If traveling to Maku has taught me one thing, it’s how every single place has something to offer to those to look hard enough.
On our first days in Maku, I was a bit disappointed with the whole region. Nothing was big enough to satisfy my taste in travel. There were no opulent palaces, massive buildings or artwork. I didn’t see locals wearing their traditional clothes, or colourful markets selling handicrafts, local ingredients, and souvenirs. But our last day in Maku changed everything.
Maku is nothing too extraordinary for the average cultural traveller, unless you’re crazy about history and know enough about the region to tickle your fancy with prehistoric evidence, the Persian-Ottoman battles that occurred in this region or the early days of Christianity in Iran. But Maku is a heaven for those seeking natural beauty, wildlife, and geological wonders. There are numerous wetlands, in many cases available all around the year that reward birdwatchers the pleasure of discovering unique birds and wildlife. There are cliffs overlooking the city for rock climbers, paragliding for the not so faint-hearted and the skirts of Mount Ararat for hikers to explore.
My rather short stay in Maku wasn’t enough to discover everything (as if that’s possible) but I thought I’d wrap things up and give you some ideas to plan an itinerary to Maku.
Top things to see and do in Maku:
#1 Saint Mary’s Church AKA Zor Zor
This was hands-down my favourite place in the whole region and the pinnacle of my trip to Maku. This tiny Armenian church was built sometime around the 14th century on top of a former 7th-century church. The dam of Baroon was later planned to be constructed on the same site and the church was moved to its current location to avoid damage. Today the church sits on a cliff overlooking the turquoise blue lake of Baroon offering panoramas right out of a fairy-tale. Come here before sunset and mother nature is bound to show you its magic.
Tip: There’s a small village right next to the church where you could stay. Don’t expect hostels or guest house but if I know one thing, it’s that the people here will always have a spare room to rent and a meal to share. Watching the sun rise over the lake and the modest church will definitely be worth it.
Isn’t it just pristine?
#2 Monastery of Saint Thaddeus
This humble monastery was built on the burial site of Thaddeus who was the first person to promote Christianism in Iran when the population was mainly Zoroastrian. The church is small and currently with scaffoldings due to ongoing renovations, but it has been listed along with Saint Stephanus church in Jolfa on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. According to the local guide, there’s an annual ceremony each year with Armenian Christians participating from all over the world.
The interior of the church
#3 The spring of Soraya
Situated right on the border of Iran and Turkey is the spring of Soraya with the crystal clear lake caused by it. It’s a little tricky to come here due to its strategic location but for most of the locals, this is the main highlight of Maku free zone. There are paddle boats to rent, fascinating wildlife to observe and pristine views of the Ararat mountain range.
#4 The basalt columns
I know little about stone cliffs and less about geology, but having a geologist fellow traveller with me gave me a better look beyond the pretty patterns and unusual erosion of the cliffs I was seeing. The basalt columns of Maku are some of the rarest sights in the world. According to Soroush, basalt is normally found underneath oceans and its presence in this area could prove the fact that this place was once part of the Tethys ocean. These cliffs have formed a deep valley with a river flowing underneath and give visitors a pleasant sight to feast on and more if you’re visiting during spring.
#5 The Shrine of Sadr al-din Safavi in Chaldoran
If you’ve been to the palace of Chehel Sotoon in Esfahan, then you’ve probably seen the huge mural painting of the battle of Chaldoran between the Safavids and the Ottoman empire. The battle took place on 23th of August 1514 and ended with the heavy defeat of the Persians and annexation of eastern Anatolia and northern Iraq by the Ottomans.
Today on the site of the battle is a Shrine built for Sadr al-din who was the minister of Shah Islamail during the war.
#6 Visit the nomads in Chaldoran
You can’t go to Maku during summer and miss out on a visit to the nomads. Their tents are found scattered in mountains and hills. They are some of the most hardworking yet humble people of Iran full of tales of heroism and history kept in their hearts. If you get the chance to stay the night in one of their tents, don’t hesitate!
Tops things to eat in Maku
Maku is rich in food. In fact, I was surprised to find so many local dishes unique to the region in such a small city. If you know anything about the concept of hot and cold in Persian medicine, then it’s not hard to understand that most of the food in Maku tends to be cold in nature considering the harsh winters. The use of wild herbs is also very common and red meat makes a bold presence in the local cuisine. Like almost everywhere in Iran, most dishes are only found in local homes. Bread is cooked by women weekly and everyone prefers to have homemade bread instead of the one from the bakery.
#1 Saj Ghavermasi
A mixture of lamb meat, fat, and oil, Saj Ghavermasi is more of an occasional dish and better found in restaurants. The locals say that it’s normally served in ceremonies and weddings. It was too greasy for my taste but if you’re a meat-lover, then it’s definitely right up your alley.
#2 Avalik Chakmesi
Avalik Chakmesi was the first local dish we tried and we had the pleasure of trying it in two different homes. Again pieces of meat are the main source of protein mixed with rice, lentils and a special wild herb called Avalik. Unlike the south of Iran, the use of numerous spices is not common.
Bozbash is a kind of soup with a special local herb called Chuban Chibri, eggs, potatoes and the broth of cooked lamb shanks.
#4 Kala jush
Another thick soup common during the winter time is Kala Jush. It’s a combination of a special herb called Aghpenjar mixed with lentils, chickpeas, beans and wheat bulgur which has all been soaked from the night before. It’s absolutely delicious and by far my favourite thing to eat here.
Aghpenjar which is picked and woven like this and left out to dry for the colder seasons.
You would later cut as much as you want and leave the rest in the freezer for the next time.
The final work
#5 Zire Jush
Zire jush is a kind of dessert. It’s rich in taste and a little bit goes a long way. There’s flour, lots of animal fat, eggs and a syrup made with sugar and saffron.
#6 Balikh Choraki
Balikh Choraki is mentioned by locals as bread but to me, it tasted more like pastry. It’s dough filled stuffed with sugar, cinnamon and walnuts and tastes like doughnuts.
#7 Yaghli Papan
Yaghli Papan is a thick round bread covered with black seed and sesame seed and served for breakfast. Here in Maku breakfast comes with local cheese, cream, butter and homemade jam.