Nain Iran: history in the desert

Nain in Iran is a small town in the desert, halfway between Yazd and Tehran. Most tour groups only make a quick stop to see the first and oldest mosque in Iran. Wikitravel convinced me that there is more to this town than the oldest mosque alone and promised me a variety of things to do such as an old castle and a bazaar.

Why visit Nain in Iran?

So was Nain in Iran really worth a visit? Old it was, but the reality were abandoned buildings that were falling apart. The old bazaar had closed down with most merchants moving to the newer parts of town. The mud brick structures were left alone to crumble down. A pity, as this town obviously has a lot of potential if things were maintained.

At the oldest mosque I met the author of the travel guide on Wikitravel. He is trying to promote Nain as a tourist destination and is collecting photos of Iran to sell as post cards to the tour groups visiting the mosque.

I am not sure Nain will ever be the next tourist destination in Iran, but it certainly was an interesting off the beaten path place to visit. It was the only town where I saw the traditional water reservoirs still in use.

The fact that I was the only foreigner around and the abandoned bazaar made it feel surreal. Sometimes I felt like I was the sole explorer of an ancient town and I actually liked Nain because of this. It had something authentic that the historic buildings were left to slowly fade away rather than becoming a new renovated tourist center.

In the new part of town, Nain was more lively and a great place to meet its friendly people.

Traditional Ab anbar water storage dome in Nain Iran
People getting water at a traditional water storage dome in Nain

Things to do in Nain Iran

Jame Mosque

The Jame mosque from the 8th century is the oldest mosque in Iran and the main tourist attraction in Nain. In fact, it is a popular stop on most tour groups itineraries when they travel between Yazd and Esfahan or Tehran.

It’s a simple mosque but the brickwork has beautiful patterns. It gives an insight in what the first mosques looked like. Archeologists believe the location was a Zoroastrian fire temple before.

The ancient irrigation tunnels, called Qanat, run underneath the mosque and provided the town with much needed water.

Oldest mosque in Iran
Jame mosque in Nain is the oldest mosque in Iran
Oldest mosque in Iran
Beautiful patterns inside the Jame mosque

Narenj Castle

Nobody knows when the castle was built and what it was used for, but the remains still stand up. Later when I visited Uzbekistan, the Khorezm fortresses made me think of the Narenj castle in Nain.

Apparently there were more of these castles in the area. Unfortunately not much remains of this and the Narenj castle is the only structure that gives an idea of what they might have looked like.

Narenj Qaleh in Nain Iran
Narenj castle

Old bazaar

The old covered bazaar in Nain is now almost completely deserted. Although it was renovated at some point, most retailers left to settle in the newer centre of town.

The old bazaar is still home to some ancient mosques and shrines though and therefore it is still worth a visit when you are in Nain.

Old bazaar in Nain Iran
Old bazaar in Nain
Hidden shrine at the old bazaar in Nain Iran
Hidden shrine in the backstreets of the old bazaar

Rigareh water mill

Nain is one of the best places to see the ancient irrigation system called Qanat. Underground tunnels drained water from the mountains and provided the desert cities with much needed water.

The water was then stored in domed structures called ab anbars and topped with wind towers that kept the water cool. At the Rigareh water mill you can see some of these ancient tunnels. Unfortunately it only opens when you make an appointment beforehand.

However, throughout town are several ab anbars that are still in use. One of them is quite close to the Narenj castle.

Traditional Ab anbar with wind towers in Nain Iran
Traditional Ab anbar with wind towers in Nain

Laleh Park

I was actually looking for the local zurkhaneh. A traditional Iranian sports center where men exercise with heavy weights on music. Unfortunately I couldn’t find it, but ended up spending my afternoon at Laleh park.

Throughout my travels in Iran I often ended up spending some time in the parks. They are not only a nice place for a small break from all the walking, but you will also meet lots of friendly people.

I love the lively and friendly atmosphere in the parks where women gather and play with their children and men sit together drinking tea. Laleh park was no different. The best time to visit the parks is in the late afternoon when the weather cools down and people go out.

Laleh park in Nain Iran
Laleh Park
Lemons for sale at Laleh park in Nain Iran
Lemons for sale at Laleh Park

Trying Gaz

Gaz is a traditional Iranian nougat candy that is originally from Isfahan, but famous in Nain too where I stumbled upon a small Gaz factory. I was immediately invited inside where they offered me tea and some gaz candies.

It was absolutely delicious. It’s a white nougat with pistachio nuts inside. It’s definetly worth trying when you are in Nain or Isfahan.

Gaz factory in Nain Iran
Gaz factory in Nain

Buy Nain carpets

Nain was a relatively newcomer in the Persian carpet industry. It doesn’t have the history that ancient weaving centres like Kashan, Yazd or Isfahan have. However, it soon developed its own style that became quite famous.

Nain carpets now have a good reputation, because of their good quality and unique oriental designs.

Things to do near Nain

Varzaneh

Nain is very close to the desert and Varzaneh is the best desert getaway close to Nain (and Isfahan). If you are looking for solitude and sand dunes, Varzaneh is the place to go. Also, culturally it is an interesting place to visit. Rather than wearing a black chador, women in Varzaneh traditionally wear a white chador.

How to get there:Varzaneh is 70 kilometer away from Nain. There are no buses so you need a taxi. It’s possible to get there by bus from Isfahan though.

Where to eat in Nain Iran

At Laleh park and Valiasr street you will find lots of kebab and fast food restaurants. I was looking for more traditional Iranian food and found Hani restaurant where I had a delicious Geymeh stew. It’s on Valiasr street a few blocks away from Gholami hostel

Valiasr street in Nain Iran
Valiasr street

Where to sleep in Nain Iran

There are not a lot of tourist friendly places to stay in Nain, because most people only stop en route between Yazd and Esfahan or Tehran.

The best budget option was the basic, but friendly and helpful mosaferkhaneh Gholami.

How to get to Nain Iran

There are frequent buses from Yazd (in the direction of Tehran or Isfahan) that stop in Nain.

You can check the bus times and book your bus tickets on the 1stQuest booking system.

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1 thought on “Nain Iran: history in the desert”

  • Thank you for your article about Nain an old/ancient city with lots of historical buildings that need to be preserved for now and future generations, I lived there in 1974 for 2 years, enjoyed staying there, with very nice and friendly people. It is worth to visit Nain.

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