Tabriz – Azerbijan in Iran

Friday 14 to Sunday 16 November

It was a bumpy train ride, with sheets in our cabin reminiscent of my mother’s attempt to move the household style into the swinging seventies, on the overnight train from Tehran to Tabriz. We arrived early on a chilly Friday morning.

Friday is a rest day in Iran as in other Islamic countries, so some of the notable sights such as the Bazaar and the Blue Mosque were closed, however our guide Aidyn managed to fill our day.

We visited the Azerbaijan Museum to see the history of life in the northern part of Persia, from Stone Age through to the Islamic influences in the 10th century and onwards.

Also interesting was a series of sculptures by a contemporary Iranian telling some quite frightening stories of hunger, over population and the effects of war.

We visited the Poet’s Memorial, a gigantic, modern monument undergoing renovations. It is the burial place for a contemporary poet from Tabriz Shahryar and a memorial to more than 400 scholars whose tombs were destroyed in a massive earthquake.

We then visited the Masjed-e Jameh (Friday mosque). Once again I had to wear a chardor, plucked from a rack outside the mosque.  I seem to get so tangled in these things.

Of interest in Iran are the door knockers.  There are two designs and some of our guides insisted that one was for men to use with its deep sound and the other for women with its gentler sound.  Modesty is so important in this very Islamic country that the gender of your visitor helped to know who should answer the door.

Tabriz sits in a valley surrounded by treeless red hills – much like a lot of Iran.  We took a TeleCabin up to the foothills of Mount Eynali to view the Eynali Mountain Range. It had snowed quite recently and remnants were dotted over the red earth.  An artificial forest is being created on the slopes, providing greenery and improved air quality.

After an interesting lunch in the converted shell of an ice house, we tracked down the remnants of the ancient citadel. The walls are metres thick and at least that part of the wall had withstood numerous battles, although battle scars were prominently and proudly displayed.

We visited the Tourist House for its beautiful architecture and stopped by the local “Big Ben” clock tower – the Saat Tower (Municipality of Tabriz) to add to our digital collection.

We drove east to visit El-Gulu Lake, a popular hangout for fashionable Tabriz residents. In the centre of the lake is the former Shah’s summer palace, now an up market restaurant where the coffee tasted good.

Aidyn ensured we ate well at his favourite restaurant.

Next morning, nearly the last of the scarf and smock, we visited the promised Blue Mosque. Severely destroyed by an earthquake in 1779 it is now, finally, undergoing renovations. The tiles used in the mausoleum of Jahan Shah are a deep blue, quite a change from other Iranian sites.

The Bazaar of Tabriz, the biggest (haven’t I heard that before) on the silk route, has 7km of bazaars with at least 1km under roof. Tabriz was another of those important cross roads on the silk route. Undoubtedly a fantastic place with miles of carpets and gold and herbs and spices. This is truly what Istanbul’s golden bazaar once was.

Lunch was a typical Tabriz treat, sweet potato stewed until it is sugary.

We then took the 50km drive south of Tabriz to visit Kandovan village, and the troglodyte homes, excavated inside volcanic rocks in the foot hills of Mount Sahan. It is similar to dwellings in Cappadocia, Turkey and probably settled in pre-Islamic times as a refuge from enemies.

Life in this area is very simple and we saw many flocks of sheep with their shepherds.

Aydin again ensured we had a decent meal at his favourite restaurant before delivering us safely, in the midst of horrendous traffic, to our hotel.

Our departure from Iran was via St Stefano’s Armenian Monastery. There are a lot of Armenian’s living in Iran and the government has, after much debate, chosen to accept their lifestyle and religion on compassionate grounds.

As you would like to imagine, no matter how religious a state is, and Iran is undeniably an Islamic state, it is important that ethnically diverse people have the opportunity to live within their beliefs and without fear.

This is not only true for the Armenian Christians in North Eastern Iran but also for the minority Zoroastrians who live in Yazd and Tehran.

We drove along the Aras River valley. The river separates Iran from the Azerbaijan enclave and from Armenia.

Our departure from Iran was delayed as immigration and customs officials ate lunch, and then further delayed when it appeared that the e-visas we had applied for over the internet for Armenia were not acknowledge, so a fair amount of paperwork needed to be completed before we were out of no-mans land.