On June 4th, 2015 a group of us headed from the U.S.A to Iran to start an 11 day tour of Iran. We started our journey in the capital city of Tehran. From there, we explored many historic sites of Iran: Shiraz, with the tombs of Iran’s most beloved poets; Persepolis, with its splendid monuments; Yazd, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world with the unbelievable wind towers, and Isfahan, with its extraordinary mosques and Bazaars.
On our way to Iran we talked about how many friends had either discouraged us from visiting Iran or had been really nervous and scared for our safety while we are in Iran. We reflected on how little information our friends and family have about life in Iran. We had no idea of what to expect on this trip.
Iran is an ancient and proud land with a rich culture. Iran sits in an increasingly important corner of Asia — surrounded by Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. On our journey, we had the opportunity to enjoy its rich and fascinating culture, to get to know a nation that’s a leader in its corner of the world — and has been for 2500 years, and to better understand the 70 million people who call this place home.
We visited Shiraz, a booming city of over a million people with the tombs of Iran’s most beloved poets and philosophers. Perhaps the two greatest were Hafez and Saadi, who lived here centuries ago. Gardens sprawl out from the poets’ tombs with tranquil corners provided to ponder the mystical brilliance of these prophets of love. Hafez who lived in the early fourteenth century is entombed beneath this ornate canopy in this peaceful garden. His lyrical poems are noted for their beauty. They draw upon themes of love, mysticism, and early Sufi teachings. He is revered and his poetry is still enormously influential on the Iranian people.
We loved Shiraz and the incredible historic sites. We visited Persepolis after Shiraz which was the stunning capital of the Persian Empire back when it reached from Greece all the way to India. Built by Darius and his son Xerxes the Great around 500 BC, this was the awe-inspiring home of the ‘king of kings’ for nearly 200 years. The vast complex is a series of royal palaces built on an elevated terrace. At the time Persia was so mighty, no fortifications were needed. Still 10,000 guards served at the pleasure of the emperor. As history has taught us, no empire lasts forever. In 333 BC Persepolis was sacked and burned by Alexander the Great — the Macedonian Greek who turned the tide against the Persian Empire. Ending Persian dominance, Alexander spread his Greek culture all the way to India. And Persepolis has been in ruins ever since.
But the most endearing and surprising finding to my American travel mates was the fact that Iranians approached us everywhere and wanted to make connections, speak English with, ask about our opinions of Iran and Iranian people and to take photos with us. In Shiraz, at the tomb of the poet Saadi, we saw many Iranian families sitting in the shade with their picnic on their own vacations to this beautiful city. A little girl ran after us and gave a cookie to Martha and then took her hand and walked her back to her family. The family members then walked up to Martha asking if she would like to hold their baby and if would take a photo with the baby. We all laughed for a long time about how unusual it was for all of us to get this level of trust from people who just handed their baby to us. Everyone was so interested in connecting to the Americans. People stopped us in the streets to ask our impressions of Iran. They told us that they pray for a much better relationship between our two countries. Several times we were approached by children who knew of the nuclear talks between Iran and the U.S. While we were visiting the most incredible garden in Yazd we were approached by a family who had no television and lived in a very small village in the mountains of Iran, he knew the dates for the talks and asked our opinions and predictions for the outcomes. I wondered to myself many times and Iranian approached us and started these conversations, how many Americans are aware of world news, how many Americans know the history of Iran, how many Americans understand the complexity of the nuclear talks or even know the dates?
The people of Iran did a fantastic job of hosting us. We received warm welcomes everywhere. We saw many other European tourists all over Iran but hardly any Americans. Iranians stressed to us that they hope that by building a stronger relationship between the people of Iran and U.S.A. we can change the future of people all over the Middle East. Every Iranian we spoke with hoped that we were amongst many, many more Americans who are interested in connecting to the Iranian people. Here is to that better and more peaceful future.