The Castles of the Assassin
who favor ambitious excursions and unusual historical episodes are
recommended to hire a car and a guide to go near the source of the
Alamut river on the southern foothills of the Alborz Mountains
(requiring one full day for the return journey). There, fortified
eagles' nests recall unbelievable but authentic adventures of the
"Old Man of the Mountains" -Hassan Sabah, The Grand Master
(1040-1124) -and of his sect of " Assassins" or "Hashashins"
The historic fortresses are known as the Castles of the Assassins,
which were first introduced into European literature by the
returning Crusaders, and madfamous this century in Dane Freya
Stark's classical Valleys of the Assassins. These were the
heavily fortified lairs of the adherents of a bizarre religious
cult, based loosely on tprecepts of the Ismaili Sect. The cult was
founded in the 11th century by Hassan Sabah. This heretical and
widely feared sect sent out killers throughout the region to
murder the leading political and religious figures. Its followers,
the Hashishiyun, were so called because of their leader's
alleged cunning ruse of taking them inbeautiful secret gardens
(filled with equally enticing young maidens), getting them stoned
on hashish and then sending them out on their homicidal
assignments under the illusion that Hassan Sabah had the power to
transport them to paradise.
The cult at its height extended from Syria to Khorassan. Until
1256, when the Mongols captured its castles, the Assassins spread
tear throughout the region, although some scholars claim that
their reputation was exaggerated.
As one might expect, the outlaw mountain hideaways were designed
to be impregnable and inaccessible, and to this day it is still
extremely difficult to visit them; a complete tour of the castles
in this region would take about a week on horseback with a local
guide. Many of them are only accessible to experienced and
However, the castle of Alamut, one of the most famous of all, is
nowadays more or less accessible by 4wD in dry weather, if one can
find a guide or driver in Qazvin willing and able to take you
there. It was originally built in 860, and captured in 1090 by the
Assassins, who occupied it until 1256.
There are many buildings and places of interest in Qazvin, which
you will encounter when strolling through the streets of the town.
Be careful not to miss the Qazvin Museum. Qazvin is also
noteworthy for its wooden houses with peristyles painted blue,
pink or mauve; and so charming that they may seduce you to rise
early in the morning and photograph them before having breakfast.