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Study Trip

A Visit to North West Iran

Friday, 3 – Monday, 13 November 2017
Leader: Khun Bilaibhan Sampatisiri, Former President

 

 

Iran has been home to organised urban settlements since at least 4000 BC and even from those times the history of Iran has been intertwined with the history of the region as a whole. Initially the Elamites and Medes paid tribute to the greater Mesopotamian powers of Sumeria and Neo-Assyria. But for about 1100 years from 550 BC a succession of Iranian empires were the superpowers that dominated the region from Egypt, the Mediterranean and the borders of Europe in the west to the Indus River in the east. It began with the Achaemenids, was interrupted by Alexander the Great and the Seleucids, and continues with the Parthian and Sassanid dynasties.

The arrival of the Arabs in AD 633 was a turning point in Iranian history. The Zoroastrian religion was soon replaced by Islam, but the more advanced arts, sciences and administration that had defined Persian civilisation were absorbed into Islamic life. What followed was a pattern that would recur for hundreds of years: a strong ruler creates an empire, his death begins the slow fragmentation of control and another strong ruler sweeps the weakened state aside to begin his own empire. The players included the Arabs, several local and Turkish dynasties and the Mongols. Through it all the Persian national, political and cultural identity survived and, indeed, was largely adopted by the invader.

In 1502 the Safavid dynasty reestablished Iran as an independent state, adopted Shi’a Islam as the official religion and expanded the empire across much of the region. Their demise in 1722 led to another round of short-term dynasties before the Qajars, and later the Pahlavis, continued royal rule until the 1979 revolution brought with it the Islamic Republic.

The north west of Iran is away from the mainstream touristic sites which are dominated by Persian culture and history. On this trip we will visit the north west part of Iran starting from the Caspian Sea region to the Azerbaijan region and to the Kordestan region, visit their historic heritage, and get amazed by their rich culture, language and more traditional side of Iran.

The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed inland body of water on Earth by area, variously classed as the world’s largest lake. It is an endorheic basin (a basin without outflows) located between Europe and Asia. It is bounded by Kazakhstan to the northeast, Russia to the northwest, Azerbaijan to the west, Iran to the south, and Turkmenistan to the southeast.

Approximately 20 percent of the southern shoreline borders Iran/Persia (Guilan, Mazandaran and Golestan provinces) at the foot of the Elburz Mountains. The Caspian coastline region in Iran is one of the most popular destinations for tourists. The scenery, climate and natural environment mean that it is one of the best areas in Iran for outdoor activities such as trekking, mountain climbing, camping and horse riding, and with a wider range of biological diversity than anywhere else in Iran, there is great potential for eco-tourism of all kinds. Also of great interest are the farming and fishing villages of the region where traditional lifestyles, customs and architecture survive to this day.

Azerbaijan, also known as Iranian Azerbaijan, is a region in northwestern Iran that borders Iraq, Turkey, the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, Armenia, and the Republic of Azerbaijan. Iranian Azerbaijan is administratively divided into West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan, Ardabil, and Zanjan provinces. The region is mostly populated by Azerbaijanis, with minority populations of Kurds, Armenians, Tats, Talysh, Assyrians and Persians.

Prior to the Russo-Persian wars of the 19th century, the Azerbaijani people were distributed throughout the north-western Persian Empire, with the highest concentrations in Persian provinces that correspond to contemporary Iranian Azerbaijan and the Republic of Azerbaijan. Following military defeats at the hands of the Russian Empire, Qajar Persia ceded all of its territories in the North Caucasus and  Transcaucasia to Russia via the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813 and the Treaty of Turkmenchay of 1828. Since then the Azerbaijani people have been partitioned between nations. The territories south of the Aras River, which comprised the region historically known as Azerbaijan, became the new north-west frontier of the Persian Empire and later Iran. The territories north of the Aras River, which were not known by the name Azerbaijan at the time of their capture by Russia, were absorbed into the Russian Empire, renamed the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic during the country's short-lived independence from 1918 to 1920, incorporated into the Soviet Union as the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, and finally became the independent Republic of Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union dissolved.

The Kurdish region of Iran is a geographical area in western Iran that has been historically and is presently inhabited by a predominantly Kurdish population. This region includes parts of three Iranian provinces; the Kordestan Province, the Kermanshah Province, and the West Azerbaijan Province. These three Iranian provinces share borders with parts of Iraq and Turkey that are also inhabited by the Kurds.

The Kurdish people have inhabited the northwestern region of Iran for centuries – dating back before the Islamic conquests of the 7th century. It is believed that the  Kurdish language was derived from Persian dialects in the early centuries AD, and that the Kurdish people represent a diverse range of tribal and ethnic groups from the region.

Azaris: Commonly called “Turks” in Iran, the Azaris make about 16% of the population. They speak Azari Turkish, a dialect mixing Turkish with Farsi. They are concentrated in northwest Iran, in the Azerbayjan province around Tabriz. Although there’s an independent Republic of Azerbaijan, the majority of Azerbaijanis actually live in Iran. Azaris are Shiite unlike the Turks of neighboring Turkey. Azaris are very well integrated into Iranian society. Many Azari Iranians are prominent in Farsi literature, politics and the clerical world. The Safavid shahs were Azaris from Ardabil and the current supreme leader Ali Khamenei is an ethnic Azari. Azaris are famously active in commerce, so bazaars nationwide ring with their voluble voices.

Lors: These proud people constitute about 6% of Iran’s population and are thought to be descendants of the first people in the region, the Kassits and Medes. Many speak Lori, a mixture of Arabic and Farsi, and a significant minority remain nomadic. Whether nomadic or settled, most live in or near the mountainous western province of Lorestan. Lori or Lor are best known to Westerners for the magnificent bronze-crafts of their hazily documented Kassite forebears. Around 1800 BC. These polytheistic horse-breeding warriors were pushing forward the boundaries of metallurgical technology casting exquisite bronze whose fine decoration belies their often mundane purpose.

 

The tentative programme will be as follows:

Day 1: Friday, 3 November: Bangkok – Tehran

1.00 p.m. Meet at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Row J, check in counter for Thai Airways
3.10 p.m. Depart Bangkok to Tehran by TG527
7.35 p.m.

Arrive Tehran International Airport, transfer to hotel Novotel Airport

Dinner and overnight at hotel Novotel Airport

Day 2: Saturday, 4 November: Tehran – Masuleh

Morning: After breakfast, check out of the hotel and proceed by coach to the north western part of Iran to Masuleh village, Gilan province.
1.30 p.m. Arrive at Masuleh, lunch at local restaurant
Afternoon: Explore the charming village of Masuleh, set in the Alborz mountains 1,050 metres above sea level. The attractive houses in the village have a unique architecture and have remained for a thousand years. The spectacular architecture of Masuleh is popularly known as "The yard of the building above is the roof of the building below".  The village has been tentatively listed as a World Heritage site.
- Dinner and overnight at Hotel Aram in Masuleh

Day 3: Sunday, 5 November:  Masuleh – Ardabil

Morning:

After breakfast, check out of the hotel and take a scenic drive alongside the Caspian Sea to Iranian Azerbaijan province.

En route visit the port city of Bandar-e-Anzali.  Take a boat ride on Anzali Lagoon, one of the few Iranian wetlands which have been registered as an international wetland in the 1975 Ramsar Convention. After that continue to Ardabil.
Noon: Lunch at local restaurant
Late Afternoon:

Arrive Ardabil, a holy city beautifully situated at the foot of the Kuh-e Sabalan Mountain (4811 meters). Previously, the city was an important Sufi center.

Ardabil is known for its silk and carpet trade tradition. Ardabil rugs are renowned and the ancient Ardabil Carpets are considered one of the best of the classical Persian carpets.  Visit a World Heritage Site: the sanctuary and tomb of Shaikh Safî ad-Dîn, eponymous founder of the Safavid dynasty.
Evening:

Continue to the nearby hot springs town of Saraeyn. The mineral springs of Ardabil are Beele-Darreh, Saraeyn, Sardabeh and Booshloo, which are famed throughout Iran for their medicinal qualities.

Check in at Hotel Laleh in Saraeyn, dinner at the hotel.

Day 4: Monday, 6 November:  Ardabil  - Kandovan -  Tabriz

Morning: After breakfast, check out of the hotel and visit the hot springs before leaving Saraeyn to visit Kondovan village, famous for its extraordinary Troglodyte houses, similar to those of the Cappadocia area of Turkey. Some are over eight hundred years old and many are still occupied.
Noon: Lunch at local restaurant
Afternoon: Proceed to Tabriz, the capital of East Arzerbaijan province.
Evening: Check in at Hotel Laleh Park in Tabriz, dinner at local restaurant

Day 5: Tuesday, 7 November:  Tabriz – Jolfa  – Tabriz

- Breakfast at the hotel
Morning:

Day trip to visit Jolfa and St. Stephanos Church.

Drive north to the Armenian town of Jolfa. The border between Iran and Azerbaijan is carved by the Aras River which lies just outside Jolfa. The Armenians lived in this area for many centuries until the 17th Century, when Shah Abbas forcibly moved more than 150,000 Armenians to Esfahan, to develop his new capital because the Armenians are well known for their skills of artistry, labour and trade. Many ruins of Armenian Churches along the Aras River are still visible.
We will visit the Armenian monastery complex of St Stepahnos which stands in a canyon 1.5km south of the Azerbaijani border and 20km west of Jolfa. The structure seen today dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries, while the legend has it that St Bartholomew first founded a church at this site around AD 62. The monastery remains a pilgrimage site for Armenians today.
Noon: Lunch at local restaurant
Afternoon: Drive back to Tabriz. Visit the Bazaar of Tabriz, one of the oldest bazaars of the Middle East and the largest covered bazaar in the world. Marco Polo came to the Tabriz Bazaar in the late 13th century when the city served as a major trading center on the Silk Road. It was inscribed as World Heritage Site by UNESCO in July 2010.
Evening: Dinner at local restaurant and overnight at hotel Laleh Park

Day 6: Wednesday, 8 November: Tabriz  – Zanjan

Morning: After breakfast, check out of the hotel.
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City tour in Tabriz. We will visit Arg-e Tabriz, a huge and crumbling brick citadel was built in the early 14th century on the site of a massive mosque which collapsed more than 500 years ago and Masjed-e Kabud (The Blue Mosque), built in 1465, badly damaged by earthquakes several times but it is still notable for the intricate tile-work.

After that continue to Zanjan, the capital of Zanjan Province. It lies 298 km north-west of Tehran on the main highway to Tabriz and Turkey.
Noon: Lunch at local restaurant
Afternoon: Visit the mausoleum of Oljeitu Khodabandeh, known as the Soltanieh Dome. This unique 700-year-old brick structure, built by Sultan Mohammad Oljeitu between 1302 and 1312 BC., is an outstanding example of Persian and Islamic architecture with its octagonal base and beautiful tile-work. The 54-meter tall dome towers above many of the fascinating historical sites in Iran. The Soltanieh Dome was registered on UNESCO's World Heritage list in 2006 after the Naqshe Jahan square, Persepolis, the Chogha Zanbil Ziggurat, Takht-e Soleiman, Pasargadae, and the Bam citadel.
Evening: Dinner and overnight at hotel Grand in Zanjan

Day 7: Thursday, 9 November: Zanjan - Takht -  Soleyman - Sanadaj

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After breakfast, visit Takht-e Soleyman (Solomon's Throne), the holiest shrine of Zoroastrianism and the most important relic of the former Sassanid Empire. The temple housed one of the three "Great Fires" or "Royal Fires" that Sassanid rulers humbled themselves before in order to ascend the throne.

Folk legend relates that King Solomon used to imprison monsters inside the 100 m deep crater of the nearby Zendan-e Soleyman "Prison of Solomon". Another crater inside the fortification itself is filled with spring water and Solomon is said to have created a flowing pond that still exists today.
This archaeological site dates from the 6th century. It was partially rebuilt during the Ilkhanid period (13th-14th century): they added new constructions and reused the site as a palace.
The site officially comprises one location, but there are 6 sub-locations such Takht-e Soleyman with its fire temple and Anahita temple, the small hill Zendan-e Suleyman (‘Solomon’s prison’), a mountain to the east that served as a quarry for the construction of the site, the archaeological mound Tepe Majid and Belqeis Mountain with a citadel.
Noon: Lunch at local restaurant
Afternoon: Drive to Sanandaj, capital of Kordestan province. If time permits, we will visit the Sanadaj Bazaar.
Evening: Dinner and overnight at hotel in Sanandaj

Day 8: Friday, 10 November:  Sanandaj – Kermanshah

Morning:

After breakfast, check out of the hotel and visit Asef Vaziri Mansion, known as the House of Kurd, one of the most beautiful historical homes of Sanandaj. The house was built during the Safavid era (1501-1722) and improvements were added during the Qajar (1785–1925) and Pahlavi (1925-1979) eras.

Visit Sanandaj Museum in the Mulla Lotfollah Sheikhol Eslam Mansion. In this museum, archaeological objects excavated in the province or the other parts of Iran are exhibited. The Oroosie works (stained-glass windows) of this museum is one of the best in Sanandaj and were made by Sanandaji artists.
Noon: Lunch at local restaurant
Afternoon: Proceed to Kermanshah, the largest Kurdish-speaking city in Iran which used to be an important station for the trade route to Baghdad. Kermanshah is one of the ancient cities of Iran. Evidence indicated that this province has been inhabited since the Paleolithic and Neolithic age. Considering the historical monuments found in Kermanshah, it was very glorious in the Achaemenid and Sassanid eras and was highly regarded by the kings of those times.
Evening: Dinner and overnight at hotel in Kermanshah

Day 9: Saturday, 11 November: Kermanshah - Tehran

Morning:

After breakfast, check out and proceed to visit the most important archaeological sites around Kermanshah. We will visit the following places.

Darius I the Great's inscription at Bisotoun (6th century BCE), listed in World Heritage sites in 2006: At a site some 1300 meters high in the mountains. It was, here that Sir Henry Rawlison copied the trilingual inscription of Darius I of Achaemenids, carved in 522 BC. In old Persian, Elamite and Akkadian, an important step in the eventual decipherment of cuneiform in the mid19th century. The Bisotoun relief above the inscription depicts Darius facing the nine rebel kings, whom the Achaemenid rulers uppercased when he came to power.

At the foot of the hill there are three Parthian reliefs believed to be the oldest Parthian reliefs, badly damaged by ravages of time and land endowment carved by Sheik Ali Khan Zanganeh, the premier of Safavid king Shah Soleiman.

Chehr Bridge, built during the reign of the founder of the dynasty Reza Shah (1878-1944) over the Gamasiab River in Kermanshah. This 60-meter-long and 4.75-meter wide bridge has been built using stones from the Sassanid (226-651 CE) structures of Bisotun. The bridge has six arches and there are Islamic tombstones used in the structure of the bridge.

Tagh-e Bostan, Sassanid Reliefs (224-651 BC) is a site with a series of large rock reliefs from the era of Sassanid Empire of Iran, the Iranian dynasty which ruled western Asia from 226 to 650 AD. Located in the heart of the Zagros mountains.
The Sassanid kings chose a sensational setting for their rock reliefs Taghe-e-Bostan. A sacred spring gushes forth from a mountain cliff and empties into a large reflecting pool.
One of the most impressive reliefs, inside the largest grotto or "ivan" is the gigantic equestrian of Sassanid king, Khosrow II (591-628 CE) mounted on his favorite charger, Shabdiz. Both horse and rider are arrayed in full battle armor. There are two hunting scenes on opposite side of the ivan, one depicts royal hunting scenes which are among the most vivid of all rock reliefs, true narrative murals in stone.
The site has been turned into an archaeological park and a series of late Sasanian and Islamic column capitals have been brought together (some found at Taq owsa, Bisotun and Kermanshah).
Noon: Lunch
- Transfer to airport for flight to Tehran
- Dinner and overnight at hotel in Tehran

Day 10: Sunday, 12 November: Tehran – Bangkok

- Check out. Sightseeing in Tehran including a visit to the National museum and the Islamic Museum
Noon: Lunch
5.00 p.m. Transfer to airport
8.45 p.m. Depart to Bangkok by Thai Airways, flight TG528

Day 11: Monday, 13 November: Bangkok

6.40 a.m. Arrive Suvarnabhumi Airport

 

 

Booking

Bt. 149,500.- (or Bt. 152,500.- for non-members). Single room surcharge Bt. 21,000.- A deposit of Bt. 40,000.- and photocopy of passport must accompany the booking. Payment in full is required one month before the start of the trip (i.e. by Tuesday, 3 October). Please pay by cash or cheque payable to ‘The Siam Society”. Alternatively, you can deposit/transfer the money to the Siam Society travel account at the Thai Military Bank, Asoke Branch saving account no. 053-2-18000-7. Please fax or e-mail the deposit or transfer docket to us.

Your reservation will be confirmed as soon as the deposit has been made. There is a 4% surcharge for credit/debit card payment to cover bank charges.

Includes/Excludes:

The contribution includes all meals as mentioned in programme, accommodation for two persons per room, entrance fees, tips to local guide and driver and other costs incurred to make this trip possible.

It excludes visa fee, personal expenses, tips for additional service, any chargeable beverages/ drinks (e.g. hotel minibar), payment or offering for photographing and video shooting, individual service apart from the group, other expense of personal nature like telephone calls, laundry etc.

Cancellation charge:

30 days before the start of the trip:                          No cancellation charge
30 – 15 days before the start of the trip:                   50% of the tour cost
Less than 15 days or cancellation without notice:       No refund

The Siam Society reserves the right to change the programme as necessary. Seats are limited. Please book your place as soon as possible. For further information and bookings please contact Khun Prasert or Khun Supanut.