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Azadi (Freedom) Tower is not the symbol of Tehran but one of the symbols of the entire country. Completed in 1971 by architecture student Hossein Amanat, this monument was built to pay tribute to the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire and combines elements of pre- and post-Islamic architecture. The 50-meter skeleton is clad in white marble from Esfahan and sits on a 50,000sq meter cultural complex which integrates principles of the traditional Persian garden. Since its completion, Azadi Tower has acted like a silent sentry to the capital city and has witnessed some of Iran’s major historical events.
Azadi Tower, Azadi Square, Tehran, Iran +98 21 6602 3951
Kashan is known for its many historical houses, some of which have been converted into luxurious boutique hotels, but the most beautiful is arguably Borujerdi House whose grand dome steals Kashan’s skyline. Built in 1857 by architect Ustad Ali Maryam for the wife of a wealthy merchant, it consists of the traditional andaruni-biruni [interior and exterior] yards. This masterpiece of the Qajar era is adorned with reliefs, carvings, and frescos painted by royal painter Kamal ol-Molk, and is said to have taken 18 years to complete.
Borujerdi Historical House, Alavi St., Kashan, Iran +98 31 5522 3777
Approaching the town of Soltaniyeh in Zanjan province, you can’t help but notice a massive turquoise dome glistening in the distance. Constructed in the 14th century, the double-shell brick dome of Soltaniyeh is a UNESCO world heritage site and serves as an exemplar of Persian and Islamic architecture. Eight slender minarets decorate the exterior of this octagon while the interior is brimming with intricate details of Islamic calligraphy. A.U. Pope, an American expert on Iranian art, is said to have described it as ‘anticipating the Taj Mahal.’
Between the 11 bridges, Qajar palaces, breathtaking mosques, and sprawling bazaars, Esfahan has many landmarks to choose from. Naqsh-e Jahan Square, however, contains three of the most famous, the crown jewel of which is Imam Mosque on the southern side. Revered for its Islamic calligraphy, open iwans, symmetrical arcades, and lofty domes, this mosque is one of the finest in the country, emitting an almost celestial vibe. The special acoustic properties are a point of interest as they allow the Imam to speak in a low voice while still being heard clearly.
The twin minarets of Jameh Mosque in Yazd soar high over this desert city, and along with the mosaic domes, add a splash of turquoise to an otherwise beige skyline. At 48 meters high, these minarets stand on the shoulders of the towering portal adorned with exquisite calligraphy and complex geometric patterns. Built over a former fire temple in the 15th century, this mosque is replete with honeycomb tiles (said to repel mosquitos), Kufic script, faience, and swastika symbols (symbolizing infinity, timelessness, birth, and death), all of which lead to a dreamy star-filled dome.
Jameh Mosque, Masjed Jame St., Yazd, Iran +98 35 3663 3896
Nasir ol-Molk Mosque is, quite simply, an architectural masterpiece. Commonly said to be the most beautiful mosque in Iran, it has been nicknamed ‘The Pink Mosque’ due to the many rosy-hued tiles. Built from 1876 to 1888 under the order of Mirza Hasan Ali, a Qajar ruler, every nook and cranny is photogenic, and becomes especially picturesque in the morning when sunlight streams in through the stained glass windows to create a kaleidoscope of colors against the tiled walls and colorful Persian rugs.
Nasir ol-Molk Mosque, Lotf Ali Khan Zand St., Shiraz, Iran +98 71 3224 1661
The city of Tabriz has long been an important center of trade due to its strategic location along the Silk Road, and its bazaar is one of the oldest in the Middle East. Although construction began over a millennium ago, much of it dates back to the 15th century. Each part of this interconnected series of vaulted red brick buildings offers a different product, from gold and jewelry to rugs and spices. Also along the 7sq km labyrinth are caravanserais and domed hallways, making this bazaar a must see.