Mirrors of the Unseen - A History of Iran

Neither East nor West: an off-the-beaten-track adventure…

  • Visit the ‘City of the Persians’, the incomparable ancient site of Persepolis
  • Explore Yazd, the Zoroastrian Desert City on the edge of one of Iran’s giant deserts
  • Discover the exquisitely-decorated Golestan Palace and get a taste of Qajar-era grandeur
  • Guaranteed departure
  • Your very own copy of Jason Elliot's Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran

Iran is an incomparably exotic and fascinating destination, rich in historical and cultural treasures, and home to no fewer than 19 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Our tour includes a visit to Tehran — known for its magnificent museums, bustling bazaars, gigantic parks, and Golestan Palace. We visit traditional Persian gardens in Kashan; learn about a Safavid era ‘pleasure-house’; and discover unique architecture in Shiraz. Of course, no trip to Iran would be complete without a visit to the unforgettable Persepolis — the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire.

Iran is almost overflowing with monumental treasures — but thinking only in terms of ‘sights’ misses the real story. Discover a rare and timely portrait of Iran, alongside Jason Elliot, award-winning writer, New York Times best-seller, and author of ‘Journeys in Iran’. Jason will introduce us to the sublime architecture of Isfahan and urban contradictions of the capital, Tehran, and enable us to explore Iran’s immensely rich heritage of Persian and Islamic art.

The Persian Kingdom was one of the greatest powers of the ancient world — walk in the footsteps of the ‘Iranian Henry VIII’, Shah Abbas; the master poet, mystic, and spiritual guide Hafez, and many more. We’ll also discover the mysterious world of the Zoroastrians…

Itinerary 2018

Day 1

We arrive late in Shiraz and transfer to our hotel.

Day 2

We spend the day in Shiraz. Mention Shiraz to an Iranian and you will no doubt observe the tender flicker of nostalgia on their face… Despite being a modern city, Shiraz is the home and resting-place of Iran’s most beloved figure - Master-poet, Mystic, Spokesman of the Unseen, Articulator of Mysteries, Prognosticator, and Spiritual Guide, whose words transmit the tenderest of all balms to the Persian soul… Hafez, of course. Persians are born with an innate love for and knowledge of Hafez. We discover the physical monument expressing this metaphysical love affair in Shiraz, where the poet was laid to rest in 1413.

Day 3

No trip to Iran would be quite complete without taking in Persepolis - the site is truly magnificent, and quite simply unforgettable. After lunch, we travel to the Naqsh-i-Rustam reliefs at Naqsh-i-Rajab, which date back to the 3rd century. We end the day at Shah tent village - a reconstruction of the spectacular tent city that hosted kings, sheikhs and sultans in 1971 during an event described as the greatest cultural gathering in history. The party was staged by Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi beside the ancient ruins of Persepolis to pay homage to 2,500 years of the monarchy.

Day 4

Firuzabad represents a fascinating link in architectural and cultural history. The Sassanian king Ardeshir built his palace here in 224 AD - after draining the lake which Alexander is said to have created to drown the inhabitants of this entirely circular town. We explore its unique architecture - which includes the earliest-known example of a dome supported by a squinch, a unique device which enables a dome to rest upon a square base. This is a modest but hugely significant site.

Day 5

We spend more time in Shiraz today - yet another of Iran’s former capital cities. This is a popular destination even for Iranians, who flock to the place to visit its many gardens, monuments and mosques, and its bustling bazaars. We then visit the tomb of Cyrus the Great - said to be one of the oldest earthquake-resistant structures in the world and make our way to Pasargadae, homeland of the Persians. Its palaces, gardens and the mausoleum of Cyrus present outstanding examples of royal Achaemenid art and architecture. The 4th century BC tomb of Cyrus is Iran’s most celebrated ancient monument; all historical roads lead back to this quasi-mythical liberator of the Jews from Nebuchadnezzar’s oppressive Babylon; the ‘Cyrus Cylinder’ is touted as the world’s first charter of human rights.

Day 6

The city of Yazd shouldn’t really exist. The Zoroastrian Desert City lies on the edge of one of Iran’s giant deserts, a haze of extra planetary salt-flats and dunes. It lies on an ordinarily uninhabitable site, but became a city fed by underground tunnels. The old town is another UNESCO protected site and the centre of Zoroastrian tradition in Iran. Today, we discover the Tower of Silence, where the dead were sent before reaching their final resting place. We also stop at a Zoroastrian Fire Temple, and the beautiful Dowlat Abad Garden.

Day 7

We visit the Rigareh water mill, an ancient mill found almost 28 metres underground fed by underground tunnels. The age of the engineering marvel is unconfirmed; but some historians have dated it to the pre-Islamic era. We then make our way to the small leafy town of Na’in, the home of outstanding monuments including the Jame Mosque. This is one of the first four mosques to be built in Iran after the Arab invasion.

Day 8

For a glorious century, Isfahan was a centre of international trade and a crossing place of people and ideas, where every gentleman carried an astrolabe and the King designed a ‘pleasure-house’ complete with a little slide for his concubines to slide down to greet his Majesty in a state of ardour… The high point of today’s itinerary is the central naqsh-e jahan square. Seven times the size of St. Mark's in Venice, this is a fabulous architectural feast, which has so often been written about with justifiable rapture. We also visit the Mosque of Sheikh Lutfullah, built by chief architect Shaykh Bahai, during the reign of Shah Abbas I of the Safavid dynasty.

Day 9

We continue our exploration of Isfahan - stopping first at Ali Qapu Palace. Shah Abbas I would entertain noble visitors and foreign ambassadors here in the early 17th century. We continue to the cavernous Friday Mosque, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2012. There is no end to the architectural and historical sites around the city. The Safavid legacy is what brought Iran to fame in Europe and elsewhere, and Isfahan is the historical centre of the era’s delicacy and sophistication.

Day 10

We explore the oasis town of Kashan, to the south of Tehran. We visit bagh-e Fin, a traditional Persian garden, and the recently renovated Qajar-era homes. These are more like minor palaces, and testify to the wealth of the Qajar-era traders and merchants who made Kashan a sort of headquarters for the mercantile elite. Tabataba’i house is a larger and stunning example, which has been expertly revamped. As a centre of rosewater production, this is an excellent spot to pick up some unusually fragrant souvenirs.

Day 11

We explore the highlights of Tehran: the museums, bazaar and gigantesque parks. The National Museum, houses many small pre-Islamic and extravagant Islamic era artefacts; whilst the Jewel Museum dazzles with opulence. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Golestan Palace really gives us a taste of Qajar-era grandeur.

Day 12

We visit the Niavaran Palace this morning. The complex includes the former residence of the Shah. Though less dramatic than the Golestan Palace, it provides an interesting starting-point into Iran’s history. Enjoy some free time in Tehran this afternoon - there are many cafes and teahouses to tempt you, as well as an excellent selection of walking trails to try.

Day 13

We return home this morning.

What's Included

  1. Expert Guide Lecturer
  2. Tour Manager
  3. Meals - All meals included
  4. Hotels - 12 nights in 4* hotels in Tehran, Kashan, Isfahan, Yazd and Shiraz
  5. Flights - Return flights London to Shiraz; Tehran to London

Useful Reading

Main Recommendation: Mirrors of the Unseen – Jason Elliot

Other Recommendations:

Roaf, M. and Postgate, J.N. (1990) The Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East (Fairfax, Time-Life Books).
This book provides a general introduction to the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia throughout the ages and is furnished with an abundance of illustrations and maps.

Curtis, J. (2000), Ancient Persia (London, British Museum Press).
An easily readable summary of the archaeology of Ancient Persia with illustrations of artefacts housed in the British Museum.

Podany, A.H. (2013), The Ancient Near East (New York, Oxford University Press).
Suitable for all who wish to get a short, general introduction of the historical background of the Ancient Near East that nonetheless provides a sufficient summary of all major periods.

Van De Mieroop, M. (2006), History of the Ancient Near East. Ca. 3000-323 BC (New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons).
The book provides a general introduction of the history of the Ancient Near East, also containing discussions of such important key texts such as the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Gore Vidal, G. (1993; new ed.) Creation, 1993.
An intriguing novel set in the 6th-5th century BC. The main character, Cyrus Spitama, is travelling the known world as Achaemenid diplomat and meets the great philosophers of his time.

Christina Dodwell. A Traveller on Horseback in Eastern Turkey and Iran, 1988.
Based on her own life experiences, Dodwell paints a vivid picture of a woman in the 1980s travelling on horseback through Turkey and Iran.

Brosius, M. (2006), The Persians (London, Routledge).

Morgan, D. (2015), Medieval Persia 1040-1797 (London, Routledge).

Barbara Brend, B. (1991), Islamic Art (Massachusetts, Harvard University Press).

Upham Pope, A. (1976) Introducing Persian Architecture (Oxford, Oxford University Press).

Hillenbrand, R. (1994), Islamic Architecture: Form, Function and meaning (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press).

Ansari, A. (2014), Iran: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, Oxford University Press).


Apr 4

"Jason was a superb lecturer and absolutely charming on a one-to-one basis, he went to endless trouble to discuss and explain particular points of interest. His great erudition was leavened all the time with wonderful humour."

— Guest, Mirrors of the Unseen 2017
Apr 3

"I have been raving about Iran since my return, it genuinely was one of the best trips I have taken and doubtless several of my friends will be back to book through you!"

— Guest, Mirrors of the Unseen 2017
Apr 3

"This is possibly the best historical/cultural experience I have enjoyed in 20 years of touring the classical Mediterranean world and the Middle East. This was due to the personality and quality of presentations of Jason Elliott, the smooth organisation and management of tour logistics and the imaginative sequencing of the tour itinerary."

— Guest, Mirrors of the Unseen 2017

Cultural rebirth on a global scale

The Renaissance stands as one of the defining periods of world history. A time when the perceptions of society, culture and politics - which we still cling onto - emerged for the first time. Could any other era ever compare with the rich Renaissance of art, architecture, literature, science, trade, and travel?

No period has been more discussed, dissected and argued over than the Renaissance - and with good reason. Join us to discover the land of La Convivencia, where followers of the world’s three main religions lived harmoniously side by side. Go back to where it all began with an introduction to Art, Love & War in the Renaissance. Get an insider’s guide to ancient Persia, as we look into the Mirrors of the Unseen. Go Beyond the Pillars of Hercules to discover the golden age of Spain. Uncover the hidden history of the Loire Châteaux, with a glass of the good stuff in hand.

Travelling alongside our expert guides you’ll be afforded unprecedented access to an unmatched world of cultural experimentation and intellectual excitement. There is still so much for us to learn from this unprecedented era…

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