Esfahan was my last major stop in Iran, and what better way than to end my trip in the most beautiful city in the country! Esfahan is home to the country’s largest city square known as Naqsh-e-Jahan. Its length is about four football fields long, and it is said that the sport polo was first played here centuries ago. The square was built in 1602 and is an excellent example of Iranian and Islamic architecture. The surrounding historical buildings are filled with shops, museums, mosques, and other important sites. Next to the square are some of the largest bazaars I’ve ever visited.
Of course as an American I was a bit concerned visiting Iran and saw them as a harsh theocracy. With that mindset I can say I was not expecting anyone to take a jog through the fountain and reflecting pool of the Abbasi Mosque. This guy was having a blast, and if I had a little bit more courage I would have joined him. Below another kid does bike tricks off the walls of the mosque. Mind blown!
There are all types of shops and restaurants in the bazaar that surround Naqsh-e-Jahan square. The photo above shows one of the unique businesses that focused on Persian antiques. The photo below was taken from an artist. He is locally known for his traditional Persian paintings done on plates made out of camel bones. This type of art and technique is quite common in Iran, but this artist’s skill was amazing!
It goes without saying that you’ll find plenty of carpet shops in the bazaar. I visited one of the most well respected carpet makers in the city, where the owner proudly displayed some of his highest quality work. I didn’t buy one myself but a friend I met on the trip spent a few thousand dollars on a carpet. The carpet below was actually my favorite. I loved the different colors and level of details that were put into it. I was told it could be mine for $27,000!
Another reason Esfahan is considered Iran’s most beautiful city because of the Zayande River and its countless city bridges that cross it. The Zayande river has its source in Iran’s famous Zagros mountains and provide a lifeline to the arid climate that surrounds the city. The most famous bridge in Esfahan is Si-o-Seh Pol which is translated to English as Bridge of 33 Arches. This foot bridge was built in 1602 and is a great place to go for a walk. During the spring evening we had perfect weather and the bridge was full of
Many people on the bridge tried to start conversation with me. Surprisingly their English was quite good so I didn’t have much of a language barrier problem. One man did ask me something in Farsi and my friend told me he had asked where I was from. As a joke I told him I was from Israel to which the guy didn’t seem to believe.
Further up the river is Khaju bridge built in 1650 with 24 arches. This bridge seemed to be a popular hangout spot for locals. There was a small group of about three people who were singing a song that attracted the attention of locals as well as the police who came by to check it out. I never saw uniformed police officers while walking around in Iran except for here. The police watched the crowd and singers for a short while then went about their business.
I’d compare Tehran to New York City and Esfahan to Washington DC. Although Esfahan is the country’s third largest city with lots to do, it doesn’t have the overcrowded feel as parts of Tehran do. The main streets of Esfahan are lined with electronic and clothing stores, and plenty of restaurants and shopping malls. It was here that I tried “Kentucky House”, a knock off of KFC that also offered pizza. I didn’t try the actual ZFC that I photographed on the right. I’m not sure if KFC being so popular in other parts of the middle east and Asia decided to franchise their company out to someone from Iran under the name of ZFC, or if a local just copied them on their own.
There are a number of religions in Iran, such as the few remaining Zoroastrians and a small population of Jews and Christians. In Tehran I hear there are about a dozen Synagogues throughout the city. In Esfahan and Tehran I saw many Armenian churches, one example is this 17th century Vank Cathedral.
The inside of the church was beautifully decorated just like the mosques I had visited in Iran. Unlike their Islamic counterparts though, the church had painted several morbid scenes from hell at the bottom of some of their murals while the center parts showed earth and the very top depicted heaven.
The monastery had a large museum inside that showed everything from bibles and artifacts, to photos from the Armenian genocide when over a million people were killed in Turkey. The museum had over a dozen ancient bibles on display such as these two above. They also had portraits of Armenian religious leaders and artifacts from their history. Since I had already visited Armenia I was aware of the genocide that occurred by the Turks in the early 20th century. It’s one thing to read about it, but seeing some of the gruesome photos of torture and death really showed how evil the Ottoman empire had been.
Walking through the streets of I saw this man playing a traditional instrument. I was told it was kind of the Persian version of the Scottish bagpipe but on a much lower pitch. It’s popular to use in traditional weddings and other ceremonies. Elsewhere in the city I saw a photo of this modern Iranian singer. His album cover got my attention because the singer looks almost identical to one of my best friends in the US!