by on 14 Dec 2016
When it comes to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Iran boasts an impressive 19 registered cultural sites. Palaces, bazaars, places of worship, ancient water systems, and remnants of the great Persian Empire dominate this list.
Imam Square - Isfahan
It is easy to spend an entire day in this spacious square, alternating between marvelling at the architecture and haggling with business-savvy bazaar keepers. It is no wonder that the city of Isfahan is known as nesfe jahan (half of the world). One of the first sites in Iran to be registered with UNESCO in 1979, this square was built by Shah Abbas in the 17th century. One major monument stands on each side of this grand square, and they are all connected by two-story arcades. Imam Mosque has the largest dome in the city, while Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque dazzles visitors with its splendid tile work. Ali Qapu Palace is most notable for its music room, mosaic stairs, and views of the square, and the gate of the Imperial Bazaar will take you through one of the oldest bazaars in the region. At the end of the day, you will truly feel as though you have seen half of the world.
Golestan Palace - Tehran
Golestan Palace was more recently included with UNESCO in 2013. Located footsteps from Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, this lavish palace became the Qajar dynasty’s seat of government. The architecture exemplifies this dynasty’s fusion of early Persian design and Western influences. Magnificent pools, green spaces, and mosaic façades are located throughout this complex, and building interiors vary from bright grand halls hanging with ornate chandeliers to dim cozy nooks of mirrored walls and stained glass. The masterpieces of painter Kamal ol-Molk are also housed throughout the buildings and not to be missed. Take advantage of the opportunity to dress up as a Qajar prince or princess and have your picture taken against the spectacular backdrop of authentic Persian architecture.
This ancient desert city of the southern Kerman province was registered with UNESCO in 2004. An overview of Bam immediately gives visitors the impression of being in a life-sized sand castle. The most recognised monument, Arg-e Bam, dates back over 2,000 years to the Parthian Empire. This citadel was build out of khesht (sun-dried mud bricks) in the 6th to 4th centuries B.C. and served as the governor’s quarters. Reconstruction of this landmark began after a devastating earthquake nearly flattened this mud brick city, killing over 26,000 people in 2003. Dates, a particularly special export of Bam, flourish especially well thanks to the vast system of qanats (an ancient underground water system) still used today.
Brazilian poet Manuel Bandeira published the poem Vou-me embora pra Pasargada (I’m off to Pasargadae) describing a man who, unsatisfied with his life, talks about escaping to this utopian city. In a remote location some 50 kilometers from Shiraz, it might not presently look like the utopia it may have been in its heyday, but Pasargadae was the first capital of the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century B.C., founded by Cyrus the Great. Added to UNESCO in 2004, it is also known as the first multicultural empire that respected cultural diversity. Ruins of the palace and citadel remain, but the main feature is the mausoleum of Cyrus the Great, said to have been visited by Alexander the Great himself after destroying Persepolis.
Sheikh Safi al-din shrine - Ardebil
This shrine ensemble located in the northwestern city of Ardabil joined UNESCO in 2010. It is the location of the tomb of Sheikh Safi al-din, a leader of Islamic Sufi mysticism. Constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries, it is a fusion of Sufi tradition and Iranian traditional construction. The route to the shrine consists of seven segments representing the seven stages of Sufi mysticism, and other parts are divided into eight gates, which mirror the eight attitudes. The areas of this shrine have served various purposes over the years including a library, mosque, school, mausoleum, and cistern, among others.