Shiraz, Persepolis and Isfahan - tour the prejudices in Iran is written by Soren Bonde
Iran is for most as yet unknown country. We often hear about the country in the sad way, as there are few countries that get as much negative pressure in the West as Iran, even though few know the country. The ruined city of Persepolis is one of Iran's greatest cultural treasures.
Saying “I have to travel to Iran” evokes many different reactions and images: Ayatollah Khomeini, women in chador, revolution and student uprising, sanctions, Muslim fundamentalists and nuclear program.
The images and prejudices are many and they form a skewed and negative impression of Iran and its friendly people. For example, Iran is not Arab, as many believe.
The country is certainly not filled with Islamic fundamentalists or women wrapped in burqas either, but rather extremely hospitable and open people. In fact, as a tourist in Iran, one hardly notices the clerical rule, which many locals are critical of.
There are many prejudices and misunderstandings when the talk falls on Iran. And it does it quickly when in my company. I am often asked the question: "Well… is it not dangerous to travel in Iran?" I can flatly reject that.
I have traveled for years in Iran, with groups as tour guides, privately on my own by public transport and even 1000 km on the thumb along the Persian Gulf.
I have ridden in the company of everything from pilgrims to the police, and have never been exposed to inconveniences, but on the contrary only kindness, helpfulness and sincere curiosity.
The Iranian people are full of zest for life and humor and hope for a brighter future without the oppressive clerical rule, and they receive guests from outside with open arms.
The likelihood of you getting a dinner invitation or a guide who will by no means want money is quite high in the old culture land.
World-class attractions in Shiraz
Iran is one of the world's oldest civilizations, and it is no wonder that the great country has a large number of impressive sights, which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
In the city of the poets Shiraz, Hafez and Sadi are buried in fine mausoleums, and outside the city is one of Iran's greatest cultural treasures - the ruined city of Persepolis.
It was the summer capital of the Achaemenid rule 2500 years ago, and the grandeur of the monuments testifies to the power and might of Persia, as the world's first great power covering huge areas and many peoples.
The construction was initiated by King Darius the Great in 515 BC. and continued for the next 150 years under his successors until the city was destroyed when Alexander the Great's army invaded Persia in the year 330 BC.
However, the remains are spectacular in themselves - ruins of huge pillar palaces decorated with elaborate and well-preserved reliefs with scenes from the time of Darius the Great and his son Xerxes.
Isfahan - the world's most beautiful city
The most famous city is undoubtedly Isfahan, in Danish - "Pearl of the Orient". The city, located almost 500 km from Shiraz, is going to be one of the most beautiful in the world.
For many travelers, Isfahan is the absolute highlight of Iran. Shah Abbas I made Isfahan his capital in 1598, and it is from this time that the most beautiful buildings originate.
Abbas was Persia's answer to Christian IV, and many impressive buildings date from his reign. The city is a true cornucopia of masterpieces in Islamic architecture.
It was described in poetic terms that are so characteristic of Iranian culture: “Isfahan nesf-e Jahan” (Isfahan is half the world), and the city has long attracted travelers from all over the world. This is where one can really appreciate the true beauty of the Persian heritage.
The heart of the city is the huge emam square with the breathtaking parks with fountains, bazaars, the palace and not least the mosques, which are among the greatest masterpieces in Islamic architecture.
The square was originally built as a royal polo track, and the Iranians claim that polo originated in Persia. The square is 508 meters long and 160 meters wide and thus one of the largest and finest public spaces in the world.
It buzzes with life around the clock thanks to the park area and the arcades with the bazaar that surrounds the square. One can easily spend many hours here.
The bazaar captures the atmosphere of ancient Persia, and challenges all the senses: the scent of exotic spices, the sound of blacksmiths at work and invitations from the vendors, who serve tea while displaying their wares. The Iranian bazaars are a pleasure, for the sellers are seldom overbearing.
Imam Mosque in Isfahan
The Imam Mosque, which adorns one end of the square, was built in the years 1611-29 and is lavishly decorated with tiles in blue, turquoise and green shades.
It is the culmination of almost 1.000 years of Islamic art and architecture and became Isfahan's central place of prayer and Islamic learning. But many find the 1619 Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque even more beautiful.
It is much smaller but amazingly beautifully decorated. Originally, it was the shah's private mosque, and therefore it is without minarets. An underground passage leads from the palace to the mosque on the other side of the square, allowing the wives of the shah to visit the mosque unnoticed.
In the city of Shiraz there are also many large beautiful mosques, all decorated in a unique way. Shiraz a very popular tourist destination. Shiraz is also known for his poetic charisma.
Ali Qapu Palace, north of Shiraz
Ali Qapu Palace is located north of Shiraz, on the western side of Imam Square, and has been under restoration for many years. The work is now nearing completion, and the interior of the palace in particular looks incredibly beautiful. Ali Qapu was mainly the seat of government during the Safavids in the 1600th century.
From the balcony, the shah and his family could observe the daily life of the city and enjoy polo matches, which were held on the square. The rooms of the six-storey palace are wonderfully decorated with fine carvings, murals and mosaics; the music room on the top floor is a masterpiece.
But the best thing is almost that Iran still sees few tourists and therefore none of the sights are overrun. No queues or waiting time. And no tourists with selfie sticks in front of the sights.
Most people travel to Iran to see the amazing cultural treasures of ancient Persia. And no matter how much one has traveled and seen, the Emam Square in Isfahan cannot fail to impress.
I have even experienced travelers who broke down in tears over the beauty of the place! But I often hear that the biggest surprise and experience was the absolutely incredible hospitality of the Iranians.
You do not expect this, and it makes an indelible impression that you take home. So just watch to get going before the rest of the world discovers how eminent a travel country Iran really is.