The Domes and Bridges of Esfahan

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March 2nd 2016
Published: March 2nd 2016
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Shiraz to Esfahan

Day 40 Saturday 27th February 2016

Today is a bus to Esfahan which leaves at 10.30am so slept in a bit and got a taxi to the terminal. No sooner had we jumped out of the taxi and we were being asked where to and do we have a ticket, every step someone different asked us the same question and wanted to see our ticket. Finally sat down and another man asked to see our ticket and confirmed the bus in front of us was ours, then started to walk away with our ticket. Scott called out and he said “computer” sometimes you just have to go with the flow, a few minutes later he reappeared and handed us a computerised version of our ticket. Today’s bus is a standard and it is still very good although just has the normal bus leg room unlike the VIP, we got seated and as usual the heating was up high but as we took off (5 minutes early so make sure you are not running late) the temperature cooled down. During the trip the bus was stopped 3 times for police checks, the first time they only looked in the cargo bay but I was concerned as it always seems to be my bag (Michele) that is pulled apart and the thought of my bra and knickers on display was a bit unnerving, fortunately this didn’t happen. The second time a policeman walked through the bus while the cargo bay was checked, we have not once been asked for our passports. The third time all the buses, trucks and car where directed off the road and we had to park, we sat there for quite a while and I could hear a dog barking and thought sniffer dogs. Finally we were all told to get off the bus and there were two police dogs running around and also a car being pulled apart by the police. Eventually the dogs were brought through the bus and a man come bolting off the bus, the poor thing had fallen asleep at the back of the bus and no one noticed, he must have got such a fright with the dog staring at him I don’t think his feet touched the ground as he flew out the door. We were given the Ok and hit the road again.

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Carriages waiting for Passengers

As we got to the outskirts of Esfahan the co-driver asked which terminal we wanted to be dropped at; damn there is more than one. I asked “which is closer to the city centre?” sometimes you should not open your mouth. No one left on the bus spoke any English so they rang someone and gave me the phone and yes the person could speak English but was not in Esfahan so had no idea how to help. In the end I said the name of the bus station (Kave) shown in the Lonely Planet and hoped that was OK, as we got closer of course we had to stop so the bus crew could get their dinner only to find out we were about 2 blocks away from our stop. We were dumped on the opposite side of the road to the terminal and the bus kept going to who knows where with the remaining passengers. Scott was not impressed as we climbed the stairs of the overhead bridge and by the time we hit the other side he was in no mood to haggle for a taxi to the hotel.

At the taxi rank we were directed to a driver and he was told which hotel in Farsi. This is where the fun started, he repeated the name “Hasht Behesht Hotel” which was a good start, but as we got closer he stopped jumped out and started asking directions and for the next half hour we went around in circles with him saying no problem as Scott tried to show him on our GPS where to go. The map app I downloaded on our tablet wasn’t the best thing for us driving in Oman but it is great for showing taxi drivers as the street names are shown in English and Farsi and you can clearly see when you are lost like tonight. He kept saying “I know” as we went in the totally wrong direction with bumper to bumper traffic which was not helped by the new metro system which is being built and has half the town dug up. He stopped again and told us the hotel was just ahead indicating that we had to walk through the metro building works, by this time I could feel that Scott’s blood pressure was rising and he very firmly said “NO this is not the
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Traffic Jam in the Bazaar
hotel”. The taxi driver jumped out and ran off, I burst out laughing we were not sure if he had just given up and we had to drive the rest of the way, so we sat there waiting and now worrying that if we got to the hotel if they would have any rooms as we did not book ahead. He eventually returned and said sorry he had taken us to a hotel with a similar name and looked at the GPS and we got back on track with him apologising the whole way. We arrived about 7.00pm at the hotel and with trepidation walked in and asked for a room, our hearts sank when she asked if we had a reservation but it was all good. Our room is an apartment with lounge room, kitchenette and bedroom it is huge and very clean all for US$48. Dropped the bags off and went for a walk to find dinner – all’s well that ends well.

Day 41 Sunday 28th February 2016

The only downside to the hotel is it does not serve breakfast but it does have a jug and
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Southern Dome
there were some tea bags. After a slow start headed to Bazar-e Bozorg which is the town Bazar and consists of narrow passageways with not only shoppers jostling through but men pushing carts and motorbikes squeezing passed, I wonder how many people are knocked over daily. The main entrance is the Qeysarieh Portal which is being renovated at the moment, once you are inside the roof that covers the stalls are a series of small brick domes. The oldest parts of the bazaar dates back a thousand years with most being built in the early 1600’s, it contains the usual market staples like spices, jewellery, cooking wares that would have made the 17th century shopper feel at home but the Hello Kitty underwear may have thrown them.

We eventually made it to the Masjed-e Jameh which upon entering was a little underwhelming until you think about the history. It is a very large Mosque complex and at either end through the South Iwan and North Iwan (vaulted openings) there is a large dome, these have survived since the 11th Century through fire and earthquakes. Although these domes are not adorned with tiles and are badly lit it
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1000 Year Old Mud Brick Dome
is incredible to stand in the centre looking up at them knowing they have been there about 1,000 years. The one on the south side is Nezam al-Molk dome and the entry is ornate with 15th century tiles and topped with two minarets. The north is Taj al-Molk dome which is regarded as the best brick dome ever built, you need to walk through the prayer hall which is filled with columns and not one of them is straight with some being on such a lean that support has been added. On the western side is the Room of Sultan Uljeitu which contains a beautifully ornate stucco mihrab with Quranic inscriptions entwined with floral designs. The light is very dim inside so the photos do not show how fine the work is or how beautiful.

Back into the bazaar to get lost in the maze of passageways before finally heading out to Naqsh-e Jahan Square to sit for a rest. This is the second largest square in the world after Tiananmen Square and it is enclosed by shops and two mosques with a fountain in the middle, so a nice spot for a moment of reflection. 400
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Incredible Stucco Mihrab
years ago this place would have been filled with the sounds of horses’ hooves and cheering as polo games were played here. Wandered around for another hour and then walked back to the hotel for a short stop before going out for dinner.

The area we are in is full of expensive looking, gaudy furniture and homeware shops, there seems to be a bit of money in this town but on the flip side it is so far the most conservative one we have been in. There is a lot more women wearing the black chandors and we have even seen young girls about 6 wearing them, this does not affect what tourist wear the same guidelines I gave for Tehran are fine but it was not what we had expected.

Day 42 Monday 29th February 2016

Started the day once again with a couple of cups of tea. Cannot believe that we have managed to survive this long on the road without our morning coffee and a drink with a kick, and what’s more we have both been really enjoying our tea. Today is bitterly cold
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North Iwan
and the wind is like ice so it is a struggle for us as we walked back to Naqsh-e Jahan Square. This morning we are off to have a good look over the two mosques that come off the square, first one was Masjed-e Shah which was completed in 1629. This mosque is covered in not only vivid blue Safavid era mosaic tiles but also rusty modern era tube and fitting scaffold. The proportions of this mosque is grand, and the colour incredible, but it felt so neglected and unloved that it was hard to believe it is such an important mosque. It is nice to see that work is being done on the 400 year old mosque, but there is a lot more scaffold than there is workers, there was also piles of carpet everywhere, barriers, speaker systems, rubbish, and all sorts of stuff laying everywhere; you really did feel like they didn’t care about the place. Walked around for over an hour till the call to prayer sounded and we were shuffled out. It was sort of strange as the faithful were not allowed in till we were pushed out and they were ushered into a side prayer
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Dome with scaffold
hall nowhere near where us tourists were allowed.

Of course the Lonely Planet we have is old with a new addition due later this year, states both mosques were open all day but we now had them closed for an hour in the middle of the day so we went for a stroll through the bazaar till we could get into the next one. Walking around the Naqsh-e Jahan Square and the adjoining bazaar can drive you a little mad at times. In most other places in Iran people want to chat with you because they are curious or want to practise their English, which is fine but in this square all conversations, lead to an invitation to their carpet store, or wanting to take you on a tour. Conversations always start with “where are you from” and take up to ten minutes to get to the “please would like to join me for a cup of tea in my Carpet shop/Gallery/Antique store”. Can get very tiring by the tenth encounter to the point you want to start the conversation with “not interested go away”, but of course we don’t but take in turns to deal with
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As seen from across the Square
them politely so we don’t get worn out.

Ended up picking up some lunch while we waited and took a stab at a bready sort of thing we had seen all over town. Most take away joints in Esfahan have a glass heated cabinet out the front with these things in and today we decided to find out what they were. I thought they were just a deep fried bread roll, which was half correct, but they also contain some sort of shredded meat inside. As greasy food goes, it was okay, but won’t be rushing back for another. Just as we finished lunch a large storm rolled over and it poured rain for about ten minutes, but luckily there was plenty of cover. Around 1.30 the mosques reopened so we walked back across the square to the Masjid-e Sheikh Lotfollah. This mosque was built in 1619 by Shah Abbas I for his harem, and is the most stunning of all the mosques we have seen in Iran. It is smaller than most but has some of the best coloured and quality tile work of them all. Thankfully at the time of our visit there wasn’t a
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Beautiful Tiled Dome
lot of people around so we had the mosque to ourselves for a while, and it was nice to be there with the silence.

From here we had a long walk across town to see the other star attraction of Esfahan, its bridges. The town is founded on the banks of the Zayandeh River and it has 11 bridges across it and a few of them are ancient bridge/dam combos. The first one we got to was the Pol-e Si-She Bridge that is 298m long and was built in 1602. This bridge is one of the dam combo types and used to also have teahouses on it, but for some reason the Government closed them down. From here we walked down stream for about an hour and visited two other bridges, the Pol-e Chubi and the Pol-e Khaju. This last one, although the smallest (110m) was perhaps the best as it was still covered in old tiles and had the largest crowd of locals around it. The bridges are all very photogenic and it is hard to believe they are so old. At the bridges and all along the river bank you see lots of young couples canoodling Iranian style ie. holding hands and looking bored.

It was now 5 in the afternoon and after all this walking we were both fairly tired and really cold, we were still getting over our flu and the wind was like ice so we opted to walk home and along the way discovered a proper café. As stated before Iran doesn’t have any bars and not a lot of cafes, or cheap sit down restaurants, so it is hard to find a spot out of the wind or hussle and bustle of the busy streets where you can stop and get your breath back and watch the people pass by. We both generally enjoy having an after dinner drink or coffee and soak up the vibe of a place but Iran offers very few opportunities like that on a budget. Today we discovered two hidden cafes nearly next to each other and dropped into one to have a coffee. We haven’t had one for a while so it was great to get a nice large cappuccino, even if it was a bit average. The Coffee ended up costing 80000 Rials ($4) each, which is Sydney Prices.

Wandered the streets a bit more before deciding on an early dinner so we could get back to our warm room. Found ourselves back with our friends from the last couple of nights with a chicken sandwich and a coke for 75000 Rials each, making it cheaper than our coffee. The chicken is shaved off a shwarma and is put in a large fresh roll with lettuce, tomato and lots of pickles, and is sensational. Never ever thought I would get to like pickles but in Iran they put it in everything but their tea, and if you don’t like pickles you will probably get to like them or starve.

Day 43 Tuesday 1st March 2016

We both didn’t get a good night’s sleep so ended up sleeping in a bit longer than we wanted to. Had sort of gave ourselves an extra day in Esfahan as a way to recover from our flu so it was no big drama except that we needed to put in laundry today and Shelley wanted to walk over to the other side of town before midday. Rushed around after our morning
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Water under a bridge
tea and managed to get out the door at 10.00 for our huge hike. Picked up a banana milkshake as a substitute breakfast along the way and arrived near our destination, the suburb of New Jolfa, around 11.30am.

We looked over two mosques yesterday and in an effort to balance things, we are site seeing at two churches today. In the late 1500’s the ruler of Iran Shah Abbas I transferred a huge number of Christian Armenians from the town of Jolfa on Armenia/Iran border to Esfahan as they were all skilled workers he needed. He set them up just outside Esfahan and let them do their own thing which included building churches. At one stage over 42,000 Armenians lived here, but now their numbers are down to about 5,000. The first church we came to was the Church of Bethlehem which was filled with some great painted scenes of saints being mutilated and depictions of hell. We really came over here to see the newly restored “Vank” Cathedral, which the Lonely Planet said closed at midday, and it was 11.30 by the time we left the church so we scurried off in search of it. Ran around in circles for half an hour before Shelley spotted a dome in the distance and we managed to get to it right on midday to discover thankfully that it was open all day. The Vank Cathedral was built in 1629 and contains almost identical images as the Church of Bethlehem except there is a bit more of it as it is larger and the images have been beautifully restored to bring back the incredible colour and vividness to the scenes.

The front part of the church contains a lot of old testament scenes like the “Ark” and the “Tower of Babel” while the rear contains more on Jesus, and saints being mutilated and the damnation of hell, which must have looked horrific in its day but now looks pretty lame compared to Game of Thrones. The cathedral isn’t exactly huge and it was a bit weird as there wouldn’t be a lot of room for a congregation, but it was an incredible space. Near to the Cathedral was a small museum that contained what looked at first glance to be a boring collection of books and bits and pieces. And yes it was fairly boring except
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Two Beers Please
when you look at the bibles on display and see that they were written over a thousand years ago. There were some amazing manuscripts held here that would be the envy of a lot of museums. Inside the museum was also information regarding the Armenian Genocide of 1915 as well as a memorial outside in the garden for the victims.

It had been a long but interesting walk to the church and cathedral that was well worth it, and before returning thought we might get a coffee at one of the nearby cafes. None had prices against any food or drinks in the menu so I refused to drink there and so stomped off in a huff. It was a long walk back and we went to have a coffee at where we had one yesterday but they were closed, almost like karma against me for being such an old grump. We crossed the courtyard to another one, and had a great Cappuccino and shared a huge piece of chocolate cake, all for $15, which is about $5 more than we would normally pay for dinner.

It was late afternoon so we settled back
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Typical Scene
at the hotel for a couple hours of rest before venturing out for dinner in the freezing cold. The day hadn’t been too bad but as soon as the sun set the temperature drops. Had a cheap but very tasty pizza as our final meal in Esfahan, before returning home and preparing ourselves for the short hop to the town of Kashan tomorrow.

Additional photos below
Photos: 67, Displayed: 35


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Bazar-e Bozorg

A rare quiet spot
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Bazar-e Bozorg

Qeysarieh Portal being worked on
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Bazar-e Bozorg

Rainbow Spices

3rd March 2016
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Fab photos in the land of high prices!
Love the domes and bridges and tiles and spices--rather makes up for seeing so many women in chadors, dealing with carpet sellers and paying such high prices. $48 for a room and no breakfast? Sydney prices for coffee? At least the mosques and churches weren't as outrageously expensive as the museums on your earlier stops. And how great for you that tourism is down--you can roll in late in the evening and score a palace of a room! Good show!
3rd March 2016
Vank Cathedral

Torture and hell!
There's a scene in my favorite film, The Seventh Seal, where an artist in the Middle Ages is painting scenes of torture and hell, and explains that people would rather see that than a naked woman. This may also have been familiar to Christian Armenians uprooted from their land to work in Muslim Iran.
4th March 2016
Vank Cathedral

I thought it was amusing that there seemed to be a lot more wicked women going to hell than wicked men. Was it that the artist enjoyed painting naked women, or was it that they just thought women were more wicked?
6th March 2016

Going boldly
You've really done your research and are going where few have gone. The blogs are interesting and the cathedrals and mosque have such character. I would not want to fall asleep on the bus and wake up with the pooch snarling at me. That could be a heart stopper.
6th March 2016

Face to face with a sniffer dog
It was one of those moments you wished you had your camera ready, and on the right setting to catch the speed of him bolting off the bus. We felt sorry for the poor guy but sure did give us a good laugh.
8th March 2016

Loving it!
I am so impressed with these mosques!!! My god! How fortunate are we of 21st century to still be able to witness such master builder attributes of 1,000 or less years before. I'm loving the pictures of all these places and all these amazing sites! Thank you so much guys. Outside of the occasional hiccup, taxi driver weirdo, L/P outdated info. I imagine you are both finding this trip absolutely fascinating and rewarding. I'm really loving it! xx
8th March 2016

Thanks Traudy, Iran is pretty amazing and easy to photograph. Yea we keep whinging about how hard this is, but you know that the worst day of travelling is still better than your best day at work. When we get some decent WiFi again we need to email you to get an update.
15th March 2016

"Game of Thrones Season 6" : )))

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