Kashan, Iran

After a week in Tehran waiting for visas and what-not, our hotel’s manager Mr Mousavi at Firouzeh Hotel suggested we head to Kashan for a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. We took his advice and headed on the two-and-a-half hour bus to Kashan, a city located approximately half way between Tehran and Esfahan.

We arrived at the Noghii Traditional House, another recommendation by Mr Mousavi, around nine-o’clock in the evening. We were quite hungry as we hadn’t eaten dinner and decided to try the traditional food of Kashan – a variety of herbs and vegetables (spring onion, coriander, mint), pickles, a dish of meatballs and soup, and the traditional sour milk/yoghurt drink ‘doogh’.

The following morning we had a breakfast of fresh bread, tomato, cucumber and home-made carrot jam with hot tea. We met an older group of travellers who were all Iranian by birth, but had each moved to other countries including France and America. They had returned to Iran to visit friends and site-see.

Kashan is famous for its mansions and traditional houses, so we set off, visiting the four main mansions, a bathhouse and the old city walls. It was pleasant and relaxing walking through the streets of Kashan after Tehran, below are the sites we visited:

Khan-e Borujerdi (Boroujerdi Historical House)

A beautiful mansion, its frescoes painted by famous Iranian painter Kamal ol-Molk (we had seen his paintings in the Golestan Palace in Tehran).  This mansion also has a six-sided domed badger (wind-tower).

A lion trying to take-down a deerThe ceiling domes designed to allow light inOne of the many rooms at Boroujerdi Historic House
The intricate wall art at Boroujerdi Historic HouseMain courtyard of Boroujerdi Historic HouseThe white unrestored stalactite arch at Boroujerdi Historic House
Stalactite arch at Boroujerdi Historic HouseMain courtyard at Boroujerdi Historic HouseWind catchers found at Boroujerdi Historic House

Hammam-e Sultan Mir Ahmad (Soltan Amir Ahmad Historical Bath)

A beautiful hammam (bathhouse) built around four-hundred-and-fifty years ago. We walked into the impressive main area and thought that was it, but then realised there were a number of other bath rooms.  We were allowed on the rooftop which enabled us a view of the domes of the hammam and the channel for water entry into the hammam.

Wall artwork at the Soltan Amir Ahmad Historic BathMosaics at the Soltan Amir Ahmad Historic BathWall artwork at the Soltan Amir Ahmad Historic Bath
Wall artwork at the Soltan Amir Ahmad Historic BathWall artwork at the Soltan Amir Ahmad Historic BathWall artwork at the Soltan Amir Ahmad Historic Bath

Khan-e Yabatabei (Tabatabaei Historical House)

Owned by a carpet merchant this mansion is massive and covers 4,730 square metres which includes four massive courtyards.

Wooden doors at Tabatabaei Historic HouseStained-glass windows at Tabatabaei Historic HouseStained-glass windows at Tabatabaei Historic House
Main courtyard at Tabatabaei Historic HouseMain courtyard at Tabatabaei Historic HouseStained-glass windows at Tabatabaei Historic House

Khan-e Ameriha (Ameriha Historical House)

Built during the late 18th century, this is a spectacular mansion owned by one of Kashan’s governors. This is the biggest of the mansions, we almost got lost looking through it.  We searched a while but managed to find one of the two hammams (bathhouses) within the complex. Some of the complex is still undergoing restoration but what we saw was impressive.

Wooden doors of Ameriha Historic HouseSecond floor balcony at Ameriha Historic HouseMain courtyard of Ameriha Historic House
Sonya looking from the second floorMain courtyard of Ameriha Historic HouseThe stalactite arch of Ameriha Historic House
One of the many internal baths at Ameriha Historic HouseArtwork of a hunter shooting deerThe stalactite dome in the bath at Ameriha Historic House

Khan-e Abbasian (Abbasian Historical House)

My favourite of the mansions, this mansion was designed across a number of levels and contained a number of stunning courtyards, frescoes and rooms.

Main courtyard of Abbasian Historical HouseMain courtyard of Abbasian Historical House, a wind catcher is visibleStained-glass windows at Abbasian Historic House
Abbasian Historic HouseAbbasian Historic HouseOne of the interior domes of Abbasian Historic House

Old City Walls

Two friendly boys from Kashan led us to the Old City Walls (as we were heading in the wrong direction). We climbed the circular walls from the south east and realised that they were using the area within the walls for agriculture.   On our way back we bought some refreshing faloodeh (a cold Persian dessert).

Ice house at Kashan old cityInside the old city walls of KashanPoppies, unknown was that would see a lot more of them

Kashan’s Historical Houses

  1. Khan-e Borujerdi (Boroujerdi Historical House)
  2. Hammam-e Sultan Mir Ahmad (Soltan Amir Ahmad Historical Bath)
  3. Khan-e Yabatabei (Tabatabaei Historical House)
  4. Khan-e Ameriha (Ameriha Historical House)
  5. Khan-e Abbasian (Abbasian Historical House)

Tehran – the capital of Iran

We caught a bus from Esfahan to Tehran (the Iranian public-transport system is beautiful), our main goal in Tehran were Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan visas, we arrived on Sizdah Bedar (Getting rid of the Thirteenth) which is the thirteenth day of Nowruz (new day) and is celebrated by families heading outdoors and enjoying picnics, this meant that everything was closed, or as we know it, a public holiday.

Sharhr Park and Darband

For Sizdah Bedar we decided to join the Persians outdoors and headed to Shahr Park. On the way we started to notice a further Sizdah Bedar tradition, cars and even motorbikes attached a clump of Sabzeh (green sprouts) which had been growing since the start of the new year, on the thirteenth day these plants are thrown-out, supposedly along with any bad karma collected when growing.

While relaxing on a park bench we decided to visit Darband neighbourhood to hike the popular Alborz mountain range. The hike was quite strange, the whole path up was littered with restaurants, all begging for business, there were small grocery shops that sold drinks and snacks, and many men selling fruit (strawberries, cherries, apricots, etc) in a red syrup that we had to try. About half way along the track, Sonya decided it was time to turn around and head back, we stopped for lunch of kebab and rice (very common Persian food) at one of the many restaurants.

The next day when everything was back to ‘normal’, we decided with the loss of one day, we now should extend our Iran visas just in case, little did we know we actually required a lot more time anyway.  To our dismay, at the visa extension office we found out this would take a further four days. During the next few days we visited the following;

Motorbike with clump of Sabzeh (green sprouts)Many fruits in syrupSonya and Travis at Alborz mountain range
Alborz mountain rangeAlborz mountain rangeRiver flowing through the Alborz mountain range
Restaurants located along the river and hiking trailDucks near the riverMeat kebab and rice (a popular Iranian dish)

Treasury of National Jewels

The national jewels museum houses Iran’s priceless jewels and gold artefacts, mostly from the Safavid Persian period. Largest jewellery collection in the world, highlights include the Darya-i-Noor Diamond, the largest cut pink diamond at 182 carats (the new largest uncut pink diamond was recently found in an Australian mine), Peacock Throne (Naderi Throne) covered in gold and encrusted with 26,733 jewels and the gemstone globe.

National Museum of Iran

The National Museum of Iran houses a collection of artefacts from archaeological sites in Iran, a large portion found in Persepolis.

Interesting items included intricate ceramic and metal animal sculptures, a marble bust statue,  stones bearing trilingual inscriptions and colourful mosaics and paintwork. The highlight was a large immaculate condition stone capital of two opposing bull heads removed from Persepolis.

Head of a statue (muza)Small metal statues, including that of Zeus, Hermes and AtenaSmall metal oil lamp of a goat like animal
Stone capital of two opposing bull heads removed from PersepolisStone capital of two opposing bull heads removed from PersepolisCeramic head with crown
Ceramic badge with Zoroastrian emblemPersian man holding lion removed from PersepolisHuman headed capital
Three lion forming some kind of holderEgyptian statue found in IranA ceramic bull figure oil lamp
Various metal animal figuresVarious metal arrow headsPainted animal figures on pottery

 Golestan Palace

Golestan Palace (originally the royal Qajar palace) is made up of a collection of several individual buildings, now all housing unique exhibitions.

Takht Marmar (Marble Throne) – a mirror-roomed terrace featuring an elaborate yellow-marble throne.

Hoze Khaneh – originally a summer room, now houses a number of European paintings.

Shams-ol-Emareh (Edifice of the Sun) – a four-tiered building designed to provide panoramic views from the upper storeys.

Negar Khaneh – originally designed as a museum hall, no houses a number of Iranian paintings.

Talar Berelian (Hall of Brilliance) – features an amazing use of mirrors and elaborate chandeliers.

Museum of Gifts – houses a large collection of gifts received by the Qajar kings, one of the highlights being a decorated ostrich egg.

Talar Salam (Reception Hall) – this large main hall, initially planned as a museum hall, was then converted to a reception hall for foreign guests and dignitaries.

Abyaze Palace – now houses an ethological display, I particularly liked the explanation of Khata, a micro-mosaic inlay work from wood which we had seen in the bazaars, and the dolls with traditional dress of different Persian ethnicities.

The Takht Marmar, the marble throne is visible in the distanceCarved marble demon part of the marble throneYellow-marble throne in the Takht Marmar
Mosaics of the Khalvat Karim Khani in Golestan PalaceThe Khalvat Karim Khani with relatively smaller marble throneCarved feline on one of the columns of the Khalvat Karim Khani
Beautiful mosaic ceiling of Khalvat Karim KhaniMosaic tiles and paintings in Khalvat Karim KhaniThe mosaic exterior wall of Negar Khaneh
One of a pair of lion statues at the entrance of the Talar SalamLooking away from the Talar Salam over the pond and gardensThe entrance to the Talar Salam
Meticulous, lush gardens of Golestan PalaceColourful painted tiles featuring a dragon and lion fightingBeautiful mosaics found on the walls in Golestan Palace
Sonya resting on a bench in Golestan Palace gardensMusicians painted on the tiles found in Golestan PalaceThe Emarat Badgir (Building of the Wind Towers) found in Golestan Palace
The Emarat Badgir (Building of the Wind Towers) found in Golestan PalaceThe Shams-ol-Emareh (Edifice of the Sun) found in Golestan PalaceThe Emarat Badgir (Building of the Wind Towers) found in Golestan Palace
Colourful pink and blue doors found in Golestan PalaceThe Talar Salam found in Golestan PalacePersian handicraft, intricate wooden mosaics

Niavaran Palace

The Niavaran Palace is where Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi spent the last years of his rule. Similar to the Golestan Palace, the Niavaran Palace is a collection of several buildings on the palace grounds;

Jahan-Nama Museum – housed a collection of local Iranian and foreign artwork, including pieces by Dali, Picasso and Warhol.

Sahebqraniyeh Palace – the oldest original building from the Qajar dynasty, last used as the Shah’s office. One of the interesting rooms was the personal dentist office, a room on the side of the main hall, had a dentist’s chair and all.

Niavaran Palace – the actual Niavaran Palace, a relatively modern plain building, has all original rooms, including private family bedrooms.

Ahmad-Shahi Pavilion – an attractive two-storey pink roofed building, houses an interesting collection of childhood possessions.

A piece by WarholA piece by DaliA piece by Picasso
A piece by DaliSahebqraniyeh Palace used as the last Shah's officeShah's private dentist room
Ahmad-Shahi PavilionAhmad-Shahi PavilionNiavaran Palace
Niavaran PalaceNiavaran PalaceStone sculpture outside Niavaran Palace

Azadi Tower (Borj-e Azadi)

Azadi Tower (Freedom Tower) situated to the west of the city is a well known symbol of Tehran and infamous as the site of many protests leading up to the Iranian Revolution. Based on elements of Sassanid and Islamic architecture, the forty-five metre structure is made from eight-thousand blocks of white marble stone.

Azadi Tower in Azadi SquareAzadi Tower visible on approaching TehranClose-up detail of Azadi Tower

US Den of Espionage (former United States Embassy)

The United States Embassy was the location where students held fifty-two American diplomats hostage for 444 days. After the incident the embassy closed down, but what remains along the main wall are anti-American murals, the American flag stripes painted as barbed-wire, the Statue of Liberty painted as a skull. The most memorable and in-your-face was a “Down with USA” painted sign visible as soon as you leave the metro towards the embassy.

Holy Shrine of Imam Khomeini

One of Iran’s holiest sites, the Holy Shrine is the resting place of His Holiness Imam Khomeini. We caught the metro to the most southern station to visit the shrine, a plain building with strict security, inside is quite a moving experience as we sat and watched Muslims pay their respects.

Esfahan, Iran

The city of Esfahan (or Isfahan) is known as being one of the jewels of Iran and all the films and documentaries of Iran we had watched portrayed the historically rich city with such romantic notions. One of the famous Persian proverbs describes Esfahan as ‘half of the world’, as it once dominated as one of the world’s largest cities famous for its mosques, palaces, bridges and the beautiful Imam Square (Naqsh-e Jahan Square).

We arrived in Esfahan on a comfortable bus ride from Yazd and checked into the Amir Kabir Hotel in the evening. The trip took about four-and-a- half hours, and was about 100,000 Tumans (equivalent to five dollars) for both of us. We even received a snack box with a wide assortment of biscuits and juice (which we later found to be a standard part of any Iranian bus ride).

Naqsh-e Jahan Square (Imam Square)

Our first morning in Esfahan was spent familiarising ourselves with Imam Square. The Square was about a fifteen minute walk from our hotel. As it was Friday, we weren’t able to enter the main mosque – Imam Mosque as preparations for Friday prayers were taking place. We wandered around the square admiring its grandness (in size it is 160 by 508 meters and second biggest in the world after to Tiananmen Square in China). The perimeter surrounding the square is an under covered bazaar selling various Persian delights from gaz (the local Isfahahni speciality, a nougat-like sweet), rugs, handicraft to jewels made of Iranian turquoise.

Imam Square viewed from Ali Qapu Palace, Imam Mosque seen in backgroundImam Square with centre pond and fountainsGheysarieh Bazaar Entrance viewed from inside Imam Square

The highlights of our exploration of Imam Square were:

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque – located on the eastern side of imam Square this is a beautiful, perfectly architectured mosque built during reign of Shah Abbas I. We stood in the prayer hall dome of the mosque in absolute awe of its brilliant mosaic designs and architecture and found that no photos can do it justice.

The intricate Persian blue mosaics on the facade entrance of Sheikh Lotfollah MosqueThe interior hallway with intricate mosaicsSonya and some bright mosaics
The dome mosaics of Sheikh Lotfollah MosqueThe Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque Mihrab and domeThe Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque Mihrab
The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque domeThe entrance to Sheikh Lotfollah MosqueThe wooden door of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque and cream dome seen from Imam SquareSheikh Lotfollah Mosque entrance facade and cream dome seen from Imam SquareSheikh Lotfollah Mosque and cream dome seen from Imam Square

Ali Qapu Palace – on the western side opposite to Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is the Ali Qapu Palace. It was the entertainment palace for Shah Abbas the Great during the Safavid period and also a gateway to other palaces beyond the Square. The palace must have been quite impressive with its colourful motifs, however much of it is now damaged. The terrace provided great views of Imam Square.

The entrance facade to Ali Qapu PalaceOne of the many wall paintings on the open upper levelThe Ali Qapu Palace courtyard and mosque

Chehel Sotun Palace – we wandered across to this palace which is outside the Square. It started raining a little, however the site was still bustling with activity. It was still Noruz holidays, and everywhere we had been in Esfahan was unimaginably busy. The Palace is impressive (as with everything we’d seen so far!), but most enjoyable were the beautiful frescoes in the music room. Some depict battles between the Uzbeks and India… others show lavish banquets where the Shah entertained his guests.

Chehel Sotun PalaceLooking over the pond away from Chehel Sotun PalaceLooking over the pond at Chehel Sotun Palace
Beautiful floral wall paintingsLion head features on the corners of the outside water featureExterior paintings in the Chehel Sotun Palace open area
Frescoes in the music room of Chehel Sotun Palace a lavish banquets where the Shah entertained his guestsFrescoes in the music room of Chehel Sotun Palace depicting battles between the UzbeksFrescoes in the music room of Chehel Sotun Palace a lavish banquets where the Shah entertained his guests

Imam Mosque – Also known as Shah Mosque, this is one of the famous Isfahani icons (it’s even featured on the Iranian 20,000 Rials banknote). As you first walk into Imam Square it is impossible not to notice the beautiful iwan (entrance) to the mosque, the arch of the iwan decorated with blue stalactite tiles. The main courtyard also does not disappoint as each of the iwans to the prayer halls are truly breathtaking in their size, colour and mosaic designs.

Imam Mosque and turquoise mosaic dome viewed from Imam SquareEntrance to Imam Mosque with pair of minaretsThe inner outside courtyard facing the inner mosque
The inner outside courtyard with the entrance to inner mosqueThe inner outside courtyard with the entrance to inner mosqueThe inner mosque viewed from an arch
The intricate Persian blue mosaics of the mosque entranceThe mosaics of the mosques domeThe two-tiers of arches seen in the inner courtyard of the Imam Mosque
The two-tiers of arches and the entrance of the Imam MosqueLooking though an arch into a side courtyard at the Imam MosqueThe Imam Mosque with Turkish Blue (turquoise blue) dome slightly visible

We had lunch at a traditional Iranian restaurant in the square where we had some of the local Iranian cuisine – Dizi. This dish is particularly interesting as it comes in what looks like a handle-less clay pot with a pestle. It is served by draining the soup into a separate bowl and then mashing the contents of the pot (some kind of vegetable/meat stew) ferociously. You then place bite sized pieces of bread into the soup and eat the soup soaked bread, along with the solid remnants of the stew. It was actually quite tasty!

That evening we explored the surrounding bazaars in search of a carpet!

Jameh Mosque

Morning of the second day was spent wandering through the bazaars (again!). We then headed to the post office (which turned out to be closed due to Noruz), and then Jameh Mosque. This mosque is still operating and so we explored quietly. It is set on 20,000 square metres and is one of the biggest mosques in Iran.

Inner court of Jameh MosqueThe Persian blue mosaic facade of Jameh MosqueOne of the undercover spaces with circular column design
Looking through a hall of square columnsThe brick domes of Jameh MosqueOne of the undercover spaces with square column design

Bridges of Zayandeh River

We then walked to the Zayandeh River. It was a Saturday afternoon and the local Isfanhani as well as other local Iranian tourists were enjoying picnicking along the river with their extended families (we’d noticed Iranian’s loved picnicking!). We were there to look at the beautiful and famous covered bridges. We started at Si-o-Seh Bridge which contains thirty-three arches and walked all the way to Khaju Bridge (famous for its two-tiers of arches), passing by Chubi bridge along the way. In total, the bridge walk would have been about five kilometres in total and took a good hour!

Walking from Si-o-Seh Bridge to Khaju BridgeFerdosi Bridge looking eastFerdosi Bridge looking west
Approaching Khaju Bridge from the westKhaju Bridge two-tiers of archesKhaju Bridge two-tiers of arches

Chahar Bagh Madreseh

For the rest of the afternoon we visited Madraseh Ye Chahar Bagh, the Theological School of the Shah’s Mother. Usually closed, but opened for Noruz festivities, it is a pretty complex with a lovely courtyard filled with trees.

Looking over the empty pond at Chahar Bagh MadresehThe turquoise blue dome of Chahar Bagh MadresehThe mosque at Chahar Bagh Madreseh
The opposite side of Chahar Bagh MadresehThe Persian blue mosaics of Chahar Bagh MadresehThe colourful mosaics of Chahar Bagh Madreseh
The mosque with turquoise domes and minarets at Chahar Bagh MadresehTurkish blue (turquoise blue) and Persian blue (dark blue) mosaicsThe two mosque minarets at Chahar Bagh Madreseh

Hasht Behesht Palace

After we visited the Hasht Behesht Palace, which was once again another great palace but now very badly damaged.

The painted interior of Hasht Behesht PalacePainting of bird and flowers on walls of Hasht Behesht PalaceOverlooking the pond towards Hasht Behesht Palace

Our last evening in Esfahan was spent enjoying some gaz, falude (rice flour sorbet with rose water) and strawberries in our own little picnic at Imam Square and doing some more people watching and bazaar-wandering!

Buying a Persian carpet

Iran is famous for its handmade Persian carpets, and so prior to departing for Iran we decided we would pick up a carpet as a momentum.

We learnt a lot through visiting various shops where we were shown dozens of carpets, some were amazing, large and intricate in design (taking more than a years work to make and worth thousands of dollars) and even some nomadic carpets known as Gelim. We were informed that in general older carpets were worth more than those that were newer, and as such many people consider Persian rugs an investment.

After initially looking at many colours and designs, we decided we liked the pale cream coloured carpets with blue designs, which happened to be a common design made in Nain. Nain is located on the edge of the western desert and the pale cream colours represent the sandy deserts, and the blues the skies.

The base of a carpet can be cotton, wool or silk, with the price increasing in that order, silk carpets are much finer (number of knots per square centimetre) in comparison to wool carpets, resulting in more detailed designs and costlier carpets.

Nain carpets, these carpets have a cotton base, unlike the Isfahan carpets which are generally made with a silk base. In the end, we chose a wool/silk blend carpet, which is predominantly wool and with its intricate designs in white silk, a common approach in Nain carpets.

Nain carpets also use the common Persian Shah Abbas design, which is very similar to the mosaic floral designs on mosques of the Safavid dynasty.

After staring at three very similar Nain designs side-by-side (the shop keeper even mentioned side-by-side is a difficult choice, but at home individually they would all look good), we chose a beautiful 150 by 100 centimetres carpet. It cost us $310 USD which we were both very happy with, we shipped it to Australia for an additional $80 USD.

We recommend Ariana Carpet, Mr Asadi who was extremely informative and helpful.

Sonya and the carpet seller
The three Nian carpets