If there is one destination that can make a traveler’s heart beat faster (well, at least this traveler’s heart), it is probably Iran. Thousands of years of history, significant centers of civilizations, beautiful unique architecture, and years of isolation make Iran an enigmatic destination. So it was with great anticipation that over a year ago (it takes a while to get a visa), I committed to my first (and hopefully not last) trip to Iran.
Iran is not an easy place to go for an American because, for the past 37 years, our respective governments have not had a formal diplomatic relationship. Though I understand the importance of the issues about which our governments disagree, this blog post is not about politics. As readers of this blog know, I care about people and their cultures, regardless of who runs their government. So this blog post is about the people of Iran and their fantastic culture.
While getting ready for the trip, in addition to the incredulous look in many of my friends’ eyes when told about my next destination, I began wondering what Iran would be like. Having been somewhat isolated from the Western world for almost 40 years, I wondered whether it would be like Cuba or Burma, looking somewhat frozen in the era when their communications with the rest of the world mostly stopped. To be clear, I was not expecting to see hot pants, bellbottom pants, and platform shoes, but I wondered whether Iran would feel like it has been in a time warp. And speaking of hot pants, I also pondered about the dress code. We were told that in keeping Islamic rules, women must cover their hair and dress conservatively. Does that mean that every woman wears a black chador, a long black veil that covers the entire body? And how will Iranians react when we tell them that we are Americans? Will we get suspicious and wary looks?
My first question was quickly answered after I landed. Tehran does not feel very different from other modern cities. It looked like many other bustling city centers with yellow cabs and “unbelievable” traffic. (Although I had wondered whether I would feel unsafe in Iran, the only time I experienced any fear was while attempting to cross the street in Tehran. The driving style there makes Delhi and Hanoi feel pedestrian-friendly, I swear.) Sitting in front of the majestic Alborz mountains, Tehran proudly boasts a modern tower, the Milad tower, the 6th tallest tower in the world, and a magnificent pedestrian bridge, the Tabiat (literally Nature) bridge, recently built by a young woman architect. As for women’s fashion, it covers the spectrum. Though at the mosques, a chador (but not necessarily black) is required, in the streets, only the hijab (headscarf) is mandatory. Some conservative women wear a black chador at all times (often with skinny jeans underneath), but many women wear beautiful and elegant hijabs perfectly coordinated with the rest of their outfits.
As for the Iranian people, they were extremely welcoming and friendly. As soon as people noticed that we were foreigners (which I am afraid was pretty obvious, particularly when I kept tripping on my chador when visiting the mosques), we were told: “Welcome to Iran, welcome to my country, thank you for coming to my country.”We heard that again and again from people everywhere, young, old, men, and women, in cities and villages. People were engaging, and curious, and only more so when they learned that we were from America. They all had many questions about our country, but none as many as a group of charming school girls I met who were all asking questions simultaneously, delighted to be able to use their English.
Although people usually take prominence in my blogs, more so than buildings, in trying to give a sense of place about Iran, the first thing that comes to mind is the mosques. There are mosques everywhere. Some are magnificent and imposing, standing proudly in the center of a large city; others are more intimate and colorful, like the so-called “Pink Mosque” in Shiraz. Yet, others are small, isolated on the side of a road or in a field of almond trees. And, of course, where there are mosques, there are also clerics with long robes and turbans.
Though not as numerous as the mosques, the bazaars are also a big part of the Iranian way of life. They are huge, and most things can be purchased at the bazaar. The Grand Bazaar in Tehran is the biggest and was full of people when we were there, some preparing for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. But in every town and village, there are also bazaars selling fragrant spices, dried fruits and nuts, lots of pomegranate (a favorite here), and also clothes, fabric, jewelry, copper pots, and, of course, many, many carpets. As hospitality is taken seriously in Iran, there is always a cup of tea ready for you at the bazaar.
Oh, and let’s not forget the sweets! Every city had its creations made of pistachios, dates, or sesame seeds, each seeming to be better than the previous ones. I have no images of the sweets, but I truly enjoyed them all.
Welcome to Iran,
P.S. You can follow me on Instagram at franceleclerc
Beutiful images. Makes me want to go!! Thank you. Hope your foot is doing ok?
Thanks Michele. Hope my foot is doing better too. I won’t know for 2 more weeks 🙂
Excellent article, superb photos !!
You may be interested in my Sets/albums on flickr.
Click link, then click on first thumbnail and scroll down for text.
Explore and enjoy. 🙂
I’ll come back to your blog etc.
Dear Peter, Thanks for visiting the blog. You have some nice images. Looks like you had a lovely trip. Kind regards, France
This is fascinating, France. Thank you for the detailed commentary and for sharing your expectations (or rather, questions) before your trip. For someone who does not typically photograph architecture, you certainly have spectacular images of the mosques. I love their colorful lighting at night. It’s also wonderful to hear that people were so welcoming. That warms my heart!
Thanks Kathy. I don’t mind photographing architecture but I find it hard to make it unique (my problem), it is easier to do with people. And yes, people were very welcoming and happy to see visitors. It was all good. XX France
This is wonderful. Now I want to go to Iran. We were recently in Turkey and the range in what women wear seems the same, except in Turkey the head scarf is not mandatory. I’ve read elsewhere about Iranian hospitality. I’d like to experience that, and see the beautiful mosques. Beautiful photographs. You capture something that draws me in.
Alison, I am sure you would enjoy it. The sites are spectacular and the people lovely. It is probably easier for you to visit than for Americans too. Hope you get there one day. France
Gorgeous! Reminds me of India which I loved, so want to go to Iran.
Thank you Julie. India is a favorite of mine too. And I would love to go to Iran again. Lots that I have not seen. The world is a big place. Warm regards, France
Great photos as always and interesting to see some different shots of a place that I haven’t seen much of. Did you go to the archeological sites too?
Thank you Jura. Yes I went to the archeological sites. They were as impressive as expected. I may put some images in a later blog, I am not sure. I find it difficult to make unique compelling images of archeological sites. They are so overwhelming. In some ways, the magic is to be able to see in your mind what these sites once were. It is a challenge (at least for me) to make an image that can achieve that goal. And I was there at mid-day with very harsh light. But we’ll see. Yu made me want to look at these images again. Kind regards, France
Evocative images with a surprising calmness, even in the bazaars; maybe it reflects your calm detailed style… Your detailed blog made me want to return to this friendly country with such elegant architecture. I was there in 1970 when the Shah was still in power ( and Tom Jones was popular on their radio!) and now I meet with Iranian refugees in Australia. As you said, all so hospitable and polite, regardless of what is going on politically. Cheers.
Dear Libby. So nice to hear from you. It must have a been a great time to visit in 1970. I wonder how different it would feel, if you were to return. At least you already had a chance to experience their magnificent sites, I was afraid I would never get the opportunity. Hope all is well in your part of the world.
I’m glad world is a big place, and minor obstacles like broken bones don’t seem to cramp your style. This is a very compelling body of images – amazing sites and most of all, the people. Traveling to Iran was never on my list of places to go, but if the opportunity would come my way, thanks to your blog, I would not hesitate. Thanks for sharing. Trust you’ll keep it up. Hope you’ll heal quickly. Are you back in Chicago?
Thanks Sara. Luckily the broken bones were after Iran. And yes, the word is a big place, that is why we need healthy bones 🙂 Yes, I am now in Chicago.
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Beautiful photos from such an interesting country. I particularly love the ones inside the Pink Mosque.
Thank you Rebecca. Yes the pink mosque is a very special place. It is not very big but pretty magical. If you are interested, there are two more posts on Iran on the blog, one of them on Estafan which features some beautiful mosques as well. Thanks again for visiting.