written by Mariana Silva Porto
“It seems inevitable, when approaching somewhere you have wanted to visit for many years that you will feel a mixed sense of excitement and fear. Will the reality live up to the expectation? This is how I felt on our walk to up to the great platform of Persepolis, yet as the it grew in front of me, and I began to grasp the sheer scale of the site, I knew that Iran wouldn’t disappoint me.”
To anyone with even a passing interest in archaeology, Iran is an obvious destination to visit. It captured my imagination from the moment I saw the gigantic capitals of Susa’s great hall displayed in the Louvre as a child. Later, it was the images of Esfahan’s Naqsh-e Jahan Square that captivated my interest. I have spoken with many people who have been and fallen in love with the Iran, and everything they told me and everything I’ve read was proven true. I had heard of the almost overwhelming friendless of the people, although no amount of reading can full prepare you for the reality of how welcoming Iranians are. I was expecting fresh lovely food, but not the beautiful breads, regional biscuits or the many delicious pistachio and rose water ice-creams our driver prided himself in finding for us.
These were two exhilarating weeks, filled with all the awe inspiring sites I expected and much more. From the highly impressive state of conservation of the Chonqa Zabil ziggurat rising out of the dessert, whose scale contrasts beautifully with the tiny cuneiform scriptures of its bricks; to the huge domes of the Sassanid palace at Firouzabad. There was of course Persepolis, where the details of the procession dignitaries shown climbing the stairs of the Apadana palace kept me smiling far longer than it probably should have, and the awe-inspiring reliefs at Naqsh-e-Rostam. At the highly atmospheric site of Takt-e Soleiman, Sasanian palaces and Il-Khanid buidings gather around a deep lake surrounded by hills. Then there were the tiles – it is hard to tell which of the many beautiful tiled mosques stands out, as just when you think you have seen the best example of Islamic architecture, the next visit is likely to take your breath away. Tiles, paintings, carvings and highly intricate mirrorwork all compete to make each visit stand out.
Yet, what surprised me the most about Iran had be the overwhelming contrast between familiarity and otherness, and the life and enthusiasm of its people. It is hard not love, or feel a sense of familiarity in the way family and friends will gather in the even the tiniest, or most isolated patch of grass, and pass the time eating and talking.
At the end of all this, having revised our itinerary, checked many hotels and restaurants and driven well over a thousand miles, all I can say is that I would be very happy to return. One final thing – if you do go, I highly recommend the ice-cream.
Mariana Silva Porto is the Program Manager for Archaeological Tours.
To find out more about the tour itself, which runs throughout 2017, please click here.