We arrived in Tehran in the evening, feeling tired especially after an 11-hour flight from Malaysia (including transit time in Dubai). By the time we exited the airport, we came across heavy traffic leading into Tehran. It was Friday, the weekend was already in full swing and locals were out and about (weekends in Iran are Friday & Saturday). A journey which could have been an hour to our hotel turned out to be 2 hours. All we wanted to do was check-in to the hotel, unpack, shower and go to sleep.
The next morning I woke up bright and early, feeling excited about our first day out in Tehran. I drew the curtains, half expecting to see snow-capped mountains in the distant – admittedly, scenes from the film Argo were etched in my memory – but only the backstreets of our hotel :-) I chuckled and thought to myself, get a grip, Kath, you’re here to see the real Tehran, not based on a Hollywood movie which incidentally was not filmed in Iran!
After breakfast, our guide Rana met us at the hotel lobby. Rana is a young tour guide who has been doing freelance tours in the city for the past 5 years. She speaks very good English and she is learning Italian at the same time.
Our 2-day itinerary in Tehran was pretty much everything that was palaces and museums. Initially, I had some reservations about the itinerary, mainly, for two reasons: Is that all there is to see in Tehran, and would we get bored hopping from one palace to another (likewise for museums)? Fortunately, Rana changed our perspective as she made our tours lively and light, so there was no room for boredom.
We had also mentioned to her from the start that we did not want to be rushed from one stop to another because we wanted to understand the history, gather some insights about a place and to soak in the atmosphere of wherever we were…and have time to take photos too! Rana was very delighted as she felt the same because she wanted us to see and experience what Iran truly was, outside palaces and museums. So, as we spent 2 days with her, she happily showed us places which were not in the itinerary; brought us to restaurants which only locals go (including an ice-cream parlour) and shared some personal insights about life in Iran.
The first palace we visited was Golestan Palace – ‘Gol’ in Persian means rose – therefore literally means Roseland Palace. Golestan is the oldest historic monument in Tehran, consisting of royal buildings in an ancient citadel, and was formerly official residence of the royal Qajar family from the late 18th century till the early 20th century. Then, from 1925 till 1979, Golestan was no longer the royal residence as the Pahlavi royals built their own palace at Niavaran. Instead, Golestan was used for formal royal receptions including important ceremonies such as the coronations of Reza Shah Pahlavi on the Marble Throne and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the Museum Hall.
Here are some of the attractions inside the Palace:
Marble Throne (Takht-e-Marmar) which is made of yellow marble from Yazd Province. The throne with elaborate and detailed marble carvings was, unfortunately, surrounded by glass panels to prevent damage which made it difficult for us to admire the ornate carvings up close and to take a picture due to reflections from the glass.
Decorative tiles and mosaic patterns were something which I was looking forward to see in Iran, and I got an initial preview of it in Khalvat-e-Karim Khani terrace which has a small throne and less ornamentation compared to the Marble Throne.
The finest stained glass windows in Golestan is the central room of the Building of Wind Towers (Emarat-e-Badgir)
The Golestan Palace complex consists of 17 structures comprising palaces, museums and halls, and it had went through 400 constructions and renovations over many centuries. We only visited the interesting ones, some of which we were not allowed to take any photographs inside, such as Talar-e-Berelian (Hall of Brilliance) known for its mirror work and chandeliers and Talar-e-Salam (Reception Hall) exhibited Iranian and European paintings alongside gifts presented to the royal court.
Since Golestan Palace complex is housed inside an ancient citadel, then the hubbub of commercial activities is outside the citadel. The Grand Bazaar (Bazar Bozorg) is walking distance from Golestan. I had read somewhere that the Grand Bazaar has lost much of its historical importance since commerce in the city has moved to the northern part, however, the bazaar is still active for the locals, travelling merchants, and increasingly for tourists. It was good to know from Rana that the Grand Bazaar was not set up purely for tourists unlike the Grand Bazaar in Instanbul (I have yet to travel to Instanbul).
Sadly, we were not able to see this historical market in action because it was Saturday, and all shops were closed.
We walked a little further and came across another bazaar which was smaller and shops were opened.
It was time for lunch and that meant it was time for Persian food! Before arriving in Iran, friends who have heard about the wonders of Iran (the ones who didn’t ask But…Why Iran?) have warned me about the possibility of gaining weight during this trip because of delicious Persian food. And they were absolutely right :-)
Rana recommended us to try tahchin, a Persian upside-down layered saffron rice and chicken slices – a mouthwatering dish seasoned with yogurt and egg yolk mixture, and garnished with barberries. Yummmmmmmmmmm!
We could not finish the dish as the servings were huge, so we asked for a doggy bag. The tahchin was too delectable to go wasted – we wanted to finish it even if it was within the confines of our hotel room for tea time later!
Writing the last paragraph on Persian food makes me crave for it now…hmm, I can’t focus. I have to continue this later ;-)
If you have missed the first post on Iran…read But…Why Iran?
Note: My trip to Iran was done with Homafaran Agency via Iran Traveling Center