Travels in Iran – Isfahan
Tonight we walked over one of the many bridges and up to the main shopping area. Huge boulevards are separated by masses of flower beds. The rain though made the stone pavements very slippery. The rain soon stopped and we continued our walk through a local park. They have unusual umbrellas here.
Music and Dancing with the Locals
Here a group of men had gathered to play music. When they saw us listening we were invited to join them. One of the men took off his jacket and placed it on the seat so we could sit without getting wet, very kind. They offered us drinks, as they didn’t have spare glasses, they threw away what was in their glasses and re-filled them for us. There was music and dancing and then someone was summoned to fetch food.
We were given the chicken while they settled for the salad and vegetables. Everyone here is so kind and they share everything, even when they have so little. This was one of my most memorable experiences of Iran.
We had an early dinner and, like every meal I had in Iran it was delicious and plentiful. Everything here is so fresh and organic and full of flavour. It is also extremely cheap. As usual we ordered a variety of different dishes to share, washed down with non-alcoholic Mojitos or fresh pomegranate juice. The total would be around £5 per person.
After dinner we visited the Khaju bridge. As we approached we could see the bridge illuminated against the night sky. Some sat on the steps looking out over the river.
Under the arches everyone meets to chat and to sing traditional folk songs and poems put to music. There were people of all ages, some bring picnics. There were some beautiful voices and everyone was clapping and singing along to the music. It was so atmospheric and moving, I was transfixed.
Singing and dancing in public is illegal in Iran. Sometimes the police come but there is always someone to warn them. They rapidly disperse and then re-convene when the police have gone. The guide told us to run away if the police come.
I walked into another of the arches and was approached by a young girl with her family. She offered me a seat on their carpet. Everyone welcomed me, her mother poured me tea and gave me food and sweets. The girl was at university in another town but was visiting her parents. When it was time to leave there was lots of shaking hands and hugs and the mother blew me kisses. What a lovely way to spend an evening.
An Unaccompanied Walk
The guide was taking a taxi back to the hotel. It was a lovely night, I’d eaten a lot of food and wanted to see the rest of the bridges. I asked if we could walk back to the hotel along the river unaccompanied. This was fine. It was a lovely walk, all the bridges are different and illuminated in yellows, orange and blues. Some had little coffee shops. The reflections of the bridges were illuminated in the river below.
Many people were out walking, There were young couples holding hands or sitting on benches smoking shishas. There were many women out walking alone. Everyone greeted us, wanted to chat and to wish us a lovely stay in their country. I have never felt safer.
We are definitely given the wrong impression of Iran by the media. Even the information from the tour company before I came said that I would not be able to leave the hotel without a guide. I walked around on my own day and night and for me it is the most hospitable and safest country I have visited. It is the only country I have had to justify going to. My friends are used to me going to unusual destinations. With Iran I got ‘Why do you want to go there? ‘, ‘Rather you than me’, ‘Don’t go’. Now hopefully everyone understands why I wanted to go.
I got up at 6am to go for a walk by the river. Everything was bathed in beautiful first morning light. It was perfect. Again everyone was so friendly. One lady told me she loved me, which I thought was a little forward as we’d only just met and all I did was take her photo 😁.
Naqsh – e – Jahan
Isfahan is also famous for having one of the largest public squares in the world, Naqsh – e – Jahan (Image of the World). Also known as Median Emam, it is also a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Filled with trees, fountains and gardens and flanked by mosques and palaces and enclosed by a beautiful bazaar. Built by Shah Abbas the Great, it was the capital of the Safavid dynasty. It is 560 metres long and 160 metres wide. On the South side stands the Imam mosque with it’s blue tiled mosaics.
Everyone wanted to chat. Firstly 2 girls who were extremely interested in everything I said. One of the questions I was asked was ‘What do you find difficult about Iran? ‘ When Karen told her that when it is hot like this in Australia she spends most of her time wearing shorts, the girl was very surprised although not shocked. More girls gathered round to chat with me. Everyone wants us to enjoy Iran so much.
On the Western side of the square sits the 6 storey Ali Qapu Palace. The 6th floor is known as the Music Hall. The shape of the room helps with the acoustics and the decorations were extremely impressive.
The balcony of the Music Hall also affords fantastic views of the square.
Opposite the palace sits the Sheikh Lotfollah mosque. This was the mosque built for the Shah to pray. To get to the mosque from the palace he Shah and his wife used a tunnel under the square to avoid being seen.
The square is enclosed by one of the largest and oldest bazaars in the Middle East. There are sections with hand woven rugs and carpets, colourful fabrics, handicrafts, gold, silver, shoes and spices. There are also coffee shops and traditional restaurants.
Hospitality in Isfahan
On the way back a young girl said to me ‘You are so cute, I just want to kiss you’. Then I was watching some street food being made, a type of bread filled with dates. The next minute a local woman who had bought some tore hers in half and gave half to me. How could you not love a place where they call you cute and give you food. The warmth and hospitality here is overwhelming.
A Surprising Fact
A fact I found surprising is that Isfahan like many other Iranian citizens has a Christian population. There are also a small number of Zews and the old Zoroastrian religion is still worshipped in some parts. The Christian population came mainly from Armenia. Tonight we visited the Christian part of the city and the church.
It was also interesting to see a group of Muslim female students visiting the Christian Church. Society here, I don’t mean the government or the strict laws, but the people themselves seem very friendly and very tolerant. We chatted with the students for a while, they were at university, one was training to be a nurse.
Fashion in Isfahan
The area surrounding the church was unlike anything I had seen in Iran up to now. The shops were all ultra modern with Western clothes and shoes with heels so high I would have broken an ankle. Amongst the young here fashion is important. There are many still many people in traditional clothing. Burkhas are not worn in Iran. Many also wear black because it is an important date in the religious calendar. It is a period of mourning where traditionally black is worn. Also no marriages are allowed during this time. In culminates in a big festival in a few days time.
But also Western fashionable clothes are worn, customised to meet the dress codes or a coverall is worn and underneath are skinny jeans and tight t-shirts. Lots of make up is worn. For private celebrations colourful party dresses are worn with impossibly high heels. It is not always the best things of Western culture that are taken. We saw many young girls with sticking plasters on their noses, plastic surgery is big here, nose jobs, boob jobs and bottom lifts.
Isfahan – My Final Thoughts
Isfahan is a beautiful, interesting and hospitable city.
I stayed at the Persian Hotel.
E-mail hotel. Esf@gmail.com