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January 6, 2003

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During our drive across Iran the guides tell us stories about Savik, the Shah's secret police, that operated a few decades up until 1979, a time period when people disappeared and everyone lived in fear of friends or family as informants. Savik earned a reputation for torture and killing. Thousands died under the Shah who was propped up by the Americans, our guides never fail to add. On January 16, 1979, the Shah fled Iran. This date is now a national holiday.
During the drive from Tabriz to Tehran we see one of the world's largest domes (and according to a billboard, the world's largest brick dome) called the Soltaniyeh. Built as a tomb for the Mongol Sultan Khodabandeh (yes, the Mongols came here too!) in 1317. Except for a small village, nothing stands around this tomb so it's visible from far across the plains.
Exquisite brickwork, Islamic inscriptions, and 14th century mosaic tiles adorn the balconies around the Soltaniyeh.
The Rakhtsheekhaneh (big Scrabble word score), a restored laundry in Zanjan. We stopped for lunch here, then popped by Qazvin for a mirrored mosque experience before ending the day at Tehran.
Qazvin's mausoleum of Emamzadeh-ye Hossein, the son of the eighth imam. An imam is one of the 12 descendants of Mohammad who the Shiites believe are Mohammad's true successors. The eighth imam, Hossein, seems to be one of the most important. He was martyred at the battle of Karbala, an event commemorated in ritual mourning ceremonies of Moharram.
Mirrors are the hallmark of Iranian style mosques - it makes for a reflective experience.