Relics of Persia

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In Press TV's 3-episode fascinating documentary "Relics of Persia," we come to witness an event which is the first and unique one in its own type: a 10-day journey of 6000-kilometer length by train across Iran starting from Tehran and passing by the historical cities of Mashhad, Kerman, Yazd, Isfahan, Shiraz, Kashan, and Andimeshk. During this journey, a number of international tourists accompany us. The tourists come from different nationalities including American, Singaporean, Dutch, and Portuguese. They talk about their unique experience of visiting Iran and pass comments on the different aspects of their journey. One of the remarkable points about this riveting experience is the investment in the event by the Golden Eagle International Company, based in the UK, which is quite well-known for operating some of the world's most innovative and pioneering rail journeys over the past 25 years. The documentary depicts how the participating international tourists are deeply affected by the unique social, cultural, and ethnic fabric of the mysterious and intriguing Iran.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Tim Littler, President and founder of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains: “My name is Time Littler. I am the president and founder of Golden Eagle Luxury train that are based in the UK and we recently started a new European Luxury Train based in Budapest. The first route we used for that train was from Budapest to Tehran. There were already signs that Iran was opening up to tourism and we picked the right dates obviously because I just read an article yesterday that said that the hot destination 2016 would be Iran.”

Narration: Our ten day trip began when the plane touched down in Tehran.

SOUNDBITE [English] Richard Quick, American Tourist: “My name is Richard. I’m from Santa fain New Mexico.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Marsha Lefkovits, American Tourist: “I’m Marsha and I’m originally from Alabama so that’s why you may detect my southern accent.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Richard Quick, American Tourist: “I’m retired. I’m 73 years old. I’ve traveled extensively with my wife.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Marsha Lefkovits, American Tourist: “Richard gave me this wonderful trip as a birthday present. My birthday is at the end of October so I will celebrate it in Tehran.”

Narration: We magnificent experience, six thousand kilometers by train passing by the historical cities of Tehran, Mashhad, Kerman, Yazd, Isfahan, Shiraz, Kashan and Andimeshk.

SOUNDBITE [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist: “My Name is Julian. I’m from Amsterdam. I decided to come to Iran because well, I’ve visited a lot of countries and many of them in the Middle East but Iran have always been the most mysterious in a way and also the one that I got the most questions about when I told people I was coming here.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tan Ying Hsien, Singaporean Tourist: “My name is Ying. Most people know me for Ying. I’m from Singapore. Why did I come to Persia? Because I’ve always been fascinated by Persia since 18; since I was about 18 or 19. I read a book called “Creation” by Gore Vidal, who is as American author and he wrote about the time of the Achaemenids.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Marsha Lefkovits, American Tourist: “That is a perception that we had. We didn’t know what to expect when we landed here at the airport.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Richard Quick, American Tourist: “All of our friends in the United States said we were crazy to come here because they thought it was too dangerous based on everything we have seen on TV.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Marsha Lefkovits, American Tourist: “My friends and relatives said I can’t believe you are going there. You could travel anywhere in the world.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Richard Quick, American Tourist: “This is amazing particularly when some of our friends though they would never see us again. They said the next time we hear about you probably is on the evening news where it says Richard and Marsha are being held by the authorities and they were pretty serious about that.”

Narration: Mashhad, the second Iranian megacity with a population of 3 million. Close to 30 million tourists visit the metropolis to see its historical sites every year such as the Nader Shah tomb and the museum and the tomb of prominent Persian poet Abolghasem Ferdowsi but their main aim is to visit and pray at shrine of the 8th Shia Imam Ali ibn Musaalreza.

SOUNDBITE [English] Tour guide: “This is the Nader Shah at your right hand. We are going to stop in about one minute.”

Narration: At the beginning of the 17th century a king ruled over Persia who is referred to as the Last Oriental Conqueror or the 2nd Alexander. His name was Nadershah Afshar. During his 12 year reign in the early 17th century Nader Shah who was among the renowned Persian kings managed to restore the glory and grandeur of the Persian Empire after a millennium.

CONVERSATION [English] Tour Guide & Tourists: “- You have 3 borders in Mashahd, in Sarakhs, in Bajgiran, in Dar-e Gaz. Dar-e gaz is my hometown; the place that I was born.

- When he was here was Mashhad the Capital?

- Mashhad was the capital actually. Yes, Mashhad was the capital.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tan Ying Hsien, Singaporean Tourist: “This is the thing about Iran. It is a very rich country. It is rich in terms of history and of its people because you have so many different ethnicities within the group. I mean within here your crew, you all come from a different backgrounds and so on.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

Narration: The many conquests and the spoils of the wars that he led brought wealth into modern day Iran. The most important among them the biggest and purest diamond in the world. The kooh-e Noor and Darya-ye Noor diamonds seized during his conquest of India.

SOUNDBITE [English] Marsha Lefkovits, American Tourist: “Beautiful museum.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tour Guide: “Iran in Nader-shah time. In Qajar time all divided again and separated. Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Georgia and Baku.”

CONVERSATION [English] Tour Guide & Richard Quick, American Tourist: “- What is the period for the canon?

- Nader shah years.

- What year?

- 18th century.

- 18th century, yeah.

- Exactly.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tour Guide: “..and which Nader brought from India, Noor diamond which was under his crown and one of them is in the queen Elizabeth crown. Yes, kooh-e Noor is not here. Darya-ye Noor is in Iran.”

CONVERSATION [English] Richard Quick, American Tourist & Marsha, Alabamian Tourist: “- What is over here Marsha?

- Look at these swords. These are steel types of swords.

- The Afsharid period, yes.

- Just the fact that they have saved these and been able to show the history.

- Yes, they are historic.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tan Ying Hsien, Singaporean Tourist: “Iran for me is so fascinating. That richness and variety of culture and history; a history that goes back to the Elamites and after that the Medes and the Persians and through the Muslim conquest.”

CONVERSATION [English] Richard Quick, American Tourist & Marsha Lefkovits, American Tourist: “- and the weather has been beautiful.

- Yeah.

- We are very fortunate.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist: “So I escaped from the museum after the first story I escaped from the museum, I escaped from the group and went for a wandering by myself. I picked through the gate and I saw some more that I think the rest of the group saw because I was by myself and nobody was bothered by me.”

Narration: 15 Kilometers outside Mashhad the tomb of one of the greatest 9th century Persian poets. A seminal figure who played an important role in preserving the Persian culture and language. He is the author of the Shahnameh, the world’s longest epic poem about the lives of Persian Kings.

SOUNDBITE [English] Peter Hill, Tour Doctor: “So Ferdowsi is a real hero of Iranian people. He reintroduced Persian language and all the Iranians love him.”

CONVERSATION [English] Richard Quick, American Tourist & Marsha Lefkovits, American Tourist: “- Just look how far back their history goes compared to the United States. You know, it is amazing.

Well, maybe we can get some good …

- Books…

- …books about the history and get more in depth, since we have been here I’ve grown an appetite for it.

- Exactly.”

Narration: His literary masterpiece continues to be the subject of many studies at the world’s most prestigious universities such as Cambridge and those in Europe and North America.

SOUNDBITE [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist: “And then the guide, Ali his name was I think I kind of struggled listening to his story because I couldn’t follow his English very well. You know, I didn’t really feel it until Ali decided to say this thing.”

CONVERSATION [English] Richard Quick, American Tourist & Marsha Lefkovits, American Tourist: “- Oh. How wonderful. That was great.

- Yeah. Did you understand what he said?

-: No but his voice and just the emotion that he put in it.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Francisco Castelo, Portuguese Tourist: “It was very impressing to see our guide saying the poem in another language and it was very touching to see how important Ferdowsi is for the Iranian culture.”

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Tim Littler, President and founder of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains: “Our reception when we arrived in Mashhad was absolutely fantastic on the very first tour. People were very friendly. And just stunning sites.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist: “So everybody was in black. Most of the Iranians were in black. Also men were in black which was interesting but I think the shrine itself of course is the real reason for people to come.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Marsha Lefkovits, American Tourist: “And they paid for our warm. They are engaging. They are rather a young population. I just hope Americans will come here and see for themselves and I think seeing is believing.”

Narration: Kerman one of the oldest and most historical cities of Iran. It dates back to before the birth of Christ. A description of Kerman can be found in Herodotus’s book “The Histories”. The city is located near the hottest spot in the planet and on a high margin of Kavir-e loot, the world’s 25th largest desert with temperature running as high as 17 C. But the historical experience of the locals and surviving in this warm and dry climate has to the creation of a masterpiece that draws theprays of any spectator. A tiered garden with Persian architecture that expands 15 thousand square meters.

SOUNDBITE [English] Joost Hollander, Dutch Tourist: “When you see all drying things around you here, it is very unbelievable and also very, very Hyderized and in good shape and that is something that was very impressive also.”

Narration: It was built around 250 years ago and is registered in the UNESCO world heritage list. It is a fine example of Persian gardens made with climatic considerations. One of its distinctive features is its fountain. The fountain is engined by the natural incline of the land and not by electrical pumps.

SOUNDBITE [English] Greet Hollander, Dutch Tourist: “It is interesting to see that in October all roses are still flowering so much whereas in Holland. You can see maybe one or two roses but not that many on one bush.”

Narration: At the end of the water path there is a magnificent residential structure where visitors can get food and refreshments.

SOUNDBITE [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist: “That’s like a paradise. What can I say? People really know, knew, I suppose they know because they are still there, how to build a little paradise in the middle of the desert. That is incredible. I love that.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Richard Quick, American Tourist: “The garden is really spectacular and the way it was designed. It was sort of like an oasisI guess that is the best way to describe it because we were surrounded by the desert and all of a sudden we get out of the bus and there we are in the middle of a beautiful oasis with thousands of gallons of water and beautiful trees and it was just a wonderful experience.”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

Narration: One of the world’s largest adobe structures is located 110 Kilometers south of Kerman. Rayen Castel. Covering 22 Thousand Square meters it is a smaller replica of the castle that was destroyed by an earthquake in 2003. This medieval mud-brick city is surrounded by walls that rise as high as 10 meters.

SOUNDBITE [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist: “I’ve never seen anything like that before. I’ve seen adobe buildings before but I’ve never seen something that expansive and I think a big part of have recently been rebuilt. But it was really, the parts that look like molten in the sun almost were the most interesting. It looks like a sand castle to me.”

Narration: It has only one entrance that is also the exit topped off with watch towers that have made it even more magnificent. It was built during the Sasanid reign in the second century and up until 150 years ago was inhabited by some 70 thousand people.

SOUNDBITE [English] Francisco Castelo, Portuguese Tourist: “It is very nice to walk here without tourists; there is almost nobody besides us.

Yes. It was not made for people like me.

It is very nice to be in a place where there are not so many tourists as we are used to in Europe for example, that is impossible to go anywhere to take pictures without being surrounded by thousands of other tourists.”

CONVERSATION [English] Francisco Castelo, Portuguese Tourist &Tan Ying Hsien, Singaporean Tourist: “- Is it the first time that took us here and it is a very good spot. It was a pity to miss it. It is a very good idea to be here.

- Yeah.

- I mean it is amazing just to see the accommodations. It is about the same size as (inaudible).

- Yeah.”

Narration: Just like all the other cities Rayen was divided into two social classes of upper and lower. That social stratification is readily obvious from the materials used in the different constructions. In the absence of a transportation system the inhabitants of every region would rely on the natural resources around them. And since Rayen is located in the middle of one of the world’s largest desert s it is purely made of earth. The architecture of the uptown district where government and religious officials, merchants and traders lived features a beautiful court with a green space right in the middle of the structure to provide cool and fresh air for the guest rooms and other living quarters and the porticos.

CONVERSATION [English] Francisco Castelo, Portuguese Tourist & Tour Guide: “- As you know in Portugal we also have Arabic construction and it is told that they have holes at the top for the warmth to escape.

- No that is a different story. When we go to Yazd we will show you wind towers. These wind towers is architecture, means of cooling. How does that happen? The inward flow of wind matches by strong upward. So you have this circulation and then the hotter goes up and the fresh air comes in. but in here it is not like that, this Ivan when the wind flows this Ivan sucks the air in the building. That wind towers we will see and talk about them.

- The air is very fresh here.

- This is what we call Hasht-e Behesht. This is Hasht-e Behesht or 8 paradises. Why 8? This is octagonal.”

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist: “I was walking down that big alley that was leading to the main structure and you know you are there and there are mountains around you and again I would say … and I think this is true in a lot of desert around the world. It is very peaceful. It is very nice place to be I think.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Peter Hill, Tour doctor: “A really big mud city at Rayen! I understand it was second only to Bam which is recently destroyed by an earthquake. There is a really impressive structure. There were 3 different parts for the common people, upper and the most important person in the city. And it was really a large mud structure, really impressive and with good repair. They have restored a part of it very well. I really enjoyed that day.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Francisco Castelo, Portuguese Tourist: “It looks like the constructions we did when we were children with sand on the beach. It is impressing. It is very very nice.”

Narration: It is considered the initial core of modern day Rayen. In its heyday the castle was a commercial hob and was considered one of Iran’s main trade roots. The quality textiles produced in this city found their way to countries as far as Egypt. It was also a center for the production of military hardware needed in the region and was of a great strategic importance to the governments in that era.

SOUNDBITE [English] Francisco Castelo, Portuguese Tourist: “Interesting!”

CONVERSATION [English] “- When I go to a place like it I try to imagine how people must have been living there and yes that was impressive for me, the city there.

- As you counted there were 70 thousand people living there at the time. And it was not that big.”

Narration: In the 4th century one of the greatest Sufi mystics was buried in this construction which was also his place of worship. His name was Shah Nematollah Vali.

Now 600 years old the shrine complex was initially erected as a single building surrounded by a garden but because of its popularity and sanctity successive rulers undertook extensions and renovations in its older centuries.

SOUNDBITE [English] Francisco Castelo, Portuguese Tourist: It was a very different experience because the first one the castle was a historical place and when we went to have lunch in the garden it was very peaceful.”

Narration: The building’s interior is festooned with tiles. Muqarnas, a form of architectural ornamental vaulting and colorful arabesque stucco. The locals now assemble in the building to carry out their religious rituals.

SOUNDBITE [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist: “The mosque was beautifully decorated with feathers and sort of things that I never expected to see inside the mosque.”

Narration: One of the interesting things that happen during our trip through Iran was our chance encounter with a group of mourners from the Sheikh Nematollahvali compound.

SOUNDBITE [English] Francisco Castelo, Portuguese Tourist: It reminds me of the processions in Portugal which is a Catholic country and that shows things are not so different from one religion to others.”

Narration: 1400 years ago the prophet’s Mohammad grandson Imam Hussein (PBH) rose against the ruler of the time to eradicate tyranny and injustice. He and just 72 of his followers were martyred one by one in a place called Karbala as they faced off with the enemy.

TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist: “You know we were, of course there were far bigger groups but we are a group of 20 tourists and we were I would say intrusive that they are having their religious parade and it’s a parade of mourning so it is solemn and we were in the middle of it taking pictures and I think that was a little bit intrusive but they didn’t seem to mind at all. So that was quite nice. Yeah.”

Narration: Our six thousand kilometer trip began 3 days ago. A magnificent travel by train.

SOUNDBITE [English] Tatiana Kolesnikova, Tour leader: “This time we are using not our traditional train, our own train but we are using one of the Iranian trains. The staff that works on the Golden Eagle Danube Express came here and in coverage of the Iranian, our staff that work for the Iranian railways.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Peter Hill, Tour Doctor: “My name is Pitt. I’m the doctor on the tour and when I heard that there was going to be a 2 week trip around Iran I thought it was something new something I’d never thought of doing before and I agreed to go along and learn about the country.”

SOUNDBITE [English] David Wood, British Tourist: “I’m David Wood from England, Manchester, near Manchester. One aspect of wanting to come to Iran is to help your economy. I’m very happy to spend my pounds, my dollars, my Euros in Iran to fight against these ridiculous sanctions. The sanctions make me very angry. They must make you angry, they make me angry.”

Narration: We are now anticipating another breath-taking place that is the archeological important city of Yazd.

CONVERSATION [English] Greet Hollander & Joost Hollander, Dutch Tourists: “- My name is Greet Hollander. I’m from the Netherlands. I was a teacher.

- I’m Joost Hollander, I’m also a Dutchman. I worked at a bank. I remember my parents went to Iran. It was much different then, they had stories. Together alone, they got easily everywhere. At that time I think I’m talking about 60 years ago and they were very excited about the country and I am too.”

Narration: After Italy’s Venice Yazd is the world’s second largest adobe city. It is among the most historical cities of Iran. Yazd has a history of 3 thousand years. Its initial dwellers used an architectural style adaptable to its desert surroundings. They built a beautiful city and harness the natural resources of energy to ensure their survival. One of their creations was the magnificent wind-catchers; an architectural element with which they created natural ventilation inside their homes.

SOUNDBITE [English] Tatiana Kolesnikova, Tour leader: “People here are so welcoming. I mean people on the streets. I had a girl coming to me today, she was 12. She studies in school, actually she had very good English and she was so eager to say few words to practice her English and she was just welcoming. She was saying hello come visit us.”

Narration: One of the most popular tourist destinations in Yazd is the Jameh Mosque. The mosque has a unique architecture is crowned by an impressive pair of minarets.

SOUNDBITE [English] David Wood, British Tourist: “The mosque, I don’t know what the name of it was. The one with two tall towers, minarets, whatever you call them. But that was very impressive; the picture is there.”

Narration: Its high Ivan façade, sanctuary chamber and the dazzling tiles of its dome and minarets are all one of a kind and set it apart from Iran’s other historical mosques.

TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Tan Ying Hsien, Singaporean Tourist: “All over I think the thing that has really been taught to me at the end of the day has been the option to see what a wonderful country it is. You know, traveling through, the sites studying, this rout we are going through right now has spectacular views and the views are one thing and the sites are one thing but is also the interaction of the people which has actually been very interesting for me as well.”

Narration: Yazd used to be one of the main cities home to the Zoroastrians in Iran. There are many constructions in the city that belong to the followers of this faith; Such as the tower of silence of the mountain of silence located 15 kilometers outside the city.

SOUNDBITE [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist: “We are at the bottom of the towers, two towers, the archeological structures that were quite beautiful. I sent a long time taking pictures there; also waiting for the other tourists to move on the way.”

Narration: The Zoroastrians wouldn’t bury their dead. They would lay them out on this raised structure for scavenging birds such as vultures and eagles to feed on and they wouldn’t discriminate among the dead bodies from the different social classes.

SOUNDBITE [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist: “Then I walked up the hill on one of the towers of silence, it really offered a great view of the structures below and the rest of the city. Inside the place where they would put the dead it was kind of a strange atmosphere there. Just knowing that people were devoured by vultures there was kind of strange.”

SOUNDBITE [English] David Wood, British Tourist: “Zoroastrian stuff, yeah, that was very interesting because it is not particularly well-known, something fairly new. You hear the term; I never really understood what it was.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Richard Quick, American Tourist: “Generally speaking the highlight of the trip for me was the opportunity to meet people walking along the street and just to say hello. It is amazing to me how many of them speak English and how many were interested in talking to me and many were surprised that I was here because I’m from the United States.”

Narration: Isfahan, Iran’s third largest and most populated metropolitan area. It is been nick-named half of the world because of its amazing historic monuments. It was the capital of Persia under the Safavid Dynasty from 1050 to 1722.Most of the groundbreaking Persian Islamic artistic works and architectural wonders were created during that era.

CONVERSATION [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist & Peter hill, Tour Doctor: “- In fact you have to go through all my pictures to find one (Laughter)

- Yeah, sure.

- Any way. I have one wall that is perfect for it.

- Yeah.

- And I haven’t put anything else there because I want to put a picture on that. May be here in Iran I take the final picture.”

Narration: The Chehel-Sotoon garden is an example of Safavid era royal garden covering an area of about 67 thousand square meters. The name meaning 40 columns in Persian was inspired by 20 slender wooden column supporting the entrance pavilion which when reflected in a long pool in front of it appear to be 40.

TIME CODE: 35:00_40:00

CONVERSATION [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist & Peter hill, Tour Doctor: “- A photograph, ha?

- Yeah.

- It is shiny. It is quite impressive.

- Yeah

- It is amazing how similar it is in terms of colors and of course the mirrors are different they’ve made a different scene but …

- Yeah.

- … at the same time it feels the same.

- Yeah, Yeah, It guess they were ….

- Well they are using the same technique I think.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Peter Hill, Tour Doctor: The two of them were double decker bridges. Pretty impressive. They kind of reminded me a bit like a bridge in Florence in their kind of two-ledge structure.”

CONVERSATION [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist & Peter hill, Tour Doctor:- All right, yeah, that was over actual water.

- Yeah.

- Yeah. That one I remember. What is the name of it again?

- The same kind of structure.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tour Guide: “In here we have a fantastic photo-op for you, photo-opportunity, you can see these fantastic successive arches. You can go inside where you can take your photos.”

Narration: As one of the eleven historical bridges of Isfahan the Alahverdikhan Bridgepopularly known as Sioseh pol is around 300 meters long and 14 meters wide. It consists of 2 rows of 33 arches from either side left and right. The number of the arches is what the bridge draws its name from.

CONVERSATION [English] Tourists: “- Just one step.

- Yeah. (Laughter) … well we are close to it. It is perfect.

- it is much better this way… we need some water (Laughter)”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tim Littler, President and founder of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains: “Of course we also visited a number of bridges over the currently non-exited rivers and they don’t seem to have water soon.”

CONVERSATION [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch tourist & Tatiana Kolesnikova, Tour leader: “- It is nice and quiet here. I don’t know if it is always quiet or it is just this day.

- It is quiet here because of the holiday. It is usually crowded.

- Because of the holiday yes.

- And people are all over here.

- Yeah.

- And then in spring time when we were here there was water.

- Oh, really? Did it look like this?

- It looked pretty much like that.

- Oh, I have to come back in the spring.

- Of course there was less water but still …

- Yeah … this is beautiful.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Marsha Lefkovits, American Tourist: “We had such a good experience by your representative, your consul. We had to go to Washington D.C and so the Pakistan embassy to get our visa and so releasing my passport out of my hand is always tricky, well the gentleman on the phone was so nice. He knew Santa Fe. We have a big balloon festival. He said he might come out to the festival, this is right before we left. He invited us for dinner and that is sort of how our whole trip just started. We had several other conversations with him, very efficient, very nice.”

Narration: Isfahan’s rectangular Naghsh-e Jahan Square known as Imam Square is one of Iran’s and indeed the world’s most beautiful historical squares. It is one of the first Iranian historical sites registered on UNESCO’s world heritage list. It is surrounded by buildings from the Safavid era, on the south side by the Imam Mosque, on the West side by the Ali Qapu Palace, on the east by Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque and on the North by the Isfahan Grand Bazaar.

TIME CODE: 40:00_45:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Tim Littler, President and founder of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains: “The main square is amazing. I understand it is the second biggest square after Tiananmen Square in Beijing but it has got more character, it is beautifully laid out.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Greet Hollander, Dutch Tourist: “The main square is really impressive; it is so vast. We don’t have squares like this in Netherlands, there is no space. We also liked the bazaar, we did some shopping. We bought some bags for our daughters and we bought a little plate for the kitchen. Our kitchen is full of so many plates from everywhere we traveled and now we have one from Isfahan as well – a copper one.”

Narration: One of the architectural masterpieces located on the east side of Naghsh-e Jahan square is the Sheikh Lotfollah mosque.

SOUNDBITE [English] Greet Hollander, Dutch Tourist: “I liked the mosque very much. They’re really beautiful, especially the one with the big open ceiling with the sunlight coming in.”

Narration: The mosque’s single dome richly covered in beautiful tiles is among the world’s most beautiful hemispherical roofs.

SOUNDBITE [English] Peter Hill, Tour Doctor: “The thing I will miss most about Iran is the people. They have been the friendliest people of any country that I have been to. So I think I would encourage people to come and learn what Iranian people are like for themselves instead of judging based on the media reports that we get in our countries.”

Narration: Situated on the western side of the Naghsh-e Jahan Square is the Grand Ali Ghapu Palace. A magnificent example of Safavid era architecture. At 48 meters high it has 7 floors divided into two separate parts.

SOUNDBITE [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist: “I was a little bit frustrated because the palace part was again in scaffoldings so I was hoping for a nice view of the entire square from there. But it wasn’t. But I understand they have to do the upkeep, but it was just a shame that it was covered in scaffoldings. Very intricate wood-carvings on the top floor.”

Narration: The edifice is rich in naturalistic wall paintings with floral animal and bird motives and ornamented doors and windows. The unique and bizarre stucco in this part of the building famous as the sound roof represents a considerable artistic feet. The stucco-work was aimed at retaining the echoes and producing the sounds of singing and musical instruments clearly.

On the other side of the square is Imam Mosque. Shah Abbas ordered it to be built as a tribute to his great grandfather Shah Tahmasb. Had never been built in Iran or in Islamic countries. It is one of the world’s everlasting masterpieces of architecture.

SOUNDBITE [English] Tour Guide: “The frequencies increase. But amplification decreases.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist: “The grandest mosque I have ever been to and it was unexpected. I didn’t think I would find anything that big back there. It didn’t look that big at the entrance. So it was a nice surprise.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Richard Quick, American Tourist: “People to people contact is the first step. So we have a better understanding. We think it is very important for us to come here and understand the situation here and we also think it is important for you to understand why we behave the way we do. Following that trade as Marsha said is very important.”

TIME CODE: 45:00_50:00

CONVERSATION [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist: & Peter Hill, Tour Doctor: “- I’ve been reading up on it a little bit because there is a hitchhiker’s wiki to Iran that seem to have some interesting information about customs. So I did read up on that.

- Yeah.

- And it seems to be perfectly safe.

- Yeah. Exactly.”

Narration: Isfahan’s Vank Cathedral also known as the Church of Saintly Sisters was built during the reign of Shah Abbas II. That is around 400 years ago. Its exterior was built in the Persian Islamic style architecture but the interior is a combination of Christian and Islamic architecture styles. That distinguish it from all the churches of its kind. Vank Cathedral is among the most beautiful churches in the world.

CONVERSATION [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist & Peter Hill, Tour Doctor: “- Try not to step on the graves.

- Yeah.

- Smell…

- Yeah, I hadn’t noticed that last time. Yeah.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Lucien D’Sa, British Tourist: “Well I think it is nice to see different religions being sort of given the freedom and flexibility to operate in the way in which they do.”

CONVERSATION [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist & Peter Hill, Tour Doctor: “- These dragons or demons.

- Yeah.

- Also they have all kinds of colors, yes.

- This one’s yellow.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Lucien D’Sa, British Tourist: “It was good to see that it is possible in Iran. There is no problem with any Christian church or any other religion.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Peter Hill, Tour Doctor: “Inside the colors from all the paintings were so vivid and bright and told lots of stories and some of the stories were quite gruesome. It was a beautiful place. Some of the architecture was a mixture between Christian architecture and Muslim architecture.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Caroline D’Sa, British Tourist: “And to come and see the palace which is obviously now undergoing renovation, but I think it is so important to show your history for the world to see. And see in Iran, we probably didn’t know so much about. We know about Isfahan, we know about Shiraz, Tehran but the smaller places we don’t know so much about the palaces.”

CONVERSATION [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist & Peter Hill, Tour Doctor: “- Colorful

- Yeah, quite gruesome as well.

- Yeah. Beautiful scenes.

- Yeah, it is quite beautiful. It switched my brain over to Christianity.

- Yeah. Still a lot of elaborate decoration.

- Must be a lot of beauty in the winter. The snow.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tour Guide: “Painting of Prophet Ibrahim by Rembrandt. The microscope is over there, right in the middle of the place where you can see that which has a calligraphy with diamond. You see exquisite manuscripts. In fact they have been illuminated and illustrated.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Lucien D’Sa, British Tourist: “Travel expands the mind. Allows us to see for ourselves. Make our own opinions. Because there is a danger that we get information from all sorts of sources but we like to go and see places, make our own opinions and then go back and change some people’s minds because we do believe that the time to see a country is before you get mass tourism.”

Narration: Travel is like opening a door onto an unknown world, unto a world that broadens the mind. When an important company like the Golden Eagle planned a 10 day trip to the historical sites of Iran we all jumped to the chance. A 6 thousand kilometer trip to the heart of Iran.

TIME CODE: 50:00_55:00

Narration: This is day 6. We have put Tehran, Mashhad, Kerman, Yazd and Isfahan behind us and are heading for the all inspiring city of Shiraz.

One of the most beautiful Iranian cities for tourists is Shiraz. Regarded as one of the oldest cities of ancient Persia Shiraz was the scene of the most important historical, cultural and religious events. With its many gardens and fruit trees, it has a moderate climate and has been a regional trade center for over a thousand years. From the distant past Shiraz has been a leading center of arts and home to the famous twelve century poet Sa’adi and 14 century poet Hafez.

SOUNDBITE [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist: “I think Shiraz was a bit of a missed opportunity because when we arrived and I can speak for most of the people in the tour, we all really liked the atmosphere of the city and it seemed to be a very attractive city and we were only there one evening.”

Narration: Hafez is one of the most influential figures in the history of Persian poetry. His collected works are regarded as a pinnacle of the Persian literature and became the topic of many debates and discussions in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. The tomb of this celebrated Iranian poet is situated in the Masouleh gardens of Shiraz and is known as the Hafezieh.

One the world’s ancient structures is located 50 kilometers north-east of Shiraz. The Persepolis. The ceremonial capital of the Achaemenian Empire. The construction of this 2500 year old city started in 518 BCE at the foot of Kooh-e Rahmat, the mountain of Mercy. On the order of Darius the great who didn’t live to finish what he had started. His son Xerxes I completed it 30 years later.

SOUNDBITE [English] Marsha Lefkovits, American Tourist: “I just can’t believe I’m here. I just can’t believe. To me it is just one of the greatest wonders of the world. Just that this remains is in such wonderful form.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Francisco Castelo, Portuguese Tourist: “I like Persepolis so much. I’ve heard about it for such a long time. I studied at school the Persian Empire and Darius King.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Jurriaan Teulings, Dutch Tourist: “It reminded me of Roman sites you see in Europe. They are proper ruins but well preserved.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tan Ying Hsien, Singaporean Tourist: “Actually seeing first time what I heard read about 35 years ago actually felt very very meaningful to me. I really enjoyed those. I also enjoyed the other parts of Iran because this is the thing about Iran; it is a very rich country.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Caroline D’Sa, British Tourist: “I remember reading a book about Alexander the Great, I’m sorry. I thought actually to come and see the place where he was and to see those ruins. It is just unbelievable and to discover the history of Persia is so much greater than we ever imagine. And of course we are fortunate. An amazing guard, I mean, we couldn’t praise him enough.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tour Guide: “Remember we said to the west, in the west of Persian Empire what did you have you have Thrace you have Libya. These are Thracian. The Thracian are bringing these fantastic styling, the spears and the shields. The Thracians from the west. They are Thraces, ok?

The Persian word Kamarband, kamarband…Farsi”

Narration: The design and building of the Persepolis was done by architects and artisans from the 4 corners of the Persian Empire; Assyrians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Indians, and Sethians. The Persepolis is one of the world’s architectural wonders.

TIME CODE: 55:00_01:00:00

Narration: Archeologists have discovered tablets in the ruins of the city bearing records of wages paid to workers. The records also show that the workers received unemployment benefits. The Persepolis was captured and partly destroyed by Alexander the Great during the Roman invasion in 330 BC.

SOUNDBITE [English] Tour Guide: “Four words determine it why? Persian Cuneiform is different than the other Cuneiforms like Babylonian and Elamite. Why? Because Persian Cuneiform is Syllabic. Syllable means a vowel and a consonant. Just follow me to the museum please. Yes Sir?”

CONVERSATION [English] Tourist & Tour Guide: “- What do you say about the wheel?

- Because this is you see this is different than the other, probably. I’m not sure.

- Ok.

- We have the Shrine of Esther and Mordechai in North West of Iran.

- Oh! North –West

- I just took two Jewish folks there.

- Oh, for anybody that is thinking about coming to Iran I’ve got to show it to him and let them see this. This is, what I can see I mean, this is just overwhelming.”

CONVERSATION [English] Richard Quick, American Tourist, Marsha Lefkovits, American Tourist: “-Marsha actually had to do a little bit of convincing for me to bring her here. Even though I did surprise her because I was a little apprehensive and just so happens shortly before we book this tour to come with the Golden Eagle people we saw a documentary about Persepolis and the whole documentary is about the history of it and how it was developed and the extensive work that have been done to preserve it and that was a big factor in our decision to come here because we have been very fortunate, we have traveled all over the world, we have been to Egypt, we’ve been to Azerbaijan, we’ve been to Turkey, We’ve been to Kazakhstan,

- Many Countries.

- Yeah. Many different places and we really enjoy learning more about the history of the country. And this was spectacular on the movie, the documentary. But the documentary couldn’t begin to describe how spectacular it was and it was definitely for us, other than the wonderful people that we met, the highlight of the trip.

- I’m a good husband.

- You are. Thank you for bringing me here for my birthday! What a wonderful birthday present this is. I can’t top this. This is the best birthday present ever.

- It overwhelms your senses.

- It does. We have got to go find a DVD on this Richard in English.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tan Ying Hsien, Singaporean Tourist: “It seemed to have a different sort of feel, a different sort of energy to it. All the places had the energy. But it was the place that I wanted to explore more. That was one of the places that we spend the least timing unfortunately so we didn’t really get enough time. It is one place that I would like to go back and explore a little bit more, it is Shiraz.”

CONVERSATION [English] Richard Quick, American Tourist, Marsha Lefkovits, American Tourist: - This is like Petra.

-Yeah, this is.

- It is bigger and there is more of it.

- Yeah, look at this.

- Perfect time of the day to be here.

- Yeah, look at the light on these rocks.”

Narration: Close to the ruins of Persepolis is Naghsh-e Rostam. The burial place of such Achaeminian kings as Darius I, Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I and Darius II. Also here the bas-reliefs depicting such important Sasanid era events as the coronation of Artaxerxes and the victories of Shapur I over Roman Emperors, a tower like construction named the “Kabey-e zartosht” the Cube of Zoroasterand the remains of an Elamite era bas-relief.

CONVERSATION [English] Richard Quick, American Tourist, Marsha Lefkovits, American Tourist: “- There.

- Yeah, I don’t know.

- A hole is there, a hole there, one of those people fired shots.

- I don’t know. I asked him about that big relief, I don’t know if you heard me. I said are they doing anything to preserve it, you know like the Plexiglas around it.

- Yeah.

- Thank you Thank you.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Richard Quick, American Tourist: “One of the reasons, one of the factors I should have mentioned before that encouraged us to come is the Golden Eagle Train Group. They are very prestigious organization. We have traveled with them before and they are the type of organization that you want to encourage to come here and promote tourism because when people see that the Golden Eagle other groups will follow.”

TIME CODE: 01:00:00_01:05:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Tim Littler, President and founder of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains: “For the first four tours of Iran we used our European train, traveling from Budapest through Istanbul and Turkey to access Iran and the border of Tabriz. However because of the current security situation in Eastern Turkey, well the Kurdish area, this line has been closed so we cannot access Iran from Budapest.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tatiana Kolesnikova, Tour Leader: “This time we are using not our traditional train, our own train but we are using one of the Iranian trains.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Train Worker from Hungary: “My name is Edith. I come from Hungary and I work on-boards together with four colleagues of mine from Hungary and I am responsible for food and beverage on the train.

I think they have very different traditions, customs, we do things differently and that also include things in the kitchen and I think both parties have learned a lot during the process and both parties have done their best so I hope that the passengers are happy. I know that my staff is happy.”

Narration: Another Iranian historic city is located near the center of the country with an ancient architectural style compatible with its hot and dry desert climate. When it came to designing gardens Iranians have their own unique style. The Fin Garden completed around 700 years ago is a perfect example of a historical Persian Garden.

SOUNDBITE [English] Tour Guide: “So that garden is extremely important, that’s why we have this micro-climate environment inside the garden. Number 2 obviously is this water. The place is connected to a Qanat system. When we go inside and we will see a pool. The pool has four water Qanats. So the pool has the main access and has the secondary access that devise the garden into a quadripartite garden.”

Narration: It is the oldest existing garden in Iran. Among its main features is its ever green Cyprus trees and its many water features such as pools and fountains. Apart from the building that accommodated the royalty and statesmen there is a bathhouse in Fin Garden with unique architecture of great historical significance.

CONVERSATION [English] British Man and Woman: “- Yeah that’s what he said

- Yeah.

- See if we can there. Look over there. You get it on your camera.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tour Guide: “This mansion is from 4 hundred years ago. It is from the time of Shah-Abbas.

We have gardens from Timurid Period.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tourists & Tour Guide: “- So you have famous gardens, don’t you?

- In the west? Taj-mahal is a Persian Garden.

- Is it?

- Yes.

- Right right…

- A Persian Garden with the tripartite Iranian design of a mausoleum. Everything is Iranian over there. Everything, except the Mughal ruler!

- Shah Jahan.

- Shah Jahan. Even his name is Iranian. Shah is Iranian. Jahan in Iranian means the world.

- That’s right.”

CONVERSATION [English] Tourists: “- It is so clean. Very clean

- The water, yes, you can drink that.

- Comes directly from the mountains, beautiful.

- Oh, he has got a camera, yeah.

- One, two, three!

- Ok.

- Thank you.”

TIME CODE: 01:05:00 _01:10:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Tan Ying Hsien, Singaporean Tourist: “I was a little bit, I was in shock when I first arrived what it was going to be like. But I was actually very pleasantly surprised when I arrived. First of all how friendly and cheerful Iranians are actually given how difficult sometimes things are. You know people tend to be very cheerful. They smile to you all the time and very polite. It is very good and it almost feels like any other normal place you would go to. I find that surprising to some extent and in sense it is a country full of surprises, very pleasant surprises.”

Narration: Iranians of the past built their houses in elaborate and innovative architectural styles. Constructed 200 years ago the Tabatabai House in Kashan is one such example.

SOUNDBITE [English] Tour Guide: “Remember Iranian houses are introvert, they are not extrovert. From outside you don’t know what is going on inside.”

Narration: With its four courtyards, wall paintings with elegant stained glass windows and other classic features of traditional Persian residential architecture is one of Kashan’s most popular tourist attractions.

CONVERSATION [English] Tourists: “- This is beautiful. Just look at the last room. You see behind?

- I think what got me is that you come through such a small door and it is so big.

- Yes, it is fantastic. They are beautiful

- The details.

- Yeah.

- Even you can go up there, you know why? Because that is the street level.

- Oh I see, wow!

- You wouldn’t know that, would you?

- I love the light now, it is just changing.

- How sweet it is. It was so different. Pink eyes.

- Yeah, she is sweet.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Male British Tourist: “One thing that we have to say is that before we came here there was some concern because we get a lot of negative comments about Iran and that has not been in any way experienced. We have been on the train, we have been on the plane, and we have been on the roads, so fantastic. It was really good. This is our last stop effectively before we go back to Tehran. So we think it has been a very successful trip.”

CONVERSATION [English] Tourists: “- So the courtyard, isn’t it?

- Well they call it patio.

- You see this in Spain, in Morocco.

- And look, it is open up to the air.

- Oh, of course, yeah…this is fantastic, yeah just amazing. Wow, that is just so unusual.

- It is real.

- I know, I didn’t expect to see this.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Male British Tourist: “Basically, we follow countries for their history so we have been to most of the countries around Iran and what we like to do is to join the dots. Effectively we have come here and we realized that Iran was much bigger than the Iran today with all the countries around it which we have seen, Turkmenistan and listen to some of the things we have heard, we are amazed.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Tan Ying Hsien, Singaporean Tourist: “Overall I think that the thing that has really been top for me at the end of the day has been the opportunity to see what a wonderful country it is. You know travelling through, the sites studying; this route we are going through right now has spectacular views. The views are one thing and the sites are one thing and it is also the interaction of the people which has actually been very interesting for me as well.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Francisco Castelo, Portuguese Tourist: “Almost one week. It was only desert and the desert and suddenly it was nice to see there were some parts that are different also.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Train Worker from Hungary: “This is the first time we are up in the mountains so this is very special and I think it is absolutely breathtaking. I’ve never seen mountains like this in my whole life. So life here is quite harsh but it is very beautiful and you really get the feeling that you are looking at the planet itself almost as if you could see it from the space.”

TIME CODE: 01:10:00_01:15:16

Narration: The ancient city of Susa is among the most famous centers of the ancient civilization. It was the capital of the Elam civilization 3 thousand BC and the winter capital of the Achaemenid Empire 500 years before the birth of Christ.

One of the remaining Elamite era structures in the city of Susa, with a history that goes back to 1250 years before the birth of Christ, is the Chogha-Zanbil Ziggurat, which is said to be the first religious structure, to have built in Iran. In 1979 Chogha-Zanbil became the first Iranian site to be inscribed on the UNESCO world heritage list. Because of the artifacts recovered from the site this magnificent Ziggurat is high steam by the international Community.

CONVERSATION [English] Tourists: “- Inside … and here lock people from coming in. May be they did some sort of a ritual in here. This is 1250 BC; we are talking about something really old. Just fore you because you are special guests, I bring you inside here.

- Is this the original plaster?

- No, Sir, this is new. This is from 5 years ago, six years ago.”

SOUNDBITE [English] David Wood, British Tourist: “And the Ziggurat, again something that is not well-known a lot. A bit of a strange place! It seems to be old temples, no army no Baroques, but it was a city and then it was destroyed by an invader, perhaps it hasn’t been unearthed yet but it doesn’t seem to be any sort of military establishment there to defend them but yet it is quite impressive that such a huge structure was done out of the ground.”

CONVERSATION [English] David Wood & Tim Littler, British Tourists: “- Quite lot further down to Shushtar I realized.

- Yeah, yeah.

- Have you been here before?

- No, No. My first time!

- Alright.”

Narration: Shushtar‘s collection of watermills and waterfalls are among the world’s most amazing feeds of engineering. The complex irrigation system was designed to use water efficiently in ancient times. Shushtar’s infrastructure included water mills, dams, tunnels and canals operating in the form of an industrial economic complex. A French archeologist has described the Shushtar historical hydraulic system as the biggest industrial complex before the industrial revolution.

SOUNDBITE [English] David Wood, British Tourist: “There are not many places in the world. But Roman engineering is still working about 2 thousand 2 and a half thousand d years later.”

Narration: Shushtar is an island city form the Sasanid era but part of its irrigation system are said to originally date to the time of Achaemenian king Darius the Great.

SOUNDBITE [English] David Wood, British Tourist: “This must be unique in Iran and nobody knows about it. It is not very famous. You have many many mosques, everybody visit the mosques. This is different, it is unique. It should be better known.”

Narration: Apart from the water bubbles created by the water mills to feast one’s eyes on, the artificial waterfalls are another unique feature of this feast of engineering.

SOUNDBITE [English] Tan Ying Hsien, Singaporean Tourist: “I would like to come back at some point, because I don’t feel like I have seen enough and I know I am going to be leaving in a couple of days.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Richard Quick, American Tourist: “It was a wonderful experience that we have had and the warm hospitality. We want to encourage them to come and see for themselves.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Marsha Lefkovits, American Tourist: “I agree. There is nothing like telling the people, showing your pictures, telling stories.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Francisco Castelo, Portuguese Tourist: It was a very good experience and I am sure I will tell everyone that Iran is a very nice place to come.”

   

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