Undoubtedly, if one’s been to the vibrant city of Esfahan, they have come across the famous Persian proverb ‘’Esfahan is half the world.’’ Esfahan really lives up to its title, as there is so much hidden beauty in this former capital of Persia. During the Safavid dynasty, Esfahan enjoyed high standards of prosperity, as it became the capital of Iran. Esfahan has been described as a living museum of traditional culture by the Lonely Planet.
Undoubtedly, if one’s been to the vibrant city of Esfahan, they have come across the famous Persian proverb ‘’Esfahan is half the world.’’
Esfahan really lives up to its title, as there is so much hidden beauty in this former capital of Persia. During the Safavid dynasty, Esfahan enjoyed high standards of prosperity, as it became the capital of Iran. Esfahan has been described as a living museum of traditional culture by the Lonely Planet.
In four corners of the UNESCO world heritage site of Naghshe-Jahan square, sits the most splendid monuments. The 400 year old square and its monuments narrate a story as they represent different purposes, from being places of worship, to former royal residential corners. Shah’s palace and two striking mosques face the square. The arcades of shops in the Qaysariyeh bazaar have remained along the square, to remind the city of its European interactions in the old days. Strolling down the Grand Bazaar of Esfahan you could find all sorts of handicrafts by local artisans. From silverware, jewellery, hand woven Persian carpets and textiles to aromatic spices, there is a profusion of essential and non essential goods for all budgets.
On one side of the square sits Masjed-e-Shah or Shah’s Mosuqe. The UNESCO listed mosque is an Islamic architectural masterpiece. The construction of the royal mosque began in 1611. The stunning turquoise blue tiled dome and the minarets vouch for the detailed craftsmanship of genius artisans. The organic acoustic properties of the mosque, without having any amplifier nor speakers, reinforce the concept of ‘’form follows function’’. One has to stand right under the central point of the dome to convey their voice to the whole main sanctuary. The meticulous mathematical and engineering abilities of the architects at the time proves the extent of civilisation of this ancient land.
On another side sits the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque with its shiny marble walls and seven coloured mosaic tiles. Facing it stands the majestic Ali Qapu palace, built by the visionary king of Safavid dynasty, Shah Abbas 1st. His legacy during his reign has left behind a timeless urban landscape, displaying a well executed street pattern, forming grids. The prosperity of the former global metropolis owes it to Shah Abbas 1st. Moreover, his tolerance for Zoroastrians, Jews, Muslims, Christian Armenian merchants, Catholic Monks and Protestants to freely co-reside in Esfahan transformed Esfahan into a metropolitan commerce hub for merchants along the Silk Road.
Jolfa, the Armenian quarter of Esfahan, is home to some hidden treasures of Esfehan’s history and culture. The Vank Cathedral in Jolfa is a stunning fusion of traditional Armenian and Islamic architecture of the region. The intricate and brightly coloured frescoes, the richness and depth of colour indicate a freedom of religious and artistic expression in the design of this cathedral.
Today, with population of over 10,000 Christian Armenian residents in Esfahan, the ancient district of Jolfa is an elegant neighbourhood of modern cafes and restaurants, Bourgeois boutiques and authentic Armenian supermarkets selling pork and ham to minorities.
The Khaju Bridge, another iconic landmark of Esfahan, lies above the largest river in Iran, Zayanderud. This is the city’s finest bridge and a popular spot for locals to meet at night time for singing and dancing.
Zayanderud simply translates to ‘’the life-giving river’’ in Persian. This river originates in the Zagros mountains and flows southeast towards the Gavkhuni Swamp. This river is an entirely closed area with no access to the sea. The sources of water for Zayanderud come from a nearby collective range of springs connected to one another. Despite the ongoing drought over the past few years, the locals still enjoy sitting between the banks of this river or picnicking around the site.
Driving around in Esfahan city is a pleasant ride. The abundance of tree-lined boulevards all across the city, the symmetrical landscape development and city planning of Esfahan is eye-catching. The iconic landmarks of the city, the richness of the architecture, the humbling mosques, the stunning cathedrals, the palaces of great lords, the Persian gardens and the colourful bazaars have so much undeniable history and heritage. Esfehan truly takes you back to glorious days of ancient Persian empire, very authentic and noble.