Scenic roads of colorful mountains lead to the city, its bazaar and Katale Khor cave systems makes it for an interesting stop
Located on a high plain and surrounded by colorful hills, the humble city of Zanjan is a perfect place for explorations. Close to the city, you can find the incredible monument of Soltanieh, while the strangely striped colorful mountains and the worn-out hoodoos of Behestan Castle lie further afield. Scenic roads around this province lead the Caspian Sea and the famous Khalkhal-Asalem road, the subterranean wonders of the Katale Khor Caves, and the holy Takht-e Soleiman ruins and its mysterious adjacent lake lake. The city of Zanjan is home to an excellent covered bazaar, a few very attractive mosques, and also several eccentric museums.
Katale Khor Caves
Cave in Zanjan
The incredible thirty-million-year old Katale Khor cave system is found 150km south of Zanjan, off the Soltaniyeh–Hamadan road near Garmab. Katale Khor, which literally means “mount of the sun”, is less visited than the more famous Ali Sadr Caves, and has about 3 kilometers of walking distance open to the public. There are, at least, six levels and exploring this ancient attraction won’t take more than two hours.
Museum in Zanjan
This historical museum is a Qajar laundry facility which is full of female figures, with their traditional clothing, demonstrating to visitors how the city used to wash their clothes during the First World War and onwards. There is a traditional workshop above this subterranean structure where you can buy Zanjanian shoes which look a lot like elf shoes.
Zanjan Saltmen Museum
Museum in Zanjan
This archaeological museum is where three of the four the incredible ‘Saltmen’ mummies, discovered over the years in the Chehrabad salt mine which is now turned into an archaeological site, are kept. The bodies of these saltmen were kept nearly intact – some corpses even have hair, skin, and wholly untouched visceral organs – because of the extreme exposure to salt as well as severely dry air in the mind. Three of these salt people are kept in this museum in glass cases on the second floor and the forth one lives in Tehran’s National Museum. By the use of carbon dating, it has been revealed these corpses go back between 1500 and 2300 years old.
Mountain in Zanjan
When travelling between Zanjan and Tabriz, these fascinating colorful mountains and hills come to sight here and there, so you’ll have to be careful not to miss them, and not that they’re hard to miss. These hills which have different lithological characteristics are rarely found throughout the world; similar rock formations can be found Rainbow Mountains of Peru or at the Chinese Zhangye National Geopark.
Dome of Soltaniyeh
This site is a rather big historical complex; the main attraction of Soltaniyeh’s various ruins is the Mausoleum of Muhammad Khodabandeh, which is more famously known as the Dome of Soltaniyeh. This building, built from 1302 to 1312 AD, is oldest double-shell dome in Iran. It is stated that its importance in the Muslim architecture can be compared to Brunelleschi’s cupola for its Christian equivalent. Dome of Soltaniyeh is, actually, the third largest dome in the world right after the domes of Florence Cathedral and Hagia Sophia, ranking second and first, respectively. The dome is estimated to have 200 tons in weight and to be 49 meters tall.
In its time, Dome of Soltaniyeh was considered to be a hugely influential architectural wonder and it paved the way for more brave Iranian style dome constructions in Persia and other Muslim territory of the time including India and its world-famous dome Taj Mahal; its internal and external architecture of the dome has been described by experts as “anticipating Taj Mahal”.
The Jameh Mosque of Zanjan which is also known as Sultani Mosque or Seyyed Mosque, is a congregational grand mosque located at the heart of the city in the old part of town. This huge and intricate complex was built during the Qajar era in 1826, by Mirza Dara, a prince at of the time and son to Fath Ali Shah, in the style of the famous 4-iwan architectural design.
Zanjan bazaar, a historical and roofed structure, on the east-west axis of the city, is one of Iran’s longest bazaars and was constructed during the Qajar era from 1784 till 1792. Although the bazaar is visited by the locals frequently and is the main trading place for the city, it remains unknown to tourists and visitors. Similar to other traditional bazaar dispersed throughout the country, Zanjan bazaar is a roofed well-designed complex which has rows of shops – around 940 of them – facing one another among other structures such as caravanserais, mosques, and even Turkish baths.