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Published: July 20th 2017
Roam abroad in the world, and take your fill of its enjoyments before the day shall come when you must quit it for good. – Sa’adi
Arrived in glorious Isfahan, only a four-hour bus ride from Yazd, in the early evening. The jewel of ancient Persia and one of the finest cities in the Islamic world, according to the guidebook, and famous for its Persian-Islamic architecture. The most well-known Persian saying about Isfahan is “Esfahan nesf-e jahan,” or Isfahan is half the world. A wonderful city to explore at leisure, drinking tea and wandering the bazaars, if you can manage it. Amazing mosques, fabulous palaces and elegant bridges, and shopping which will empty both your days and your pocketbook.
We stayed at the lovely and atmospheric Sunrise Traditional Hotel, a bit far from the Naqsh-e-Jahan Square but you can meander through the bazaar to reach it. Wonderful breakfasts, beautiful courtyard. Recommended.
When we emerged on our first evening at the Naqsh-e-Jahan Square – begun in 1602 and currently the second largest square in the world after Tiananmen Square in Beijing – we were immediately surrounded by wonderful shops, gorgeous palaces and some of the world’s most
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
*photo courtesy of Clement
beautiful mosques. Visited our first Persian carpet shop – lots of carpets, tea and fun. Clement was more taken with the nomadic carpets, each an individual work of art, while I preferred the city carpets, but we did agree that the deep red carpets were the most impressive. If only I’d brought a lot more money!
Our days were occupied with a flurry of beautiful sights:
Our first stop was the Jame Mosque, a gallery of Islamic architecture with 800 years of Islamic design, and the second largest mosque in Iran. Religious activity on this site is believed to date back to the Sassanid Zoroastrians, but the current edifice was rebuilt in the 11th century and has been enhanced many times since.
Aliqapu Palace, built at the end of the 16th
century as a residence for Shah Abbas I, was absolutely amazing. On the upper floor, the music room‘s stucco ceiling is riddled with the shapes of vases and musical instruments cut to enhance the acoustics. See below for photos.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, completed 1619, harmoniously understated and classically beautiful, is arguably the most fabulous mosque in Iran. The dome is covered in cream-colored tiles that
change color throughout the day, and from the inside it features, amid tilework, a small peacock who develops a magnificent tail at the noon prayer using the sunlight which filters in through the high latticed windows. This mosque originally served at the worship place for the women of the shah’s harem.
Imam Mosque, completed 1629, where we were invited to have a brief conversation with one of the resident Mullahs, along with some other tourists, is arguably one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. More exquisite tilework and soaring ceiling.
Chehel Sutoon Palace, built (rebuilt 1706) as a pleasure pavilion and reception hall and now famous for its six large frescoes. These extraordinary works of art survived the 18th
-century invasion by the Afghans, who whitewashed the paintings to show their disapproval of such extravagance.
Lunch at Small House Restaurant – pomegranate stew and plum stew with chicken – recommended, and then more shops, including a metalwork and enameling workshop, with gorgeous blue and green pieces; our second carpet shop – found a lovely red and yellow silk carpet from Qom for over $3,000 – pity; a miniatures shop, where we were able to view the
One of the many entrances to the bazaar.
*photo courtesy of Clement
artist at work decorating pieces of camel bone with elegant and brilliant paintings; and a calico shop, where each cotton piece was hand-printed using natural dyes and a wooden stamp. Beautiful things everywhere.
Morning at Vank Cathedral – gorgeous murals from an Armenian Christian perspective, completed 1655. Next to this was a small museum honoring the Armenian Genocide in Turkey. A short drive to Khajou Bridge, with men singing underneath the arches, where the Shah used to watch races on the river (now dry) and a center pavilion built exclusively for Shah’s use - and Siosepol Bridge, also quite lovely, with 33 arches. Lunch. Afternoon spent browsing through shops in the bazaar, including a third carpet shop. Doogh and sweets at a café with guide and his friend in the early evening, then back to hotel for postcard-writing session in the courtyard.
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