Day 53: Castles of the Assassins
Castles of the Assassins Travel Blog› entry 78 of 260 › view all entries
May 28th, 2010 – by: Biedjee
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.
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.
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.
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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