On the roads in Iran
A Quick Glance at Hidden Gems
What do you recall when you hear the name Iran or Persia? At first, the names may conjure up images of colorful Persian rugs, adorable Persian cats, or even seductive Persian eyes. If the readers are a bit familiar with the history and culture of the Near East, they might think of cities such as Shiraz or Isfahan, and historical attractions like Persepolis and Pasargad (tomb of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid dynasty). While the above mentioned are commonly associated with Iran, the main goal of this article is to focus on some of the lesser-known attractions of Iran.
The political boundary, which is known today as Iran is located in southwest Asia in the region also known as the Near East. This geographical unit is historically known as Persia, Iran is situated at the crossroads of the three continents of Africa, Europe, and Asia. Such strategic positioning has made Iran a significant pathway for human migrations since prehistoric times, and the remains of these early humans have been discovered all across Iran, which some date back to beyond a million years ago.
The presence of geographical features such as mountains, deserts, and seas have created lots of distinguishing environmental variations in this land. For instance, one can travel from the Iranian Central Desert (Dasht-e Kavir) with a temperature of 45 °C to the Mediterranean forest of northern Alborz Mountains with a temperature of 10 °C in less than 2 hours drive. Considering that, I would like to take the readers on a road trip to take a quick look at some of Iran's less known precious, natural, and historic attractions, Needless to say, that in any of the provinces and regions that we are stopping, there are countless historical and natural beauties that we have no option but to close our eyes on them due to shortage of time and space.
We start our trip from the capital city. Tehran. From there, Less than 2 hours drive on Firoozkooh Highway towards the northeast (main road to the capital of Mazandaran province, Sari) will take us to the first marvel of this road trip: Espahbod Khorshid cave, which is among the largest natural arches in the world (75 m high). This huge and breath-taking arch is located in the middle of the narrow valleys of Alborz Mountains and contains archaeological remains assigned to the Sassanid dynasty (761 AD) and was used by Muslim invaders afterward. The cave is named after the governor of the region at that time. In spite of the site's archaeological significance and beauty, the ruins of Espahbod Khorshid (Iran special natural landscapes) are yet to receive proper attention from authorities for scientific studies Although leaving Mazandaran province with its impressive beauty and culture is not easy, we must make a turn to the southern side of Alborz Mountains and go to the northern part of the Iranian Central Desert. This will take us to one of the early villages of Iran: Tepe Hissar located on the outskirts of the modern city of Dāmghān, 300 km east of Tehran. Archaeological excavations were conducted at this important site in the early 1930s by the University of Pennsylvania Museum led by archaeologist E. Schmidt. Tepe Hissar has provided invaluable evidence for life and subsistence strategies of its early village dwellers in the northern part of the Iranian Central Desert 5,000 years ago. Among countless numbers of ceramic artifacts that were discovered at this site, some were decorated with motifs such as the leopard or the Iranian cheetah, an endangered species that is currently pictured on the jersey of the Iranian national football team.
Traveling west for 90 km towards Tehran, we will arrive at the city of Semnan (capital of Semnan province), where one of the oldest pieces of evidence of human existence on the Iranian plateau is located. Mounds of Mirak located 16 km from the southern boundaries of Semnan city has witnessed several years of archaeological surveys and excavations led by Iranian archaeologists with the collaboration of French scientists. The results of such works have revealed that the Neanderthal man used to live in this region around 70,000 years ago. Paleoclimatology data has also demonstrated that around the time that Neanderthals were living in this region which is currently a dry land was a large swamp with mild temperatures.
Going directly towards the south will take us to the heart of the Iranian Central Desert, the place that is famous for its magnificent natural beauty. The Iranian Central Desert is the capital of amateur and professional stargazers, and its many sand dunes are perfect for those interested in off-road activities. Ardakan County in Yazd province is situated at the southern edge of the Iranian Central Desert. It might be fair to call Yazd province as the capital of qanat systems in the world. Qanat, the wonderment of Iranian engineering, consisted of numerous wells that are situated at a particular distance from each other, which navigate the underground water for hundreds of kilometers from the main underground storage to the farming lands. Qanats enabled those living in the driest parts of the Iranian Plateau to cope with the hostile environment of the deserts.
Leaving Ardakan and less than two hours' drive towards the desert of Kharanagh will take us to the holiest of Zoroastrian shrines: Chak Chak. It is a small beautiful shrine located right underneath an old Cypress tree. In Zoroastrian belief, Chak Chak is where Nikbanou, the second daughter of the last pre-Islamic Persian rular Yazdegerd Ill of the Sassanid Empire, was cornered by the invading Arab army in 640 AD. Fearing capture. Nikbanou prayed to God to protect her from her enemies In response to Nikbanou's pleadings the mountain miraculously opened up and sheltered her from the invaders. Since then the Mountain is believed to shed tears of grief for her and to this day, these drops of water can be seen; the feature that has given the name Chak Chak, meaning "drip drip or falling doos of water to this historical site Leaving Chak Chak and its spiritual atmosphere behind, we keep going towards the southeast to the second largest desert of Iran: the Lut desert which is even lesser-known compared to the Iranian Central Desert, This spot reaches the hottest temperatures recorded on Earth, as much as 70° C, as well, it is the archaeological site where the oldest flag was retrieved. Shahdad archaeological site located at the edge of Lut desert dates back to 5,000 years ago. This is the place scientists have recovered proofs of relatively sophisticated technologies in metallurgies several millennia before it was widespread in the rest of the world The Bam citadel, the largest mud-brick structure in the world, is another stunner of Persian architecture. Although most of it was destroyed in the 2002 earthquake it remains breath-taking with its historical charm. Bam, a big city dating back to 4th century BC, has had constant additions to its area and buildings throughout history, steadily making the Citadel an important hub and a place of legacy.
Less than 2 hours drive from Bam will bring us to the Jebal Barez Mountains in Jiraft County one of the major centers of citrus fruits in Iran. The change in temperatures is extreme in this region between the desert and the mountains.
Aside from its distinguished mild natural beauty, Jiroft is significant as one of the earliest sites of human chization on Earth Years of archaeological investigations in one of its sites named Konar Sandal has provided ample evidence of highly advanced civilization with the earliest signs of writing going back 5,000 years. Some believe that Jiroft culture was the mother culture for the entire region and in some instances was even older than those of Mesopotamia Perhaps Shahr-e Sukhteh The But could be considered among the Minions, which have been possibly influenced by the Jiroft culture. Share Sukhteh archaeological remains have received its name from the extended Byers of ash discovered during decades of archaeological excavations. This huge archaeological site dates to approximately 5.000 years ago and is currently located 45 minutes outside the city of Zabol in Sistan and Baluchestan province in the southeastern part of Iran.
Aside from being an important civilization center back in its time, Shahr e Sukhtch contains some unique archaeological wonders in the world such as the first animated picture on a vessel and one of the earliest evidence of brain surgery. This site was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List in June 2014.
Located 800 km south of Shahre Sukhtoh, there is one of the most outstanding beaches along the Oman Sea called Makran in Chabahar County, Chabaler holds one of the most amazing natural phenomena in Iran called Martian Mountains. This region is also home to another endangered species called the Mugger crocodile. From Chabahar we start a long 1,700 kom trip all along the northom shore of Makran and Persian Gulf to reach the motherland of the Bakhtiar Tribe: zeh in Khuzestan province. The Bakhtiars are amongst the world's oldest nomadic migratory tribes. Their worldwide fame comes from their exemplary hospitality, bravery, and horseback riding. They continue with their nomadic way of life and traditions, such as annual migrations with their herds of animals for hundreds of kilometers away.
Heading north from Izeh, we reach the Lorestan province and its capital city, Khorram-Abad in Pol-e Dokhtar County. The famous Kalmakareh Cave is situated on our way to the city and it is not to be missed. Discovered by accident by a shepherd in 1985. Kalmakareh and its huge storage of golden and silver masks, still amaze historians and archaeologists. Pieces of its treasures are at display in the Louvre and British Museum while unfortunately, most are in the holdings of private collectors. Archaeologists believe this treasure belonged to a tribe called Sarmatian who ruled the region around 3,000 years ago Leaving Pol-e Dokhtar County behind and driving north for less than 2 hours will take us to the outskirts of Khorram-Abad city where the huge massif of Yafteh Mountain is observable from miles away. Right at the slope of Yafteh massif adjacent to the main road of Khorram-Abad to Kuhdasht, there is a small cave called Yafteh. Yafteh cave, with evidence of 40,000 years of human occupation, has attracted many scientists since the early 1960s in search of modern human origins. Some believe this cave could have been a candidate for the emergence of a small human population who is considered to be the ancestor of all humankind today. An hour and half drive towards the west from Yafteh cave will take us to Kuhdasht County, which is home to several prehistoric and historic rock art panels situated in the north of the city (Mir Malas).
and some in the Houmian region.
The rock arts of Houmian could be considered as one of the oldest in Iran. 900 km north of Kuhdasht is the city of Kalibar Papak Fort or Babak Castle, also known as the Immortal Castle is located 6 Km southwest of Kalibar city in Northwestern Iran. It is a large citadel on top of a mountain in the Arasbaran forests. It has been identified as the stronghold of Papak Khorramdin, who was one of the main Persian revolutionary leaders of the Khurramites in Azerbaijan who fought the Islamic caliphate of Abbasids, Iranian Azerbaijanis gather at Babak Castle during the first weekend in July for the annual commemoration of Babak Khorramdin Five hours drive from Babak fortress takes us to the city of Zanjan, capital of Zanjan province.
There, one could visit the Salt Men museum situated inside the Archaeology Museum (Zolfaghari historic house) This museum holds the one and only examples of salt mummified bodies in the world. Most of these bodies belong to some individuals who used to work in the salt mine of Chehrehabad near Zanjan. The first mummy found dates to 1.752 years ago and is located in the National Museum of Iran in Tehran, but the rest are in exhibition in Zanjan. They date to the time span of 2.400 and 1,600 years ago. So far, the remains of 8 individuals have been discovered in the mine. Two of them were discovered by me through careful re-examinations of the previous excavation remains Our last stop will be the place that we started our journey. Tehran. It is hard to imagine that such a huge cosmopolitan city had been home to some of the early dwellers in the world 7,000 years ago. Recent archaeological discoveries in the southern part of Tehran (Molavi Street) clearly proved the above claim. The body of a young female associated with decorated potteries from the 5th millennium BC culture was among the magnificent discoveries that recently took place Here, I tried to portray for my readers what a journey on the roads of Iran would bring to those who set out on expeditions off the beaten track As an archaeologist, I found the mentioned historical and natural attractions most noteworthy, while solely my personal preferences. It is my belief that Iran is a country rich with natural beauty and historical wonders that are yet to be widely discovered by travelers Iranian and non-Iranian. The trek out to the farthest corners of this land and remote sites can sometimes bring about the highest rewards in sightseeing pleasure.
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