A typical day for visitors on a guided tour of Iran

What does a typical day on a guided tour in Iran look like?

Curious on what actually goes down when you are an American on a mandatory guided tour in Iran?  It’s not as bad as it sounds and there’s no choice in the matter since we are Americans. My husband and  I, like many travelers,  usually prefer to go at my own speed when we take a trip.   We get typically get by with help from good pre-trip research, a guidebook with a good map, on site pointers from other travelers we meet along the way and the occasional internet search at the local internet cafe/hostel.

Many who are considering a trip to Iran wonder simply what a day is like when you need to be escorted around by a local guide.  I found plenty of videos; pictures; blog posts about traveling in Iran but little information about how a typical day went down.   I understand it may not be very exciting material but I hope it gives others a little more insight on how things roll along during a typical day.  I travel independently so tours aren’t usually a part of my travels except for the occasional organized day trip to a protected area which requires a guide.

My typical day:

7am: Get up  and wait for our guide to do the same.  The first few days the time was more like 3am but it worked its way eventually to 7am. I like early starts even if it means chilling out for a couple of hours waiting for our fixer.

9am:  Meet our sleepy-eyed guide for breakfast which hopefully includes eggs, fresh bread, cheese, butter, jam (hopefully not of the carrot variety) and of course cups and cups of tea.  I’m excited when things like hot soup, real coffee and pastries are there as well.  This happened a couple of times.

Shiraz Niayesh Traditional Hotel
Dining area of the Niayesh Hotel in Shiraz early morning…it’s 7am..where is everyone?

10am ish:  Or somewhere around that time…Check out the sites until it gets really hot which usually coincides with lunch hour at high noon.

12pm – 1pm:  Many things that require an entrance fee close at this time anyways.  It’s a good time to have lunch when everyone else does.  Lunch usually is the biggest meal of the day and the choices are very much like dinner.   The vegetarian menu typically has been limited to rice, bread, yogurt/Doogh and the usual plate of  Kookoo Zabzi –  sometimes the cook has other choices but usually it means meat dishes where the meat is literally picked out of the plate.  I decided I had enough Kookoo Zabzi and alternated with kebab.

12pm-late afternoon: Our guide goes to the gym and lets us have some time to ourselves.  This is when I have a few minutes out of the sun and let my hijab down.  It was hot that day but no complaints.  The hijab kept my head safe from the suns rays.

Persepolis
Mid day in Persepolis

3-4pm:  We take off again to see sites in the best light and before evening prayer time.

Shah Cheragh Mosque
Evening prayer time at the Shah Cheragh Mosque in Shiraz

Around Sundown:  We have dinner and check out what goes on after the sun sets.  This is when I hope to find something sweet like Saffron Ice cream and get some good night shots.  The evenings are when most cities typically come alive.

Our view of the Sweeping Mosque or Bibi Dokhtaran Mausoleum near by
Our view of the Sweeping Mosque or Bibi Dokhtaran Mausoleum near by in Shiraz
Shiraz Market near the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque
No pistachio Ice cream but plenty of other sweets to choose from in Shiraz

Naqsh-e Rostam: Achaemenid Empire and Murderous Sibling Rivalry

Valley of the tombs of four great kings of the Sassanid period

Naqsh-e Rostam doesn’t look like more than a few holes in the side of a hill of limestone.  This hill is where four great leaders of Persia once laid to rest – Darius the Great, Xerxes I,  Artaxerxes I and Darius II.  These men lived at a time where brother killed brother in order to gain the power they thought they rightfully deserved.  It was survival of the strongest or the greediest perhaps. Murdering to gain position became a common practice in the Achaemenid household.

These cross-shaped tombs look as if they were constructed at the same time since they are all built to almost the same specifications.  The first Darius the Great – said to be completed around 493 BC and the last was built for Darius II – great-great-grandson to Cyrus the Great – around 400 B.C. when he passed.  So, these were all built in a span of  90 years – give or take a few years.

Naqsh-e Rostam
Center stairway entrance to Naqsh-e Rostam
Naqsh-e Rostam
Young guard dogs of the Nashq-e Rostam
Naqsh-e Rostam
Cross shaped tombs of Darius the Great
IMG_4264
Tomb of Darius the Great. Umbrella is needed to view in the hot months

Tomb of Darius the Great (son-in-law of Cyrus the Great 522-486 BC)

A few scrappy puppies stand guard at the tombs of Naqsh-e Rustam.  They couldn’t be bothered on this hot September day in southern Iran. This impressive but little visited site is a 20 minute drive from its more popular stepbrother Persepolis.  Darius the Great – son-in-law of Cyrus the Great was the first occupant of this Necropolis. The cliff side cemetery was his idea. His tomb’s was built during his reign and  was completed seven years before his death in 486 BC.  He had many wives but the most important one was Astossa who is the daughter of Cyrus the Great and mother of Xerxes I was king after Darius.  Darius became king after Cyrus’ son Cambyses II died of a leg wound that was either self-inflicted or happened during battle.  Bardiya, younger brother to Cambyses II, succeeded him but later murdered by a group of seven nobles who then made Darius their king.  Darius the Great was best known for completing many of the construction projects started by his father in law Cyrus the Great.

Naqsh-e Rostam: Tomb of Xerxes I of Persia
Naqsh-e Rostam: Tomb of Xerxes I of Persia

Tomb of Xerxes I (son of Darius the Great 486-465 BC)

Darius’ son and successor, Xerxes I, grave is found next to his father’s. Xerxes I wasn’t Darius’ eldest son,  but the only one “born in the Purple” or of royal blood. Xerxes fought many battles and is best known for building the largest structures at Persepolis, the Gate of all Nations and the Hall of a Hundred Columns.  He also completed the Apadana, the Palace of Darius and the Treasury all started by Darius.   He added on his own palace which was twice the size of his father’s. Xerxes I and is young son Darius were both murdered by his royal guard Artabanus the Hyrcanian.

Naqsh-e Rostam
Tomb of Darius II

Tomb of Artaxerxes I (son of Xerxes I 465-424 BC)

Artaxerxes I came into power after the assassinations of his father Xerxes I and his young brother Darius.  Artaxerxes I lived until he was 54 and all that is known about his death is that it happened sometime in between December 424 B.C. and March 423 BC.  He is known as Artaxerxes Longimanus.   He had the nickname  Longimanus because his right hand was longer than his left. He fought battles against the Greeks. He continued to support the rebuilding of the Jewish community in Jerusalem which had begun under Cyrus the Great.  He died by natural causes unlike most of the rulers of the Achaemenid Period.

Tomb of Darius II (son of Artaxerxes 423-404 BC)

Vahuka, letter becoming Darius II when king, came to power after the death of two of his elder brothers.  Xerxes II was the only one “born in the purple”. He was the crown prince and son of the Queen.  His other two half brothers, Vahuka – later known as Darius II – and Sogdianus were born out of the royal line.  Xerxes II was next in line and was given the throne.  His brother Sogdianus murdered him 45 days later.  Sogdianus lasted only six months until he was also murdered by the commander of the cavalry who didn’t recognize his rule.  Historians can’t agree about what really happened.  It doesn’t help that Sogdianus married his half-sister and both murdered sons Xerxes II and Sogdianus declared themselves king before their father’s body was cold.

In the end, the next brother, Vahuka or Darius of Ochus became king. He was the son of Artaxerxes and a Babylonian concubine, hence the nickname of Nothos which means the child of unmarried parents.  He had a lot of help from his wife and half-sister.  He is said to have taken care of things and got rid of the rest of his relatives in secure his seat.  Artaxerxes I had 18 children.  There are very few details of Darius II life.  He fought  and survived many battles and held on to power much longer than Xerxes II and Sogdianus.  Unlike the two,  he does have a place at Naqsr-e Rustam and one must assume he was a great leader.

Naqsh-e Rostam:  Ka'ba-ye Zartosht
Naqsh-e Rostam: Ka’ba-ye Zartosht

Ka’ba-ye Zartosht

Is it a Zorastrian fire temple?  Not a fire temple but an ancient flood light that eliminated the tombs at night?  A royal tomb that was never occupied?   What this building was except an uncanny Doppelganger to one found at Cyrus the Great’s Tomb at Pasargadae.  Whether it was a depository for objects of dynastic or religious importance or tomb is a mystery that may be solved someday.  Much of the area of the site still remains buried and there are many objects, carvings and perhaps larger segment waiting to be discovered.  I’m looking forward to returning back – especially when it’s not over 100 degrees F.

side note: The sources I used to get information in this post was found from various places ranging from my guide Mahmoud to online sources to old-fashioned textbooks in the library. I have found the history about Naqshr-e Rustam or Naqshr-e Rostam has many versions. Please let me know if I have made any mistakes with the facts I have gathered.  Many of the facts are ones consolidated by larger accounts found in Wikipedia.

Pasargadae: How Alexander the Great and UNESCO saved it

Tomb of Cyrus the Great copy
Road to Cyrus the Great
Tomb of Cyrus the Great
Passer-by, I am Cyrus, who gave the Persians an empire, and was king of Asia.Grudge me not therefore this monument.

Pasargadae looks pretty barren today and its simple remains says nothing of how great of a leader Cyprus was to Persia.  The limestone tomb contained a golden coffin which rested on top of a table also made of gold.   Tall trees, flower beds, pools and waterways encircled the resting place of Cyprus the Great.  It’s called the “Four Garden”  style today is still the prototype for Western Asian architecture and design

When Alexander the Great arrived in 334 BC, the tomb had been destroyed by those who wanted it’s treasures.  Cyrus bones were scattered around outside of the tomb and thieves carried away treasures found inside.  Alexander was outraged and ordered the thieves to be prosecuted and had the tomb restored.

More is still be discovered today at the site.   Iran had announced that it intended to make the a dam near the site.  The dam could have caused the area to flood and the dampness created by the water would accelerate the deterioration of the fragile limestone.  The UN encouraged Iran to allow a team of architects from around the world excavate what they could before the dam became fully operational.  They  scrabbled for a bit in 2004 and uncovered many sites including a road that linked Pasargadae and Persepolis and caves believed to be inhabited 7000 years ago.   The site became a UNESCO site in 2004 and things are looking pretty good for this site and many others waiting to be discovered in the area.

The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace and the Zagroes Mountains
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Citadel to the right and the Prison of Soloman to the Left
Prison of Solomon
Prison of Solomon

Persepolis and a few “Great” Leaders

Persepolis
Perspolis (Old Persian 𐎱𐎠𐎼𐎿 Pārsa, Takht-e Jamshid or Chehel Minar) was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550-330 BC)

Persepolis is an amazing vision and one has to imagine what it must have looked like before Alexander the Great buried most of it to the ground. There are many theories Alexander did this despite the fact that he did admire Cyrus the Great and didn’t destroy his burial grounds. He even went so far to find out who looted Cyrus’ tomb and even rebuilt parts that had been destroyed by thieves. Maybe he taking order and was acting in revenge since Xerxes did invade and destroy much of Greece – including Athens. Xerxes did complete his father Darius’ grand palaces, Treasury and gates at Persepolis. Other accounts say that it wasn’t planned but an unfortunate accident caused by overzealous and very drunk soldiers and entertainers.  Historian Diodorus Siculus (90-21 BCE) who gives the following account of the destruction of the city:

“Alexander held games to celebrate his victories; he offered magnificent sacrifices to the gods and entertained his friends lavishly. One day when the Companions were feasting, and intoxication was growing as the drinking went on, a violent madness took hold of these drunken men. One of the women presents, Thais, the Athenian lover of the Macedonian commander Ptolemy, declared that it would be Alexander’s greatest achievement in Asia to join in their procession and set fire to the royal palace, allowing women’s hands to destroy in an instant what had been the pride of the Persians.”

Today there’s very little left but still what remains is a small slice of one of the grandest cities of the Persian Empire.  Here’s a link to a great site which puts all the pieces together in 3-D renderings of what Persepolis did look like before it fell.

Here’s some more pictures of what remains today:

Gate of All Nations
Gate of All Nations at Persepolis
Bride and Groom at Persepolis
Bride and Groom at Persepolis
Persepolis
Offerings procession at the Apadana in Persepolis
Persepolis
Inside Persepolis

Persepolis and the Shah’s Last Party

Persepolis is where the first Persian Achaemenid Empire celebratory capital and 2500 years later the site for a hell of a party hosted by Shah Reza and his lovely wife Farah.

IMG_4146
Gate of All Lands built by Xerxes grandson of Cyrus the Great
Gate of All Nations
Darius Defeating Evil Persepolis and Gates of all Lands

The ruins of Persepolis date back to 515 BC and Cyrus the Great chose its location and began its construction. Darius the Great first added the grand palace of Apadana, the Gate of All Nations and the very grand staircases which welcomed the noble and royalty entered when visiting the complex.   Alexander the Great had most of the palaces and treasuries buried to the ground in 330 BC but enough remained behind for archeologists to reconstruct the site so visitors today can sort of imagine what the grounds looked like.  It was Andre Godard, also the person who created the mausoleum for the great Persian poet Hafez, who was in charge of the excavation which began in 1930.

Persepolis
Remains of the Shah’s party tents beyond the tree line at Persepolis

The Shah could really throw a party.   He put a grand affair together for the 2500th anniversary Iran honoring Cyrus the Great.  It marked the beginning of the end of the House of Pahlavi as history shows.  It was easy for many who opposed the monarchy, such as the banished Ayatollah Khomeini, to gain support.  This ended up happening and the Shah and his family fled Iran and escaped being harmed after the revolution in 1979 and Khomeini’s return.

Persepolis today is one of the biggest tourist draws of Iran.  Some of it’s treasuries have been taken away to museums in the US and England but many remain here in the museums of Tehran and at the site itself.  The skeletal frames of the Tent City or Golden City lie behind the tree line just north of the ruins as an eerie reminder of the not so distant past.  It maybe reminds Iranians of the events that took place back in Oct 1971 and how the Shah became the “puppet of the west”.

Persepolis
Gate of All Nations at Persepolis
Gate of All Nations
Gate of All Nations at Persepolis