Ancient Wonders of Persia by Rail
Join us as PTG breaks new ground with a two week visit to the Ancient Wonders of Persia by rail. Persia, or modern day Iran, has a rich archaeological heritage dating from thousands of years ago, much of which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. We will have the opportunity to see several locations in the country: Isfahan, Shiraz, Shushtar, Tehran and Tabriz.
Throughout our tour we will stay in top hotels and travel on Iran Railways modern trains. We will be accompanied by a local guide and air conditioned coach for the transfers to hotels and all our visits.
Tour Manager: David
Sunday 23rd April/Monday 24th April (B,L): Direct flights from Heathrow with British Airways to Tehran or with Air France, via Paris, from UK regional airports. It is famous for its Persian–Islamic architecture, with many beautiful boulevards, covered bridges, palaces, mosques, and minarets. This afternoon we visit Vank Cathedral, established by Armenian deportees in the 17th century. The delicately blue and gold painted central dome depicts the Biblical story of creation of the world and man’s expulsion from Eden. We also visit Chaharbagh School, a 17th – 18th century cultural complex built during the time of Soltan Hossein, a Safavid king. This evening we will see the 17th century Khaju Bridge, beautifully illuminated at night, and which has been described as the finest in the province.
Tuesday 25th April (B): Naghsh-e Jahan Square is a UNESCO WORLD Heritage Site, built by Shah Abbas I the Great at the beginning of the 17th century, and bordered on all sides by monumental buildings linked by a series of two-storey arcades. On the western side is Ali Qapu Palace, originally designed as a vast portal. From the upper galleries, the Safavid ruler watched Chowgan (polo) and horse-racing. Also around the square are the Shah Mosque, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, both dating from the early 17th century, and the 1.5-mile-long Grand Bazaar. After lunch we will see Chehel Sotoun, a pavilion in the middle of a park at the far end of a long pool built by Shah Abbas II to be used for the Shah’s entertainment and receptions. We end the day with another evening visit, to Allāhverdi Khan Bridge, popularly known as Si-o-seh pol, “The bridge of thirty-three spans”, one of the eleven bridges in Isfahan, and the longest bridge on River Zayandeh. It is highly ranked as being one of the most famous examples of Safavid bridge design.
Wednesday 26th April (B,L): After seeing the rose water distillation in Kasnan, we head south by train to Shiraz. The earliest reference to the city, as Tiraziš, is on Elamite clay tablets dated to 2000 BC. In the 13th century, Shiraz became a leading centre of the arts and letters, due to the encouragement of its ruler and the presence of many Persian scholars and artists and is known as the city of poets, literature, wine and flowers. Shiraz has had major Jewish and Christian communities. The crafts of Shiraz consist of inlaid mosaic work of triangular design; silver-ware; pile carpet-weaving and weaving of kilim, called gilim and jajim in the villages and among the tribes.
Thursday 27th April (B): During our stay in this south-western city, we shall visit the 19th century Qavam House, built by a family of merchants to show their elegant and refined way of life. The house is surrounded by Eram Garden, one of the examples of the UNESCO listed Persian Gardens. These gardens exemplify the diversity of Persian garden designs that evolved and adapted to different climatic conditions while retaining principles that have their roots in the times of Cyrus the Great, 6th century BC. Afif Abad Garden is a symbol of the Iranian art of planting flowers. It is located in a wealthy area of Shiraz and contains a royal palace, a museum of old weapons and an Iranian garden. We also have a visit to the Mausoleum of Saadi, the Persian Poet.
Friday 28th April (B,L): Also in Shiraz we will visit Persepolis, yet another UNESCO site. Founded by Darius I in 518 B.C., Persepolis was the capital of the Achaemenid Empire. It was built on an immense half-artificial, half-natural terrace, where the king of kings created an impressive palace complex inspired by Mesopotamian models. The importance and quality of the monumental ruins make it a unique archaeological site. We also have the chance to visit Naqsh-e Rustam, where the oldest relief dates to c. 1000 BC. Though it is severely damaged, it depicts a faint image of a man with unusual head-gear and is thought to be Elamite in origin.
Saturday 29th April (B,L,D) We continue our Persian adventure as we move on to the city of Shushtar, our only long coach journey, giving us a glimpse of Iranian villages and countryside.
Sunday 30th April: We begin with a visit to Tchogha Zanbil, the ruins of the holy city of the Kingdom of Elam, surrounded by three huge concentric walls. Founded c.1250 B.C., the city remained unfinished after it was invaded by Ashurbanipal, as shown by the thousands of unused bricks left at the site. We continue to Susa, a group of archaeological mounds rising on the eastern side of the Shavur River. The Tomb of Daniel is the traditional burial place of the biblical prophet Daniel. After lunch, we will explore the fascinating Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System. Inscribed as a masterpiece of creative genius, it can be traced back to Darius the Great in the 5th century B.C. It involved the creation of two main diversion canals on the River Kârun one of which, the Gargar canal, is still in use providing water to the city of Shushtar via a series of tunnels that supply water to mills. It enters the plain situated south of the city where it has enabled the planting of orchards and farming over an area of 40,000 ha., known as Mianâb (Paradise).
Monday 1st May (B,L,D): Our longest train journey of the trip, we head for the modern-day capital of Iran, Tehran (it is actually the 32nd city to have been the country’s capital and moves are afoot to change again!). Tehran’s traffic is notorious, but it boasts 5 metro lines (claimed to be the cleanest system in the world), trolleybuses and its very own version of “Boris’s Bikes”!
Tuesday 2nd May (B,L,D): During our stay in Tehran, we shall visit the MAPNA Locomotive Company, and film studios with a replica of Old Tehran including a reconstruction of Tehran’s first railway. Bridges have always been close to the heart of Iranian identity, and we could not miss seeing the futuristic Tabiat Bridge in northern Tehran. Built on three large pillars, the 270-metre curved structure has broad entrances, multiple pathways and three floors of restaurants and cafes and sitting areas. We end the day watching the sun set over Tehran as we dine in the revolving restaurant at the top of Milad Tower.
Wednesday 3rd May (B): Another highlight is the breath-taking Jewellery Museum of Iran, home to the most exceptional jewels in the country. The Crown Jewels of Iran are by far the largest and most dazzling jewel collection in the world. So valuable is the collection that it backs the Iranian national currency as a reserve. We also visit the UNESCO listed 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 Teheran, became the seat of government of the Qajar family, which came into power in 1779 and made Teheran the capital of the country. It became a centre of Qajari 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.
Thursday 4th May (B,L,D) A choice of activities today. For the rail fans, we make the journey to Gorgan, crossing the famous Veresk Bridge and visiting the town of Aq Qala. Alternatively, remain in Tehran and see Nivaran Palace and explore the North of Tehran with refreshing gardens and cafés.
Friday 5th May (B,L,D) Leaving Tehran, we travel by train north-west to our final destination of Tabriz. Time to relax when we arrive at our destination.
Saturday 6th May (B,L) This morning we visit Kandovan, a famous village located in the northern Iranian mountain-side and known all around the world for its unique rock-carved houses dating back more than 700 years. It is said the first inhabitants came to Kandovan0 to escape the invading Mongols. They dug hideouts in the giant volcanic cliffs and remained here even after the danger was over. Their hiding places slowly became complex houses complete with kitchens, hallways and bedrooms. For the windows the villagers use beautifully coloured glass. Later we explore Arg-e Ali-Shāh, the remnants of a large unfinished 14th-century mausoleum and a 19th-century military castle and barracks in Tabriz city centre.
Sunday 7th May (B,D): A relaxing last day, where we will have ample opportunity to explore Tabriz, including the Grand Bazaar. Tabriz has been a place of cultural exchange since antiquity and its historic bazaar complex is one of the most important commercial centres on the Silk Road. Tabriz Historic Bazaar Complex consists of a series of interconnected, covered, brick structures, buildings, and enclosed spaces for different functions. Tabriz and its Bazaar were already prosperous and famous in the 13th century, when the town, in the province of Eastern Azerbaijan, became the capital city of the Safavid kingdom. The city lost its status as capital in the 16th century, but remained important as a commercial hub until the end of the 18th century, with the expansion of Ottoman power. After dinner and time to freshen up, we head to Tabriz airport for our flights to Istanbul and onwards to the UK.
There will be a reasonable amount of walking on this trip, in particular when visiting historic sites where there may also be rough ground and steps. Iran is a large country, so there are long train journeys and one long coach journey. There is a dress code in Iran, and more information can be given on request.