the rest of Iran, Mashhad simply does not stop. It's a never ending ebb and flow of pilgrims, who's appetite for bright lights, glass hotels, restaurants and souvenir stores has transformed this former dusty Silk Road stop-over. The business of Mashhad is the epic Haram. To use another, probably inappropriate American analogy, this is the Pentagon of religious centres. Not just a building, or a place of worship, this is a completely enclosed complex of mosques, prayer rooms, schools, museums, hospitals. The entire complex is anything and everything glorifying the life of Imam Reza. Giant vaulted gates and arches circle the complex with traditional central Asian blue and white mosaic tiles, while portraits of the Ayatollah keep watch. If you expect to walk through this complex, expect to get lost, if you expect to walk around the perimeter, expect it to take at least 2 hours. It's that big. Haram is not a tourist attraction. The 20 million pilgrims that flood the Haram every year are here for the serious pursuit of five times a day prayer. It's what you would expect, no cameras, no noise, dress and act respectfully. For the inquisitive tourist, it's best to just slip in with the rest. There are a few no-go zones for non muslims, but nonetheless I found access to and within the Haram surprising free. For a break from the crowds, head to the rocky escarpment of Kuhsangi which overlooks the entire city of Mashhad. On a nice afternoon, you'll still find crowds, but they're decidedly less intense than those within the Haram. Occupied mainly by picnicking families and bored youths, it seems to be "the hangout" for locals, and with that, comes the best ice creams, sweets and food stalls the city has to offer. The closest thing to Mashhad is the border to Turkmenistan, which is great if that's where you're headed. If not, it's a long way from anywhere and if you're doing it by land expect either a full days travel or a punishing overnighter.

View of Mashhad from the hill top area of Kuhsangi, Mashhad, Iran
View of Mashhad from the hill top area of Kuhsangi
View of the Gates of Haram and outer area of the complex, Mashhad, Iran
View of the Gates of Haram and outer area of the complex
Gates of Haram, Mashhad, Iran
Gates of Haram
Kuhsangi, Mashhad, Iran
Kuhsangi
Interior of Haram, Mashhad, Iran
Interior of Haram
Gates of Haram and Ayatollah Picture, Mashhad, Iran
Gates of Haram and Ayatollah Picture
Gates of Haram, Mashhad, Iran
Gates of Haram
Interior of Haram, Mashhad, Iran
Interior of Haram
Interior of Haram, Mashhad, Iran
Interior of Haram
Kuhsangi, Mashhad, Iran
Kuhsangi
Outer Haram, Mashhad, Iran
Outer Haram

Yadz

Text by Footside; Photography by Footside

Yadz Skyline, Yadz, Iran
Yadz Skyline
Amir Chakmaq, Yadz, Iran
Amir Chakmaq
Jameh Mosque, Yadz, Iran
Jameh Mosque
Yadz Old Town Alleyways, Yadz, Iran
Yadz Old Town Alleyways
Yadz Skyline and surrounding mountains, Yadz, Iran
Yadz Skyline and surrounding mountains
Jameh Mosque, Yadz, Iran
Jameh Mosque

Yadz is the classic Persian desert outpost. During the Iranian summer, this is probably the hottest place in the country, with temperatures easily tipping the 45 degree mark. Just as well, being one of the oldest inhabited areas of Iran, Yadz is purpose built for managing the extremes of desert life. Narrow alleyways cast reprieving shadows, and the low lying, earthen brick buildings are equipped with perforated funnels that act as ancient air conditioners (Badgirs). Climb the flat roofs of any building in the old town to see these unusual protrusions capturing whatever breeze the desert can muster. Head to ground level and you'll more or less have the old town to yourself during the day. The locals are far too smart to brave the midday heat, giving the old town a real dusty, deserted feel to it. Ramble through the empty alleys and look for giant iron doors left slightly ajar, here you'll find a bunch of neat underground museums, cisterns and craft workshops more than happy to show off their wares. One of the oldest buildings in Yadz, and apparently the most famous, is the Jameh Mosque. If you've ever had an image of a silk road mosque, then this is it. The giant gateway and towering minarets boast tiles as blue and plain as the surrounding sky, while the mosque itself is simple earthen mud-brick. It's readily open to the public but be prepared for a pretty basic interior. The most iconic building in Yadz has got to be Amir Chakhmaq, it doesn't really do much or for that matter have much in the way of history but it sure looks nice. Basically a multi-tiered facade of small interconnected alcoves, the Amir Chakhmaq was once the face and gateway to a massive undercover bazaar that has now all but disappeared. A small number of shops remain, but the real attraction is climbing through the alcoves for some very nice views of the city. It doubles as a decent place to while away the afternoon and wonder where else would you see architecture like this, probably nowhere.

Yadz Skyline from the Old Town rooftops with the surrounding mountains in the background, Yadz, Iran
Yadz Skyline from the Old Town rooftops with the surrounding mountains in the background
Yadz Skyline with the rectangular Badgirs towering above the town, Yadz, Iran
Yadz Skyline with the rectangular Badgirs towering above the town
Amir Chakmaq, Yadz, Iran
Amir Chakmaq
Yadz Old Town Alleyway, Yadz, Iran
Yadz Old Town Alleyway
Amir Chakmaq, Yadz, Iran
Amir Chakmaq
Yadz Old Town Alleyway, Yadz, Iran
Yadz Old Town Alleyway
Amir Chakmaq, Yadz, Iran
Amir Chakmaq
Yadz Skyline, Yadz, Iran
Yadz Skyline
Yadz Skyline, Yadz, Iran
Yadz Skyline
Amir Chakmaq, Yadz, Iran
Amir Chakmaq
Yadz Skyline with Badgirs, Yadz, Iran
Yadz Skyline with Badgirs
Yadz Skyline with the rectangular Badgirs towering above the town, Yadz, Iran
Yadz Skyline with the rectangular Badgirs towering above the town

Maku

Text by Footside; Photography by Footside

Qareh Kalisa Church, near Maku, Iran
Qareh Kalisa Church, near Maku
Town of Maku, Iran
Town of Maku
Qareh Kalisa Church, near Maku, Iran
Qareh Kalisa Church, near Maku

Tucked in the far northwestern corner of Iran, Maku is a small town set either side of the highway to Turkey. Situated near the Caucasus Mountains the landscape is one of green valleys, mountains and fresh air. It's a nice place to be, and with transport painfully slow, there's no choice but to just sit back and enjoy. Anyone passing through Maku should set aside 2 hours for an easy taxi trip to the remote church of Qaren Kalisa. Built back in the day where churches doubled as forts, it's a compact design of robust walls and neat watch towers. The actual church is relatively featureless, but the real draw is the pristine setting. Back to Maku, apparently there are some rock cut caves in the cliffs around the highway, but after some fairly keen exploration that failed to turn up anything, it was time to move on. This little town is a good stop over on the way to/from Turkey.

Qareh Kalisa Church, near Maku, Iran
Qareh Kalisa Church, near Maku
Road to Maku, Iran
Road to Maku
Qareh Kalisa Church, near Maku, Iran
Qareh Kalisa Church, near Maku
Interior of Qareh Kalisa Church, near Maku, Iran
Interior of Qareh Kalisa Church, near Maku
Interior of Qareh Kalisa Church, near Maku, Iran
Interior of Qareh Kalisa Church, near Maku
 

Tehran

Text by Footside; Photography by Footside

Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran
Golestan Palace
Picture of the Ayatollah, Tehran, Iran
Picture of the Ayatollah
Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran
Golestan Palace

Tehran is pretty much like every other land-locked middle eastern capital city I've been to. Far from pretty and only barely functional. It's a sprawling horizon of run down and unfinished concrete apartments slapped together amongst a network of permanently gridlocked roads. A place where old rust bucket taxis idle away under the baking sun, while shopkeepers draw their midday shutters to fight the stagnant atmosphere of dust, heat, grit and pollution. It's the same here as Cairo or Damascus, you best get in, do what you have to do then get out. It might be harsh, but if you had to skip any city in Iran, it would probably be Tehran. There isn't a whole lot holding the traveller to this otherwise painfully non-descript city. For those with time, there are a sprinkling of Shah-era palaces and grounds around the outskirts of the city, but for those hoping to maxmise their time elsewhere, there are a few neat sights around the centre that can be knocked off in a full day. The Golestan Palace and the National Museum are within easy walking distance and certainly my pick of the bunch. The Palace is best appreciated from the grounds, with ornate exteriors and architecture the main draw. Inside is a bit of a let down but this is more than made up by the national museum which boasts a small, but very select exhibition on all things Persian, some of which dating back to the Mesopotamian era. Very manageable in size and thankfully well described with english translations. This is probably the only museum where I can say I stopped and looked at every single exhibit. The sweet air conditioning no doubt contributing to my longer than usual stay.

Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran
Golestan Palace
Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran
Golestan Palace
Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran
Golestan Palace

The Iran Ebrat Museum, being the Shah's secret police torture complex, is also worth a visit. Much like Cambodia's infamous S-21 Prison, it's a confronting experience running the gauntlet of corridor after corridor of victim mug shots, room after room of cells and torture apparatus. Don't even bother with the cool sounding 'US Den of Espionage'. A fancy name for the now long defunct US Embassy. Apparently the walls are strewn with colourful nationalistic murals, but all I saw were overgrown trees, rusty barbed wire and crumbling concrete. It's also in the middle of nowhere so I couldn't even say it was a nice walk. My three days in Tehran could easily have been one or one and a half if I really pushed it. Having said that, with such an itinerary I wouldn't have had time for peaceful evening strolls, casual perusal of markets or the joys of experimenting with food stalls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. All absolutely quint-essential early evening past times once the hussle and bussle of daytime Tehran has given way.

Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran
Golestan Palace
Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran
Golestan Palace
Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran
Golestan Palace