The Silk Road, China

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Esfahan nest-e jahan (is half the world)

Whatever superlatives exist regarding Esfahan, it manages to exceed them. Somehow picture postcard beauty is matched with a lively contemporary atmosphere.

Its centre of gravity is the Imam Square - the second largest (after Tiananmen - more on that in a couple of months...) in the world and the vision of the seventeenth century Shah Abbas the Great. Two tiers of arcades surround the square, each containing miniature, carpet and Gaz (local nougat) shops and the odd teahouse. At one end is the massive entrance portal to the breathtaking blue domed Imam Mosque and at the other the entrance to the bazaar which takes you 2km north to an equally imporessive Jameh (Friday) mosque, which allows you to walk through 1000 years of Persian architecture. In the middle of the square, as ever, is carefully kept green grass and a pool; horse drawn carts take people around the outside of them.

Iranians flock to the square in the late afternoon, creating the buzz that makes Esfahan so special. On more than one afternoon we sat eating tea and sweet pastries overlooking the square, simply watching the world go by.

Anywhere else and this would be enough. But Esfahan has more. To the south of the square is the river, and across it is a number of stunning bridges, carrying a steady stream of people to and from the shops of the south, including Jolfa, the Armenian district.

The promenade by the river past the bridges which are illuminated at night suggests a Florentine appreciation of the water. Somehow Esfahan oozes romanticism despite the fact that it is officially forbidden before marriage and overt displays frowned upon even after it. Needless to say, the young were out in force by the river, parading their wares - or, if lucky - on a surreptitious date. As the light faded, the couples moved closer...

Words, least of all mine, are inadequate to attempt to describe Esfahan. I will add some more pictures and let them speak for themselves. These are the images of Iran that will remain etched into my mind.


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