Journey Along the Silk Road – Iran
Traverse the ancient trading thoroughfare of the Silk Road and discover the historical and cultural legacy of ancient Persia in Tehran, Kermanshah, Isfahan, Yazd and Shiraz.
Explore the western part of the Silk Road, the lifeblood of trade between the Roman Empire or later Medieval Western Europe, Central Asia, and China and the Far East. Discover two and half millennia of Persian history, from the Tomb of Cyrus at Pasargadae to the palaces of the Pahlavi in Tehran, from the enchanted mosques of Shiraz to the monuments of the Safavid capital of Isfahan. Whilst these lands are no longer the main artery of trade across the Eurasian continent, the legacy lives on in the distinct culture, art and aesthetic of today’s Iran.
This tour is part of the World Art Tours program organised by the Art Gallery Society of NSW in partnership with Renaissance Tours.
Depart Australia or New Zealand on suggested Qatar Airways flights to Tehran via Doha. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements.
Arrive in Tehran in the morning and transfer to your hotel for check-in.
After an afternoon stroll through Laleh Park, visit the Carpet Museum, which displays an excellent collection of Persian carpets from the various regions of Iran.
In the evening, join Christopher and fellow travellers for a welcome briefing followed by a special welcome dinner.
Following a morning talk by Christopher, visit the Archaeological Museum, one of two galleries which make up Iran’s impressive National Museum. This gallery features a collection of ancient artefacts which tell the story of early humanity, from the Neanderthals to the Neolithic period and the rise of civilizations in the East, through to the reign of the great Persian empires.
After lunch, explore the Golestan Palace and Museum Complex, the former residence of the Qajar Dynasty shahs in the 19th and early-20th centuries, which contains several museums including the Marble Throne Room and the Ethnographic Museum.
Then, visit the Reza Abbasi Museum, which displays objects from the prehistoric era until the 20th century. The two galleries of this museum show different schools of painting and calligraphy from various periods in Iran’s history.
Today, depart Tehran to Hamadan, the ancient city of Ecbatana and later one of the stops along the ancient Silk Road route. Hamadan is thought to be one of the oldest cities in Iran and has been continuously inhabited since the 7th century BCE. It was founded by the Median king Deioces and became one of several capital cities during the Achaemenid Dynasty in the 5th century, and the summer palace of the Parthians and Sasanians.
This morning, visit the mausoleum housing the remains of the biblical Esther and her uncle Mordecai, a major Jewish pilgrimage centre. Continue to the Tomb of Avicenna, one of the most significant figures in the Islamic Golden Age. Avicenna, or Ibn Sīnā, was a celebrated philosopher, polymath and medical writer whose Canon of Medicine was reprinted as recently as 1973.
After lunch, visit Bisotun and the Behistun Inscription, a large rock relief including a multilingual proclamation known as the ‘Rosetta Stone of cuneiform’ depicting Darius facing the nine rebel kings.
Then, travel to Kermanshah, the largest Kurdish-speaking city in Iran.
After a talk by Christopher, visit Taq-e Bostan and view the exquisite Sasanian rock reliefs carved on stone arches nestled in the Zagros mountains. The reliefs depict royal hunting scenes and the investiture of the Sasanian kings, including the gigantic equestrian statue of Khosrow II.
Return to Kermanshah and enjoy an afternoon at leisure to explore the city sites, including the sprawling Kurdish Bazaar, at your own pace.
Journey through the foothills of the lower Zagros mountains to Susa, one of the most ancient cities in Iran. Briefly stop to explore the ruins of the Achaemenid palaces, the most recent of the area’s ancient remains (6th-5th centuries BCE); it was here that Aeschylus imagined the setting of his tragedy The Persians (472 BCE). See the nearby Tomb of Biblical Prophet Daniel, held sacred by Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Then, explore the remains of the ancient Elamite civilisation that predated the Persians by over 2000 years: visit the sites of Haft Tepe and Chogha Zanbil, with the ziggurat built by Untash-Gal, King of Elam, ca. 1250 BCE. The massive artificial mountain was the focal point of his city, Dur Untash, and was dedicated to the god Inshushinak, ‘Lord of Susa’, symbolised in the form of a bull.
Arrive in Ahvaz, a city which straddles the Karun, Iran’s only navigable river. Ahvaz was originally founded by Persian Sasanians in the 3rd century BCE but was invaded during the early Islamic conquest by Arab forces and flourished under Umayyad and Abbasid rulers during the Middle Ages.
Journey to Bishapur, an ancient Sasanian city founded in 266 CE by Shapur I, the second Sasanian king, which features an unparalleled fusion of Roman and Persian art and architecture. The building complex includes a central chamber, a large courtyard which had been covered with impressive mosaics, plus the remains of a temple dedicated to Anahita, the goddess of water and fertility. At Tang-e Chogan, on either side of a narrow gorge, there are six Sasanian rock-reliefs commemorating Shapur’s victories over the Romans and other adversaries.
Arrive in Shiraz in the late afternoon.
Enjoy a visit to the Qajar period Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, popularly known as the ‘Pink Mosque’ because of its vibrant tile decorations and the colour-infused light streaming through the brilliant stained-glass windows.
Then, travel to Persepolis, one of the most important historical sites of the ancient world. Serving as the ceremonial capital of Persia during the Achaemenid Dynasty between the 3rd and 6th century BCE, it only declined after Alexander the Great conquered Persia and incorporated it into his Macedonian Empire. Persepolis contains the remains of the palaces built by Persia’s mightiest shahs – Darius I the Great, Xerxes I and Artaxerxes II. See the famous bas-reliefs, depicting kings, courtiers and gift-bearing representatives from tributary nations of the Persian Empire.
At Nagsh-e Rostam, see Ka’ba-ye Zartosht, the enigmatic building which may have served as a Zoroastrian fire temple or the mausoleum of an unknown shah. Gaze up at the Egyptian-inspired royal tombs of the great Achaemenid shahs and the seven magnificent Sasanian dynasty rock-reliefs, before returning to Shiraz.
This morning, visit Firuzabad, once the capital of Shah Ardashir I, founder of the Sasanian Empire, the last of the great Persian empires before the arrival of conquering Arabs during the early Islamic conquests. At Firuzabad, visit Ardashir’s palace, probably the finest Sasanian Era monument in Iran, with its great iwan (open-ended reception gateway) and domed audience halls, as well as a fine rock-relief celebrating Ardashir’s accession to the throne.
After lunch, enjoy an afternoon at leisure in Shiraz to further explore the city at your own pace, or continue for an optional visit to Tomb of Hafez, set in a beautiful garden. The tomb and its associated Memorial Hall are dedicated to the memory of the venerated 14th century Iranian poet Hafez.
Today, journey to Yazd, the centre for Iran’s small Zoroastrian community who, seeking refuge from the invading Arabs, found a safe haven within its fortified walls. On the way, stop at Pasargadae to visit the remains of the palaces and tomb of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid Dynasty and of the First Persian Empire.
After lunch, explore Abarkuh, a typical desert town where you can enjoy tea under the shade of a 4,000-year-old cypress tree. Arrive in Yazd in the evening.
Enjoy a morning of sightseeing around Yazd. Visit Yazd’s Islamic sites, including the 14th century Friday Mosque, with the highest portal and minarets in Iran. Transfer to the Water Museum, which showcases the famous qanats (aqueducts) which run beneath the city, and glimpse at the ingenious engineering which allows life to flourish in the desert.
Continue to Na’in, and spend time exploring the stunning pre-Islamic town founded more than 2,000 years ago.
After lunch, travel to Isfahan, and visit the famous bridges of Shahrestan, Khajou and Sio-se-pol, which stretch serene and golden across the broad, but today unfortunately dry Zayandeh River.
Join Christopher for a talk in the morning and then visit Chehel Sotoun Palace, built by Shah Abbas II in the 17th century. Its twenty wooden columns reflected in the surface of the pool gave rise to its name ‘The Palace of Forty Columns’.
After lunch at a local restaurant, wonder at the magnificent Old Friday Mosque, and its famous Uljaytu Mihrab (prayer niche), an elaborate stucco work of the 14th century Il-Khanid Dynasty. Construction of the mosque began in the 8th century with successive dynasties adding to it up until the 20th century. Isfahan’s Old Friday Mosque, one of the most important architectural sites in Iran and a UNESCO World Heritage site, is considered a museum of a thousand years of Persian religious architecture in a single building.
Then, visit Vank Cathedral, a 17th century Armenian Apostolic church filled with a profusion of Christian iconography in styles reflecting the influences of contemporary Venice and Flanders. The attached museum deals with Armenian history and culture, and especially the 1915 genocide by the Ottoman Turks.
In the morning, explore the Ali-Qapu Palace with its enchanting music rooms and balcony overlooking the Meidan Emam, from which the Safavid shahs watched polo games.
Visit the Masjed-e Shah and the Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfollah, among the most magnificent masterpieces of Persian architecture in the Islamic period. The former was built under the Safavids as the new Friday Mosque of Isfahan, while the even more exquisitely tiled Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque was originally designed as a private mosque for the Safavid royal family and especially for the women of the court.
Finish with a visit to the Qeisarieh Bazaar, where hundreds of shops display the arts and handicrafts for which Isfahan is world-famous. Enjoy the remainder of the afternoon at leisure to further explore Isfahan at your own pace.
Depart Isfahan and travel to Kashan, which was famous in antiquity for its production of high-quality tiles and ceramics. Here, visit Tabatabaei House, a 19th century merchant residence featuring a stucco dome and inlaid mirror work, with some of the best examples of existing badgirs (wind-catchers) in Iran.
Then, visit the historical Garden of Fin, which was first planted during the Safavid period. This beautiful garden was expanded by the Zand and Qajar monarchs, who added many open pavilions.
Arrive in Tehran in the late afternoon. Tonight, celebrate the conclusion of the tour with a special farewell dinner with Christopher and fellow travellers.
In the morning, transfer to the airport (included in tour price) for suggested Qatar Airways flights to Australia and New Zealand via Doha. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including any extra nights’ accommodation, either before or after the tour.
*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.
Final payment due
11 February 2020
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions.
Please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for current airfares and flight reservations.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in 3-, 4- and 5-star hotels with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L = Lunch, D = Dinner), including soft drinks, juices and tea/coffee
- Comprehensive sightseeing, including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Transportation throughout on comfortable, air-conditioned coaches
- Airport/hotel transfers on arrival and departure in Tehran
- Lectures and talks with your tour leader, Christopher Allen
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person)
Tour price does not include
- International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Items of a personal nature (e.g. telephone, laundry, mini-bar, taxis etc.)
- Visa on arrival
- Airport porterage
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
Australian and New Zealand passport holders require a visa for Iran. Visas for a stay of up to 30 days can be obtained on arrival at Tehran Airport after prior application. Renaissance Tours will coordinate your visa application.
PLEASE NOTE – If you are NOT travelling on an Australian or New Zealand passport, please contact Renaissance Tours to check visa requirements for Iran.
Visa Restriction: Entry will be refused to travellers with any evidence of visiting Israel – not just Israeli entry stamps. If you wish to visit Iran and have visited Israel, you should renew your passport.
If you wish to travel to the US and have visited Iran, you cannot apply for ESTA and VWP visas, you should renew your passport.
The most visible daily expressions of Iran’s Shi’ite Islam are the modest dress code, and rules for behaviour at mosques, both of which apply for men and women.
Dress code for women: Women are required to wear loose-fitting clothing which covers the arms and legs (long pants), a coat or top that comes down to mid-thigh (light weight trench-coat), and a headscarf. During visits to some mosques, women will also be required to wear a special robe provided at the entrance.
Dress code for men: Men are required to wear trousers and shirts with either long-sleeves or half-sleeves. (No singlets). Shorts are not permitted.
Food and Alcohol
Iranian cuisine is heavily based on rice, bread, fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit. Meat is mostly lamb or mutton. The national drink of Iran is chai (tea), always served scalding hot, black and strong. All sorts of delicious fresh fruit juices, milkshakes and yoghurt drinks are available throughout Iran. Alcohol is strictly forbidden. Do not take any alcohol into Iran.
Tehran – Espinas International*****
Hamadan – Parsian Azadi Hotel***
Kermanshah – Parsian Hotel*****
Ahvaz – Pars Hotel****
Shiraz – Zandiyeh Hotel*****
Yazd – Moshir Garden****
Tehran – Espinas International*****
N.B. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.