H3A day trip to Stratonikea and Lagina 23 November

Photo by: Mete Toppare
Photo by:  Mete Toppare

‘Looking East: Exploring Iran’s Rich History and Culture H3A tour to Iran 4 to 11 October 2016’

During the last two hundred years we Turks have only paid attention to the west and almost completely ignored our eastern neighbours.  As a result of my trip to Iran in February this year I reached the conclusion that we have much in common historically and culturally.  The Iranians, who have been described to us as surly religious fanatics, are actually highly cultured and have a very rich history with women playing an important role in their society.

I wanted my family  and other interested H3A members to share this experience.  Consequently I requested my friends at Oasis Tourism Limited to organise a trip this autumn.

It seems now there is an increasing demand for Iranian cultural tourism but there is a capacity problem.   The infrastructure has been neglected during the last thirty to forty years so the hotels that exist are full and expensive and reservations need to be made months in advance.  In April, when we  advertised the H3A trip to Iran, we had a target of 20 participants which we achieved by the beginning of the summer.

On the evening of 4 October we boarded the THY flight to Shiraz. There we were met by our young Iranian guide Rana Sohrabi.  She spoke perfect Turkish with an Istanbul accent although she had never been to Turkey.  It seems  she perfected her Turkish by watching Turkish soap operas.

our-guide-rana-sohrabi

our-guide-rana-sohrabi

Shiraz is considered to be the cultural capital of Iran.  Two of Iran’s  most famous poets, Sadi and Hafiz, are buried there in two parks carrying their names and visited by thousands of people every day.  It is said that every Iranian household has two books, the Koran and the Divan of Hafiz.  We had to visit Hafiz’s tomb in the early evening and it was quite crowded.  My brother Haluk Şahin, who is also a poet, read a poem about the  tomb written by the famous Turkish poet Yahya Kemal.

We could only spend one full day in Shiraz which was hardly enough.  My favourite sight was the Nasr-al-Mulk mosque which the Europeans call the pink mosque.  The most  exciting part of the day was visiting the Şah-ı Çerağ tomb which is one of the holiest places for the Shiites in Iran.  The women in our group were supplied with a proper chadoor on this occasion.  It was the only time they had to wear it during our visit.

The-pink-mosque-Shiraz

The-pink-mosque-Shiraz

Our-guide-Rana-at-the-entrance-of-Masjed-e-Vakil

Our-guide-Rana-at-the-entrance-of-Masjed-e-Vakil

sah-i-cerag-siraz

sah-i-cerag-siraz

Masjed-e Vakil

Masjed-e Vakil

During our second day we departed for Persepolis which is a former capital of the Persian Empire.  Although it was destroyed by Alexander the Great the place is still very impressive.  It reinforced my belief that civilization began in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Iran and was later adopted by the Greeks.  Later that day we had visited Nakş-ı Rüstem which contained impressive rock tombs of earlier Persian emperors.

persopolis

persopolis

selcuk-sahin-at-persopolis

selcuk-sahin-at-persopolis

Persopolis

Persopolis

Nakşı-Rüstem

Nakşı-Rüstem

On our third day we crossed the desert and arrived in Yazd which is also known as the Bride of the Desert.  The town was very interesting with its mud brick architecture, wind towers and underground water canals bringing water from the mountains.  Yazd was also an important centre for the Zoroastrians.  We first visited a Tower of Silence where Zoroastrians offered their dead to vultures, not wanting to pollute the earth and water which they held to be sacred.  Later on we also visited their Fire Temple, Ateshkadeh, as well as the old quarters of the city built entirely with mud bricks.  These much impressed our group from an architectural point of view.

Masjed-e-Jameh-Yazd

Masjed-e-Jameh-Yazd

Yazd-Zaroastrian-tower-of-silence

Yazd-Zaroastrian-tower-of-silence

9tower-of-silence-yazd

Tower of Silence Yazd

On the fourth day we crossed the desert-like Iranian high plateau, stopping at a few caravanserais and at Meybod which has one of the world’s oldest castles built of mud bricks.  We stopped at Nain for lunch, a famous carpet making town, and towards the evening we reached Isfahan.

Our hotel in Isfahan was situated by the famous Si-o-Seh bridge but as soon as we had checked into our rooms we headed for the Naqsh-e Jahan Square,   undoubtedly one of the most beautiful squares in the world.  Iranians call the city Isfahan Nefse Cihan which means half of the world.  If you must see only one city in Iran surely it has to be Isfahan.

Seeing the mosques, palaces, galleries and the bazaars around the square can take several few days.  Among my favourite was the Chehel Sotun Palace which means 40 columns and is adorned with magnificent wall paintings.  Meanwhile we also did some shopping in the bazaars.  Favourite items were  carpets, hand printed covers, miniatures and other handicrafts.  We also bought saffron and Iranian tea.

A-tea-house-in-Isfahan

A-tea-house-in-Isfahan

 

 

Zurhane- İsfahan

Zurhane- İsfahan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had time to visit the Armenian quarter which I hadn’t seen on my previous visit.  It was an entirely different experience for us.

 

An-old-inhabitant-of-the-Armenian-quarter-Isfahan

An-old-inhabitant-of-the-Armenian-quarter-Isfahan

As it was the holy month of Moharrem for the Shiites we were able to witness their processions.

On the final evening we retired to our rooms to rest before our wake up call at three o’clock –  in time to board the early morning THY flight to Istanbul.

Selçuk Şahin
Photos by: Camille Şahin

 

Other Photos by Camille Şahin (Click to enlarge)

 

Mary Nolan’s Photograph Gallery (Click to enlarge)