Glimmering Palaces and Giant Squares of Esfahan

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Today I saw the most glorious manmade buildings I’ve ever laid eyes on. The city of Esfahan is famous for gorgeous mosques, miles of parks, ornate bridges, grand palaces and the most impressive is Naghsh-e-Jahan Square the world’s second largest to Beijing’s Tieneman Square. It’s the heart of the city and a popular picnicing and strolling area.

The top of every shop has the teardrop shape, and at one end there is this immense double minareted mosque with a blue dome, and then on the other a smaller and even lovelier mosque with a similar blue dome. You go inside and look up close. Two inches of tile turns out to be made up of 14 separate tiny pieces of colored tile. Then think that this thing is 30 or 40 meters high and this tilework is over the entire wall and ceiling. Mind blowing!

We stood inside the giant Imam’s mosque and as you spoke your voice bounced off the double layered tiled high ceiling and was easily audible outside 100 yards away. This is how the imams of the olden days were able to speak to huge crowds without any microphones. Then we visited the Chehel Sotun , or 40 columns palace, built in 1608, that was once the place where the royalty entertained guests with wine women and song. Paintings depicted in realistic detail the life of the royalty and the many visitors they entertained.

This is similar to the lavish history we hear when we visit Italian cathedrals, but the names are all different. The names have eluded us, like Darius and Cyrus, who ruled Persia and conquered other lands. Alexander the Great spent a lot of time here too, and the ones the people here fought with the most were the TurkP1520056 747618s and the Uzbeks.

Driving down a major boulevard and it’s all a leafy center strip with no cars. While the traffic is still insane, the gardens are everywhere, right now in the back of my hotel I am looking out into a courtyard with those same teardrop openings in a square court, surrounding a lovely garden with pools and walkways.

At the Naghsh Square there is a bazaar, a rabbit warren of shops selling carpets, candy and knicknacks and mounds of spices. I bought some dates, and some small packets of saffron, for shockingly low prices. I barely spent the rest of the $60 I had changed, things were just that cheap. Even better, we were with an Iranian man who haggled with all of the vendors in that ‘sweet accent’ of the Esfahanis to get us even lower prices.

At one point two writers became friends with two young Iranians, and as they passed one of the ubiquitous photos of Khomeini, which line every public wall, she said “he is bad, I don’t like him.” Heresy in the Islamic Republic of Iran, but like the headscarves that fall down low and the form fitting mid-length jacket (instead of the loose black robe) that about half the woman wear, it shows that things are loosening up, despite the protests of the mullahs.