Move over Vatican, Isfahan – the Jewel of the Middle East
Naqsh-e Jahan Square, in the centre of Isfahan, Iran. The shape actually being a rectangular 506m, by 160m and filled with the Middle East’s most beautiful gems that are unjustifiably unheard of in the outer world. Eye popping mosque’s, grand bazaars and spouting fountains, the size and grandeur of the whole thing matches the Vatican city and in my humble opinion, surpasses.
The main sight in the square, Imam Mosque withdrew a captive wow from both of us while walking through the stunning arched entranceway. The blue and yellow-tiled mosaics that covered every surface of the enormous structure were an enchanting sight. Separate praying areas within the mosque complex led off in different directions from the main courtyard, which played host to the most impressive sight of the main dome, foreshadowed with its huge archway that only when seeing in person can be understood.
When trying to take pictures of this, you must walk to the opposite end of the courtyard to fit into a single frame, which invariably removes the magic of appreciation when viewing from a firsthand close-up. We spent so long here that we missed the opening hours of the other attractions in the square and left with a sense of awe not easily topped.
On the opposite side of the square, the Great Bazaar of Isfahan. After a quick coffee stop en-route with a very interesting Iranian owner, we had just about arrived at the entrance to the mosque before being stopped by a very charismatic looking man, who turned out to be the Heritage and Culture Minister for the government of Iran and he proceeded to give us an energetic tour ‘behind’ the scenes of the Bazaar. He took us to view the carpet weavers before emerging onto the rooftop of the Bazaar with a fantastic view over the whole of Isfahan. After about an hour we wriggled free of his grasp and carried on.
A view from the main square towards Iman Mosque
In the evening we went down towards Khaju Bridge that crosses the river Zayandeh (which had no water in while we were there) and meandered along the pathway together hand-in-hand as the sun set over the horizon. The Khaju bridge is admired as one of the finest bridges (built in 1650) of its type in the world.
A rather amusing side-story
After dinner, we spotted a hairdresser’s across the street with an elderly man inside performing quick haircuts on the local men. We entered and sat down, and were treated to a ‘premium selection’ of nuts gifted to us in a small plastic yoghurt bowl. The nuts looked like they had already been half chewed and spat back out, but with everybody looking at us eagerly we ate a couple which seemed to satisfy the group. When they looked away, we quickly hid the rest of the nuts in various places. Under magazines, under chairs, behind a heater. This plan failed miserably when he noticed our bowl was empty, and eagerly rushed away to top it up. Running out of excuses, I was glad that I was prompted towards the chair for my turn at a haircut, and I left Elena with this bowl of regurgitated bird-food.
The haircut turned out to be the most incredible experience, I really felt as if I were a king and being treated to all the stops that this elderly man could muster. After he finished cutting my hair with miraculous precision, accounting for every single hair that was not finely positioned, he pulled out a cut-throat razor. This would be the first time anybody else had shaved me, let alone with this old technique but I felt in perfectly expert hands as he proceeded to remove my travel beard. By the end, and after the umpteenth powdering and deodorant application, I thanked Mr. Abbot as he was named, and left his small store feeling like a new man.