Published: June 21st 2008June 21st 2008
Or as they say in Farsi Esfahan nesf-e jahan...
As am sitting here in this most beautiful and welcoming of cities we find out that Israel is sabre rattling against Iran by carrying out military excercises in Greece.
Here on the ground I have never been in a city more hospitable where people talk to you on the streets and buy you icecreams, this happened today a young student (girl) bought me and Rita an icecream. She is studying English at Esfahan University. We plan to meet her and her boyfriend later for a meal.
Yesterday we wandered around the Imam square which is breathtaking, twice as big as Red Square apparently, it has iwans or large entrances on each of its four sides with gardens in the centre where people ride around in horse drawn carriages, we did too! But will leave that story for later. There are two mosques here the Imam Mosque on the southern and the Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque on the eastern side. Both are crowned by the most glorious domes tiled with a traced pattern of blues and golds.
The whole city is laid out as a royal capital as indeed it
was in the 16th and 17th centuries. Shah Abbas the Safavid monarch laid out much of the city. The main street, which our hotel Hotel Iran is just off, is called the Chahar Bagh or four gardens. Once it would have been like Hyde Park in London where people rode in their carriages to see and be seen. Fine houses lined this road once, now there are shops selling all sorts of things, often clothes and shoes and the ubiquitous juice shops.
[url = http://www.iranhotel.biz/] Hotel Iran [\ url] is a very comfortable family run hotel. The two owners are so helpful, taking us to change money or to show us the internet. They lived in Canada for 20 years so their English is impeccable. Would definitely recommend in Isfahan. Cost of a single (actually we both staying in double rooms) is 200,000/ night.
Yesterday we went to the Chehel Sotun Palace as it was one of the only things open on a Friday. Shah Abbas used this as a summer palace to entertain his guest and foreign diplomats. In front of the palace is a large rectangular pool lined with trees. Water and gardens were very important
to the Persians. Our word paradise comes from the Persian word for garden, paradaiza. Walking up the steps to the Palace, which has a large terrace overlooking the pool. The walls and ceilings are covered in paintings. Inside there are huge frescoes of Safavids in battle against the Uzbeks and entertaining his guests such as King Nader Khan of Turkestan. The groups are entertained by musicians and moon faced (a sign of beauty in Persia) dancing girls.
We sat and had tea in the tea room under the trees where we started talking to a teenage girl and her brother. They were lovely and spoke good English. After buying us more icecream the family asked whether we would like to spend some time with them. They were tourists from Tehran where the father works as a dentist. It was so interesting spending time with this obviously liberal family (though the daughter did say the father would be furious if he found out about her boyfriend, although her mother knew and approved). I told her that my father was always stricter than my mother when it came to things like that. Men just know the thoughts in other men's minds
as they have had them themselves!
However he was obviously a loving father and was always joking with his son or being affectionate to his wife. There is no taboo about men and women touching in public if they are married, as in Syria. The couple walked around hand in hand.
They took us to lunch at this underground restaurant... this is normal as many Iranian traditional restaurants seem to be underground. No one can tell me why! He is keen for his childeren to study abroad, and I think there is quite a pressure to follow him into dentistry or something similar.
In the evening we left them to look at the Jameh Mosque in the northern part of Esfahan. It was wonderful getting there at sunset and looking at the low sunlight bounce against the Seljuk domes. The mosque is the biggest in Iran and is on a site which was holy for the Sassanian Zoroastrians. We met an elderly German guy there who had spent years working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. It was wonderful just to be in a mosque with people sitting and chatting away, before the prayers. I spoke to a
smiling woman in a chador with her young son. She was introduced by her husband, who naughtily earlier had put out his hand to shake mine. This is forbidden in Iran, shaking a man's hand who is not in your family.
Walking back through the ancient bustling bazaar through streets that got quieter and quieter we got thoroughly lost. It felt like we had gone back in time, no streetlights only the odd mosque doorway looming out we finally asked someone. He was alone and because of the dark everything seemed a little mysterious if not menacing. When he understood where we wanted to go, he called his smiling daughter and took us to the main street himself. As we left him he was asking if we wanted to have dinner with him. We declined, but this is Iran for me so far, the most welcoming place to foreigners I have ever been. People stop you in the streets to say 'Welcome to Iran'.
There are more photos below