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Published: October 6th 2014
Today we were going to go to church. In Iran. Go figure. And no, we weren't going to go in a discreet car into a discreet building to meet with discreet people to do discrete worship. Today we were off to the Armenian quarter, home of displaced Armenians and a christian part of Iran for centuries.
The Armenians have had a long history with then Persia and now Iran. However in the 1600s, their presence became more defined when the Shah setup a dedicated area called New Julfa for the Armenians. The Armenians were shrewd businessmen and became influencial in Iran. Today 5 seats in the Iranian parliament are reserved for Armenians - a minority group that has remained Christian though in many other ways has assimilated with Persian culture. Armenians supposedly enjoy a lot of religious freedom - for example in Tehran there is the Armenian club where women are allowed to walk around Hijabless.
Vank church is a beautiful Christian church in Esfahan that simply stuns. From the outside it looks like an ordinary church, but stepping inside you find floor to ceiling frescoes of biblical stories, including Adam and Eve, Noah's ark, The Last Supper and
Inside Vank Church
Stories from the Bible
Jesus' second coming in the Revelation. It’s a concise depiction of the significant events in the Bible all in one compact and beautifully rendered collection of art. Beside the church is an Armenian museum. Walking in you feel a sense of dread - it looks like a dull cultural museum with lots of old books and historic papers. But take a deeper look because you will find an ancient printing press that printed very early copies of the Bible and even a 400 year old color rendered printed Bible. You will also see lots of information about the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century which is just heart wrenching. We actually didn't realize how brutal that onslaught really was. Humans are horrible creatures.
We then decided to explore the Armenian neighbourhood. There isn't much different from a general Iranian neighbourhood - Armenians having been a part of Iran for so long have assimilated. We did however stumble upon a few interesting experiences. First was ZFC, Iranian Kentucky Fried Chicken. Due to trade embargos American companies don't operate in Iran. So saavy Iranians have done the next best thing and have recreated near replicas, even down to the décor
and the logo. And I guess they aren't infringing on copyright since KFC is not a registered trademark in Iran. Interestingly this ZFC not only was a KFC but also a Pizza Hut - two foreign franchises in one.
The Armenian quarter also helped me rediscover pistachio juice. I'd had this once before in Iran but had not been able to find it again. This is ambrosia, the milk of the gods. Pure creamy pistachio mixed with milk and nuts and sugar and oh so many other goodly decadent delights. Sigh …. I miss you pistachio juice.
Most fun of all though was stumbling through the kitchen of a bakery. We were walking past the back room of a bakery and mistook it for a shop. When asked if we could buy one of the pastries on display they said no, but welcomed us to enter their kitchen. That was fun - we got to explore how they make all kinds of sticky sickly artery filling sweet delights, accompanied by lots of cheers and happy grins of the bakers who were thrilled to have our multi-colored family walking through their work stations. Such friendly people! Or were they
just tolerating nosy tourists. Not sure - but heck we had fun!
For lunch we headed down town to eat Beryani and apparently at the place that’s been selling it for more than 100 years in the Esfahan bazaar. Beryani sounds a lot like Biriyani (indian/middle eastern rice dish) - but is totally not the same. Its actually lamb offal - lung, liver, and a few other gut-curdling trimmings - wrapped inside a lavash-like bread. Kind of like a kebab. But look past the scariness of offal - because this stuff is awesomely delicious. Its kind of like falafel but made of meat. The queues were large and the place was overflowing with locals. Look for it in the Esfahan bazaar - follow your nose.
The afternoon was spent exploring mosques - some random mosque that I can't remember the name of, followed by the Jameh Mosque (Friday Mosque) - which is pretty enough … but by this time we were starting to get Mosqued-out. We did notice this mosque had a few really devout attendees who had prostrated themselves in the shady Iwans. For the entirety of our visit they just lay in reverent stillness. Such devotion
…. oh hang on, they were sleeping! Mosque siesta.
At night we walked the main shopping drag of Esfahan along Chahar Barg street. Iranian women are not the ultra-conservative black sack cloth toting fashion vagabonds western media would have you believe. Because under their Hijab - they are dressed to kill in the latest trends and fashions. The local designers have figured out how to keep everything hidden but still leave little to the imagination. And when the men aren't around, dresses that show more are allowed - or so it seems because we did see a few slinky numbers in the shopping windows. Oh, and they love their uber-stiletto heels it seems.
Shout out to the best meal in our whole trip at Scheherazade restaurant. The lamb shanks were just simply astoundingly good. I have never and probably never ever will ever eat lamb as succulent and flavorsome as I did that night.
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