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Introducing Central Iran

Ever since Cyrus the Great’s dramatic rise from provincial overlord to ruler of the largest empire on earth, central Iran has been something of a showcase for the region’s greatest civilisations. The unrelenting splendour and majesty of Esfahan, the refined elegance of Shiraz and the mud-brick antiquity of Yazd, Abyaneh and Kharanaq are a fascinating contrast, representing the fusion over 2500 years of myriad cultures and starkly different terrains. Then, of course, there’s that monumental expression of artistic harmony commissioned by Darius I – Persepolis.

With so much on offer, it’s no surprise that the towns of Iran’s central provinces are where you’ll probably spend the most time. But it’s not just about ticking off the popular sights, because central Iran has many an unsung gem. Kashan, with its splendid mosques, gardens and magnificently restored traditional houses, is one. If you want to get off the beaten track there’s the desert oasis of Garmeh, the cave village of of Garmeh, caravanserai stops such as Zein-o-din and Toudeshk, or the chance to camp with nomads in the Zagros Mountains.

Central Iran’s people are as diverse as the places they live. In Qom they’re conservative and religious, Shirazis are laid-back and fun-loving, and the Qashqa’i and Bakhtiari nomads live a lifestyle dictated by nature. Often you will experience the region’s cultural richness and physical beauty in combination: sitting in the garden of Hafez’s tomb discussing the ways of the world with a Shirazi medical student, perhaps; watching a nomad woman make yogurt by hand; or drinking tea with a carpet salesman in Esfahan’s Imam Sq. Whatever it is you happen upon, central Iran is a place you’ll remember for a long time.