One of the periods in Iran’s history that is shrouded in mystery and disaster, is the centuries of Mughal reign in the realm. If you’re curious about this cultural and political phenomenon then your visit to Iran must include a trip to Zanjan.
Zanjan is a Province in northwestern Iran. The city of Zanjan is the capital of the province. Historically the land that constitutes Zanajan Province had been part of Azerbaijan, and the great majority of the population are Azeri people. Generally, Zanjan Province has a highland climate, although, in some areas especially in the southern part of the province, Mediterranean weather is not unheard of. Zanjan is one of the most religious regions in the country and it is considered the happiest province in Iran.
Reaching Zanjan is relatively easy. It is exactly the midway point between Tabriz and Tehran, 290km distant from both of these important megapoleis, with a series of highway connecting it to them. Daily trains are arriving in Zanjan from Tehran and Tabriz as well as daily flights from most of the major cities in the country landing in Zanjan’s airport.
The best time to visit Zanjan is in warm seasons. In late summer the weather is particularly pleasant.
There are limited numbers of decent hotels in Zanjan. These are some of them.
Hotel Sepehr – Zanjan
Address: Gavazang Blvd
Grand Hotel – Zanjan
Address: Basij Sq.
Park Hotel – Zanjan
Address: Azadi Square
Traditional Luxury Dadamaan Hotel – Zanjan
Address: 1st South Saadi Street 3rd dead-end, Chamany alley
What are the best places to visit in Zanjan?
Despite its natural beauty and historical heritage, Zanjan is one of the lesser-known provinces in Iran. The places listed below are some of the obvious attractions in the province.
- Gonbad-e-Soltaniyeh (Dome of Soltaniyeh), or how to synthesize a personal sky for your own tomb:
On the way to Zanjan, in the middle of a wide and vast plain, stands a great brick dome embellished with delicate turquoise tilework. This monument, one of the pinnacles of Iranian Architecture and also the largest brick dome in the world, is called the Soltanyeh Dome and was built at the behest of Öljeitü, also known as Muhammad Khodabandeh who ruled during the Ilkhanid dynasty (early 14th century).
Under the dome sits the building that is said to be his supposed tomb. Although much of the outer decorations are lost today but the interior retains superb mosaics, faience, and murals. Some say there wouldn’t be a Taj Mahal without the architectural genius of Soltaniyeh Dome.
An interesting note: the Soltanieh dome was also used as a sundial in the days of yore.
- Dashkasan Temple, the lair of the dragon:
15km south of Soltaniyeh, there is another example of the Iranian-Mughal hybridization of architecture and culture. This one a more alien one to Iranian eyes. Three caverns are carved into the mountain wall by four Chinese craftsmen. Strangely enough, you can see an Islamic Mihrab (a niche in the wall that marks the direction of Mecca, was also added within the temple.) among them, and Two huge Stone-dragons, in the exact form of the Chinese depiction of the beast, that guard the entrances to the temple.
The dragons, which stretch to nearly 10 feet (three meters) in height, are surrounded by more traditional Islamic designs such as flowers. Can It get any weirder? No wonder why locals think when darkness falls Djinns have a happy nightlife in the temple.
- Dudkesh-e-Jinn (the Djin chimney):
Near the town of Mahnashan in Zanjan province stands a mysterious phenomenon. They say it’s a cluster of chimneys puffing Jinn smoke into the air. Everywhere around the world Hoodoos -tall, thin spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland- has aspired the imagination of people towards another world and other-worldly architecture of mythic evil creatures. Here, 120km away from the City of Zanjan, the locals see these beautiful geological forms as just that, too. But it gets even more Fantasy-like.
At the foot of these chimneys is an ancient fort, an absolute Barad-Dur on its own, if you know what I mean. Sometimes around the 5th century AD, some people got inspired by the Hoodoos to build a castle challenging the grandeur of the earth itself. Today most of the original structure is lost. the remnants of the castle are called Takht-e-Div (Throne of the Evil Spirit) and if you visit it, you would know why.
- Aladaghlar mountains, a cake for the gods:
A mountain range 25km north of Mahnashan, Aladaghlar is a natural wonder. The mineral soil of the terrain manifest themselves in several layers of different colors on these hills, arresting eyes and lenses alike. The golden and copper colors of Aladaghlar glow in high noon like a giant cake.
But then if it rains, there would be a rainbow of colors, yellow, green, brown, violet streaks of the earth enchant people to the degree that locals have developed special rituals to celebrate the mother nature penchant for colors. (For example, each year in New Year’s Eve before the spring comes, they decorate their homes with the colored soil extracted from Aladaghlar and would blend the grains in a way to create some ornaments for the festive costumes characteristic of Nowruz celebrations.)
- Kataleh Khor Cave, just keep going, you will End Up in another dimension:
One of the must-visits of Zanjan province is for sure the cave of Kataleh Khor, 120 km south of Zanjan. Somewhere near the small town of Garmab, you will find this magnificent cave in Kataleh Khor- ‘the mountain of the sun’. And you know who else used to explore this same area? Yes, Neanderthals, who lived within the first 100 meters of this cave.
Calcareous forms and assemblages in Kataleh Khor apparently remind people of different historical monuments of Iran, so if you’re on a budget tour to Iran, this would be a good place to see them all, you know. For example, there are different sections named Bistoon field or Chehel Sotun Square. One of the most interesting parts of this cave that you always see a lot of tourists around is the bride and groom section, whose stalagmites are very similar to the setting of a wedding ceremony.
The cave is divided into three sections: cultural, recreational and athletic. Its athletic section would fascinate the cavers and climbers. The 5km recreational area is an easy route that all tourists can visit. The cultural section is located in the southern part of the cave and annually various ceremonies are held in it. It is believed that the cave is connected to the famous Ali Sadr Cave in Hamadan.
- The Old Bazaar of Zanjan, an Ideal Place to Buy some SOUVENIRS:
Zanjan’s traditional bazaar is one of the country’s longest and better-organized historical bazaars. This Bazaar was built during the Qajar era. Since then several other urban centers like caravansaries, traditional bathhouses, and historical mosques have conjoined the Bazaar’s main body and the result is a Qajari Complex you can scarcely see in any other part of the country. Zanjan Jame Mosque, Haj Dadash Bath and Saray Malek are among the most important buildings in the market that you can visit.
In the traditional Bazaar of Zanjan, the most important souvenirs and crafts of the province are up for sale. Famous Zanjan knives, copper utensils, embroidery, and handmade carpets are items you can buy as souvenirs from this beautiful city.
Adjacent to the traditional Bazaar there is also another attraction that we firmly recommend you to visit, especially if you have a weak spot for secular Kebabs. Just ask a shopkeeper where the Jegarakis are, and they will show you the way to this heaven of meat-lovers. Jegar Kabab which is a kind of grilled liver reaches its peak in Zanjan. There you can also order and eat one of the most delicious traditional dishes of Zanjan called Jaghor Baghour. DO NOT HESITATE.
What to eat in Zanjan:
Zanjani cuisine is one of the best features of this Province. Here are some of the traditional dishes you can try Zanjan.
Jaguar Bakhour: one of Zanjan’s most delicious and popular foods. This mouthwatering dish is made from a unique blend of white liver, black liver and the heart a sheep. Don’t forget to add some lime and basil leaves.
Khoresh-e-Alucheh-ba-Morgh: Chicken plum stew is one of the most authentic Zanjani dishes that owes its unique taste to the local and savory plums. If you are sweet-teeth you’ll fall in love with this one.