Semnan city is well placed to give swift access to both the Alborz Mountains and the vast Dashte Kavir desert, while still being an easy 240 km drive by expressway from Tehran.
Since Sassanian times it has been a key stop on the silk route, attracting wealth and regular destruction in equal measure.At first glance it’s a diffuse, nondescript city of low rise modern buildings and wide boulevards.
But around the appealing covered bazaar is an interesting complex of historical buildings.
- Semnan Bazaar
Semnan’s cross-shaped covered-bazaar marks the old heart of the city. While far less extensive than the great bazaars of Kerman or Tabriz, there is plenty of 19th-century vaulting and the north-south section (bisected by Imam Khomeini St) links two log-pillared takiyeh (three-storey tall covered halls). The southern of these, Takiyeh Pehneh, is an access point for most of Semnan’s key historical sites and is the centre for religious mourning during Moharram.
The more northerly Takiyeh Nasar, dating from 1926, is arguably more attractive and would be all the more interesting if the disused abambar (cistern) and nearby underground hammam (bathhouse) were to become accessible.
- Masjed-e Jameh
The extraordinarily high, if austere, west iwan of the Masjed-e Jameh dates from a 1424 rebuild, rising above a bare-brick octagonal prayer hall. But the mosque’s most lovable feature is older: the gorgeous, 32m-tall patterned-brick minaret, which is still standing after more than a millennium, albeit leaning and a bit kinked.
- Masjed Imam
Founded under Fath Ali Shah in the 1820s, this mosque is a large courtyard affair with four iwans at the cardinal points – the higher east and west ones offer a measured use of restrained coloured brickwork. On Friday mornings the courtyard is filled with colourful carpets to prepare for lunchtime prayers.
- Gootkemall Water Park
Costing nearly US$20 million to build, this inventive new complex includes eight indoor water slides – one whizzes you into a rotating spinner. There are many smaller water attractions and a ‘tubing stream’ for floating a course around the various attractions. Admission includes use of a sauna and Turkish bath, plus lockers for your clothes. Bring your own towel.