Day 1 – Departure from USA
Overnight flight from JFK to Tehran.
Day 2 – Arrive Tehran
Upon arrival at Tehran Airport, you will be met by your tour guide and driver and transferred to your hotel. Overnight in Tehran.
Day 3 – Tehran [B,L,D]
This sprawling city became Iran’s capital in the XVIII Century under Agha Mohammad Khan, the founder of the Qajar Dynasty. Tehran (meaning warm slope) is located south of the impressive snow-capped Alborz Mountains and the city is known for its large museums, art centers and palaces. We begin with the National Archaeological Museum, the country’s foremost museum established in 1937. A good introduction to Iran, the museum is divided into two parts: Prehistoric and Pre-Islamic periods. See a stone capital of a winged lion from Susa and the sixth century BC audience hall relief of Darius the Great from the Treasury at Persepolis. We are then guided through the Glass and Ceramics Museum, which was once an extraordinarily beautiful private residence during the Qajar period, and later was used as the Egyptian Embassy. Here you can find glass and ceramic artifacts dating back to the second and 1st Millennia B.C.
Our next stop, is The National Jewelry Treasury (opens 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm, Sat. thru Tue.) housed within the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, at the heart of the City of Tehran. Here is the most dazzling collection of gemstones and jewelry known in the world. The Crown Jewels of Iran have been little more than a legend in the past. Travelers marveled at the splendor surrounding the Shahs of Ancient Persia; but few were permitted to examine it in any detail. Now the most spectacular objects have been placed on public display and form one of the country’s principal tourist attractions. Then, we will visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Golestan Palace. The lavish Golestan Palace is a masterpiece of the Qajar Era, embodying the successful integration of earlier Persian crafts and architecture with Western influences. The walled Palace, one of the oldest groups of buildings in Tehran, became the seat of government of the Qajar Family, which came into power in 1779 and made Tehran the capital of the country. Built around a garden featuring pools as well as planted areas, the Palace’s most characteristic features and rich ornaments date from the XIX Century. It became a center of Qajar arts and architecture of which it is an outstanding example and has remained a source of inspiration for Iranian artists and architects to this day. It represents a new style incorporating traditional Persian arts and crafts and elements of XVIII Century architecture and technology. Overnight in Tehran.
Day 4 – Tehran – Hamadan [B,L,D]
After breakfast, departure for Hamadan. Upon arrival, we will visit the Esther and Mordechai Tombs where according to Judeo-Persian tradition, Esther and Mordechai are buried. This tradition is not supported by the Jews outside of Persia and does not appear in either Babylonian or Jerusalemite Talmuds. The earliest Jewish source on the tombs is Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Hamadān in the year 1067. According to him, there were 50,000 Jews living in Hamadān, where Esther and Mordechai were buried in front of a synagogue. Later we will visit the Baba Tahir Mausoleum. Baba Tahir is known as one of the most revered and respectable early poets in Persian Literature. Most of his life is clouded in mystery. He was born and lived in Hamadan, the capital city of the Hamedan Province in Iran. He was known by the name of Baba Tahir-e Oryan (The Naked), which suggests that he may have been a wandering dervish. Legend tells that the poet, an illiterate woodcutter, attended lectures at a religious school, where he was not welcomed by his fellow students. The dates of his birth and death are unknown. His tomb, designed by Mohsen Foroughi, is located near the northern entrance of the city of Hamadan in Western Iran, in a park, surrounded by flowers and winding paths. The structure consists of twelve external pillars surrounding a central tower. It was reconstructed in 1970. Dinner and overnight at our hotel in Hamadan.
Day 5 – Hamadan – Kermanshah [B,L,D]
After breakfast, we will drive to Kermanshah. Today we will explore Taq-e Bostan, the UNESCO declared Heritage site of the Sassanid Era in the Zagros Mountains. It contains a beautiful bas-relief of the Investiture of Ardeshir II & the crowning of his son Shapur III & Khosrow Parvez as well as deer & boar hunting scenes. The beautiful & oldest bas-relief on the extreme right shows the crowning of Ardeshir (center) flanked on the right by supposedly Ahura Mazda & on the left by the Sun God Mithra standing on a lotus, below them at their feet is the prostrate figure of the slain Roman Emperor Julian who was defeated by Ardeshir. In a series of 3 arches are other reliefs – the smaller arch has the figures of Shapur II & Shapur III, both bearing swords facing downwards. The other larger arch in the center shows the crowning of Sassanid King Khosrow Parvez who is in the center with Ahura Mazda on the right & Goddess Anahita on the left. The mounted warrior on the bottom is the king himself in armor on his favorite charger. The arch on the extreme left depicts hunting scenes of deer & boar hunts as well as a Qajar period relief. These are some of the finest surviving rock carvings of the Sassanid period set in the rock face of the Zagros mountains that were on the Silk route & are next to a sacred spring filling a lake near the mountain base. Later on, check into our hotel. Dinner and overnight in Kermanshah.
Day 6 – Kermanshah – Susa – Ahvaz [B,L,D]
After breakfast, we will drive to Susa , another UNESCO World Heritage site. Located in the lower Zagros Mountains, in the Susiana plains between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers, Susa comprises a group of artificial archaeological mounds rising on the eastern side of the Shapur River, encompassing large excavated areas, as well as the remains of Artaxerxes’ palace on the other side of the Shapur River. Susa developed as early as the late V Millennium B.C. as an important center, presumably with religious importance, to soon become a commercial, administrative and political hub that enjoyed different cultural influences thanks to its strategic position along ancient trade routes. Archaeological research can trace in Susa the most complete series of data on the passage of the region from prehistory to history. Susa appears as the converging point of two great civilizations which reciprocally influenced each other: the Mesopotamian and the Iranian plateau civilizations. Susa’s long-lasting and prominent role in the region, either as the capital of the Elamites, or of the Achaemenid Empire, or as a strategic center sought by neighboring powers (e.g., Assyrian, Macedonian, Parthian, Sassanid) is witnessed by the abundant finds, of disparate provenance and of exceptional artistic or scientific interest, and by the administrative, religious, residential and palatial, as well as functional structures and traces of urban layout (e.g., the remains of the Haute Terrasse in the Acropolis, the Palace of Darius in the Apadana, the residential or production quarters, the Ardeshir Palace) that more than 150 years of archaeological investigations have revealed. Dinner and overnight in Ahvaz.
Day 7 – Ahvaz [B,L,D]
Today we will explore yet another UNESCO World Heritage site: Chogha Zanbil. The principal element of this complex is an enormous ziggurat dedicated to the Elamite divinities Inshushinak and Napirisha. It is the largest ziggurat outside of Mesopotamia and the best preserved of this type of stepped pyramidal monument. The archaeological site of Chogha Zanbil is an exceptional expression of the culture, beliefs, and ritual traditions of one of the oldest indigenous peoples of Iran. Our knowledge of the architectural development of the middle Elamite period (1400-1100 BCE) comes from the ruins of Chogha Zanbil and of the capital city of Susa.
Later we will visit Haft Haft Tappeh: the Elamite city of Kabnak. Haft Tappeh ‘Seven Mounds’, located 15 kilometers to the South of the ancient city of Susa, is one of Iran’s most significant archaeological sites. Composed of seven ancient mounds as its name implies, the site was first excavated by an Iranian archaeology team, headed by Dr. Ezzatollah Negahban. The site first drew attention to itself when parts of a brick wall and a vault were found during a construction project in the area. Early archaeological studies showed that the site housed the world’s oldest vault built over the tomb of the Elamite ruler, Tapati Ahar. Dinner and overnight in Ahvaz.
Day 8 – Ahvaz – Shiraz [B,L,D]
After breakfast, we will depart Ahvaz and drive to Shiraz. On the way we will visit the city of Bishapur, the City of Shapur I, was founded in 266 on the beautiful Shapur. Shapur was the second Sassanian king, after Ardashir, and his city was on the road from Persepolis to Ctesiphon. He had defeated the Romans in battle and city was designed on a Greco-Roman grid plan and built with the help of Roman captives. The city had a palace and a Zoroastrian Fire Temple. There was a courtyard decorated with mosaics. Though lost, Shapur palace garden is believed to have been an influence on subsequent Islamic gardens. But Bishapur itself fell into decay after the Arab conquest of Persia. We will have dinner and overnight in Shiraz.
Day 9 – Shiraz [B,L,D]
Shiraz is crowned as the heartland of Persian culture and this city of sophistication will never fail to conjure up images of roses and nightingales, gardens and poetry. This gorgeous city in the province of Fars is home to famous poets such as Hafez and Sa’adi. Also, historical sites from different eras stretching back 6,000 years ago can be found there. Relish in the highlights of Shiraz when it was the capital of Iran during the Zand Dynasty. Be inspired by the glorious Karim Khan Palace, the splendid Vakil Mosque, Vakil Bazaar and Saray-e-Moshir with its splendid architecture and interesting ethnic souvenir shops and Nasir Almolk Mosque. Next, we will stop for a mouth-watering Iranian lunch at one of the traditional restaurants of Shiraz. In the evening, we will visit Ali-Ebn-e-Hamzeh and be prepared to marvel at its beauties. Take a stroll through the Jahan Nama Garden and witness its tall and proud cedars. Not forgetting the two famous Persian poets, Hafez and Sa’adi, whose mysterious poems are everlasting in the Persian language, we will get a chance to pay homage to their tombs. Finally visit the Delgosha Garden and Khajoo-Kermani Tomb from where the perspective of the mysterious city of Shiraz will perpetuate in our mind. At night have dinner in a restaurant with specific atmosphere in the North of Shiraz. Overnight in our hotel in Shiraz.
Day 10 – Shiraz – Persepolis – Shiraz [B,L,D]
Get ready for a truly wonderful day! After breakfast, we’ll drive about 35 miles to Takht-e-Jamshid or as the Greeks called it, Persepolis, a ruined capital of ancient Iran. It is one of the greatest artistic legacies of the ancient world and perhaps one of the most beautiful and spectacular archaeological sites surviving today. In the VI Century B.C., the Achaemenian King Darius I, created Persepolis as a palatial precinct for an empire which eventually became larger and more efficiently ruled than any other in the ancient world. Persepolis was reserved only for ritual celebrations. In the spring of each new year, on Nowruz, the Zoroastrian observance of the beginning of Spring, March 21st, the dynamic ruler and his court gathered at Persepolis to receive the tribute of subject nations and to reestablish universal order for the coming year. Nowruz is still celebrated today. Step back in time as we enter through the Gate of All Nations. The arrival of the erstwhile delegations was announced by trumpeters who stood at the top of the staircase in front of the Gate of Nations. They were then led to the Hundred Column Palace to the presence of the king. Superb bas reliefs depict the flow of ritual processions that once passed through the palaces and audience halls of the Achaemenian Kings. We’ll explore the Gate of Xerxes, the Apadana Palace, the Treasury, the Harem and the private palaces of the different rulers. Persepolis was completed by Xerxes and Artaxerxes I who ruled Persia in the V Century BC. The palaces were used by the Achaemenid Kings up until they were destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 B.C. as revenge for the sacking of Athens during the Persian Wars with the Greeks. To top off the afternoon, visit Naghsh-é-Rostam, which contains the rock carved chambers of four Achaemenian Tombs, believed to be those of Darius the Great, Xerxes, Artaxerxes and Darius II. The ornamental facades are rock reliefs from the Sassanian dynasty depicting various scenes of imperial conquests as well as a probable fire temple from Achaemenian times. Later, return to Shiraz via the Koran Gate, for dinner and overnight in Shiraz.
Day 11 – Shiraz – Pasargadae – Yazd [B,L,D]
Today, we say goodbye to Shiraz and embark on our journey to Yazd, stopping en route at Pasargadae – another UNESCO World Heritage site. Pasargadae was the first dynastic capital of the Achaemenid Empire, founded by Cyrus ll The Great in the VI Century B.C. Its palaces, gardens and the mausoleum of Cyrus are outstanding examples of the first phase of royal Achaemenid Art and architecture and exceptional testimonies of Persian Civilization. Particularly noteworthy vestiges include: the Mausoleum of Cyrus ll; Tall-e-Takht, a fortified terrace; and a royal ensemble of gatehouse, audience hall, residential palace and gardens. Pasargadae was the capital of the first great multicultural empire in Western Asia. Spanning the Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt to the Indus River, it is considered to be the first empire that respected the cultural diversity of its different peoples. This was reflected in Achaemenid Architecture, a synthetic representation of different cultures. After a leisurely visit to Pasargadae, you continue on through the desert to the city of Yazd. Upon arrival, we’ll have an evening stroll through Fahadan Historical Neighborhood and Amir Chakhmagh Square. Dinner and overnight in Yazd.
Day 12 – Yazd [B,L,D]
After breakfast, we will explore the city of Yazd. Visit the Towers of Silence and the Fire Temple and adjoining museum, to learn about the Zoroastrian faith, their holy book – the Avesta, four divine elements – air, water, earth and fire, and motto – good thoughts, good words, good deeds! Next at the Yazd Water Museum we learn about the construction of Qanats (canals or canats), which are underground tunnels or subterranean aqueducts carrying life-giving water from the mountains to the homes, Persian gardens, fields, orchards, pomegranate groves. You’ll admire their courageous builders using techniques developed from the fourth century B.C., and explore a house with its own Qanats System in place. There are enough Qanats in Iran the distance of which to go the moon and back four times! Walk through the Friday Mosque and see more of the crafts of the area. Visit Alexander Prison and learn about the famous “Badgirs” or wind-catchers water towers that efficiently cool a home in a desert setting. We’ll have a look at the area’s famed handicrafts – carpets, ceramics and textiles. You’ll find silk Ikats and Termeh – a traditional hand-made cloth woven with precious threads and metals. Textile design spread from Persia to Moghul, India. Overnight in Yazd.
Day 13 – Yazd – Na’in – Esfahan [B,L,D]
This morning, we continue to Esfahan. We’ll make stops along our journey to visit the early Islamic period Friday Mosque in the city of Na’in. We will continue our drive to the beautiful city of Esfahan (Isfahan), the 17th century capital of the Safavids, referred to as “Nesf-e-Jahan” (Half of the World) in Safavid sources. We’ll stay for three nights at the exotic Abbasi Hotel which was built in the 1960’s on the site of a XVII Century Caravansary. Dinner and overnight in Esfahan.
Day 14 – Esfahan [B,L,D]
Today, is another full day of sightseeing in wonderful Esfahan. Wander through the antique Friday Mosque; as it stands now is the result of continual construction, reconstruction, additions and renovations on the site from around 771 to the end of the XX Century. Archaeological excavation has determined an Abbasid hypostyle Mosque in place by the 10th century. Buyid construction lined a facade around the courtyard and added two minarets that are the earliest example of the double minaret on record. Continue to the Naghsh-e-Jahan Complex, the central focus of Esfahan. It is a Royal Square, 1674 feet by 540 feet and enclosed by double-storied arcades. The square drew merchants and ambassadors to the Safavid court for centuries. It’s unmatched in elegance and spaciousness anywhere in the world! It is seven times the size of the Piazza San Marco in Venice, and puts the grandeur of the surrounding palaces and mosques into appropriate proportions. On the north side is the entrance to the Royal Qaysari Bazaar. On the east side is the Lotfollah Mosque. Constructed between 1603 and 1617, it served as a private chapel for the Imperial Family. You’ll see exquisite XVII Century Persian tile work on the domed ceiling. On the west side is the Ali Qapu Palace. To the south is the Friday Mosque and Shah Mosque, dedicated to Shah Abbas The Great. To many it is considered to be the most beautiful mosque in the world. Overnight in Esfahan.
Day 15 – Esfahan [B,L,D]
After breakfast, we start on our tour of Esfahan. We’ll begin with a visit to the beautiful Chehel Sotuni (forty pillars) Palace, with its exquisite collection of frescos and paintings on tile. The reflecting pool magnified the majesty of the ruler. Here Shah Abbas II welcomed dignitaries and ambassadors. Today you are the guests of honor! Next, we’ll begin with a walk across the historical bridge of Khaju, constructed by Shah Abbas II in 1650. It is essentially a bridge superimposed upon a dam, 436 feet long and supported by twenty-four stone arches. On the far side is the garden tomb of Arthur Upham Pope and his wife Phyllis Ackerman, Americans who were dedicated to the study of Persian art, history and culture.
Continue to the Armenian Quarter to visit the richly decorated Vank Cathedral. Begun in 1606 at the time of arrival of Armenian immigrants to Isfahan, it was completed between 1655 and 1664 under the supervision of Arch-bishop David, with the encouragement of the Savid Rulers. It is the historic focal point of the Armenian Christian Church in Iran. The dome and walls have colorful paintings representing the story of Creation. Pause for lunch in the Armenian Quarter.
During our time in Isfahan, you are invited to a private gallery to visit with a famous miniature artist.
Those who are interested may visit a carpet shop to sip tea and admire Iran’s most valuable craft and art form. The Persian knot allowed the tight composition to create intricate Arabesques, geometric and other floral designs. See both City and Tribal carpets. Unlike Arabic Islamic design, Shia Muslims took literally God’s commandment to know Him through His creation. Thus you find figurative art in all forms including tile, metalwork and carpets. Persians also developed natural – and lasting- dyes. Cobalt found in Isfahan was exported to China where it was used in the blue on ceramics known later by the British as ‘China’.
End the afternoon with a visit to the Hasht Bahesht (eight paradises) Pavilion and Park. It was built as an official court and a reception hall by Shah Abbas II (1647 AD). The ceilings are outstanding. Overnight in Esfahan.
Day 16 – Abyaneh – Kashan – Tehran [B,L,D]
Today, will visit the UNESCO recognized village of Abyaneh, located at the foot of Mount Karkas and in the vicinity of desert. Appreciate the serenity of this quaint village with its splendid archaeology and meet the dwellers who speak, live and dress in the original Persian style. Province and the city of Kashan are among the most prominent producers of the stunning handicraft. The wool for the carpets is usually shorn by local men in spring or autumn and women are mostly in charge of the weaving. Next, hop on to Kashan and visit Tabatabaiha and Boroojerdiha houses and some other historical places specially chosen by our tour guide and be acquainted with the previous century’s architecture, the Qajar Era. Continue on to Tehran. Dinner and overnight in Tehran.
Day 17 – Departure from Tehran [B]
Transfer to the airport for your flight back home. Departure from Tehran.