Edinburgh University Students in Iran
Edinburgh University Students in Iran
In April 2006, Dr Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, who lectures in ancient Persian history, led a 10-day tour to Iran. With 20 Edinburgh University students and a few other guests, he took them to visit the remarkable ancient sites of Persepolis, Naqsh-i Rustam and Parsagadae, as well as the beautiful Iranian cities of Shiraz, Yazd, Esphahan and Tehran.
Scroll down to read about our students' perceptions of Iran and enjoy just a few images from a very memorable and highly enjoyable study tour.
STUDENTS SPEAK OUT
I am not sure I can summarise in a couple of hundred words how fantastic this trip was. I have tried in far more words and with pictures, and still not managed it.
We saw so many interesting sites: Persepolis was awesome for its sense of history and the miracle of its survival. The mosques were more colourful, ornate and spiritual than the guidebooks could convey (and how often is it that you can accuse your guidebooks of understatement?) I particularly valued the opportunities to sample Iranian culture, from the food to our visit to Abyaneh.
I did feel on leaving that, while I could have spent far longer there, I had
nonetheless got a very good overview of Iran . Credit for this needs to be given
to our excellent tour guide.
I don't think I will ever come up with a neat "conclusion" to this trip. What I have is a wealth of experiences that will continue to affect me for years. I cannot express how much this trip meant to me.
As a student of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology I was fairly familiar with the Ancient Persian Empire, but of modern day Iran I'm afraid to say I knew relatively little. This combined with its increasing presence in the news meant that I wasn't quite sure what to expect.
One of the aspects of the trip that stands out most in my mind is the level of
hospitality we received. Before travelling to Iran I had been told by a number of
people that the Iranians were a very welcoming and friendly community. I didn't
fully appreciate this until I was actually there. The Iran I experienced was so
far removed from the terrorist state the media portrays it to be. It really brought
into perspective the extent to which we are subject to the media. Having actually
experienced it and having spoken to the people it has vastly changed my view. The
stereotypical view you perceive is one of a hostile and suppressive country.
I've always been skeptical, especially as an Ancient Historian, of the Western concept of the East. But as a Westerner it is inherent in our upbringing to view things in this way. In particular people tend to judge what they believe to be the suppression of women. Again this is a viewpoint of which I disagree. And even more so now that I have been to Iran do I feel we have no right to make such a judgment.
The Iranian culture is so different from ours that it seems foolish and almost naïve to make such rash statements. Have you ever thought about how they must view us in return? Obviously you can't stop yourself from forming such conceptions; it's a part of our nature, but you should be open to the fact that our cultures are so very different. We have different views and value different things so what may seem suppressive to us, doesn't necessarily seem that way to them.
Due to these pre-conceptions inherent within us, the most common response I receive
when I tell people I went to Iran is 'were you not scared?' Now I admit I was apprehensive;
I didn't know what to expect. But I was filled with excitement more than anxiety.
Any concerns I did have were soon put to rest once I had arrived.
People often find this hard to believe given the current state of affairs, but the atmosphere of the country was one of welcome not hostility. Again I feel this was partially due to the level of hospitality we received. Many of the Iranians had probably not seen so many young westerners at once. As such it was as much of a spectacle for them as it was for us. Everywhere you went people would come up to you and speak to you. You almost felt they were fascinated with you.
In fact the only thing that actually frightened me whilst I was there was the driving. That was far more risky. It seems the Iranians have a somewhat different concept of the Highway Code!
The county itself is one of great beauty. At times we could spend hours travelling
and whilst that doesn't exactly sound exciting, some of these journeys were a particularly
memorable part of the trip. There were moments when all you could see on either
side of the road was mountains and desert. It was absolutely stunning. Of course
it was not just the landscape that was beautiful.
During our time there we visited a number of mosques; the intricate details of which were remarkable. I think the place that stands out most in my mind though is Persepolis . This ancient Persian capital was perhaps my favourite part of the trip. I think what amazes me is the fact that I was so taken aback by what remains there today. To imagine what it would have been like at the height of the Persian Empire ; it would have been spectacular to behold. The many reliefs that survive perfectly capture the beautiful art and architecture of these people. The fine detail depicted; from the texture of clothing to the style of hair, is truly remarkable. Whilst many structures have been lost in time, much still remains, such as parts of Darius' palace and Xerxes hundred columned hall (famously burnt down by Alexander the Great), the treasury, the harem, and the tombs of kings.
In addition to Persepolis we were able to visit the nearby tombs of powerful Archaemenian kings, which were carved into huge rocks. That was absolutely amazing to see. We were able to visit the Narenjestan Palace, the mausoleums of the Persian Mystics and of the poets Hafez and Saa'di in Shiraz. We visited Zoroastrian fire temples and wind towers, the tomb of the Persian King Cyrus the Great, the magnificent buildings of Isfahan including beautiful mosques, and Kashan; an oasis town famous for its beautiful Fin garden.
These are just a few of the places we visited and the sites we saw. This trip was an incredible opportunity. It enabled me to see things I never imagined I would.
The tomb of the poet Hafiz, Shiraz
Xerxes lookie-likie: a security guard at the Persepolis Museum
Iran has for a long time been maligned by a myopic Western-media as a pariah
state that is at odds with the culture and values of the rest of the world. For
most people that haven't travelled to the country, Iran is synonymous with terrorism,
radical Islam, a suppressed population and a poor human rights record. However anyone
who went on Lloyd's Iran trip will be quick to tell you of the friendly reception
and warm hospitality extended to all western visitors, irrespective of their country
From the moment we set foot in the arrival lounge at Mirabad Airport we were met with a friendly smile and numerous invitations to join the locals in either of their favourite pastimes, namely drinking tea or smoking shisa. It was also at the airport that we first learnt of an Iranian football team called Persepolis FC and for any ancient historian interested in football getting hold of one of their shirts became a must.
Within mere hours of arriving in Iran we quickly began to forget the stereotypes of a depressed people who cling to terrorism as a way of expressing their views on the international stage and instead began to see the Iranian people as being fiercely independent and proud of their long history, but also willing to embrace those who make the slightest effort to understand their culture.
The country itself is spectacular, one moment you can be driving through a barren desert whilst the next you are travelling through lush verdant agricultural land; and with two vast mountain ranges the country encompasses a wide range of geographic features and topographies meaning that even on long journeys you are never bored. Iran also has more than its fair share of spectacular archaeological sites, many of which awed even the most travelled among us.
For example there is the spectacular site of Persepolis that reveals the splendours and sophistication of the ancient Persian Empire whilst at Naqsh-e Rostam there are a number of huge sculptures carved into the rock face which record the victories of King Shapur I.
Similarly the Architecture of the country is also breathtaking and there are innumerable mosques and mausoleums which, rather than being the dull and muted colours of Western style buildings, are instead vibrant and alive due to their brightly painted tiles. On the days when we weren't seeing any of Iran's archaeological wonders there was the experience of shopping in a Middle Eastern bazaar. These bazaars are largely untouched by western influence and thus we found we could loose ourselves in the many twisting allies and side streets whilst being immersed in local culture.
In short if you are willing to try something that is unfamiliar, respect local traditions and customs then Iran has a lot to offer. So if you ever have the opportunity to travel to Iran and are worried by events being reported in the media then let me leave you with an observation made by an Iranian businessman who chatted to us at the airport.
" If the only aspects of Britain and British culture which the media choose portray were the political demonstrations and rallies undertaken by the B.N.P. then what a warped view foreigners would have of the United Kingdom. Sadly this how your western media has chosen to portray Iran and so Iranians get represented by the minority of fanatics who want to cause trouble ".
This is a point well worth remembering, Iran like all countries has its undesirable elements but we should be careful to judge the people as a whole not on the images spooned fed to us by a highly politicised western media.
Xerxes' Gate of all Nations, Persepolis
"Esphahan-e nesef-e jahan": "Esphahan is half the world"
Overlooking Yazd from the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence
Inside the National Museum, Tehran
Relaxing the Persian way - Yazd
Tags: edinburgh university iran, persian history, tour to iran, visiting iran, persepolis, iranian cities, iranian mosques, iranian culture, iran trip, persian empire, iranian people, iran traditions, iranian bazaar, driving in iran