The proverb Isfahan nesf-e Jahan (Isfahan is half of the world) shows Iranian’s propensity to exaggerate. Nevertheless, it is a wondrous city with numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites. No previewed photos or guidebooks prepared me for the feeling of dizzying beauty when I finally saw the mosaics of Naqsh-e Jahan mosque. The Pol-e Khāju and Si-o-se Pol bridges are amazing, and the frescoes at the Armenian Vank Cathedral simply breathtaking. Visiting Kākh-e Ali Qāpu and Chehel Sotun were dreams come true and attempting to shake a minaret at Menār Jonbān well….unforgettable.
Another day we window-shopped until our feet were sore in the vibrant Bāzār-e Esfahan. While marveling at all the hand-hammered art in the copper section, we were surprised that my Mexican companion was invited to a workshop behind the storefront. He was served a Chai (tea) and had a wonderful time laughing and chatting with all the craftsmen – with sign language of course. In the meantime, I chatted with the shop owner and by the time we were ready to leave, a most intricate copper Gol o bolbol had made its way into our hearts (and our baggage).
After visiting all these must-sees on our first visit, subsequent trips brought out other wonders…like the people who gather every Friday evening under Pol-e Khāju bridge to sing, or the delicious Biryani I simply had to try one night – despite my inner voice telling me to refrain from greasy street food.
At the opposite gastronomic extreme, even our national specialty, Chelo kabāb tasted extra special when surrounded by the paintings in the restaurant of the 300 year-old Abbasi Hotel.
Bursting with all we had seen of architectural, artistic and gastronomic wonders, we left the city-center to visit yet another. The Atashgāh, Zorastrian fire temple, dates back to the Sassanid Empire. As we viewed the city from above, I tried to imagine a world where the three pillars of Zorastrianism: Good thoughts, Good words and Good deeds could some day prevail.