Friday, August 24, 2012


From Qazvin I went next to Zanjan. I was getting a bit pressed for time overall and had considered skipping Zanjan entirely but decided to make a quick 2-day stop anyway and rush to just the most important nearby site, Soltaniyeh. Zanjan is a couple hours further northwest along the main road to Tabriz. It's smaller than Qazvin (but still a spread out city) and not particularly famous in itself but again makes a useful base for exploring nearby attractions.
I had another great host in Zanjan, a university physics professor, who was really busy but still introduced me to his friends and had me helping him proofread his next manuscript which was kind of cool. I don't really miss all that that much anymore and don't want to spend my life writing and proofreading science papers and research proposals.
I ran around the city to see what there was to see, that being a couple of museums, the typical covered market and mosques. One of the museums was in the old public laundry/washing place showing another complicated system of waterworks created for the people. The traditional technologies were really impressive and one of the highlights of visiting Iran. The natural history museum is famous for the remains of 3 “salt mummies”, men that were naturally mummified after being buried in a salt cave/mine 1700 years ago and being found only recently. The main mummies (I think there were 5 in total) are displayed in Zanjan as the cave is nearby but the most famous and best preserved head is in Tehran at the national museum there.

Zanjan's covered market.

The public laundry museum.

The mummified salt man of Zanjan. This head is in Tehran now though.

But the most famous site around Zanjan is the Unesco-listed Soltaniyeh. Zanjan was never a capital of Iran, but nearby Soltaniyeh was the capital during the days of the Mongol dynasty that had a brief reign over the region in the 1300's. Tamerlane (from Uzbekistan) came along and destroyed the place in 1384 and since then Soltaniyeh has been nothing more than a little village 30km outside of Zanjan. What's left to see isn't much other than a huge brick dome mausoleum. It's actually the largest brick dome in the world and the mausoleum was built as a failed attempt to move the remains of Imam Ali from Iraq (it's the 2nd most important Shia pilgrimage site after Mecca) but when the Mongol sultan died, he was buried there instead. The mausoleum is beautiful in it's own bricky kind of way and it looks so out of place completely dominating the local village around it. There is really nothing else there and so at almost 50m high it's visible from several km away on the approach in from the main highway.

Soltaniyeh mausoleum towers in the distance.

Perfect proportions.

Inside, the mausoleum is now a paradise for monkeys (and Bre) as the hollow interior is one of the most impressive sets of scaffolding I've ever seen. An Italian team of archeologists were working on restoring the mausoleum and had set up the scaffolding in the 70's. After the Iranian Revolution of '79 the team was kicked out and nothing has been done since. But the scaffolding looks like it was built to last until the last millenium too and while it does a good job of keeping everything together it actually blocks most of what there is to see inside. As you can imagine, the view from the 2nd level of the mausoleum was great and I can see how the grassland along the foothills of the Alborz mountains would appeal to the ancient Mongolian spirit to set their capital up there instead of in another Iranian location.

Scaffolding paradise inside the mausoleum.

I'm really happy I chose to go to Zanjan and see Soltaniyeh. It was rushed and there is still plenty more in the area to go back and see, including another Unesco site and some caves, so as I've kept saying to myself over and over for the last couple weeks, I can and will make another trip back to Iran some day.


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