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Day 1: Arrive in Tehran
You are met upon arrival at Tehran International Airport and transferred to your hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure before meeting the group for dinner and orientation.
Day 2: Tehran City Sights
We begin our day at the Golestan Palace Complex (UNESCO) to visit a few of the many grand buildings, including the Ivan-e Takht-e Marmar (Marble Throne Veranda), the ethnological museum and Badgir Palace. We visit the National Museum of Iran for an overview of the history of the country.
Day 3: Ali Sadr Cave, to Hamadan
This morning we will depart for Hamadan. We stop along the way to enjoy a visit inside the Alisadra Cave, the longest aquatic cave in the world which has constant temperature of 16 degrees centigrade. From here we enjoy lunch before making our way to Hamadan. The bustling city of Hamadan previously known as Ekbatana - was one of the ancient world's greatest cities. Hamadan has a wonderful setting surrounded by snowcapped mountains.
Day 4: Hamadan, Ancient Ecbatana, Tombs of Esther & Mordecai
After lunch, we embark on a city tour and visit Ganjnameh; an ancient rock inscription carved in granite. Three languages are represented in the 2m high carvings: Old Persian, Elamite and Neo-Babylonian. We visit the tombs of Esther and Mordecai, Iran's most important Jewish pilgrimage site. We visit Bu Ali Sina Museum and Mausoleum. Bu Ali Sina, or better known as Avicenna in the west, was a great philosopher and physician (AD 980 - 1037) who produced 250 books including the medical encyclopedia (Canon Medicinae) which was used in European universities until the 17th century. We will also have time to explore the live excavation site of ancient Ecbatana, along with its small museum, which continually offers more as new sites and discoveries are made. We also visit the only standing monument from ancient Ecbatana, a 2,300 year old stone lion.
Day 5: To Dezful via the Citadel of Khoramabad
Today we drive to Khoramabad. The city's main attraction is its fortified citadel, known as Falak-ol-aflak, built in the Sassanid era (AD 226-651). This impressive landmark served as a fortified castle, a governor's residence, a prison and today is a museum.
Day 6: Tomb of Daniel, Choqha Zanbil (UNESCO) - Largest Pyramid in Mesopotamia
Today we drive to Susa stopping to visit the Tomb of Daniel, of the lion's den fame, a place of pilgrimage for both the Muslim and Jewish faiths and the Palace of Darius, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which dates back to 521 BC. We continue on to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Choqha Zanbil, where we find the largest ziggurat (pyramid) in Mesopotamia, consisting of five towers built inside of each other. The pyramid was built 3,300 years ago and contains the ruins of the sacred city of the Elamites. See the world's first alphabet inscription and evidence of water channels that brought water from 45 kms away. Time permitting, we will visit the impressive water channels of Shushtar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Day 7: To Shiraz via Temple of Anahita in Bishapour (City)
Today we depart for Kazeroon, stopping enroute at the fortified Temple of Anahita ruins and the Palace of Shapur. The ruins include an underground pool (now dried up). Nearby, we visit some interesting bas-reliefs depicting victory over the Romans carved along the river in a beautiful mountain setting.
Day 8: Firouzabad
We drive to Firouzabad where we explore the Great palace of Ardashir Babakan, which dates back to 260 AD. This area of Iran is home to many nomadic tribal groups and if we are lucky we may encounter them today. Here, we visit the Old Tower of Gur City, Sassanid Relief.
Day 9: Sites of Shiraz
Shiraz is known as the center of Persian culture, the city of poets and gardens. Today we visit the Karim Khan Citadel for a panoramic view, followed by time at the Vakil Bazaar and Regent's Mosque that features 48 columns. After lunch we visit the Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque to see the beautiful stained glass and blue tiles. We also visit the mausoleums of Saadi & Hafez (two famous Iranian Poets), with time to enjoy the lovely gardens at each location.
Day 10: Persepolis, Ancient City of the Persians; Rock Tombs of Naqsh-E Rostam
On a bare plain surrounded by sharp edged cliffs, Cyrus the Great built a palace now known as "The city of the Persians". Dating back to 518 BC, Persepolis has been compared to the Valley of the Kings, Angkor Wat and the Roman Coliseum in terms of archeological significance. Highlights of this UNESCO World Heritage Site include the Gate of Nations, the Hall of a Hundred Columns, the Great Stairway, the Apadana Palace, the Palace of Artaxerxes III, the Royal Treasury, the Imperial Stable, and the Chariot House. The morning is dedicated to Persepolis and in the afternoon we visit Naqsh-e Rostam, whose 4 rock tombs are said to be the final resting place of Achaemenian sovereigns such as Xerxes, Darius the Great, Artaxerxes I and Darius II. We also stop at Naqsh-e Rajab to see the magnificent Sassanian bas-reliefs carved into the rock face.
Day 11: To To Kerman, Sarvistan Palace, Neyriz Mosque
Today we have a long drive which we break up with 2 stops. The first is Sarvistan Palace built in the 5th century. This Sassinian structure dominates an immense empty plain. Despite being called a palace, it may have been a Zoroastrian Fire Temple.
Day 12: Arg-e-Bam, School Visit, Rayan
Our full day begins in the ancient mud city of Bam, which dates back over 2,000 years. The Bam citadel or Arg-e-Bam was badly damaged in a 2003 earthquake but restoration efforts continue. Although there is still much work to be done, Bam is still an impressive site. We also visit a school to chat with some of the students and teachers.
Day 13: To Yazd, Towers of Silence
A short drive takes us to Saryazd where we visit 2 caravanserais, one restored and one being restored. We continue towards Yazd, stopping enroute at the Towers of Silence. These two Zoroastrian towers set on two barren mountains provided a ritual site for dealing with death according to Zoroastrian beliefs. Dead bodies would be placed in the towers so that the vultures could pick the bones clean, maintaining purity of the earth. This practice lasted until the 1960's.
Day 14: Yazd, Old City Walking Tour
Yazd, the oldest adobe city in the world, is considered an oasis, surrounded by the 4000m summit of Shir Kooh Mountain and the two majestic deserts of Iran - Dasht-e-Kavir and Kavir-e-Lut. Marco Polo visited Yazd in 1250 A.D. and described it as the "noble city of Yazd". UNESCO has declared Yazd to be the 2nd most historic city in the world. This ancient city is furnished with lovely winding streets and mosques of stunning beauty. The co-existence of the splendid fire temples and the holy sites of different religions astonish every visitor. For many, no visit to Iran would be complete without a visit to Yazd.
Day 15: Desert and Camels
Today we leave the historic city of Yazd and depart for the parched desert. Our destination is the town of Khor in the Mesr desert.
Day 16: To Isfahan; Meybod and Nain
We begin our day with a visit to Meybod. This ancient city was established in pre-Islamic times and today contains many fine buildings from both the Sassanid and Safavid eras. We stop at Narein Castle, one of the oldest mud castles in Iran along with a restored caravanserai which now features a small carpet exhibit. Next we head to the attractive city of Nain. Nain's Jameh Mosque dates back to the 10th century and is considered one of the oldest and most important mosques of Persian Islamic architecture. We continue on to the beautiful city of Isfahan.
Day 17: Stunning Bridges of Isfahan, Vank Cathedral, Imam Square
Known as the masterpiece of Persian culture,this former capital of Iran, created by Shah Abbas I in the 16th century, is known as a city of beautiful gardens, fine art and for its bridges that span the Zayandeh River. The city is best explored on foot. We start with the Chehel-Sotun Museum and its attractive grounds. We then explore the city's main attraction, Imam Square which contains the beautiful Imam Mosque, Ali Qapu Palace and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque. Nearly two thirds of Iran's handicrafts come from Isfahan and this afternoon we will visit several workshop/stores to learn about carpets, miniatures and print blocking on fabric. We also visit Vank Cathedral before driving by the river to see Isfahan's beautiful bridges illuminated after dark.
Day 18: Jameh Mosque & the Shaking Minarets
Today we continue visiting sites in and around Isfahan. We visit the Jameh Mosque, the origins of which date back to the 8th century, but after a fire in the 11th century it has undergone many phases of renovation and today offers a condensed history of Iranian architecture. We also see the famous Shaking Minarets. The minarets are actually part of the tomb of a revered dervish of the 14th century. If you lean hard against one minaret, it will begin to sway back and forth, followed by the second minaret. Also we visit the Ali Gholi Agha ancient bath and Vank Church to learn more about Iran's Armenian community.
Day 19: Traditional Village of Abyaneh (UNESCO)
Today, we visit the Natanz Mosque followed by the village of Abyaneh, part of Iran's national heritage, located at the foot of Mount Karkas. Experience the serenity of this quaint village with its splendid archaeology and meet the local people who speak, live, and dress in the original Persian style. Here will will have an opportunity to visit a wooden underground mosque and the oldest wooden niche of Muslims. After lunch we make our way to Kashan, which is renowned for its rosewater.
Day 20: To Kashan, 7,000 Year Old Pyramid
We will visit the Sialk Archeological Hill, a 7000 year old pyramid, as well as Boroujerdi and Tabatabai ancient houses.
Day 21: Pilgrimage site of Quom, Farewell Dinner
Today, we make a pilgrimage to one of the holiest sites in Iran. Qom is considered holy by Shia Islam (Iran is mostly Shia as opposed to Sunni), as it is the site of the shrine of Fatema Maesume, sister of Imam Reza, (789 AD - 816 AD).
Day 22: Depart Tehran
We transfer today to the international airport for our departure flight.
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