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Earlier this month, Unesco added two more ancient sites – Susa archaeological mounds and the stunning Meymand village – the 18th and 19th sites on Iran’s world heritage list. The country was a popular destination for visitors until the 1979 Islamic revolution, and hosted world luminaries such as Andy Warhol, violinist Yehudi Menuhin and choreographer Maurice Béjart.
Iran, which was a Zoroastrian country before Islam arrived, is home to some of the world’s most magnificent historical and archaeological sites with ancient ruins, glittering mosques and spectacular landscapes. Relics of a proud ancient civilisation include: Persepolis, the capital of the largest empire that the world has ever seen; the city of Isfahan; Shiraz, the city of love and poetry; and Hamadan, where Avicenna, the father of early modern medicine, is buried. The capital Tehran is famous for having ski resorts on its doorstep.
Michael Pullman, marketing manager of UK-based tour operator, which has been taking western tourists to Iran for the past 10 years, said demands for Iran tours have soared since the nuclear deal was reached earlier this week. He also said that since 2013 demand to visit Iran has increased significantly, and last year the tour operator, which specialises in small, tailor-made group tours, took 150 people. He expects that number to increase by 30% this year.
“When relations started to thaw between Iran and the west, suddenly people felt safe to go,” said Pullman. “It had been branded as part of the ‘axis of evil’ by George Bush, which didn’t help things, and it’s taken time for Iran to rid itself of the label.”
The reactions from westerners visiting Iran is remarkable, he added: “They all come back unanimously saying it’s their ‘new’ country. The sites are one thing – there’s just stunning Islamic architecture and ancient sites, such as Persopolis – but everyone seems to agree that it’s the people that are the biggest surprise.