Day 53: Castles of the Assassins

Castles of the Assassins Travel Blog

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heading towards Alamut valley
Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Ebrahim (Iran)

My reason for coming to Qazvin was the Alamut valley, which extends for about 90 kilometres beyond Qazvin. As public transportation, or any tourist facilities for that matter, are limited in the region, I had taken up the offer from my hotel to book a car and guide through them.

My guide, Ebrahim, was a very nice guy in his early thirties. He spoke some English, though unfortunately most of this consisted of well-rehearsed phrases describing the area, and actual conversations were difficult.

He explained to me how tourism had plummeted since 2007, the year when hard-line president Ahmadinejan re-instated many Islamic rules which had previously been loosened by the reformist previous president Khatami.
first view of the Alamut valley
One of these is that it has become much harder for foreign tourists to travel to Iran. This inevitably has had its effect on prices for accommodation. Hotel prices are regulated by the government, so in an attempt to generate the same income from lesser tourists hotel prices have risen dramatically throughout the country.

The drive into the Alamut valley was terrific. I regretted not having my own set of wheels here, as the road into the valley could be considered as one of the great driving roads in the world.
For about 25 kilometres the excellent tarred road snakes through the mountains boasting views of stunning snow capped mountains, rugged rocky cliffs and grassy hills.
After the uncommonly wet spring the valley looked particularly lovely, with all the hills covered with golden grass and colourful wild-flowers.
The walk up to the castle (yes, the castle is at that black speck at the top of the rock)


I would have loved to drive here myself, though I didn't dare doing it in Ebrahim's Saiba Sapa, which tyres hardly had any thread left. It's amazing the shoddily built Iranian cars can even make it up a mountain (or make it down, as speeding downhill without ABS or proper suspension is an accident waiting to happen).

The Alamut valley contains the ruins of over 50 castles. These castles, collectively called the Castles of the Assassins, belonged to a medieval cult called Ismaili. According to a popular tale the Assassins didn't receive their name from any killing sprees, but rather from the fact that they used to be stones on hashish all the time. Their nickname 'Hashish-iyun' would be the root of the English term 'assassin'. Hmm, I prefer the version of the tale where they were feared because they killed everybody.
The walk up to Lamiasar castle


Whatever the truth about their origins and lifestyle, fact of the matter remains that they built a series of fortifications throughout the Alamut valley, many of were considered unconquerable (well, at least until the Mongolians arrived). What remains of the castles these days isn't particularly interesting, but the dramatic settings of the old fortresses make them well worth a visit.

We visited the most popular two: Alamut and Lamiasar. The first of the two was the most impressive. To get there we had to walk steeply uphill for about half an hour in the fierce hot sun. The path is so steep that stairs have been built to accommodate the tourists. This is another one of those places where you just wonder “how the hell did they get all of this up here?”.
It was quite busy at the castle. Today being a Friday (i.e. Islamic weekend) meant that there were many day trippers from Qazvin and surroundings.
 
Lamiasar Castle is little more than a few pieces of defence wall and some foundations, but the walk was very scenic nonetheless. This castle is far less visited than Alamut, so we had the place practically to ourselves.

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heading towards Alamut valley
heading towards Alamut valley
first view of the Alamut valley
first view of the Alamut valley
The walk up to the castle (yes, th…
The walk up to the castle (yes, t…
The walk up to Lamiasar castle
The walk up to Lamiasar castle
Looking back at the road we just d…
Looking back at the road we just …
breakfast stop
breakfast stop
Alamut valley
Alamut valley
Ebrahim plays his favourite song
Ebrahim plays his favourite song
The road into the Alamut valley
The road into the Alamut valley
Alamut valley
Alamut valley
Alamut valley
Alamut valley
Alamut valley
Alamut valley
Alamut valley
Alamut valley
Alamut valley
Alamut valley
So nice to have the place all to o…
So nice to have the place all to …
the path up the mountain
the path up the mountain
Some steps have been made to make …
Some steps have been made to make…
Remains of the castle have been wr…
Remains of the castle have been w…
view from the top
view from the top
at the top of Alamut castle
at the top of Alamut castle
Alamut castle ruins
Alamut castle ruins
view over the Alamut valley
view over the Alamut valley
some genuine Iranian ice cream
some genuine Iranian ice cream
Alamut valley
Alamut valley
Alamut valley
Alamut valley
Alamut valley
Alamut valley
The road to Lamiasar castle
The road to Lamiasar castle
View from Lamiasar castle
View from Lamiasar castle
Castles of the Assassins
photo by: Biedjee