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Four-season land of hospitality

Iran lies between the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea in the south and north, the Alborz and Zagros Mountain ranges in the north and west and has two deserts,Markazi and Lut, at its heart. The hottest spot on earth has been identified in Lut Desert where temperatures reach 70.7 °C.

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Blossoms mark the start of spring in Iran

This geographical situation has made Iran dry and warm in its central parts, hot and humid near the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf, and cold in the northwest and areas close to the mountains. This geographical variety has resulted in the country experiencing four seasons often at the same time.

 

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Summer – Chabahar , Tis Beach (Photo by Shahin Kamali)

This has also contributed to the unique landscape of the country, bestowing upon it long winding rivers, captivating waterfalls, aquatic caves, snow-topped mountains, lush valleys, golden deserts and green forests which are thousands and sometimes millions of years old. One of the many natural treasures of Iran is the Caspian Hyrcanian Mixed Forests, which have survived from the Tertiary. The lush landscape of these ancient forests captivates all with their relic and endemic plant species. These forests were once the habitant of the now extinct Caspian Tiger and are considered a living museum that showcases the evolution of plant and animal lives over 40 million years.

There is a Persian saying that guests bring with them bread and blessing to the Sofreh (table spread where food is set) of the host. The importance of the Sofreh and its blessing to Iranians highlights the significance of the culture of hospitality among them.

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Autumn in Tehran,Iran. (Niavaran Park)

Accounts given by adventurers, explorers of the ancient world and modern travelers about their journey to Persia/Iran each detail the graciousness, warmth and hospitality of Iranians and often urge others to visit this mysterious land. In Persian literature there are numerous examples encouraging the importance of hospitality to familiars and strangers alike. These values have been passed down through the words of Persian bards from one generation to the next and are instilled in Iranian children from a young age.

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Winter. Dizin,Iran.

This is perhaps one of the reasons behind thousands of years of peaceful coexistence among different nations and ethnicities in the Iranian plateau. What is known today as the Persian culture is the result of the amalgamation of Kurdish, Azeri, Baluch, Lur, Arab, Turkmen and… subcultures. This unique model of peaceful diversity is definitely one of the many reasons that makes Iran great.

 

Golestan Palace, where traditional Persian arts meet European architecture

We had a group of businessmen who came to Tehran for work. On the last night before their departure, one of them told me (Amirsina) he had extended his trip by one day to have time for a tour of Tehran. He insisted he could not leave until he had at least visited Golestan Palace or the Rose Garden Palace.

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Golestan Palace was once the residence of Safavid, Zand and Qajar kings. (toiran.com photo/ web)

We made the trip from north Tehran to the palace compound in downtown Tehran near the Grand Bazaar. Golestan Palace, a UNESCO registered world heritage, is a masterpiece of Qajar era (1785–1925) crafts and architecture and the place where traditional Persian arts meet European architecture. The palace was originally known as the Arg of Tehran and was built in the 16th century during the reign of the founder of the Safavid dynasty, Shah Abbas I (1571-1629). It found importance after Agha Mohammad Khan (1742-1797), the first of the Qajar Kings, chose Tehran as his capital and this palace as his residence.

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Talar-e Salam (Reception Hall) was built by Nasser-al Din Shah Qajar after a trip to Europe. (toiran.com photo/Houman Nobakht)

Our guest was very impressed by Talar-e Salam (Reception Hall). This hall was built to resemble a museum by Nasser-al Din Shah (1831-1896) to impress his European visitors upon arrival. The coronation of the two Pahlavi kings (1925-1979) were held here. He could not contain his amazement upon seeing the intricate mirrorwork of Talar-e Aineh (Hall of Mirrors). our next stop was Talar-e Berelian (Brilliant Hall) which has extravagant mirrorwork and chandeliers.

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The UNESCO registered Golestan Palace has 17 different halls each famed for its elaborate decorations. (toiran.com photo/ Houman Nobakht)

I took our guest to  Khalvat-e Karim Khani (Karim Khan Veranda) which was built in 1759 by the founder of the Zand dynasty (1750-1794) as part of his residence. This nook has a marble throne and houses the tombstone of Nasser-al Din Shah, which was originally located in Shah-Abdol-Azim Shrine in Rey and was moved and installed here after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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Khalvat-e Karim Khani (Karim Khan Veranda) was built in 1759 by the founder of the Zand Dynasty. (toiran.com photo/ web)

Our guest found the marble throne on the terrace in front of the complex that was commissioned by Fath-Ali shah Qajar in 1806 very impressive.  This throne, which has 65 pieces of marble from the mines of Yazd and crafted in Isfahan, is inspired by the story of Solomon whose throne was said to have been carried by fairies and other supernatural beings.

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The Marble Throne was crafted in 1806 and has 65 pieces of marble. (toiran.com photo/ web)

On the way to IKIA airport our guest continued asking questions about Golestan Palace. He was sad he did not  have enough time to see more of Tehran. He told me he would be back and asked  me to show him more of Tehran when he returns.

Shiraz, the city of history, love & poetry

Even though I (Saman) come from Rasht, one of the cities in northern Iran, Shiraz has always been one of my favorite places in the country. So when our photographer Houman and Amir Sina from customer service decided to go on a trip to Shiraz, I jumped at the opportunity to accompany them.

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Tomb of Cyrus the Great who decreed the first Human Rights Charter known to man (toiran.com photo/ Shahin Kamali)

We spent an unforgettable night at the historical Bekhradi House in Isfahan and early the next day headed towards Pasargadae, the first dynastical capital of the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BC), which lies on the way to Shiraz. No matter how many times I see the tomb of Cyrus the Great, the monument still leaves me speechless every time.

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The tombs of Daruis I and three other Achaemenid kings are located in Naqsh-e Rostam. (toiran.com photo/ Houman Nobakht)

Our next stop was Naqsh-e Rostam, the site which is said to have served as a cemetery for Achaemenid royals. I was excited to see Naqsh-e Rostam as even though I had traveled to Shiraz several times somehow there had never been enough time for the 70-kilometer drive to this site. I stood before the four Achaemenid tombs hewn high above a cliff at Naqsh-e Rostam and could not help but wonder what technology had been employed to create these tombs and their rock carvings in ancient times? The sheer scale of these rock creations left me awestruck!

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Relief showing the triumph of Shapur I (241-272 CE) over Roman Emperor Valerian (reign 253–260 CE). (toiran.com photo/ Houman Nobakht)

I could not get enough of looking at the details of the seven Sassanid rock reliefs depicting scenes from the lives, conquests and ascensions of the ancient rulers of Iran. I noticed an eighth slab which seemed like an empty canvas ready for the chisel of a skilled craftsman. Houman told me that this slab was prepared for another royal scene but was never used.

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The Cube of Zoroaster is a mystery that has never been solved as no one knows what its function was. (toiran.com photo/ Houman Nobakht)

Amir Sina pointed out the Cube of Zoroaster to me, the building that has kept scholars and researchers guessing for centuries.  No one knows what this Achaemenid structure was used for. Its walls have inscriptions cataloging Sassanid victories but no mention of the Achaemenids, who created it. Some say it was a royal tomb and others believe it was a depository for objects of dynastic or religious importance.

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Persepolis is the best-known symbol of ancient Persian Civilization. (toiran.com photo/ Houman Nobakht)

We had a few more kilometers to go before reaching Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Persian Empire which was once known as the richest city under the sun. The scale and skill employed to create Persepolis is mind-blowing.

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Persepolis is a UNESCO registered World Heritage Site and one of the must-see wonders of the world! (toiran.com photo/ Houman Nobakht)

Even though a fire destroyed this glorious capital and only its ruins stand today, the surviving remains kick started my overactive imagination and took me back to times when representatives from all nations of the known world would come to seek audience with the reigning Achaemenid king and showered him with presents and paid him their respects.

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Reading poetry at Hafezih at night (toiran.com photo/ Amir Sina Rezaei)

We arrived in Shiraz late in the afternoon and checked into Shiraz Grand Hotel. We decided to visit the tomb of Hafez, the poet of love and the bard whose poems are cherished by every Iranian. If you ask the people of Shiraz they will all recommend going to Hafezieh after sunset. This is the time when you will see people reciting Hafez poetry or breaking into song just because they feel inspired to sing. I would also recommend having dinner at the Hafezieh Café and trying the Shirazi Faloudeh – a dessert made with thin vermicelli noodles mixed in a semi-frozen sugar and rosewater syrup served with lime juice.

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Eram Garden is an example of the UNESCO registered Persian Garden. (toiran.com photo/ Houman Nobakht)

We spent a comfortable night at the hotel and in the morning decided to visit the famous Eram Garden. The name of this garden ‘Eram’ means Eden in Persian and with its palm trees, flower beds and fountains it could well be what a heavenly garden looks like.

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A Persian garden full of life, intoxicating scent of flowers and color (toiran.com photo/ Saman Kazemi)

Beautiful ponds full of little fish, colorful flowers, the smell of orange blossoms and a cup of herbal tea were the perfect start to my day.

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Vakil Bazaar is always full of shoppers from Iran and other parts of the world. (toiran.com photo/ Amir Sina Rezaei)

We had lunch and decided to go for a stroll through the inviting vaulted streets and alleys of Vakil Bazaar. I could not stop myself from buying herbal teas and distillates called ‘Araq’ in Persian. On any warm summer day all you need to do to make yourself a refreshing sherbet is to add some aromatic herbal distillate to ice water and stir in some sugar and voila your sherbet is ready to be served!

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Vakil Mosque is a Zand era (1750-1794) monument of great architectural and artistic significance. (toiran.com photo/ Houman Nobakht)

When in Shiraz you should not miss the chance to visit Vakil Mosque. This 18th century mosque, which is still used for prayers, is a shining jewel that captures one’s eye with its colorful tile decorations and its unique Shabistan (inner sanctum) that has 48 monolithic marble pillars carved in spirals.

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Inside Vakil Bath (toiran.com photo/ Houman Nobakht)

The founder of the Zand Dynasty, Karim Khan (1705–1779), who built Vakil Bazaar and Vakil Mosque, also built a public bathhouse in this neighborhood. The bath is now a wax museum where visitors can learn about the Persian culture, customs and costumes.

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A wax figure in Vakil Bath (toiran.com photo/ Saman Kazemi)

Saying goodbye to Shiraz is always hard as this city is an enchantress and my love for it grows with each visit. If you haven’t already been, trust me this city is one for the bucket list.

Want to see more of Shiraz? Toiran.com is at your service!

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