Esfahan


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Esfahan. The most beautiful city in Iran, perhaps even the most beautiful city in the world. We were here for three days and we still have the idea we have only seen a few of the sights of this marvelous city. At our first day, we started with a visit of the Friday Mosque. This mosque is like a museum of Islamic Architecture over a thousand years. From the coming of Islam to Iran, every dynasty has added new constructions to the mosque, without destroying the older things. The oldest part was originally a Zoroastrian fire temple.

Columns in one of the halls of the Friday Mosque

 

One of the eivans of the Friday Mosque

Some people say the Friday Mosque is the most interesting building in all of Iran. Yes, the Imam Mosque is more beautiful, but this combination of different styles of architecture makes it unique in the world.

We made enough photographs to give this mosque its own page, but we decided to keep it down to two pictures on this page.

Our first day in Esfahan was a Friday. On this day of the week, most of the sights of Esfahan are closed, except (curiously enough) the Friday Mosque, the Shaky Minarets where it was too crowded to enjoy the shaking, the Zoroastrian fire temple, the Christian churches in the Jolfa district and the bridges across the river. 

So, this enumeration of open-things-on-a-friday describes about what we saw the first day.

Zoroastrian fire temple on top of the hill

Before the Arabs invaded Iran, there were many fire temples in Esfahan. The Arabs destroyed them all, except this one on top of a hill. We can't claim the Arabs were wrong, it is a quite a climb. We can imagine that after you have climbed this hill, you won't have any energy left to destroy things.

Armenian church, including pictures of naked women

There are about 13 churches in Esfahan's Jolfa district. This district is where many Christians, most of them Armenians, live. The most famous church is the Vank Cathedral, which is not only a church but also a museum. Anyway, the Vank was closed after all, so we went to see another one called the Miriam-church.

Esfahan has many bridges across the Zayandeh river. This Zayandeh is a very strange river. It originates from a spring in the Zagros mountains, then runs for 400 km through the Esfahan province and finally disappears into the ground of the Dasht- Kavir desert.

The best known bridge of Esfahan is the Khaju bridge. It has two levels of terraces overlooking the water. On a Friday evening, the bridge is crowded with young Esfahani's having fun.

Khaju bridge by night

Chehel Sutun Palace

The second day, we started with the Chehel Sutun Palace. The name Chehel Sutun means 40 columns, but the palace only has 20. Or 18 according to the Lonely Planet, but those guys can't count, there are 2 more in the doorway.

There are two explanations for this. First, 40 means many in Farsi: think about Ali Baba and his 40 thieves. Second, you can look at the reflection in the pool to see the other 20 columns.

Inside the Palace are paintings depicting the adventures of Shah Abbas the Great. A man on a horse with an enormous moustache (the man, not the horse), that must be Abbas.

Finally, we catch our first glimpse of the main square of Esfahan, the Maidan- Iman or Imam Square. Our local guide claims this square is the largest and most beautiful square in the world.
Largest? We seriously doubt that. Wasn't there a big square in Beijing? And wasn't there a dictator in Romania who bulldozed a quarter of Bucharest to make room for a square?
Most beautiful? Yes, we can believe that.

Then we enter the Palace of Ali Qapu on the West side of the square. This Palace was built in the 17th century to give Shah Abbas II a magnificent view over the square and it still offers one of the best views there is. You can imagine what it was like to watch a polo game on the square from here.

Minarets of the Imam Mosque

Ali Qapu Palace

Right across the square from the Ali Qapu Palace is the Sheikh Lutfollah Mosque. This is a mosque that is different from all the others in Iran. It wasn't a public place of worship, but a private one mostly used by the women of the Shah. That is why it probably doesn't have any minarets. Furthermore, it isn't blue or turquoise but yellow. Inside, it is an unbelievable beautiful mosque, but... the best was still to come.

And the best, that was to be the Imam Mosque. If there has to be a most stunning building in the world, this is it. We just haven't go the words to describe the beauty of it, you must go to Esfahan and see it for yourself.

One of the halls of the Imam Mosque

After an expensive lunch in the Abbasi Hotel, we continue our day of shopping, because we want to buy CD's of traditional Iranian music. Iran is a cassette-country, CD's are very hard to find. The best place to buy CD's in Esfahan turns out to be the shop inside the Abbasi Hotel, where we have a choice of almost 30 titles. Later, in Tehran, we find what can almost be called a CD-megastore.

Handicrafts

The third day in Esfahan we went shopping. We spent almost 3 hours in the bazaar, looking at all the handicraft shops and trying to decide what souvenir we want to take home. Tired of shopping, we make our second visit to the Imam Mosque. This time, without a group and without a guide, just the three of us. Being alone like this, the mosque is even more impressive.

When it's dark we go back to the Imam Square. The last thing we promised ourselves to do in Esfahan was to make pictures of the square by night. This picture is the end of our stay in Esfahan and almost the end of our holiday in Iran. One more day in Tehran and then it's goodbye Iran, we'll be back in 2 years.

Imam Mosque by night


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