A voyage to the Castles of the Assassins

A visit to the Castles of the Assassins in the Alamut Valley in photos, and some information on how to get there from Qazvin, Iran.

 

A long, long time ago, in a valley far, far away, there lived a mysterious band of mercenaries atop a mountain.

The mercenaries would occasionally descend into the towns below, kidnapping and/or murdering important people of their day and age. Their leader, Hassan-e Sabah, motivated his merry band of mercenaries with promises of future paradise. To trick even the most suspicious of minds into believing his claims of paradise, Sabbah would bring his followers to lush gardens filled with dazzling young virgin girls… while they were high as balls on hashish.

Thus, his followers became known as the hashish-iyun, assassins.

 

The Castles of the Assassins in the Alamut Valley of Iran are truly spectacular. If you're traveling to Iran, make sure not to miss this off the beaten track destination! Click through for more photos of the Alamut Valley and information on how you can visit the Alamut Valley while in Iran.

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The Castles of the Assassins in the Alamut Valley

So the story goes, anyway. These days, the Castles of the Assassins are mostly dilapidated ruins scattered throughout the Alamut Valley in northern Iran. Don’t let the lack of remaining splendor deter you, though—the Castles’ architects had a serious eye for real estate, and the ruins are located among some of the most epic landscapes in northern Iran. If you’re staying in the city of Qazvin or Rasht, the Alamut Valley is well worth a day (or three) of hiking.

Evan Lake, one of the first stops on the way west towards Alamut Castle from Qazvin, Iran

Evan Lake, one of the first scenic stops on the way west towards Alamut Castle from Qazvin.

 

The road from Qazvin to and through the Alamut Valley twists and turns, traversing mountains blanketed with cherry trees, and winding through stark gorges of red rocks.

 

Red pudding rock formations in the gorges of Alamut Valley, Iran

Due to their rounded shapes, these kinds of rock formations are known as “pudding rocks”. But obviously they are more cake-like in form.

 

Small, sleepy towns make periodic appearances along the road, and the occasional farmer could be seen picking at the ground, preparing for the planting season.

 

A panoramic view of the Alamut Valley in northern Iran.

Welcome to the Alamut Valley.

 

Otherwise, there were not many people in sight as we wove our way through shrubbery and sparse trees to explore the gorges lining the road.

 

Crossing a stream to enter gorges in the Alamut Valley in Iran

Exploring Iran? Don’t miss our list of our favorite off the beaten track highlights of Iran!

A man walking through the red rock gorges of the Alamut Valley in Iran.

Exploring one of several gorges branching off from the road.

 

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After a longer and snowier winter than usual, it was refreshing to see signs of spring blossoming from the tree branches.

 

 

Eventually, the road led out of the canyon of gorges up to the base of a mountain–the foundation for the ruins of Alamut Castle.   The steep pathway to the top zigzags up a side of the mountain invisible to the road. It’s quite fitting for an Assassins’ haven.

 

Zig-zagging stairway up to Alamut Castle, one of the Castles of the Assassins in the Alamut Valley in northern Iran.

Who needs gates and walls when you have multiple flights of steep stairs to keep intruders out?

 

Though the remnants of the Castle are covered in scaffolding for restoration (estimated completion date: who knows when?)…

 

Scaffolding for renovation at Alamut Castle, one of the Castles of the Assassins in northern Iran.

 

… the views from the top assuredly make up for it.

 

Rock formations in the Alamut Valley in northern Iran.

Made by giants? Gods?

 

We can’t say that we endorse killing and kidnapping for money, but we’ve got to hand it to the assassins–they have excellent taste in real estate.

 

A panoramic view of the Alamut Valley from Alamut Castle in Iran.

Just… wow.

 

If you’re ever in Iran, don’t miss the Alamut Valley. It’s 4-5 hours of driving from Tehran, and it’s so, so worth it.

Looking to journey to the Castles of the Assassins and the Alamut Valley?

Public transportation and shared taxis

It’s possible to visit the Alamut Valley from Qazvin using a mixture of public transportation and taxis, but if you want to visit multiple sites in the valley in one day, it’ll take a lot of luck with timing and/or a lot of money for shared taxis. NomadExpress has a good post on exploring the Alamut Valley using a combination of shared taxis and hitchhiking.

Hiring a taxi

If you’re with a group of people, it’s better to pool resources and hire a taxi for the day. We went with a group of 4, and it cost $70 in total, or about $18 a person–not bad for a day that involved several hundred kilometers of driving and last nearly 12 hours!

Our guide, Yousef, was incredibly friendly, an excellent conversationalist, and his English was superb. We enjoyed the conversation too much to notice how much time we had to spend in the car. Needless to say, we can’t recommend him enough. If you’re interested in getting a ride out to the Alamut Valley, you can:

Let him know we recommended him, so he understands why he’s being emailed by random foreigners 😉

 

 

The Castles of the Assassins in the Alamut Valley of Iran are truly spectacular. If you're traveling to Iran, make sure not to miss this off the beaten track destination! Click through for more photos of the Alamut Valley and information on how you can visit the Alamut Valley while in Iran.

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Alex

American by birth, citizen of nowhere in particular by nature. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

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13 thoughts on “A voyage to the Castles of the Assassins

    davidecapod says:

    Hi, we are planning to do the trip to Alamut next August.
    Do you think it is better to contact a taxi driver like Yousef before, or it is easy enough to find one once in Qazvin?
    We are two people, so do we have a chance to share a taxi once in Qazvin?
    Maybe finding one in Qazvin gives a better chance to negotiate the price… or 70$ is the best price we can get?
    Thanks
    Davide

    There’s always a chance to negotiate with taxis 😉 We didn’t actually do any negotiating with him, as we joined in with a pair of travelers from France that had already arranged things. It’s possible that you can negotiate this price.

    As with any situation where you find a taxi driver on the street, the benefit is that you can sometimes get a cheaper price (though taxi drivers in Iran can be VERY fickle at times; see our post about taxis in Iran http://lostwithpurpose.com/taxis-in-iran/), but the downside is that there’s no guarantee that they speak any English.. You’ll also have to communicate to them exactly where it is you want to go beforehand, or else they’ll probably take you to one or two of the closest places and then insist that’s all there is to see.

    Compared to other taxi ventures we took in Iran, and given that we found others to share with (Qazvin should be decently busy in August) we found Yousef’s price decent for the amount of driving we did and the high level of English that he spoke. Your call though! Doesn’t hurt to shop around 🙂

    Hosein Farhadi says:

    Hello Davide
    My idea is not getting a taxi or car on the streets of Qazvin. Because first they would not mostly speak English, second there is no guarantee for the kindness of the driver (theft danger) and last, the road to Alamut is a completely windy road. Not all of the drivers can drive well at that road.
    If you will, we are a team of experienced drivers, offering Alamut and Northwest Iran tours. have a look at our website: http://www.GateofAlamut.com
    Regards
    Hosein Farhady
    Qazvin – Iran

    davidecapod says:

    I have already been in Iran last August. Maybe next time 🙂

    kahiri78 says:

    From what i read (it might be a legend) those Assassin never touch women and children. They only killed impoetant/bad people during their time. “Killing/kidnapping for money” sounds a bit too much…

    Pretty sure that’s what they did, though. You’re also misquoting us 😉

    gazelle says:

    you that your story is completely false is not at all historically true.

    Kim says:

    So did you arrange the driver in Tehran or did you go to Qazvin first and arranged things from there? I suppose it’s not too hard to get to Qazvin on public transport from Tehran and then onward to Tabriz?

    Sebastiaan says:

    The guide we mention in the article, Yousef, lives in Qazvin. You can give him a call when you arrive, or a day before if you want to be sure he’s available. He’s a great guy who speaks excellent English, so we highly recommend him. You should be able to get to Qazvin from Tehran and then onward to Tabriz easily, yeah.

    amir says:

    We are so happy that the fans of hiking are interested in Alamut valley
    We would be more than happy to help you during your stay in Qazvin and help you for this adventure

    Sebastiaan says:

    Hi, thanks for letting us know. I have deleted the link in your comment, and we don’t allow advertisement like that.

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