Thursday, April 13, 2006

Going to Iran!

Monday I’m flying to Iran!

This is a spectacular opportunity, and the tour looks fairly complete. I’ll stay a week longer to fill in some gaps, hoping by then to know enough Persian to get by on my own.

Telling friends about the trip is already an experience. People who’ve been there describe the Iranians as the warmest most hospitable people in the world. Those who’ve studied the area and know what’s going on are very excited and encouraging. My friends who are less informed think it’s dangerous. One even told me that it’s insane to go to a country that’s at war. Perhaps. Certainly one should visit such countries only very advisedly, but Iran hasn’t been at war with anyone in nearly 20 years. How many wars has the US been in since then, not counting the two we’re waging now in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Some highlights of the itinerary:

Tehran city tour with visits to the Golestan Palace Complex and the Ethnological Museum. Later a visit to the Garden Hall of Shams-ol-Emareh and the Hall of the Marble Throne. Afterwards a stroll through the Tehran Bazaar.
A visit to the Archeological and Islamic Art Museums in Tehran with their fine collection of artifacts from the period of the ancient Persian Empire from the 5th to the 4th millennium B.C. and Islamic Art Museum containing a collection of carpets, textiles, ceramics and pottery from the Islamic Period.

Ahwaz, a city of just over one million people, is the capital of Khuzestan Province and is part of the greater region known historically as Mesopotamia. After breakfast in the hotel we drive to Susa (Shush), once one of the greatest cities of ancient Persia until Alexander the Great conquered it in 331 BC. Afterwards a visit to Chogha Zanbil, one of the best-preserved ziggurats in Mesopotamia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The ziggurat was dedicated to the chief God of the ancient Elamites, Inshushinak. Later a drive to the city of Shushtar to see the water mills on the Karun River dating back to the Qajar Dynasty.

A visit to the ancient Sassanian city of Bishapur with visits to the Temple of Anahita, the Zoroastrian deity of water and fertility and the bas reliefs commemorating the Sassanian victory over the Romans in 243 AD.

Persepolis, the spiritual capital of the Persian Empire built by Darius I in 518 B.C., destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 B.C. and considered by many to be one of the most beautiful and spectacular archaeological sites in the world today, was the spiritual capital of the ancient Persian Empire ruled over by the Achaemenian kings.We’ll visit the Achaemenian tombs at Naghsh-e-Rostam

City tour of Shiraz with a visit to the NarenjestanGarden and the Nasir ol-Molk Mosque. An afternoon visit to the tombs of the Sufi Poets Hafez and Sa'adi, the Khan Theological School and the Koran Gate. Shiraz was one of the most important cities in the Medieval Islamic world and is the cradle of Persian culture and civilization. It was the Iranian capital from 1747-1770. Shiraz has been famous throughout Iranian history as a city of poets, Sufi saints, and rose gardens and as a seat of learning.
Drive from Shiraz to Yazd with a visit to Pasargad, the ancient capital and burial place of Cyrus the Great. Yazd, a city of about 500,000, is the center of Iranian Zoroastrianism and lies on the Silk Road along the edge of the Dasht­e-Kavir desert. Yazd was visited my Marco Polo in 1272. Our visit to Yazd will include the Friday Mosque, the Chaqmaq Mosque and the Dowlatabad Gardens with its famous wind towers. Afterwards we will visit the Zoroastrian Fire Temple and the Towers of Silence.
On to Isfahan is a city of about 1,300,000 inhabitants and is considered by many to be the classical Persian city. It is beautifully situated on a river, which flows through the center of town. There are several exquisite bridges that are fine examples of Safavid Dynasty architecture. The term "Isfahan nesfe­jahan" (Isfahan is half of the world) was coined in the 16th century to reflect the magnificence of the city. During the rule of Shah Abbas I in the 16th century Isfahan became the center of some of the most beautiful and awe inspiring architecture, art and carpets seen anywhere in the Islamic world.
Full day tour of Imam Square built in 1612. It is one of the largest squares in the world. The tour includes the Ali Qapu Palace constructed in the 18th century, Imam Mosque, one of the most stunning examples of Persian architecture built in 1638 and the Sheikh Lotfullah Mosque and the traditional bazaar. An afternoon visit to the bridges of Isfahan located on the Zayandeh River. Later a visit to a traditional Zurkhaneh (House of Strength) to watch an exhibition of Persian martial arts which has its roots in Sufism (mystical Islam).

Qom is one of the most important centers of Shi'a Islam and is the cradle of the Islamic Revolution. A visit to the Sanctuary of Fatima, one of the holiest pilgrimage sites for Shi'a Moslems. Continue on to Tehran with visits to Behesht-e-Zahra, the Cemetery of Martyrs, and the Mausoleum of Imam Khomeini.


After that, some leave, some stay, going on individual exploration. I’ll spend a day or two in Tehran and fly to the historical city of Tabriz, then over the Caspian coastline to Mashhad, a great religious center said to have some of the best ecclesiastical architecture anywhere.

I love visiting Muslim countries – which sounds like I do it a lot, although I’ve only been to Turkey, Morocco, and Bosnia – and look forward to spending a few weeks in a mostly Shi’ite country, observing the differences between the two major sects of Islam. I don’t plan on keeping my Sunni side up, but will be eager to observe, learn, and participate to my best abilities according to the house rules. When in Rome…. I strongly feel that Islam is a universal religion because it is a set of simple principles that can be adapted to the cultures and needs of different peoples in different nations. Just as there is one humanity with billions of unique individuals, there is one Islam for all and we each have to find our own path and practice. There are five pillars of faith built around the word of God in holy scriptures, but around that there is a lot of room for individuality and cultural variety.

In any case, it will be a tremendous adventure to explore this ancient land.

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