Travelling to Iran: the best decision you're yet to make

Peregrine's resident Middle East expert, Pete Miers, eloquently explains why and how Iran is gradually becoming more and more of a drawcard for those travellers wishing to really get off the beaten track:

The modern country of Iran is ancient Persia, and has thousands of years of history as successive waves of Persian empires rose and fell. In ancient times, Persia was a traditional enemy of the Greeks and of the Roman Empire, then flowered again in its Islamic renaissance period from the 14th to the 17th centuries when Persia was at the forefront of learning in the fields of the arts, mathematics, science and astronomy.

Iran today has much to show for its history, from the spectacular ruins of the ancient capital of Persepolis - which was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330BC - to the spectacular architecture of turquoise-domed mosques in Esfahan and Shiraz. Like Egypt and Turkey, Iran boasts a huge array of historical and cultural attractions, and tourist numbers are beginning to increase as the country emerges from a long period in the tourism wilderness

Kharanaq, Yazd Province
In the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, Iran was a deservedly popular tourist destination and relatively westernised, with many resident American expats working in the oil industry. However, not all Iranians were happy with the direction in which the Western-leaning Shah was steering the country, and the resulting revolution in 1979 whipped many into a religious fervour and changed Iran into a conservative Islamic state ruled by a revolutionary council of ayatollahs.

The anti-Western rhetoric of Ayatollah Khomeni made Iran a pariah in the eyes of Western governments and the war with Iraq throughout the 80’s made it a no-go zone for most travellers. Iran’s anti-Western stance continued through the 90’s and into the 21st century, when George W. Bush infamously included it - together with Syria and North Korea – in his “Axis of Evil”. A curious aspect of the way the West viewed Iran during this period is that Iranian people themselves are considered the kindest and most hospitable you will meet anywhere in the world. While they may have harboured antipathy towards the policies of Western governments, this is no way reflected how they felt about Western people themselves.

Vakil Mosque, Shiraz
Throughout this period of political isolation, a trickle of Western travellers had been unable to resist the lure of historic and cultural treasures Iran has to offer the visitor. Recently this trickle has grown into an ever-widening torrent as relations between Iran and the West have softened dramatically. The thaw began last year with the popular election of President Rouhani over the hardliner Ahmadinejad, which reflected the overwhelming will of the Iranian people to return to the table of nations. Then came the successful resolution of negotiations over the issue of Iran’s nuclear facilities which culminated in President Obama speaking directly by telephone to his Iranian counterpart, the first such high-level contact between the two countries since the Revolution.

After a series of such good-news stories, westerners increasingly now view Iran as more of a 'friendly destination', and consequently more and more travellers are heading to Tehran to discover for themselves the delights of Shiraz, Esfahan, Yazd and Kashan. This is both fantastic for the country - as a boost to the tourism industry can do nothing but good - as well fantastic for travellers. Iran deserves to be high on the list of anyone's "places to go" list over the coming years.

Interested in travelling to Iran? Travelled to Iran? Let us know in the comments below.

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