Matt Flynt has been so enthusiastic about Iran after his recent visit that we have decided to devote the entire April e-newsletter to this fascinating (and, in our opinion, underappreciated) destination. Matt visited Tehran, Kerman, Yazd, Shiraz, and Isfahan; here, he describes his top five favorite things to do and see in Iran!
The tone of my visit was set when my plane touched down in Tehran – the airport officials were unfailingly friendly and welcoming, a hospitable attitude I encountered at every stop along the way. Press coverage of Iran is largely so negative that I was unsure about what awaited, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Tehran is lively, youthful, and very cosmopolitan, with none of the sinister oppression we are conditioned to expect. I especially loved the food I found in Tehran: savory grilled kebabs and some of the best pistachios I have ever tasted.
4. The tomb of Sa’adi
Known as the “City of Roses and Nightingales,” Shiraz is considered the cultural and artistic heart of Persia. When I wandered through the tomb of the ancient poet Sa’adi, his poetry, set to music, was being played in the background. Though the words were in Persian, I felt like I could still understand the emotion and feeling behind them. In fact, wandering through the tomb’s gardens while listening to the music of Sa’adi’s poems is one of my most vivid memories of Iran.
3. Tea in Isfahan
Isfahan is famous for its enormous main square (said to be the second largest after Tiananmen) and the 33-arch covered bridge that spans the Zayandeh River. I loved having tea in a teahouse at the base of this beautiful bridge, a perfect spot from which to people-watch and absorb the city’s atmosphere. Another note: visitors to Isfahan should be sure to stay at the Abbasi Hotel, a former palace with a lovely courtyard and a nearby bazaar.
2. The caravanserai of Kerman
Kerman is a desert city surrounded by mountains, famous for several historic mosques, the beautiful Persian carpets that its artisan residents weave, and the nearby ruins of Bam, which were largely destroyed by an earthquake in 2003. These are interesting aspects of the region, to be sure, but I loved Kerman for its thriving bazaars and many caravanserai, enclosed waystations on the outskirts of the city where ancient trade caravans once parked their camels and rested. Seeing these structures truly made history come alive: I could imagine weary traders gratefully arriving at these protected oases to recuperate, socialize, and prepare for the next leg of their long journeys.
Though I had heard about Persepolis, I was a bit unclear on what exactly it was. I now know that Persepolis was the ancient capital of the Achemaenian Empire and its ruins bear witness to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the people who lived there nearly 2,500 years ago. The size of about three football fields, Persepolis is every bit as magical as its evocative name suggests. I spent an afternoon exploring the buildings and spindly columns that still stand, studying the intricate carvings that adorn the walls and marveling at the magnificent ornamentation. Massive stone horses and eagles perch atop the columns – one can only imagine how difficult it was to get them up there so many years ago.