On the 2 of July 1960, a team of 6 young men set off overland on a year long expedition to Persia. Their aim was to find Maymun- Diz (Castle of the Apes), one of the lost castles of the Assassins.

The Assassins were a radical Ismaili sect named by the crusaders as ‘hashashins,’ eaters of hashish. This drug was used by the Ismaili leaders to put their soldiers in a state where they believed they were in ‘Paradise.’ Over time, the word ‘hashashin’ turned into ‘assassin’ as they had a reputation for murdering opponents and standing by the corpse until they were caught.


The expedition team was constituted of two doctors, a surveyor (for mapping the castles), rock climber Michael Oliver, who was also the quartermaster (in charge of the rations and equipment), photographer Roddy Dugmore, film maker Richard Mordaunt and expedition leader Peter Willey.



The year before, in 1959, Peter Willey had led a team to Persia and found the assumed location of Maymun- Diz. Now he was returning to investigate if this really was the fabled Castle of the Apes.
To cross Europe, the team travelled by Land Rover, but when they arrived in Persia, they decided to use a more extravagant mode of transport, a mule train.

When they arrived in the valley of the assassins they spent their first few months at Alamut castle doing surveys. After that, they moved to the supposed site of Maymun- Diz. They decided that their base camp shouldn’t be too close to the village Shams- Kalaya, nor too far away as curious visitors, after a while would become unwelcome. They found a spot with a stream for water and at a perfect distance.

alamut hole photo

DSCN1112When work was started at the Castle of the Apes the team soon found out why it was known by that name. The cliff face, on which it was situated half way up, was impossible to climb: “as it is loose conglomerate rock.” as Michael Oliver quoted.
The castle facade half way up the cliff is no longer there but the caves it backed onto are. To get into the caves, after much thought, Michael Oliver came up with the final idea of cutting down two popular trees and dragging them under the caves. After leaning them up against red rock they turned them into ladders. After a hair raising climb, Michael successfully entered the supposed castle first. He was later followed by his comrades.




Justine Oliver - Security and travel advice

Justine Oliver is a travel and security consultant and freelance writer

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