After the quiet streets and awesome hostel of Yazd, our dingy box like room in Esfahan on a busy street did not give me the best first impressions. However Esfahan turned out to be my favourite city so far and after 5 nights it was hard to drag myself away.
A french poet in the 16th century famously said “Esfahan nesf-e jahan” , Esfahan is half the world. Today it still is an amazingly beautiful city, load to see and seemingly never-ending nice places to sit and drink some chai. While the hostel wasn’t amazing, it was again, the main place for backpackers so had a constant flow of interesting people. Iran does tend to attract people on crazy big trips. Particularly cyclists it seems as over the 5 days I meet 2 Swiss couples, both on long cycling trips, a Korean girl who taught herself to ride a bike late year then decided to bike from Dubai to Europe, a Canadian who has been biking for 14 months around Africa and Europe and continuing on to Vietnam. And also another motorcyclist from Latvia who seems to have ridden in every part of the world at some point. I might just stick to buses.
Julian, the British guy who I’d taken the bus with was around for a day so we headed down to Imam square, the second largest square in the world and what Esfahan is know for. Its amazingly stunning, a huge rectangle square with old style archway shops along the edges and the impressive Imam mosque on one side, the Lotfollah mosque on the other side and the something palace opposite that, We first went in the evening when the huge fountain in the middle is on, while families are out having picnics and the blue tiles mosques are lit up. Its beautiful, and despite guys tearing round on motorcycles, its a nice peaceful but busy area.
There are loads of horse and carriages taking groups of people for rides. We brought saffron ice cream and sat in front of the Iman mosque. We headed back the next day to see it in the day light and visit inside the mosques. All the mosques in iran are covered with blue tiles, which are really beautiful. The Lotfollah mosque is stunning, with an amazing dome, its a different style than usual with no courtyard and a corridor leading into the down room, The palace opposite that has a huge balcony a few stories up which a good places to look over the square.
The main mosque is very impressive, set around a huge courtyard with all these different tiled domes. In the main part the dome was designed to echo so whoever was speaking could be heard. If you stand directly under the dome on a specific black stone and jump up and down the echo is amazing, you can hear about 5 clear echos. Even using a bank note and snapping it open produces a huge echo around the building. Very impressive.
Inside the main mosque is a religious school, a couple of the guys started talking to me, straight to the point about what I think about Iran and women in Iran. A good thing in Iran is how open people are about politics, more so than the rest of the middle east. I guess more people are educated in Iran and everyone seems more politically aware. I did get into a slightly controversial discussion about Ba’hais, they weren’t so happy about that.
You really cannot get away from people talking to you in Iran, mostly its good, although the constant “hello, where are you from” from about every 5th person who passes you can get a bit frustrating. One day I spent a couple of hours in the square trying to write postcards, I was very over talking to people after spending about an hour with a constant stream of people introducing themselves to me and talking to me abut Iran. I was trying to hide under tree’s and in corners but somehow people found me. I had to escape back to the hotel However, more than most countries I have found you can get into really good and interesting conversations with people, and not just carpet sellers and tour guides (although there are always a few of those). Basically everywhere you go people invite for tea, stuff you with food and give you their phone number in case you get into any trouble. And the great difference in Iran is that it isn’t exclusively males that talk to you. I was crossing the street at a busy intersection that has a little police kiosk, they have loudspeakers and are constantly talking to the traffic, once as I walked past, I heard “Hello” over the loud speaker.
Along with Imam square, the other famous part of Esfahan are the bridges across the main river. The rives is lined on both sides with parks, full of families picnicking, tea houses, volleyball courts, couples secretly talking in secluded spots. Across the river are amazing bridges made from stone archways.
I went down in Thursday night, the beginning of the weekend. The place was packed with people, I watched the sun go down while eating a sandwich and having my 3rd ice cream for the day. I managed to find Julian and we wandered down through the parks and across the bridges. Once it gets dark the arches are lit up, and unlike NZ where everyone leaves parks when its dark, the place stays full.
Under the archways on the long bridge there is a teahouse, we got tea and popcorn and sat by the water watching the throngs of people. On the way back to the hotel we walked down the main shopping street, packed full of people shopping, loads of girls pushing the hijab laws to the limit, big bleach-blonde hair, makeup and skintight jeans. Pizza and hamburger places full of teenagers, digital camera shops, clothing stores, and movie theaters (Iranian films only of course). The parks by the river could be anywhere in Europe, and the shopping street reminded me of China (only with headscarves). Iran really does have this crazy mix of Western and Persian culture. Unlike other parts of the Middle East where the government don’t impose regulations, but society is very conservative, here in Iran its the opposite, with a ridiculously conservative government and society doing whatever they want. One guy told me that they live the same as us, “just the ways are different”.
Tags: 2010 travels, blogsherpa, Culture, Esfahan, iran, Iran 2010, Middle East