Off the beaten track: Iran’s best kept secrets
Although tourism here is slowly building, for now you may find you have many of Iran’s great wonders all to yourself. Here are a few places to visit before the secret is out.
Contemplate opulent Armenian art
It’s hard to tire of the tiled magnificence of Iran’s mosques. Just when you think there couldn’t possibly be yet another striking shade of blue, Iran’s talented artists come up with the goods. Without doubt, visiting the country’s mosques is one of the most alluring aspects for most travellers, but many forget that other cultures have flourished in this region and brought with them equally beautiful artistry. For some contrast and a lesson in how differing cultural styles can merge beautifully, the Vank Cathedral set within Esfahan’s Armenian quarter is a sumptuous alternative. Although the exterior may not seem too noteworthy, within is a golden world of colourful Persian tiles juxtaposed with Christian iconography. The sometimes gruesome frescos shine vibrantly under the subdued light of hanging chandeliers, and it’s hard not to be affected by the history that created this masterpiece.
Gallery crawl through Tehran’s arty side
Behind the congested streets and concrete facade of Tehran is a contemporary art scene pushing against the conservatism of much of the rest of the country. As Iran’s most liberal city, artistic expression is alive and well, and amongst the artist enclaves, you could be forgiven in thinking you were in London’s Soho or New York City’s East Village. Iranian Artists’ House oozes hipster cool, with eight gallery spaces across two levels exhibiting everything from sculpture to painting, installations to multi media. The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, housed in one of Tehran’s modernist buildings, has a collection that has caused controversy and heated debate, as the government and clerics argue over art’s moral influence on the community. It has an impressive collection of modernist artists, including works by Jackson Pollock, van Gogh and Matisse.
Outside of the galleries, storeys-high street art is starting to appear throughout Tehran’s centre. Provocative anti-American graffiti still lines the walls of the long-shuttered US embassy (now open as a museum called the US Den of Espionage), and it’s a surreal and eye-opening experience, though not to everyone’s taste.