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For the day dedicated to beauty, we asked Iranweb to tell us about a real pearl of Persia: Isfahan “half the world”. Enjoy with us this journey in its magnificent shots, a total immersion with one of the most beautiful cities in history.
Naqsh-e jahàn square
Naqsh-e Jahàn square (“image of the world”) is one of the symbolic places of Iran: built in the seventeenth century during the Safavid dynasty, it measures 560 meters long by 160 meters wide (to give an idea, more than 5 times larger than Piazza del Duomo in Milan). On the square there are some masterpieces of Persian architecture from the Safavid era: the royal mosque, the Sheikh Loft Allah mosque, the Ali Qapu royal palace and the entrance door of the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest in the Middle East. After its construction, the square was used for celebrations and ceremonies, for military parades, for public executions but also as a field for polo matches.
When you get there for the first time, even after having long dreamed and imagined it, you are still dazzled by its harmonious beauty and the feeling of being “out of time”: the traffic consists of only a few horse-drawn carriages, the shops are discreetly inserted in the arches that delimit the perimeter of the square and the people who populate it respect its solemnity. A word of advice to those who visit Isfahan: try to return to the square at different times to discover its most authentic nature. In the evening, for example, you will find large families gathered for a picnic on the lawn, boys playing volleyball in front of the huge portraits of Khomeini and Khamenei, couples who speak – attentive to prying eyes – in the moonlight: this wonderful square will no longer appear to you alone as a major tourist attraction but also as the heart of Persian socio-cultural life.
New Jolfa, the Armenian neighborhood
At the beginning of the seventeenth the Armenians were fleeing the persecution of the Ottoman Empire and by virtue of the ancient friendship between the two peoples, Shah Abbas welcomed about 150,000 of them into Persia. The new district of Isfahan (called Jolfa as the ancient Armenian city) became the new home for many of them and in the following centuries the Armenians, while maintaining their identity and Christian faith, actively participated in the cultural and economic development of Persia.
Today New Jolfa is a trendy neighborhood beyond the Zayandè river, full of nice cafes and boutiques, reachable on foot or (better) by taxi from the city center. The main attraction for tourists is the Christian Cathedral of Vank (“Saint Savior of Isfahan”): the complex built in the seventeenth century also houses, in addition to the church, a museum dedicated to the history of the Armenian people, a library full of rare manuscripts medieval and a small cemetery. The external aspect of the cathedral is curious: a dome similar to those of the Shiite mosques and a bell tower, a testimony to the possible integration between different cultures, coexist. It is however the interior of the church that leaves the visitor open-mouthed: looking up you can admire the golden dome decorated with frescoes depicting biblical scenes, while on the lower walls are remembered the Armenian martyrs victims of the Ottoman Empire.
Our travel tip, if you are in Isfahan on New Year’s Eve, is to come to this neighborhood to attend the celebrations for Christmas (the Armenian one is celebrated on January 6th) and breathe an unexpected atmosphere in these latitudes: you will find windows with Christmas decorations and Santa Claus posing for photos with children on the street!
Si-o-Se Pol (“The bridge of the 33 (arches)”) is one of the eleven bridges of Isfahan that cross the Zayandehrud river, now dry for most of the year. Also known as the Allahverdi Khan Bridge, it is certainly the most famous in the city because of its size, central location and above all the wonderful architectural structure: built in yellow brick and limestone in the early 17th century, in the Safavid era, Si -o-Se Pol is the longest of the Isfahan bridges (297 meters). The structure has two levels, on the lower one there are 33 arches, on the upper one there is a pedestrian path enclosed by walls: the niches formed by the arches are perfect for sitting down to read or chat while enjoying the view of the city.
The best time to visit it is in the evening, when groups of tourists have finished their tours: the bridge becomes a center of the city’s nightlife, in the unobtrusive light of the lamps that illuminate it you can walk, meet new friends or simply sit and quietly observe the relaxed lifestyle of the Iranians.
The Grand Bazaar is the historical market of Isfahan, one of the oldest in the Middle East: the first complex dates back to the Seljuk era (XI-XII century) even if the current bazaar was built – like many other symbols of the city – in the Safavid era, in the 17th century.
The main entrance is located in the north side of the famous Naqsh-e Jahàn square and once inside you can walk around two kilometers of galleries with vaulted ceilings that cross the center of the city: it is the longest covered market in the world!
Anyone who has visited the Isfahan bazaar knows well how easy it is to wander and get lost in this maze of alleys, madrasas, khans (caravanserais) and timche (domed halls dedicated to a single product sector). In the myriad of shops in the bazaar you will find handicrafts, jewels, rugs, clothing, spices, gaz (the typical Isfahan sweets) and small tea rooms where you can rest during the walk. Unlike what happens in other countries, bazaars (merchants) will be happy to tell you about the history and qualities of their products in a gentle, non-aggressive way, with a smile on their lips.
Imam / Shah mosque
Let’s start from the name: the mosque located in the southern side of the large Naqsh-e Jaham square until 1979 was called Shah Mosque (or Royal Mosque), after the Islamic revolution it became the Imam Mosque but you can call it both ways , everyone will understand you.
This masterpiece of Islamic architecture, not only Persian, was built in the first half of the seventeenth century, in the Safavid era and together with the monumental square it overlooks it was registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The unusual asymmetric plan of the complex is due to a double alignment: the facade is oriented towards the square in the opposite direction to the entrance door of the Bazaar, the mosque is instead facing towards Mecca.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the mosque are the splendid mosaic decorations made with tiles of seven different colors. You could spend days walking through the courtyards and in the buildings of the complex, simply following the geometric or floral patterns on the walls with your eyes … but remembering every now and then to also look up, given that some of the more elaborate mosaics decorate the domes.
Travel tip: if you are not traveling in a group, take the audio guide at the entrance (not included in the ticket) to better appreciate this masterpiece!
We still thank Iranweb infinitely for this incredible trip to Isfahan, one of the most beautiful pearls of Persia, an authentic city of beauty. Follow him on his Facebook and Instagram page. Tomorrow we will take you to Tehran with “The Ram” by Mehdi Asadzadeh, published by Ponte33, a publishing house that takes its name from Si-o-se pol. Follow us on our facebook, YouTube and Instagram page, every like, sharing or support is welcome and helps us to dedicate ourselves more and more to our passion: telling the Middle East.