Tourists notes about every corner of Isfahan

Isfahan is a city with innumerous monuments that reflect the magnificence of Islamic architecture. This city has the most number of UNESCO Heritage Sites and therefore it is not surprising that it carries the nickname of “Half of the World”.

Many tourists who come to Iran consider Isfahan as the first priority destination of their trip to Iran. Regarding their experiences of Isfahan’s monuments, urban management, people and etc… some of these tourists write some trip notes. Sometimes these notes include some useful tips for municipalities and other tourists. Here we reflect some of these notes for those who may be interested.

Sylvia is a Norwegian world traveler that has traveled to Isfahan in 2014. She wrote about her trip to Isfahan: When Mina and I met in Tehran we decided to travel to Isfahan for a few days. Mina was born in Tehran and she told me she that had never visited Isfahan, the former capital of Iran. “Persians call Isfahan Nesfe Jahan, which means ‘Half of the World,’ ” Mina told me.

While now a bustling modern city, Isfahan was once one of the most important cities in the world as it sat on a major intersection of the main north-south and east-west routes crossing Iran. After our arrival to Isfahan we seemed to stumble on reminders of Isfahan’s past glory around every corner, from impressive squares and tree-lined boulevards to covered bridges, palaces and mosques. It was like stepping into a historical The Siege of Isfahan novel, only so much better.

Naqsh-e Jahan Square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest city squares in the world .But not all the city is as beautiful as the square. As we approached Si-o-se Pol (bridge) Mina stopped dead in her tracks and stared in dismay. Instead of a glistening river lying under the bridge, there was only dry, cracked earth. Where was the water?! A local woman whom we later shared a taxi with explained to us that Isfahan had sent the water to somewhere else, but that they might refill the river for Nowruz. She then told us that Isfahan’s sites all seemed to be at the risk of destruction – many of the palaces and mosques were not in good condition, and even the Menar Jonban’s famous “Swinging Minarets” had stopped working properly after a scientist had come to examine them. Mina and I looked at each other. Was half of the world falling apart? Most of the sites in Isfahan are centuries old, so I guess it’s natural that they need a little maintenance now.

Moreover, while Isfahan might be dominated by Islamic architecture, the city is also home to important Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian sites. Mina and I visited Vank Cathedral, built in Julfa neighborhood by Armenian in Isfahan in the early 1600s.

We enjoyed visiting many of Isfahan’s sites, but the city as a whole left us both a little underwhelmed. Locals boast that it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I know, but while its monuments could certainly claim that superlative, I’m not sure I would give that title to the city itself. Maybe I’m just not enough of an art fanatic or maybe we just didn’t know the best places to go in the city, and maybe I’ll just have to visit Isfahan again someday. We did, however, really love Hotel Sonati, which was just behind Hakim Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in the city. And we enjoyed hanging out at the tea house down the street from our hotel. They even brought out flags so that Mina and I could pretend to be diplomats having an important business dinner.

You do have to dress as Iranian women in Iran, but you can still wear colorful, pretty clothes! A normal scarf will work fine for covering your head – use a lightweight one in the summer and heavier scarf in the winter and if, like me, you struggle with keeping it on your head, use bobby pins. I traveled to Iran independently on my Norwegian passport. Some nationalities including the US and UK at the time of my trip can only visit as part of a tour. And of course I know some people prefer to travel on organized tours anyway.

My name is Dina Malyana, I am from Sigapure and I traveled to Iran on early 2018

There is an Old Persian saying that “Isfahan nesf-e jahan”, which means that Isfahan is half of the world. During my visit to this magnificent city in central Iran, I slowly unraveled its layers to better grasp this rhyming proverb. I delved into the palaces; mosques, bridges and gardens. After all the hours spent uncovering the city, I could more or less suggest the places I visited in Isfahan:

Naqsh-e-Jahan Square is a fine example of the architectural treasures built during the Safavid era. Tourists congregate at this UNESCO World Heritage Site to see it with their own eyes before zooming in their cameras to the attractions that flank each side of the square: Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Ali Qapu Palace, Shah Mosque (Jameh Mosque) and Qeysarie Gate, which is the main portal to the bazaar of Isfahan. Take your time to visit each of these attractions and devour the history behind them.

Walk the circumference of Naqsh-e-Jahan Square through the bazaar and then from Qeysarie Gate, disappear into the labyrinth that is the Grand Bazaar of Isfahan. Underneath its domes you’ll find handicrafts, carpets, spices, clothes, and so much more. This covered bazaar stretches all the way to Jameh Mosque.

During my visit to Jameh Mosque, I had the sense of walking through time – and quite rightfully so, as this mosque underwent gradual changes from the 8th century to the end of the 20th century. Given the nature of its construction, with changes and reconstruction throughout different dynasties, the mosque has varied styles in different areas. The result is a unique concoction of Iranian architecture under one roof – or rather, under four “iwan”.

At the northwest of Jameh Mosque is Majlesi Tomb. Mohammad-Baqer Majlesi was a renowned and influential Twelve Shi’a cleric during the Safavid Era. He is most well-known for his compilation of an encyclopedia of Hadiths (records detailing the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and the twelve Imams) that amounts to 110 volumes. During my visit on a Friday afternoon, the mausoleum was filled with chador-clad women, some sitting on the ground reading religious texts and others surrounding the tomb to put their hands on it.

Although Isfahan is not the same without water running below its beautiful bridges, but even when the river is dry you can go and visit the fascinating structure of Si-o-se pol and Khaju Bridge. You can also walk through the parched bed of the river but be sure you will feel something strange and sorrowful.

 Traditional foods in Isfahan run in the hundreds, but most of them are homemade and hard for tourists to find. An easy choice, however, is Beryan, which is minced lamb wrapped in soft bread. You should pair it with a glass of Doogh because salty watery yoghurt goes very well with it. And for drinking a cup of tea, go to Azadegan teahouse that is located in Naqsh-e-Jahan Square. You will see what a unique place it is. There is a clutter of lamps, kettle, bells and knick-knacks that literally hang above your head.

 Desert is another place that I loved to go. There is no shortage of deserts that travellers can visit in Iran, but if you’re short of time Varzaneh is a prime option. It is two-hour drive from the city centre and has a parking area that doubles up as a camping spot. Alternatively, you can also stay in a guesthouse in Varzaneh itself and join a tour to visit the surrounding attractions such as the Varzaneh Salt Lake.

Chehelsotun Palace, Jolfa Square, Vank Cathedral, the Fire Temple and Soffeh Mountain are the other places of Isfahan that will stay in your minds.

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