Awe-inspiring ancient sites of wild western Iran

Leave the bright lights and tourist delights of Esfahan and Shiraz far behind to track down astonishing millennia-old relics among the dusty wilds of ancient Persia.

Iran (IMNA) - From snow-tipped northern crags to scorching southern deserts, you’ll traverse eroded volcanic plateaus, explore ancient river valleys and pass under the mournful gaze of long-abandoned castles on this intrepid quest for these far-flung treasures (many of which are Unesco listed).

Takht-e Soleiman

Achingly remote, this atmospheric collection of 1500-year-old ruins lie scattered across a volcanic rim on the desolate badlands west of Zanjan, near the small town of Takab. Once an important Zoroastrian fire temple, Solomon's Throne was so-named as a local ruse to protect the site from 7th-century Arab invaders. The grounds include a large thermal pond, more evidence of the area’s volcanism, as well as random stone structures in various stages of restoration. The nearby spiky Zendan-e-Soleiman (Solomon’s Prison) rewards climbers with a view of a sulphurous crater, and a handful of tiny hot pools simmer in the vicinity.

Aras River Valley

Forming Iran’s northern border with Azerbaijan and Armenia, which are still technically in conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, the scenically imposing Aras River Valley has played host to traders, spies and marauding armies since biblical times. Safe inside a line of watchtowers, the road along the dramatic southern Iranian bank meanders spectacularly through mudbrick villages, crumbling ruins and soaring jagged peaks. Whether the Aras is actually the River Gihon from the Garden of Eden is debatable, but it’s obvious that the northern bank, with its bombed-out stations, abandoned trains and barricaded tunnels, is no paradise.

Highlights of the valley include the Kordasht Hammam , an ancient subterranean bathhouse within bubble-blowing distance of Armenia, and the Khodaafarin Bridges, dating from the 13th century, still spanning the Aras, now to a post-apocalyptic no-man’s land. While travelling through the valley on the Iranian side is perfectly safe, be careful where you point your camera, as the border guards are notoriously paranoid.

Source: Lonely Planet

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