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Discover what made this region the cradle of civilization. Explore the prehistoric cities of Qom & Kashan, along with the pre-Islamic cities of Varzaneh, Maybod, Kharanaq, Yazd & Naein. Dive into naturally pristine wonders, former glories, and ancient ruins.
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The seat of Iranian power for the last 3 centuries, Tehran is rich in history & influence. Head off to the World Heritage-listed Golestan Palace, in Central Tehran. The 18th c. complex was the main resident of the Qajar Dynasty, a masterpiece of hand-painted tiles, set within a lush garden. After a quick stroll through Shahr Park, arrive at the National Museum of Iran, which holds artefacts from ancient and medieval Iranian antiquities, from the Achaemenids to the Sassanids.
In the morning, visit the Fatima Masumeh Shrine in Qom, one of the holiest sites in Iran. In Kashan, start with the Agha Bozorg Mosque, the former center of Kashani life, then it’s off to the Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse for a lesson in classic bathing and water usage within the desert. Visit the Abbasian House & Tabatabaei House, two examples of opulent homes made to maximize scarce resources and cool extreme temperatures. After a quick stop in Fin Garden, spend the night in Kashan.
On the way to Naein, visit the well-maintained Naein Qanats. Over 3,000 years ago, Persians learned how to construct Qanats (underground aqueducts) to bring water from the mountains to the plains. Up until the 1960s, this ancient system provided more than 70 percent of the water used in Iran. Crawl through the historic underground channels of Rigareh Water Mill, then visit the Jame Mosque of Naein, one of the oldest mosques in Iran. Spend the night in Naein.
Explore the pre-Islmanic city of Maybod and visit the Sassanid-era Narin Castle. Then it’s off to the Maybod Pigeon Tower, an important invention in message sending and fertilization. Visit the Maybod Yakhchal, a millenia-old icehouse within the desert, and the Abbasi Carvensary. Stop by the abandoned mud-brick village of Kharanaq, a well-preserved example of how Persian cities looked thousands of years ago, then hike up the mountaintop Chak Chak Fire Temple. Spend the night in Yazd.
Start the day off with the Yazd Jameh Mosque, built in the 13th c. over a Sassanid fire temple. Then, hit the narrow, mud-brick streets to visit the Amir Chakhmagh Complex, which contains a caravanserai, a bathhouse, and many confectioneries. Learn how underground water channels kept the city hydrated with a visit to the Yazd Water Museum. Stop in at the Zoroastrian Fire Temple and see the holy fire that has burned since 470 AD. Finish by seeing the Tower of Silence to witness the location of sky burials.
Drive to the desert city of Varzaneh before noon, where you’ll experience the towering dunes of the Varzaneh Desert and the vast Varzaneh Salt Lake. Visit the Water Temple of Hassanabad to see how ancient people maintained their sacred resources. After watching the sunset over the sands, make your way to a local, traditional guesthouse in Varzaneh, where you’ll spend the night. Spend your time making friends and exchanging stories with locals and fellow travelers.
Start with the 16th c. Naqsh-e Jahan Square. The square was, and still is, the center of trade and activity in Isfahan. Explore the Qeysariye Bazaar, a local hub filled with handicrafts, spices & carpets. Visit the Sheykh Lotfollah Mosque’s mesmerizing dome, the Shah Mosque’s enchanting courtyard, & the six-story Ali Qapu Palace’s view. At night, visit Khaju Bridge & Si-o-Se Pol Bridge along the Zayandeh Rud river. Finish the night with a Persian Cooking Class making dinner with a local host family.
In the early morning, visit the 8th c. Jameh Mosque of Isfahan, a former Zoroastrian fire temple that was continually built upon over the centuries. Make your way from Isfahan's Historic District, through ancient bazaar-pathways, to the more modern Naqsh-e Jahan Square you saw yesterday. Handicrafts here haven't changed for over 400 years, so take the time to buy some last-minute souvenirs. Finish off with the bright frescos of Vank Cathedral in the Armenian quarter of New Jolfa. Drive towards Tehran for IKIA.