Middle East 2011

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Our day in Tehran began with a visit to Golestan Palace. For the next eight days Meg was required to cover her hair in public with a hejab. Throughout Iran we found great commitment to the restoration of historical treasures. Tehran is home to many museums, including a Glassware and Ceramics museum.

A cornucopia to tantalize the eyes as well as the taste buds. Azadi Tower, constructed to commemorate the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire. A beautiful piece of architecture, mixing modern and ancient elements.

Onto Shiraz, where our visit to the tomb of the poet Hafez coincided with that of a group of school girls; it wasn't long before the girls were practicing their English in finding out what Meg really thought about having to wear her hejab. Stained glass windows add to the warm colours of the Nasir al-Mulk mosque. Its every wall decorated in intricate detail. Its decorations are almost fractal in nature: larger patterns giving way to ever more detail.

Bagh-e Eram (garden of paradise) lived up to its name, with a myriad of blooming gardens. Water flows throughout the garden. Carvings adorn the stonework of the garden's pagoda.

Opulent rooms adjoined the garden for retreat from the summer's fierce heat. Carved high into the rocks of Naqshe Rustam are the tombs of Darius I and II, Xerxes and shown here, Artaxerxes I. Carved below one of tombs is a relief depicting the surrender of the Romans after the capture of the Roman emperor Velarian. The Persian emperor Shapur I accepts the surrender.

Another of the tombs. The Gate of All Nations at Persepolis, the famous palace of Darius the Great. Exquisite carvings decorate every wall. Details abound on every surface.

People from all over the empire are depicted coming to pay homage. In Zoroastrian symbolism, the Spring Equinox is symbolised by the bull (the Earth) and the lion (the Sun) fighting. Even though Zoroastrianism was the state religion of ancient Persia, all religions were permitted. The primary symbol of Zorastrianism, used to this day.

Few of the structures remain standing following Alexander the Great's torching of the palace. Xerxes avoiding the damaging rays of the sun.

Even in the signage at Persepolis, we are reminded that women must wear their hejab at all times in public. The women in our tour group had to wear full chador to visit the mausoleum of Sayyed Mir Ahmad. The smiling face of rural Iran.

Little remains of the palaces at Pasargadae. The tomb of Cyrus the Great is amazingly understated for such an accomplished empire builder. Ice could be stored throughout the hot summer within this icehouse. Any warm air could escape through its high chimney.

Hiding from the heat. En-route to Yazd we visited the town of Abarkuh, where stands a four thousand year old Cyprus tree. Entrance to the Jameh mosque in Yazd. The interior of the mosque is beautifully decorated.

Wind towers, used to funnel wind into the rooms below, pepper the Yazd skyline. The group we travelled with and our excellent Iranian guide. Wherever we went, the locals wanted to talk to us and have their pictures taken with us. We were happy to be ambassadors of good will and oblige wherever possible.

A striking blue is used heavily in mosque decoration. Meg modelling this season's hejab outside Bagh-e Dolat Abad Inside is a beautiful pavilion set amid lush gardens. Yazd is the center of Persian Zorastrianism, and the flame in the fire temple is said to have been burning since 470 AD!

Half a dozen boy students jockeyed for a photo with Tim outside the fire temple. Just outside Yazd are the Towers of Silence, where until the sixties Zorastrian deceased were left to be picked clean by the vultures. One million Iranian rials! Just under one hundred US dollars.

Breaking our trip to Esfahan at a derelict caravanserai. Esfahan takes pride in being Iran's most beautiful city. Fountains and gardens fill its main square. Originally the square was used for polo matches, although only the stone goal posts still remain.

Young Iranian art students seek inspiration from the square's beauty. However, under one of the near by bridges, young Esfahanis gather and sing counter-revolutionary songs. From the balcony of the Ali Qapu Palace the entrance to the Sheikh Lotfollah mosque (also known as the Ladies' Mosque) can be seen across the square. Inside the palace frescoes tell of courtly life.

The walls of this music room are carved with vase shapes to enhance its acoustics. The inside of the dome of the ladies' mosque is exceptionally beautiful. A beautiful, soft light spills down to its tiled floor. The word minaret comes from an Arabic word meaning 'light house' and were adopted by the Arabs during their invasion of Persia.

Meg outside of Esfahan's Friday mosque. Looking back across the square to the ladies' mosque. Just chilling in the gardens of the Chehelsotun Palace. Several beautiful frescoes were found plastered over within the palace but have now been restored.

Iran is a country enriched with geranium plants - or was that uranium enrichment plants. Buying nougat in the bazaar, we had one of our many encounters with the locals, this time with a brother and sister. Apparently he looks like a famous Iranian rapper. Light streaming into one of the many chambers of the old Jameh mosque. Tim relaxing in the mosque's courtyard.

Meg showing a scandalous amount of hair for a mosque! One of our tour group was a teacher with a talent for art. She thoughtfully created thank-you cards for our guide, our driver, and the driver's assistant.

The Armenian Christian art of Vank catherdral is worlds apart from that of their Islamic neighbours. Our visit coincided with the anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Turkey, so Meg lay a flower at the memorial.

Due to the trade embargo, no US companies are present in Iran, however, enterprising Iranians have filled the gap. Making more friends back at the main square. Boys with the boys, girls with the girls. A kaleidoscope of colour at a spice store in the bazaar.

The top secret Natanz uranium enrichment plant. En-route back to Tehran, we stopped for a while at Fin Garden. The abundant waters from a local spring made for a verdant oasis of life amid the dessert.



Just around the corner from our hotel was the 'US den of espionage', formerly the US embassy, now a canvas for government propaganda.    

United Arab Emirates


Dubai, home of the Burj Khalifa, the worlds tallest building. Just beyond the skyscrapers and shopping malls are endless miles of dessert. No dessert is complete without a camel. Ibex watch skittishly as we pass.

An ants eye view of the dessert. Enjoying an evening of hospitality in the dessert. Meg receives her obligatory henna.



A belly dancer moves to an Arabian beat far below the night's stars. On our last day in Dubai we treated ourselves to afternoon tea at the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel.    



A view of Pigeon Rocks seen whilst promenading along the Beirut Corniche. All along the Green Line bullet riddled ruins serve as reminders of a fifteen year civil war that tore Beirut apart. Ancient bathhouse ruins reveal the Roman occupation of Beirut. Soldiers and razor wire await tourists at every destination, a constant reminder of the uneasy peace.

Meg was required to don a chador in order to enter Beirut's Mohammed al-Amin mosque. The ceiling and chandelier of the mosque were stunningly decorated. The next day we travelled to Baalbek, an ancient town nestled in the Beka valley. From our hotel window we could see the ancient Roman ruins for which the town is famous.

Not far from the ruins lies the quarry where the great blocks were carved for the temples. This one still in the quarry is said to be the largest stone carved by man. Entering the ruins leads to a great courtyard.

The courtyard is littered with reminders of its former glory. A great staircase leads away from the courtyard.

At the top of the staircase stands the remains of the once massive Temple of Jupiter.

The Temple of Jupiter was built on an extravagant scale that outshone anything built in Rome.

Meg staring down a lion. Beyond the columns of the Temple of Jupiter, stands the Temple of Bachus. The Temple of Bacchus is incorrectly named, as it was actually dedicated to Venus Astarte.

It is famous for the partially fallen keystone at its entrance. Us modelling the entrance for scale. Although the temple has been fully excavated, high up on the walls of the temple graffiti gives evidence of the temple's dirt floor level during the 1800s.

The temple was the most beautifully decorated temple in the Roman world Although it is often thought of as the lesser temple, it is larger than the Acropolis in Athens.



Meg enjoying the poppies that grew alongside the ruins.    
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