Be arami, Be arami .... A first trip to Iran - Last Tango in Esfehan


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Middle East » Iran » West » Esfahan
October 13th 2014
Published: November 26th 2014
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It's a Shia Islamic holiday today called Eid-al Ghadir- "the day in which the Holy Prophet of Islam, by divine command in his last sermon, designated Imam Ali, the first Shia Imam, as his immediate successor"- couldn't have said it any better than that- thank you Wikipedia. The concert of last night and fireworks of the last few nights have been part of the celebrations. Today Esfehan is going to be very quiet- no bazaar, no banks, no shops etc. It is a day for celebrations with family at home. Perfect day for me to spend in the Armenian Quarter (Jolfa)!

According to some sources, back in 1607 Shah Abbas I was responsible for driving 150 0000 Armenian Christians from Jolfa in Armenia to Esfahan to establish New Jolfa, according to others he rescued them from the Ottoman Turks. The attrition rate was significant as it was a long and treacherous journey from Armenia to Esfahan- thousands never making it, dying of exposure and disease. Today there are between 5000 - 10000 Armenians living in the New Jolfa area (wildly different estimates!!) and the main attractions seem to be the historical churches and the liberal coffee/cafe scene. I'm up for both! Especially the coffee. Soufi has called her driver friend, Zaven, an Armenian and he picks me up at 10am to drive me around his neighbourhood. I am very low on cash now and I need to pay Zaven for this mornings tour (more than 2 weeks since I changed money on Tehran- that lasted a while!!) so I ask Zaven if we can go via the moneychanger. "We can, but they're not open". Ah, Ok... "BUT! No problem, you can change on street, OK?" Hmm, OK- should be interesting (My LP expressly tells me NOT to change money on the street unless I am a very sharp money changer- living on the wild side here!). We drive to the closed money changer shop and Zaven whistles at a couple of guys who sidle up to the car with WADS of money for me to buy. Do the (slightly less than market rate) deal on the floor of the taxi and head to church #1. Easy...

Zaven's tour was essentially driving me to the cathedrals (all admission fees included) where I got to spend as long as I wanted - this suited me as I would rather read all the little signs, read the guidebook, wander off and ask questions of staff working in the various places and take photos. We visited the following places;

1. Kelisa-ye Vank (Vank Cathedral)- amazing intricate frescoes. Beautiful mixture of Christian images (Lots of hellfire and brimstone) and Persian tiles. Some signs in English. Entry fee 60 000 IRR (approx $3)

2. Vank Cathedral Museum- very, very interesting. Recently renovated 2 storey structure. Bottom floor contained display on the 1915 Armenian genocide by the Turks where 1.8 Armenians were killed (unbelievable what people do to each other!). There were artefacts, video, lots of photos. The rest of the floor contained oil paintings, clothing displays, holy books and edicts, including one forbidding the torture of Armenians during the collection of wheat in 1780!!! Upstairs were more paintings, clocks, carpets, tiles, portraits, plasterwork, jewellery.... Worth a visit and included in entry fee to the cathedral.

3. Church of Bidakhem (Bethlehem)- beautiful domed ceiling, lots of gilded works, lots of cherubs, intricately rich paintings depicting the life of Jesus.

4. Wander around the cobbled streets, lots of old doors with the dual male/female knockers, lots of fantastic old architecture. A nice change from mosques. Great photo opps!

5. St Stepanous Church- a door in an alley, we were let in by the caretaker who took us into the church. The most massive key I have ever seen was put into the biggest lock I have ever seen to open the door. Inside this predominantly white coloured church were all sorts of tiles, paintings and plaster works- a real mixture of styles. Very cool.

6.Bakery to buy traditional Armenian biscuits for the Austrian Ambassador to Doha to take home for her mother

After all of this Zaven asked if I was keen on a coffee and would I like to go to his house- absolutely! That was then our last stop- we went to his 300 year old house which was actually one old historic house divided up to accommodate 3 families. I got to meet his wife, their 10 year old daughter and the new baby. We sat in the garden for coffee and sweets and spent a really nice hour with our English and Farsi dictionaries and our phones sharing photos, stories and youtube videos of American popstars- his daughter was a big Shakira fan!! So funny listening
Vank CathedralVank CathedralVank Cathedral

Mixture of Persian tiles and Christian murals
to her singing the words in perfect English. It was a really great 4 hours for 400 000 IRR ($14). If I had more time I'd go back to the Armenian Quarter for dinner and to hang out in more coffee places.

Got back to Dibai House in time to say goodbye to my Australian/Iranian/Moroccan friends- they then bundled into 2 taxis to go the airport for their trip back to Dubai and then the place was deserted again. Spent a couple of hours sitting in the garden catching up on my diary. I had met a Swiss mum (Brigitta) and daughter(Jasmine) briefly yesterday and then again at breakfast this morning, they reappeared around 4.30 and the 3 of us decided to catch a cab to the Abbasi Hotel for their famous soup. The hotel was seriously upmarket- lots of very fashionable locals and lots of tour groups, we found a table amongst the persimmon and pomegranate trees and then spent ages trying to get a waiters attention- you know that stare wait staff (and nurses) have when they look above or past you trying to avoid your eye because you are going to ask them for something? Well that was how it was. However, the soup was very good- really delicious- highly, highly recommended - a big meal for 1. Very nice surroundings, great for people watching and an awesome western bathroom. We then had to rush back to Dibai in time for a special event - Soufi had asked all of us to be back for a tango demo from 2 of her guests.

Well, what a surreal end to my time in Esfahan- sitting in her ornate lounge room watching Argentinian tango by a Swiss/German couple in Esfahan with an audience of Iranians, French, Swiss and Australian- just perfect.

Am I ready to leave Esfehan? NOOOOOOOO.

One big regret- should have bought the tablecloth.

Only 2 more nights in Iran- sooooo not ready to leave.


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St Stepanos CathedralSt Stepanos Cathedral
St Stepanos Cathedral

stone work in cathedral
St Stepanos Cathedral St Stepanos Cathedral
St Stepanos Cathedral

stone work in cathedral
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St Stepanos

floral tiles


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