Given the strained relations between The Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States since the 1979 seizing of hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the April 1988 shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane by the U.S. Navy, killing all 290 aboard, I was a bit apprehensive about traveling to Iran. In the U.S., the news we see of Iran tends to focus on bearded militants marching in the streets, shouting anti-American slogans and burning the American flag. What traveling I have done, however, has taught me that the news rarely reflects day-to-day life and most people are naturally friendly, especially toward guests who have come to visit their country.
My apprehensions evaporated soon after arrival. Wherever we went, from crowded cities to remote mountain villages, people asked where we were from and when they learned we were from the U.S., almost all greeted us warmly and were eager to talk. Many became impromptu tour guides or offered to share food. Many had relatives or friends living in the U.S. After having visited about 30 countries over the last ten years I can say this categorically: the people of Iran are the friendliest I have met anywhere in all my travels.
Although the street demonstrations and political turmoil inside Iran make the international news, modern Iran is also heir to ancient Persia. Modern Iranians still avidly read and readily quote lines from the great Persian poets and they still gather at the poets' tombs to pay homage. Modern Iran faithfully maintains the elaborate Persian gardens and modern Iranians flock to them every chance they get. Modern Iran is still home to a vast array of colorful ethnic groups who retain their traditional customs and lifestyles. Modern Iran remains a land of spectacular Persian architecture, intricately woven Persian carpets and highly skilled artisans at work in the bustling bazaars. And modern Iran stills boasts some of the most stunning landscapes in the world, from the great salt deserts of central Iran to the lush green mountains, rice paddies and tea plantations along the Caspian Sea.
It was this intriguing mix of modern Iran and ancient Persia that lured me to the country for three weeks in October 2000. The prospect of a visit was made even more alluring by the fact that Iran is hardly a popular tourist destination, especially among Americans. I traveled with a group arranged by Geographic Expeditions of San Francisco. We were accompanied by a Geographic Expeditions guide, Hooman Aprin, who was raised in Iran and moved to the U.S. in his teens. The day-to-day arrangements on the ground in Iran were handled by Pasargad Tours of Tehran and their excellent local guide, Mojgan Attarzadeh.
The photos above offer a quick view of some of the highlights of Iran. For more detail on the particular areas of this vast country, follow the links to other Iran pages in the drop-down list below. The pages are divided into:
• Historical sites. The photos on these two pages are presented in chronological, rather than geographic, order and follow Persia's development through history. To take this tour through history, click on Ancient Persia or Islamic Persia.
• Scenes from modern Iran. These pages follow the itinerary our group took as we toured this vast country. On each page there is a link to take you to the next area we visited. To begin the geographic tour, start on the Tehran page.
• Detailed Account of Trip: For those interested in more detail about Iran or the trip, I have included the draft of an article I started to write. There are links in the article to the photographs, which will appear in a separate pop-up window.
• Time line of Persian / Iranian History: A brief summary of the history of ancient Persia up through the modern Islamic Republic. (You wouldn't want to confuse your Sassanians with your Safavids now, would you?)
Many pages, including this one, also include additional photos that will run in a separate pop-up window. This page, for example, has a pop-up slide show devoted to the people of Iran.