After three years, it was time for me to return to central Iran. Most tourists will stick to the cities Tehran, Kashan, Isfahan, Shiraz and Yazd. This was also part of my itinerary three years ago. The first time in Iran I felt a little bit uncomfortable. I was not sure how to dress, how serious the rules were and even if a non-married tourist couple could sleep in the same room. Having experienced all this before, it made my return easier. However, it seems you always need a few days to adjust to a place that is so different from home in every possible way.
Because the central Iranian cities attract the most tourists, they are probably also the most liberal cities. Here you will encounter more English-speaking Iranians. Also, the feeling of being a spectacle for the Iranians is less. In these cities, and especially Yazd you will encounter more tourists, tourist café’s, shops etcetera. It is something we were not yet used to in Iran.
After Kermanshah we drove a long way to Isfahan, where we arrived late at night. It is a pretty relaxed city and most sights are in walking distance of each other. When visiting Iran, most people won’t skip the UNESCO world heritage site: Naghsh-e Jahan square in Isfahan for a reason. It is on place 36 of the 250 biggest squares in the world. Isfahan is filled with grand boulevards, beautiful mosques, places -and Perso-Islamic architecture. Another very interesting part is Jolfa, the Armenian neighbourhood. It is still populated with Armenians, it has an Armenian school and sixteen churches. People living here must obey the Islamic dress code, but use their own language, cuisine and culture, which is protected by the Iranian government. As if today, it is one of the world’s largest ethnic Armenian quarters of the world. Pretty cool if you’d ask me.
Shiraz and Persepolis
Before arriving in Shiraz, there were two sights we really wanted to visit the ancient cities of Persepolis and Pasargada. Persepolis was built by Cyrus the Great and Darius I and was formerly called Parsa, city of Persians. You can now visit the remains of this once magnificent empire. Pasargada was the first capital founded by Cyrus the Great and known as the first multicultural empire. Here, the mausoleum of Cyrus the Great is situated. Exactly this was the problem with us visiting both ancient sights.
On the 29th of October Iranians commemorate Cyrus the Great. It is an unofficial holiday where Iranians gather at his tomb in Pasargada. In 2016, thousands of tourists came in their traditional clothing to celebrate and sing nationalist slogans. Unfortunately, for some people this was an opportunity to protest against the government. To avoid this from happening again, Cyrus’ tomb and Persepolis are closed from the 28th to the 30th of October. We arrived on the 28th and indeed, the roads towards Pasargada and Persepolis were blocked by police officers. We were not able to visit both sights.
Luckily, the beautiful city of Shiraz made up for not being able to visit both ancient sites. The old city, incredible mausoleum, Tomb of Hafez -and beautiful castle are great places to visit. Like Yazd there is an old centre where you can wander around the ancient streets. We also took a trip to a friend of someone we met in Tabriz. He was a musician living in an artsy homestay close to Shiraz. It was amazing to spend time with him -and his friends. All of them were really liberal -and showed us that living in Iran is quite difficult when your living standards deviate from the government’s.