Must-See Sights

1) Tehran – Monument of Freedom (Shahyad/Azadi)

A monument to Iranian modernism, designed to commemorate the former Shah of Iran, today renamed as Monument of Freedom. This has been the site of many of the largest political rallies in Iran.

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2) Tehran – Northern Tehran mountains/Darband

It’s easy to get lost in the rich history, medieval glory, and modern political excitement of Iran. But Iran’s natural beauty should not be missed. You can go from the majestic mountains (Alborz) to the plains of Dasht-e Kavir which recall Arizona and New Mexico to the lush forests north of Iran. Even if your trip takes you to the massive metropolis of Tehran, do take some time to explore the charming northern mountains of Darband, with its charming restaurants, cafes, and hiking areas.

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3) Isfahan – Naqsh-e Jahan

This was once one of the largest squares in the world, and today it contains the Mosque of the Shah/Imam, the Mosque of Shaykh Lotfollah, and the Palace of Ali Qapu. It is also the perfect place to begin your exploration of traditional Persian crafts, and wander in the bazaar.

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4) Isfahan – Mosque of the Shah/Imam

Known as both Masjid-e Shah and Masjed-e Emam, another evidence of name changes after the 1978-1979 Revolution). It is a 17th century masterpiece of Safavid architecture.

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5) Isfahan – Mosque of the Shaykh Lotfollah

The Dome of this majestic little jeweled mosque is widely considered one of the great masterpieces of Islamic architecture in the world.

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6) Isfahan – Ali Qapu

The Safavid palace. While Iranian Islamic architecture saves most of its genius for mosques, here is one palace in Isfahan with much to offer. Especially note-worthy are the delicacy of the dome and the music room.

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7) Isfahan – Vank Cathedral (Armenian Church)

Given the prominence of Islam, it is easy to overlook the fact that Iran has a rich Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Baha’i, and Buddhist heritage as well. The Christian heritage of Iran is best seen through the Armenian population, such as the 17th century Vank Cathedral in Isfahan.

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8) Shiraz – Tomb of Sa’di, ethicist of Shiraz

Here is one measure of Persian emphasis on literature: Iranian children are introduced to their 13th century masterpiece in elementary school. It would be akin to teaching American third graders to Chaucer. Sa’di’s Rose Garden (Golestan) is considered an ethical gem, and a humanist marvel. It is Sa’di’s words that have summed up the highest ethical aspirations of Iranians in acknowledging the innate dignity of all humanity.

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9) Shiraz – Tomb of Hafez, master of the love lyric

There is no shortage of great poets in the Persian pantheon, and yet Hafez stands alone as master of the ghazal (the short love lyric). Ferdowsi is the master of the nationalistic epic, Sa’di the master of prose, but if one’s taste is that of the mystical/sensual love lyric, Hafez is your poet.

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10) Shiraz – Tomb of Cyrus the Great

Cyrus is commemorated in the Bible as a messiah (“anointed”) due to the report of having freed Jews from the Babylonian captivity. Iranians look back to the Achemenid Dynasty as a highlight of pre-Islamic Persian glory.

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11) Shiraz – Persepolis

The great palace complex of the pre-Islamic Persian empire was one of the great empire capitals of the world. Located outside of Shiraz, it is well worth viewing.

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12) Mashhad – Tomb of Imam Reza

Iran was not always a Shi’i-majority country. That distinction came after the establishment of the Safavid Dynasty. There are a few varieties of Shi’i Islam, but the most prominent is the Twelver branch, named after the twelve descendants of the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima and her husband Imam Ali. It is the eighth of these Imams, Imam Reza, who was martyred and buried in the city of Mashhad, whose very name means “place of martyrdom.” A visit to this shrine-city is essential for understand the centrality of pilgrimage to Iranian religiosity.

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13) Mashhad – Ferdowsi’s tomb

Ferdowsi is the national (and nationalistic) poet of Iran, whose Shah-nameh (“The Book of Kings”) is widely considered the mythic poem at the heart of Iranian consciousness. Much more than a book about kings, it is really an essential read for understanding the Iranian obsessions with heroes and chivalry, and the cosmic struggle between good and evil. Under the Shah and his father (Reza Shah), Ferdowsi was patronized to embody the resurrection of a new Iranian nationalistic consciousness that tapped back into pre-Islamic glory.

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14) Kashan – Mosque/Madrasa of Agha Bozorg

Agha Bozorg mosque is a historical mosque in Kashan, Iran. The mosque was built in the late 18th century by master-mimar Ustad Haj Sa’ban-ali. The mosque and theological school (madrasah) is located in the center of the city. Agha Bozorgh Mosque was constructed for prayers, preaching and teaching sessions held by Molla Mahdi Naraghi II, known as Āghā Bozorgh.

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15) Kashan – Fin Garden

Fin Garden, or Bagh-e Fin, located in Kashan, Iran, is a historical Persian garden. It contains Kashan’s Fin Bath, where Amir Kabir, the Qajarid chancellor, was murdered by an assassin sent by King Nasereddin Shah in 1852. Completed in 1590, the Fin Garden is the oldest extant garden in Iran.

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