The historic fortresses are known as the Castles of the Assassins or Alamut Castle, which were first introduced into European literature by the returning Crusaders, and made famous 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 the precepts 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 into beautiful 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 fear
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 well-equipped mountaineers. However the Alamut castle is nowadays more or less accessible by 4wd in dry weather. It was originally built in 860 and captured in 1090 by the Assassins who occupied it until 1256.