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By: Peter Willey, M.A., T.D., and F.R.G.S.

(Following is a brief provisional report of the Expedition to Khorassan in 1967 by Mr. Peter Willey regarding the Ismaili Forts and throwing light upon the Nizari Ismailis - their movements and achievements)


(a) General Background:

Since 1959 I have been engaged in research in Iran into the history of the NIZARI ISMAILIS or Assassins as they are popularly and somewhat misleadingly called. During the expedition of 1959,1960 and 1961, work had to been concentrated on the castles in the ALAMUT VALLEY and on the discovery of MAIMUM-DIZ, the site of the crushing defeat inflicted on the Assassins by the Mongols in 1256. In 1963 I led a rescue expedition to investigate the castle and city of SEMIRAN, now largely submerged benefit the waters of the dam at Manjil. The results of these three early expeditions were published in "Castles of the Assassins" (1963) and "Explorers Remember " (1967). In 1965, the time had come to extend the area of our investigations to include the southern Khorassan and Isphahan where the Assassins also had important castles which had not yet been investigated. In 1965, we explored the castles and the valley of QALE BUZI near Isphahan. In 1966 we moved to Khorassan where we made important discoveries near Qain, Tabas on the Afghan border and Ferdows.

(b) Objectives of the 1967 Expedition:

The Assassin state, set up by Hassan-I-Sabbah at Alamut in 1090 had three main but widely dispersed provinces viz. Alamut, Syria and Kohistan, the mountain region of modern Southern Khorassan. Our primary objective this year was to discover further castle sites in the region and to attempt to define the limits of the area as it existed in the 12th and 13th centuries. As a result of the informations we gathered, we also had the task of reassessing the position of the Ismaili movement as whole, which for too long has rested solely on the legends and myths spread by Marco Polo and subsequent western explorers. Our secondary objective, if time permitted, was to do further research into the valley of Alamut, particularly the eastern end near the village of Garmarud.


Mr.: P. R. E. Willey, M.A., T.D., F.R.G.S., Leader, University of Cambridge.

Mr. N. Tabrizi, Supervisor and official representative of the Museum of Iran Bastan, Tehran.

Mr. C.W.H. Harris, B.A., research assistant, Graduate of the Cambridge University, member of the 1963 expeditions to the Semiran.

Mr. A.C. Dobson, Supervisor, member of the 1965 and 1963 expeditions, Scholar of the Christ Church, Oxford

Mr. C.J.R. Wort, St. Catherin's College, Cambridge.

Mr. D.M. Halford, University of Reading.

Mr. D.J. Chaldecott, Wellington College.


The expedition assembled in Tehran on Sunday July 30th. Two members had flown from London by Iran Air, the others had come by T.B.T. Bus from Munich. Very few days were needed in Tehran to complete administrative arrangement, thanks to the excellent preparation that had been made for us in advance in Tehran and the expedition was able to leave for Meshed on Friday August 4th . We arrived at Qain on Tuesday August 8th .

After two days spent in Qain on further research into the important castle and on an economic survey of the town, the Expedition left for the village of Isfedeh on August 10th . There we discovered an important Assassin castle which we surveyed and photographed.

We also discovered two smaller forts nearby and the remains of an old Assassin settlement at Qalate-I-Seiyeh.

Near Isfedeh we also discovered the very ancient center of Afin, Which has a fine early mosque with later additions, and was a clearly a site of great significance which deserves further investigations.

On Tuesday August 15th, the Expedition moved to Ferdows on where we stayed for a week. Here further detailed research was carried out on two big Ismaili castles in the area and the old Mongol palace and city. In order to see how Ferdows was linked to Ismaili capital at Qain, a journey was undertaken along the old mountain track. This resulted in the discovery of castles at Serayan, Mezar, Bihood, Shahli, Farouth as well as other smaller forts.

The Expedition left the Ferdows area on Tuesday August 22nd for Eastern Khorassan. Our main center here was the town Khaf (120 km east of Torbat-I-Haiderieh) and from this base we discovered the Qaleh Dukhtar near Zuzun and the castle of Quhistan.

The Expedition turned to Tehran on August 30th. The following day we set out for Alamut and carried out fresh research work at Garmarud and near the castle of Nevisarshah, one of the most inaccessible of the Ismaili sites.


We were able, therefore, to discover the location of eight fresh major castle sites, several watch-towers and forts and two important old settlements. In addition, fresh research work was carried out on the castles at Ferdows, in Alamut Valley and on ancient communication in the state of Quhistan - in addintion, the probable boundaries of this state were delimited e.g. Torbat-I-Haiderieh in the north - Khaf/Tabas in the East - Birjand in the South and Ferdows in the West. The Expedition traveled over 6,000 kms. in Iran and took over 2,000 photographs. Pottery was also recovered from all the major sites and this has helped confirm the presence of the Ismailis in these areas.


Even more important than the discovery of the actual sites, which have all been fully described and photographed, has been a new interpretation of the Ismaili movement as a whole that has emerged as a result of the 1966/67 Expeditions. The old legends depicting the assassin as a band of murderers and drug addicts can no longer be substantiated. Indeed, quite the reverse picture is true. The assassins were skilled architects and builders, capable administrators of large areas of territories paying careful regard to the economic needs of the areas they controlled, and exceptionally able water engineers and agricultural experts. Their achievements in the arts was also impressive as is shown by the pottery we have collected from different sites and the known existence of the library at Alamut. The old state of Quhistan, for larger than we had expected, there are still areas that have to be investigated in the future, particularly in the East - must have been a thriving, independent community though awing allegiance to Alamut and have added luster to the cultural heritage of Iran.


The Expedition was able to see and admire the great economic progress that has been made in the areas it visited and were, particularly impressed by the new wells that have been sunk in the country districts and the increasing fertility of the areas. If, as is reported the water level in the area is slowly sinking, this is an even more impressive achievement.


It is our pleasant duty to record our sincere gratitude to many people who have helped us in our work, notably H.E. The Prime Minister for considerable financial help and encouragement. H.E. The Minister of Culture and the Museum of Iran Bastan, Tehran, for their administrative support and help; The National Iranian Oil Company, the National Petrochemical Company and H.E. Bagher Mostofi for the supply of petrol, the loan of Land rovers and very great assistance in many fields, The Iranian Oil operating companies, British petroleum and shell markets - ( Middle East) for generous financial grants; Mr. David Stronach; The Iranian authorities, Gendermey, and people everywhere and many other friends in Iran and Great Britain . This was truly a joint Iranian British venture and success.

A full report will be published and circulated in due course after all the evidence collected has been fully assessed and examined.

Tehran 9th Sept. 1967

Published by: Shia Imami Ismaili Association for Tanzania
Printed by: Umoja Printers.