Tehran

Dual-Frame


US Den of Espionage

The former US embassy was the focal point of the 1979 revolution, when it was stormed by students who then held 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days. Today the compound is occupied by the Student Basij Organisation dedicated to defending the revolution. It's a fascinating place to visit: the front grounds (now called the 'Museum Garden of Anti Arrogance') are plastered with colourful anti-Western propaganda posters. Part of the chancery is a museum, highlighting the spying which went on there.

 

Shiraz

The Isolated Beauty


Nasir ol Molk

The mosque attracts most visitors early in the morning (9am to 11am is best) when the hall and its Persian carpets are illuminated with a kaleidoscope of patterned flecks of light. It makes for a magical experience – and an irresistible photograph.

A museum in the opposite prayer hall opens into the Gav Cha (Cow Well), where cows were used to raise water from the underground qanat. The structure has survived numerous earthquakes, due in part to its construction using flexible wood as struts within the walls – look for the wooden bricks in the iwan columns. The rose-pink floral tiles are a signature feature of Shiraz.

 

Esfahan

Civilization


Naqsh-e Jahan (Imam) Square

Hemmed on four sides by architectural gems and embracing the formal fountains and gardens at its centre, this wondrous space is a spectacle in its own right. It was laid out in 1602 under the reign of the Safavid ruler, Shah Abbas the Great, to signal the importance of Esfahan as a capital of a powerful empire. Cross the square on a clear winter's day and it's a hard heart that isn't entranced by its beauty.