TEHRAN—Historic places of worship around the world tend to be on many travelers’ wish lists. If you think that because it is a Muslim majority country, you will only find beautiful mosques here, you are wrong!
From secluded shrines deep in the rocky mountains to the most visited sites in bustling cities, Iran is home to inspiring centers of worship that draw worshipers from around the world. Here is a list of six must-see religious attractions in Iran:
Imam Reza Holy Shrine (AS)
With millions of visitors a year, the Imam Reza Holy Shrine in Mashhad is one of Iran’s most important attractions.
Historical data suggests that the shrine complex was developed at different stages of time depending on the needs of the people and the rituals associated with the holy place. Moreover, the structure, design concepts, forms, material, tangible and intangible aspects, morphology, entry circumstances, prayer rites and spirit of the complex have retained their authenticity and integrity throughout. time and with the legal and religious support of authorities and people. .
Considering its cultural, historical and architectural aspects, as mentioned by UNESCO, the sanctuary complex could be comparable to several other religious complexes such as the “Tomb of St. Peter” in the Vatican, the “Mahabodhi Temple” in India, “Mount Emei” in China. , and “Lumbini” in Nepal.
towers of silence
The enigmatic Zoroastrian Towers of Silence sit on two lonely, barren peaks on the southern outskirts of Yazd in central Iran.
According to a tradition dating back more than 3,000 years, corpses were left atop these open towers – also called Dakhmas – to be slowly cleared or separated by desert vultures.
According to ancient Zoroastrian beliefs about the purity of the Earth, corpses were not buried but left in these uncovered stone towers so that the vultures could clean the bones.
The accounts say that the corpses of men were placed in the outer circle, while the women were left in the middle and the children in the innermost ring. The bodies were then left until their bones were bleached by the elements and stripped by the vultures.
After the purification process, the bones were placed in ossuaries near or inside the towers. Ossuaries of these rituals have been discovered as early as the 4th and 5th centuries BC.
At the foot of the hills are several other abandoned Zoroastrian buildings, including a disused well, cistern, kitchen and toilets.
As Iran developed and urbanized, Dakhmas moved closer and closer to the city limits, severely limiting their use. Since the 1970s, the use of Dakhmas has been illegal in Iran, forcing Orthodox Zoroastrians to adapt to new burial methods.
The Zoroastrian Towers of Silence are currently one of the famous tourist destinations in Yazd, the birthplace of Zoroastrianism. In July 2017, the historical texture of the city of Yazd was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nasir al-Molk Mosque
One of the most photographed mosques in southern Iran, Nasir al-Molk is probably the first image travelers conjure up when it comes to magnificent mosques.
Also known as the Pink Mosque, the place of worship features arrays of mirrors and delicate stuccowork, which are interwoven with arabesque patterns and tiles. It is filled with carved pillars and lavishly created polychrome earthenware, and the prayer hall appears magnificent when illuminated through the vast stained glass windows.
In case one wishes to take photos, it is generally recommended to come as early as possible in the morning to photograph the prayer hall when it is illuminated through the colored glass frames.
The exterior is covered in an array of colorful painted tiles while the beautiful stained glass window forms an enchanting kaleidoscope effect inside which is echoed by more colorful tiles and the impressive Persian rugs covering the floor!
The mosque is named after Qajar-era merchant Mirza Hasan Ali (Nasir al-Molk) who ordered its construction in close collaboration with designer Mohammad Hasan-e Memar and architect Mohammadreza Kashisaz Shirazi.
Built in the first half of the 17th century, with the encouragement of Safavid rulers, Kelisa-ye (the Cathedral of) Vank is a historical focal point of the Armenian Church in Iran. The cathedral is widely regarded as an endless masterpiece of architecture, as it harmoniously blends Islamic motifs and elements with those of Armenian traditions.
The cathedral has a domed sanctuary, much like Iranian mosques, but a semi-octagonal apse and raised choir give it a western look. Vank means “monastery” or “convent” in the Armenian language.
Construction was due to begin in 1606, with the first arrivals being completed with major design changes between 1655 and 1664 under the supervision of Archbishop David. Hundreds of Armenians, who emigrated to Isfahan during the Ottoman-Safavid War (1603–18), contributed to the completion of the cathedral.
The Armenian quarter of Isfahan dates from the time of Shah Abbas I, who transported a colony of Christians en masse from the city of Jolfa (now on the northern border of Iran) and named the village “New Jolfa” . Shah Abbas sought out their skills as merchants, entrepreneurs and artists and ensured that their religious freedom was respected, albeit at a distance from the Islamic center of the city.
The magnificent shrine of Shah Cheragh is a major tourist destination and place of pilgrimage in the ancient city of Shiraz in southern Iran.
The shrine is where Sayyed Mir Ahmad, one of Imam Reza’s (as) brothers rests. Every day it attracts hundreds of loyal tourists from all over the world.
It has centuries-old architectural elements and grounds and its courtyard and telework represent relatively modern embellishments of the late Qajar period. Its blue-tiled dome is flanked by dazzling gold-tipped minarets.
Inside its great hall of worship, giant chandeliers hang like frozen rain, smaller green lamps protrude from the walls, and stained-glass windows shine from above, casting light that glistens on countless jewels and shards of glass.
The mausoleum has undergone various restoration projects over time. It was inscribed on the National Heritage List in 1939. There is also a modest museum in the northwest corner of the courtyard, next to the shrine, which displays artefacts related to the shrine, including ancient copies of the Saint Koran. Non-Muslim guests will be matched with an English-speaking guide upon arrival. Women must wear a chador (open capes that leave the face exposed) throughout the shrine complex, available free of charge at the women’s entrance.
The name “Shah Cheragh” roughly translates to “King of Light” in Persian.
The Jamkaran Mosque is an architectural masterpiece that celebrates Persian art in every corner, as its blue and green domes with minarets decorated with Persian tiles stand out vividly against the clear sky.
The mosque is an important center of pilgrimage for Shia Muslims who are followers of the Twelve Imams. A sea of humanity greets you especially on Tuesday evenings when special prayers and greetings are offered to Imam Mahdi (AS), the twelfth Imam of the Shia Muslims.