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A glance of Iran – the cradle of modern civilization

Teheran, Iran
Teheran, Iran

Dear Traveler,

You heard the phrase – It’s all about the journey, not the destination. The original proverb, wrongly attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson is – Life is a journey, not a destination. It has become a popular cliché, but there are moments you realize how true it is. Traveling to Iran was one of these moments for me. It is a life changing experience someone considering himself a traveler should put in his top three places to visit.

Going back to the proverb, there are two possible places of its origin – China or Greece. I would accept the later. Since no other like the story of Odysseus brings meaning to the lifelong journey and exploration, leading to self-discovery. Like him, led by our curiosity, we want to see unseen places and meet new people. Since often the real marvels and treasures of a country are none other but its people. Not the artifacts, not the beauty of the landscapes, not the wealth or other things, but the people whom we meet. They are like a mirror in which we see our true faces, the same way they look for their reflection in us.

Isfahan, Friday Mosque, Dimiter Popov, Iran
Isfahan, Friday Mosque, Dimiter Popov, Iran

There are so many things, which strike you when you first arrive in Teheran, the biggest city in the Middle East. The hustle and bustle of a modern mega polis, the dimensions, but most of all its inhabitants will surprise you. We are full of prejudices about Iranians and the face of Islam, created by our mass media and politicians. Iranians or Persians are not Arabs – something most people usually don’t know. As a matter of fact, they are descendants of the first Aryan tribes and the oldest civilization on earth. Their language – Farsi – is also different. This is the language in which the great works of Rumi, Omar Khayyam and Saadi were created. We know the names of the great Achaemenid Emperors Cyrus, Darius or Xerxes only through the words of the Greek chronicles. But we know little of the advanced, multicultural state Persia was. This was a huge Empire with state taxes, road network and courier services. Slavery was forbidden and considered barbarism. You are walking in the steps of the proud Persians in Persepolis or look into their faces at Naqsh-e-Rostam. We heard of Persepolis because of the Greek chronicles, describing the wars and the life of Alexander the Great. He not only didn’t destroy Persian’s main city, but turned it to the capital of his Empire. Well, he burned down the city later, yet that is another story about Alexander and his strange temper. But what realy strikes you, are the tombs of the mighty Achaemenid Emperors in Naqsh-e-Rostam. The ancient Persians carved them into a huge rock just few kilometers away from Persepolis.

Naqsh e Rostam, Iran
Naqsh e Rostam, Iran

I speak too much about ancient history, but it is difficult to avoid this when you are in Iran. To continue my story about modern day Persians, so many surprising and charming encounters come to my mind. Like Medjid whom I met sitting on a bench in front of one of the beautiful mosques of Isfahan. He was so curious to understand how we see Iran from our places on earth. As me, he was trying to look into our eyes and find his reflection like in a mirror. It is the openness and friendliness of these people to surprise the westerner meeting them for the first time. The calmness and the wisdom of a Persepolis, Iran nation intimately related with religion are not only about Islam. After all Iran is the cradle of one of the oldest monotheistic religions known to mankind – the Zoroastrism. It is better to say this nation is deeply spiritual, not just religious. They have enormous respect to education and to our great surprise, it is women who are the majority in this strive for knowledge. Yes, they all wear their “chadors”, the veil every woman, even foreigner should wear to cover her head. But they don’t cover their faces and black is not at all mandatory. You will by surprised by the talkative, intelligent young ladies in the streets of Teheran. Like the middle aged schoolteacher, whom we asked to help us find our hotel. The memory of this story will always put a smile on my face. She didn’t know where the hotel is. Yet, told us to get into her car. And with a map in one hand and the steering wheel in the other, she drove us through the hectic Teheran traffic in a spectacular rally to the hotel. We are still laughing at the astounded faces we had during this adventure. And will always remembering this woman, smiling under her chador. She just left her work to drop us to the hotel. A friendly gesture you rarely see in our “modern” world.

Yet, nothing compares with the most beautiful and splendid city of the East (Orient) – Isfahan. The city survived the horror of the massacres by Tamerlane’s hordes to become the capital, the jewel of the Safavid dynasty. In 16th and 17th centuries they built the palaces, the mosques and the beautiful bridges. Today Isfahan has become the number one Asian delicacy for a dedicated traveler.

There is so much to see in Isfahan! The Friday mosque is Iran’s oldest and biggest mosque. The multicolor mosaics of the Imam and Sheikh Lotfollah mosques shine under the sun. The remarkable iconic bridges of Zayande River or the Ali Capu palace – there’s no end to the marvels of Isfahan.

And the center of all this is the immense Naqsh-e Jahan Square – one of the largest squares on Earth and one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. The true beauty is not just in the Ali Qapu Palace or the mosques, neither the fountains. The treasures are behind Keisaria gate, which opens into the Isfahan Grand Bazaar with its local craftsmen. They still work in countless little shops, birthplace of the famous Persian carpets. You will sense that time has stopped in a magical moment of beauty and harmony.

But if you want to escape civilization, modern or ancient, Iran surprises you again. You can climb the highest Asian volcano – mount Damavand, 5,610 m. You don’t need sophisticated equipment. You will sleep in chalets, instead the ascetic climber's tents. That is why 90% of the climbs are successful. You can never do it this easy in the Himalayas.

Women in Isfahan, Iran
Women in Isfahan, Iran

I don’t know how changed and enriched you will be after your first journey to Iran. Odysseus in each one of us is going his own way to his Ithaca. The thing I am certain is, that you will wish to come back and discover more, and more. About Iran, about mankind, about yourself.

The Penguin

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