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For the sightseer, the most interesting town in the province of Zanjan is Qazvin, 125 kilometres west of Tehran. Qazvin was founded by the Sassanid Shah Shapur I on the great central plain criss-crossed by caravan routes to the Zagros Mountains and Mesopotamia (Iraq), the Caucasus and the Caspian. The town is famed for carpets and seedless grapes. The city was once capital of all Iran and has a considerable sprinkling of minor sights, but for most Western travellers its foremost role is as a launch point for excursions to the famous Castles of the Assassins in the marvellous Alamut Valley.

Qazvin was an ancient capital in the Persian Empire and nowadays is known as the calligraphy capital of Iran. It is famous for its Baghlava, carpet patterns, poets, political newspaper and pahlavi (Middle Persian) influence on its accent.

The city centre is Azadi Sq, widely known as Sabz Meydan. The bazaar and alleys to its southeast are the most atmospheric areas for random strolling.

History of Qazvin

The city was a former capital of the Persian Empire under Safavids. It is a provincial capital today that has been an important cultural center throughout history. Archeological findings in the Qazvin plain reveal urban agricultural settlements for at least nine millennia. Qazvin geographically connects Tehran, Isfahan, and the Persian Gulf to the Caspian seacoast and Asia Minor, hence its strategic location throughout the ages.

The city today known as Qazvin is thought to have been founded by Shapur II, King of Persia in 250 CE, under the name Shad Shahpur (shad can be read as 'happy'), when he built a fortification there to control regional tensions.

The town quickly fell to the Arab Muslim armies in 644 and prospered as the trade routes were made secure, with members of the Abbasid caliphate visiting the town en route for eastern Iran. In the XII century the regional administration became destabilised as the Assassins established strongholds around Alamut to the north. Order was restored by the Seljuk rulers, who erected many fine buildings, but then the city suffered at the hands of the Mongol armies in 1220 and 1256.

It was for a short time capital of the Safavid dynasty when Tahmasp I transferred his court, after the previous capital Tabriz had been sacked by the Ottomans in 1517. The Safavids remained in Qazvin until 1598 when, in the reign of Shah Abbas I, the capital was once again moved, this time to Esfahan. By 1700 Ottoman incursions and earthquakes had left Qazvin in ruins, with few defences to withstand Afghan attacks against Safavid authority.

In the 19th century Qazin flourished as a center of trade because the only all-year accessible road from the Caspian Sea to the Highland started here and with enhanced traffic on the Caspian Sea the trade volume grew. Its bazaars were enlarged. In the middle of the century the Babi movement had one of its centers here and the first massacre of Babis occurred in Qazvin in 1847.

In the second half of the 19th century Qazvin was one of the centers of Russian presence in northern Iran. A detachment of the Persian Cossack Brigade under Russian officers was stationed here. From 1893 this was the headquarters of the Russian Company for Road construction in Persia which connected Qazvin by roads to Tehran and Hamadan. The company built a hospital and the St. Nicolas Church. The city's location made it strategically important to Russian and then Soviet occupying forces during both world wars.

In 1920 Qazvin was used as a base for the British Norperforce. The 1921 Persian coup d'etat that led to the rise of the Pahlavi dynasty was launched from Qazvin.