When toiran.com began its road trips, Isfahan, the city known as half of the world for its architectural marvels, was chosen as the first destination. In its golden age, this gem of a city was bigger than London, more cosmopolitan than Paris, and grander than Istanbul.
On April 5, 2014, Shahin, Mohammad and I (Fara) began our journey to Isfahan. Each of us had traveled this road before but this was our first time traveling as a team with a purpose. We were looking at the road through new eyes. Mountains, desert oasis, old caravanserais and historical ruins amazed us at every turn. We stopped several times along the way to shoot the breathtaking landscape and GPS map rest stops, gas stations and hotels.
We arrived in Isfahan around noon. We looked around the city and checked out a few hotels before finding rooms in Abbasi Hotel, an old caravanserai which has been turned into a hotel . We took some time to rest and have a cup of tea before going out to explore.
The alleys of Isfahan were lined with the greenest of trees. We walked around for a while before coming to the first historical site we photographed. The 17th century Hakim Mosque was a four-iwan mosque with striking inscriptions in different Persian calligraphy hands and stunning stucco reliefs. For lunch, we stopped in Jarchibashi restaurant, a public bath which has been turned into a traditional restaurant. Here we tasted a delicious Beriani and blissfully sweet Khoresht-e mast or yoghurt stew.
When you hear Isfahan, one of the first things that come to mind is Meydan-e Naqsh-e Jahan or Naqsh-e Jahan Square. When Shah Abbas decided to make Isfahan his capital in the 17th century, he decided to give the city a makeover. His chief architect Sheikh Baha’i, designed Naqsh-e Jahan Square at the heart of the city, gathering the merchants, soldiers, and clergy in one place, where the king could keep an eye on them.
Shah Abbas would watch military parades and polo matches from his Ali Qapu Palace, people prayed in the mosques in the square, students went to school in one of the seminaries flanking the mosques and everyone shopped in Qeisarieh Bazaar. Sheikh Baha’i designed a tribune above the portal of Qeisarieh so that when musicians gave concert their tunes could be heard all throughout the square.
We started with Sheikh Lutfollah Mosque, which was built as a private place of worship for the Safavid King. This magnificent mosque and its peacock under-dome took our breath away. We took pictures of the Imam (Shah) Mosque with its elaborate seven-colored tiles. Ali Qapu was closed for renovation and we decided to return at another time to photograph this palace. We were disappointed to learn the use of tripods is not allowed in Naqsh-e Jahan.
The quaint little Azadegan café in the square offered us a place to take a short rest. Herbal drinks and teas ranging from a hot borage tea to a cool Sekanjabin (sugar, vinegar and mint syrup) and cucumber drink helped prepare us for more work.
We headed for Qeisarieh Baazar next. This historical bazaar has an impressive display of Isfahan handicrafts from printed textiles and silver accessories to Moarraq artworks and Khatam (Persian of marquetry).
We looked at the square thinking about the centuries, which had gone by since its creation. It is still magnificent. As a perfect ending to our first day in Isfahan, we took a horse and carriage ride around Nqash-e Jahan and listened to the stories the carriage driver had to tell of the lifetime he had spent going around this meydan and of the people he had met.