Iran & Armenia

21 Day Tour of the ancient lands of Armenia and Iran

Day 1: ARRIVAL – TEHRAN

Arrive in Tehran and transfer to the Laleh Hotel for overnight.

Day 2: TEHRAN – SHIRAZ

Today we will have a full day visit to some of Tehran’s major museums to include Iran’s National Museum (Archaeological only, as Islamic is still under renovation), displaying an authenticated collection of pre-historic and ancient artifacts with pottery dating back to 6-7 millennium B.C.; and the Abguineh (Glass & Ceramics) Museum, a valuable collection of pre-Islamic and Islamic glass and ceramics, beautifully displayed and located in an elegant early 20th-century mansion; the Carpet Museum, with an extensive collection of old and new Persian carpets and rugs from the major carpet-weaving centers of Iran (all above museums are closed on Mondays). In the evening we will fly to Shiraz for overnight at the Homa Hotel. (B/L/D)

Day 3: BISHAPUR & SHIRAZ

We start our day with an excursion to Bishapur, the remains of the Sassanian city built by Shapur 1st (241-273 A.D.), the second Sassanian king. 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. On either side of a narrow gorge, there are also six Sassanian rock-reliefs at Tang-e-Chogan, commemorating Shapur’s victories over the Romans and other adversaries. Return to Shiraz for a sightseeing tour of the city “roses and nightingales”, including the Eram Garden, the tomb of Iran’s greatest lyric poets, Hafez and Sa’adi; the pink tiled 19th-century Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, the Arg-e-Karim Khan (18th-century citadel), the Madrassa Khan (Theological School), to have interaction with teachers and students, the Qajar-period Narenjestan Garden/House, the Vakil Bazaar of Shiraz. Overnight in Shiraz. (B/L/D)

Day 4: SHIRAZ – YAZD

Drive to Yazd, en-route visit Persepolis, one of the most important sites of the Ancient World, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid kings with remains of the palaces of Darius the Great, Xerxes and Artaxerxes, and its famous bas-reliefs, depicting kings and courtiers and gift-bearing representatives of tributary nations of the Persian Empire; also visit Naghsh-e-Rostam to see Ka’be-Zardosht (fire temple/sanctuary), and Royal Tombs (also Achaemenid); plus seven magnificent Sassanian rock-reliefs (including Shapur the First’s famous victory over Roman Emperor Valerian. Continue to Yazd for overnight at the Moshir Garden Hotel. (B/L/D)

Day 5: YAZD – ISFAHAN

After breakfast we will have a half day visit in Yazd, the center for Iran’s small Zoroastrian community, to include the active Fire Temple, the fire of which has been burning for more than a thousand year; the Friday Mosque (1324 A.D.) with the highest portal and minarets in Iran, and walk through the old Fahadan area; and also visit the Dowlat-Abad Garden, with an 18th century hexagonal house; afternoon drive to Isfahan, en-route visit the charming desert town of Na’in, half way between Yazd and Isfahan, to visit the 10th century Friday Mosque, and the 17th century Pirnia House/Ethnographic Museum (closed on Mondays); with a walk through the old part of the town. Continue the drive to Isfahan for overnight at the Abbasi Hotel. (B/L/D)

Day 6: ISFAHAN

Full day tour of the beautiful city of Isfahan, the 17th century capital of the Safavids, referred to as Nesf-e-Jahan (Half of the World) in Safavid sources, to visit the famous bridges of Shahrestan, Khajou, and Sio-se-pol, the Armenian Quarter with several churches, including the important Cathedral of Vank; in the afternoon visit one of the world’s grandest squares, the Maidan-e-Naghsh-e-Jahan, with several sites (the Ali-Qapu Palace with its enchanting music rooms and balcony overlooking the Maidan, from where the Safavid Kings watched polo games, and two of Islamic world’s greatest mosques – the Sheikh Lotfollah and the Imam – with magnificent architecture and tilework), finishing with a visit to the Qeisarieh Bazaar with hundreds of shops displaying the arts and handicrafts for which Isfahan is world-famous (Bazaar is closed on Fridays). Overnight in Isfahan. (B/L/D)

Day 7: ISFAHAN

Another full day sightseeing in Isfahan to include the magnificent Friday Mosque, with the famous Uljaitu Mihrab (Prayer Niche) of the Il-Khanid period. The Friday Mosque is considered a museum of a thousand years of Persian religious architecture and is truly one of the world’s greatest mosques. From here drive to the Chehel Sotun Palace, built by Shah Abbas II in the 17th century; its twenty wooden columns reflected in the surface of the pool give rise to its name ‘The Palace of Forty Columns’. Final stop of the day is at the Hasht Behesht pavilion built in 1670 by Shah Solayman and known as the Pavilion of Eight Paradises or the Palace of Nightingales. The small but intricate building is set amongst tree-lined alleys, a reflecting pool and water rills. Return to the Maidan for further visit to handicraft shops and bazaar. Overnight in Isfahan. (B/L/D)

Day 8: ISFAHAN-TEHRAN

Morning drive to Tehran, en-route stop over at the charming town of Natanz to visit a beautiful Islamic Complex (Friday Mosque/Monastery/Tomb of Sheikh Abdol Samad Isfahani), on to Kashan to visit the historical garden of Fin which was first planted during the Safavid period and kept alive with water from the nearby Sulaimanieh Spring. This beautiful garden was expanded by the Zand and Qajar monarchs, with many open pavilions added. You will also visit a fine example of a 19th century merchant residence known as Taba-Tabai House with its beautiful stucco dome and inlaid mirror work, with some of the best examples of existing “badgirs” (wind-catchers). Continue to Tehran and drive by the Mausoleum of Imam Khomeini. Transfer to the Laleh Hotel for dinner and overnight. (B/L/D)

Day 9: TEHRAN – HAMADAN

After breakfast depart Tehran for the western mountain city of Hamadan. Enjoy the scenery with photo stops and rest stops on the way. Once in Hamadan have a city orientation tour then check in at the Bu Ali Hotel for dinner and overnight. (B/L/D)

Day 10: KERMANSHAH

In the morning we will depart for an all day excursion to Kermanshah via Kangavar (a small town of great antiquity dating back to 200 B.C. lying half way between Hamadan and Kermanshah), to visit the Temple of Anahita, the Goddess of Water and Fertility; on to Bisotun (currently under scaffolding), to see part of the Achaemenid inscription/bas-reliefs, depicting Darius I facing the nine rebel kings, whom the Achaemenid ruler suppressed when he came to power. On arrival in Kermanshah we will visit the several important Sassanian reliefs at Tagh-e-Bostan (some inside a grotto), depicting royal hunting scenes and the investiture of the Sassanian kings, including the gigantic equestrian statue of Khosrow II (AD 591-628), mounted on his favorite charger Shabdiz. Return to Hamadan for overnight. (B/L/D)

Day 11: HAMADAN – SULTANIEH – ZANJAN

After breakfast visit Ganjnameh, the inscriptions/bas relief by Darius I, and his son, Xerxes, carved on the rocks of the mountain, now surrounded by a park and wintertime ski area. Also visit the Tomb of Esther and Mordecai, a major Jewish pilgrimage center. The rabbi caretaker collects pens, so if you would like to give him something, a unique pen from your home state or city is always appreciated! Next stop will be the 12th century Alavyan Tomb Tower then the Tepe Ecbatana – an important archaeological site dating back to 700-500 B.C. Last, but not least is the museum and tomb of Avicenna (he died in 1034), Iran’s celebrated philosopher/scientist/physician, whose prescriptions are still used by Western and Iranian medical practitioners today. Afterwards, depart for Zanjan with a stop at Sultanieh to visit the magnificent Mausoleum of Uljaitu, constructed during the reign of Sultan Muhammad Khoda Bandeh (1304-1330), the last Mongol King in Iran. The monument is remarkable in many different architectural and artistic aspects. Its huge dome, which is about 51 meters high, ranks amongst the largest domes in the world; the stucco-work, the tile-work, and the designs decorating this monument are absolutely unique, and impress every visitor immensely. Afterward, continue on to Zanjan for dinner and overnight at the Grand Hotel. (B/L/D)

Day 12: ZANJAN – TABRIZ

After breakfast we check out and drive to Tabriz. Along the way we will visit the remains of Takht-e-Soleiman in a broad and remote mountain valley near Takab. From the time of the Zoroastrian Magis who guarded the sacred fire of Azar Goshasp beside the bottomless lake of deepest blue until today, Takht-e-Soleiman (The Throne of Solomon) has remained for all who see it a sacred and enigmatic place. The massive stone walls and remnants of the thirty eight watch towers, plus remains of the palaces, the fire temple and the Anahita temple, built around the lake mainly by the Sassanians in the 3rd century A.D, are part of what is left of the complex. The crater of Zendan-e-Soleiman (the Prison of Solomon) can be glimpsed in the distance. Continue on to Tabriz for overnight at the Pars Hotel. (B/L/D)

Day 13: TABRIZ AND KANDOVAN VILLAGE

Half day sightseeing in Tabriz to visit the Blue Mosque, known in the world as the Turquoise of Islam, and the Azerbaijan Museum, displaying a fine collection of pre-historic and historic artifacts found in the area, and drive by the 13th century Arg-e Alishah, which was originally a magnificent Friday Mosque, but turned into a fortress in the 19th century; and also visit the extensive Tabriz Bazaar, now a UNESCO World Heritage site; in the afternoon a short excursion to the intriguing troglodyte village of Kandovan, up in the heights of Mt. Sahand, a volcanic mountain. In Kandovan people have carved their houses in the rocks and still live in them as in ancient times. Return to Tabriz for overnight stay at Pars Hotel. (B/L/D)

Day 14: FULL-DAY EXCURSION TO VISIT ST. THADDEUS

Today we will get a taste of Armenia in Iran with a visit to St. Thaddeus, an ancient functioning monastery of the Armenian Apostolic Church. It was extensively rebuilt in 1329 after an earthquake damaged the structure in 1319. Nevertheless, some of the parts surrounding the altar apse date from the 10th century. It has been speculated that a church was originally built on the site in the 1st century AD, but that is not yet proven. Most of the present structure dates from the early 19th century when Qajar prince Abbas Mirza helped in renovations and repairs. The 19th century additions are from carved sandstone. The earliest parts are of black and white stone, hence its Turkic name Kara Kilise, the Black Church. A fortified wall surrounds the church and its now-abandoned monastery buildings. In July 2008, the St. Thaddeus monastery was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, along with two other Armenian monuments located in the same province. Return to Tabriz for dinner and overnight. (B/L/D)

Day 15: TABRIZ – GORIS / TATEV

After an early breakfast we check out and head to the border with Armenia. After crossing the border we will visit the Monastery of Tatev (UNESCO World Heritage Site) – once a great educational and administrative center in the Caucasus region, many manuscripts, documents and princely decrees were kept here. The artistic and architectural significance of Tatev has earned it a great recognition – it is without doubt another masterpiece of Armenian architecture, dating from the 9th to 13th centuries as evidenced by the 15m high “Swimming column” called “The Staff”, erected in the 9th century. This magnificent monastery, which seems to have molded with nature, is situated on an inaccessible hill, surrounded by a river gorge. The “Devil’s Bridge” formed by the warm mineral waters in the canyon nearby is an arched bridge with huge stalactites and stalagmites of fanciful shapes. Continue to Goris for dinner and overnight. (B/L/D)

Day 16: GORIS – SISSIAN – LAKE SEVAN – DILIJAN

After an early breakfast check out from the hotel to continue your Armenia adventure with a visit the megalithic settlement at Karahunge (singing stones) – the Stonehenge of Armenia. Situated 3 km from the town of Sissian on a plot of land of about 3 hectares, it is constructed of hundreds of large vertical stones. There is no doubt that this cyclopean monument, erected by ancient Armenians, served three principal purposes. It was the temple of the main god of the Sun “AR” (Aramazd, Arev, Ar-Ra); it was a huge and rather accurate astronomical device; and it was a large university and observatory. Back on the main highway and continue tracing the foot prints of the ancient caravans along the Great Silk Route, following the Arpa River to the Zangezour region. Continue to Lake Sevan, where spend some time exploring the wild nature and sunshine as well as visit 9th c AD Sevan Monastery. Then on to Dilijan for dinner and overnight at the Best Western Paradise Hotel. (B/L/D)

Day 17: DILIJAN – SANAHIN – HAGHPAT – YEREVAN

Start the day with a visit to Haghartsin Monastery in Dilijan – a beautiful ecclesiastic monument and one of the highlights of the medieval Armenian architecture. Afterwards, continue to Haghpat Monastery, perched on the edge of the Debed Canyon. The monastery has UNESCO World Heritage status and the view alone with worth the visit. Built by Queen Khosrvanuch in 976, it is a splendid architectural monument in a spectacular natural setting. Also visit another UNESCO site – the Sanahin Monastery. Our last stop before going to Yerevan is the Amberd Fortress on the slopes of Mount Aragats. Continue on to Yerevan for overnight. (B/L/D)

Day 18: YEREVAN – ETCHMIATSIN – YEREVAN

Our tour starts with an excursion to the sixth largest city of Armenia – Vagharshapat. The program today includes the first official Christian Church – Etchmiatsin Cathedral (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and it’s Museum, as well the Church of St. Hripsimeh Martyria. Return to Yerevan for overnight. (B/L)

Day 19: YEREVAN – KHOR VIRAP – ARENI – NORAVANK – YEREVAN

After early breakfast at the hotel we continue our Armenia discovery driving along the Great Silk Route from the country’s “heart” further to the South. Our journey of today lies along the “Cradle of human civilization”, the Ararat Valley. We first stop to visit Khor Virap monastery, which is marked in the history as a royal prison for the early Christians and is the site from where the light of Christianity spread throughout Armenia and beyond. From here you will have a spectacular view of Mount Ararat if the clouds cooperate! Our next stop is at a small town of Areni known for its wines (optional brief visit of a winery here to sample some of the local wines and to buy some if so wished.). Continue to Noravank Monastery (10th to 14th centuries). This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a splendid monastic complex hidden in the reddish mountains, like a brilliant white flower in the heart of the rocks. The monastery was once the home of the royal princes and a school for stonemasons. Spend some time exploring the area and enjoy a traditional Armenian open fire BBQ served in the grotto near the monastic complex. Return to Yerevan. Free evening and overnight at the hotel. (B/L)

Day 20: YEREVAN – GARNI-GUEGHARD-YEREVAN

Our excursion today takes us to the country’s North-east, where we shall visit the Fortress and Hellenistic Temple of Garni – a testimony to the Greek and Roman cultural influence in pre-Christian Armenia. Thereafter visit the medieval monastery of Gueghard, an architectural treasure carved into a cliff, which is counted as one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Armenia. We then return to the capital and enjoy free time with possible visit to the famous “Vernisage” – weekend arts and crafts open air market. Return to Yerevan for overnight. (B/L)

Day 21: YEREVAN

The tour of the city of Yerevan will introduce you to the capital of the Republic of Armenia, with its well-designed buildings, squares and streets, open air coffee houses and wealthy museums. The tour begins with a drive from the Republic Square – the heart of the city, a significant site for all major celebrations and the location of many impressive buildings, such as the History Museum, National Art Gallery, major ministries and the House of Government. Continue to the Panorama Ground affording a dramatic view of Yerevan with Mount Ararat on the background. We’ll also visit the National Museum of Armenian History – one of the most interesting museums of the kind, which possesses a rich collection of archaeological and historical artifacts the oldest dating to Stone and Bronze ages. Continue to Matenadaran Institute of Armenian Manuscripts – another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Overnight in Yerevan. (B/L)

Day 22: Departure

Early morning transfer to the airport for your departure flights.

Call for pricing.

Included:

  • Accommodation in hotels listed or similar with meals as indicated
  • Visa authorization for Iran (visa fee is separate)
  • All land transportation in air conditioned minivan/coach depending on number of participants
  • All transfers to/from airports, from/to hotels
  • Domestic flight from Tehran to Shiraz
  • All portages and entrance fees for main sites and excursions listed on itinerary
  • Highly-qualified English-speaking guides throughout

 Not Included:

  • International air
  • Visa for Iran ($200 visa fee) or Armenia ($10, obtained online)
  • Personal expenses such as laundry, phone/fax/internet, room service, minibar, etc.
  • Optional tours or entrance fees not shown on the itinerary
  • Refreshments, snacks, etc., en route or during meals, caviar at any meals, meals not listed
  • Tips for guides and drivers; we recommend about $4-$5 for the driver, $2 for a driver’s assistant if there is one, and $8-$10 for the guides, per person, per day
  • Fuel surcharges, if any

 

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