Today we were again reminded that Iran’s appeal is not limited to what the travel guidebooks pitch. There’s awe-inspiring beauty in many of Iran’s small towns, sans the traffic and expense of the touristy hotspots.

Gonabad (go-NAW-bawd) is 288 km south of Mashhad in northeast Iran. It’s not even on the primary route from Mashhad to the southern cities of Tabas and Kerman. We had stopped in to visit its UNESCO-inscribed qanat. But when we stumbled on the Gonabad Museum of Anthropology and the Gonabad Jame Mosque, we quickly realized there’s far more to this ancient town of 40,000, known for its saffron production.

Jame Mosque Of Gonabad, Razavi Khorasan Province, Iran
Jame Mosque of Gonabad, Razavi Khorasan Province, Iran

In the light heat of the April afternoon, we were the only souls in the 700-year-old mosque because most of the town was probably sleeping. We walked the sahn (courtyard) in bewilderment at the massive structures around us. We felt privileged having the place to ourselves in near total silence.

At the museum, the traditional lifestyle is depicted by lifesize dioramas.