Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Iran: First day in Isfahan

After a slow start to our first day in Isfahan, we visited the Hamman-e Ali Gholi Agha which was a bathhouse and is now a museum, and from there to the shaking minarets at Manar Jomban. The minarets are on top of the tomb of a local holy man who died in the 14th century and when someone pushes hard against one of the minarets it will start to sway. After a short time the movement transfers to the second minaret. Bells are attached to both so people on the ground can hear as well as see the movement. We then headed into the centre of Isfahan to visit Naqsh-e Jahan (Imam) Square to see the Imam Mosque. The mosque dates from the 1600s and is breathtaking, stunning and every other awestruck word I can think of. With its exterior of blue and green tiles inlaid in intricate geometric patterns with sections of mosaic calligraphy easy to see why its considered to be one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. Inside there are 4 porches or iwans with walls and ceilings covered in mosaic tiles. The acoustics inside the main sanctuary give echoes so that a speaker in the main area can be heard all over the mosque. Further through the mosque are two madrasehs with lovely gardened courtyards. From there we ventured into the Bazar-e Bozorg which abutts the Imam Mosque. The oldest parts of the bazaar are believed to be more than 1,000 years old and are formed by covered laneways with domed ceilings. There's no doubt that you are walking with history here and it would be no surprise to see Ali Baba emerge from any of the dark corners of the bazaar.

In the evening we walked down to Si-o-Seh Bridge which is known as the 33 arch bridge over the Zayandeh River in Isfahan. The bridge was built in 1599 and is both a bridge and a dam. It gives beautiful views of the city and is beautifully lit to showcase its arches and brickwork. Its also a great place to watch the people passing by.

Here I have to say that driving in Iran, from what I've seen so far, is terrifying. Its makes Dubai driving seem orderly and safe in comparison. Iranian roads are full of ancient 'Paykan's, an Iranian manufactured car which looks like a Hillman Hunter from the 1960s.
Also, the chador is very apparent on the streets of Shiraz and Isfahan, in Isfahan it seemed like probably 50% of women were wearing the flowing black cloak over their street clothes. All women must wear hijab to cover their hair. Many Iranian women wear brightly coloured scarves pushed well back on their heads to show off their hairstyles. For us as foreign visitors we've followed the local ladies, none of the complex pinning, tucking and folding that we're used to in the Gulf, in Iran you just put a scarf over your head, throw the right half over the left shoulder, then the left half over the right shoulder and its done.

Photos are here

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