Iran: Historically surprising

It wouldn’t come as a surprise if Iran tails your list of destinations; it probably does. However, if one goes beyond the political stigma, there are a lot of historical attractions that will certainly leave you surprised with Iran.Just a month or so ago, my wife and I decided to pack our stuff and go for a one-week Iranian interlude. Tehran was our first stop.

Growing up in Cairo, Tehran does stun us; it has the same horrendous traffic jams, overcrowded streets with people coming and going in all directions, polluted air and most probably the same crazy taxi drivers. Subsiding the traffic, the crowd and the pollution, Tehran is a multilayer city that offers a lot to its visitors, especially if one is looking for history.

Leading the list of attractions in Tehran is the Golestan Palace, or rather the Rose Garden Palace, as the translation would suggest. A marvelous piece of architecture, the palace is actually a complex of a number of buildings that were built and renovated several times during the rule of different Persian dynasties, including the Safavid as well as the Qajars. The highlight of our visit to the palace was the masterfully crafted marble throne known by the name Takht-e- Marmar. Consisting of a platform supported by six angels, three demons and eleven columns, the throne took 65 marble stones and almost four years to be finished. It was built for the Qajar king Fath Ali Shah.

Another amazing palace not to be missed while in Tehran is the Saad Abad Palace Complex. Located on the northern outskirts of the Iranian capital, the complex was first built by the Qajar dynasty before it was later expanded during the Pahlavi one. Mohammed Reda Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, called the Saad Abad Palace home. After the 1979 Islamic revolution, the whole place was transformed into a museum complex. Today, there are about 10 museums that the complex hosts. The most notable ones are the Green Palace and the White Palace.

As the name might imply, the Green Palace got its name from the green-colored stones used to build it. It used to serve as Shah Mohamed Pahlavi’s private palace. On the other hand, the White Palace, often referred to as the Nation’s Palace, was where the last Shah used to hold his meetings. In addition to meeting rooms, the White Palace also hosts an office, a dining hall and a bedroom. In addition to the Green and White palaces, the Saad Abbad Palace Complex also hosts a couple of museums dedicated to art, as well as a military museum.

Having had enough dosage of palaces, we decided to make our way out of Tehran and headed to Esfahan.“You can’t go to Iran and miss out on Naqsh-e-Jahan,” one Iranian friend told me before I laid foot in Iran. Once I made it to Esfahan’s town square, Naqsh-e-Jahan, I knew why no one could afford skipping on it. A huge 160 meters by 580 meters square and UNESCO world heritage site, Naqsh-e-Jahan hosts a multitude of diverse attractions including along others, Ali Qabu Palace, Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque, and of course, the Shah Mosque.

Built during the Safavid dynasty, the architectural marvel Ali Qapu Palace warrants a visit. The seven-floor edifice is most famous for its “music room” with its stucco and cutouts in the shape of glassware, pottery and ceramics. Opposite to Ali Qapu Palace, and located on the eastern side of Naqsh-e-Jahan, is Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque. A sophisticated piece of architectural art built between 1603 and 1618, Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque misses on the courtyard and interior diwan, both being typical characters of Islamic architecture at the time, but comes with its own individuality. In addition to the floor-to-ceiling ornamentation and amazing calligraphy work, if you stand at the entrance of the mosque’s inner hall and fix your sight on the dome’s center, you can see a peacock whose tail is the sun rays coming in from the ceiling’s hole. It is simply amazing.

The jewel of Naqsh-e-Jahan compilation of historical marvels is the Shah Mosque. Built to the order of Safavid king Shah Abbas the Great, building this mosque took 18 years to be completed using some 18 million bricks and 475,000 tiles. It is said that the total bill for building Shah Mosque came around 60,000 tomans, — a staggering price by that time’s standards. In addition to its architectural genuineness, the Shah Mosque is well known for its artistic extravaganza; represented mainly in the calligraphic inscriptions that almost wrap up the whole mosque, as well as the use of the novel haft rangi (seven colors) mosaic tiles.Iran is almost present in every day’s headline news, but if you are into history and up for a paradigm shift, you would certainly enjoy Iran. At least we did. – Arabnews