Esfahan is Half of the World

As I mentioned in my first post (Welcome to Iran, a country of mosques…), Iran is a country that has always fascinated me. And, of course, nothing tickled my imagination as much as Esfahan, often called the jewel of Iran.

Esfahan (or Isfahan) is the third-largest city in Iran and was one of the largest cities in the world in its heyday during the 16th century. This led to the Persian proverb “Esfahān nesf-e- jahān ast” (Esfahan is half the world). Its main square, the Naqsh-e-Jahan Square, is the world’s second-largest square, only the sadly famous Tiananmen Square in Beijing is bigger. Naghash-e-Square is said to be three times the size of St-Mark Square in Venice.

A lot has been said about Esfahan’s size. But it is also quite simply a magnificent city. Famous for its Persian-Islamic architecture, the square itself is visually breathtaking. Around it are two of the most beautiful mosques in Iran, the Sheik Loftallah and the Imam (formerly Shah) mosque,  the Ali Qapu, which is a charming palace, and of course, a huge bazaar. The elegance of the square is only rivaled by the picturesque historic bridges one can take to cross the Zayandeh River, notably the Khaju Bridge and the Se-o-se-Pol Bridge (the name refers to its 33 arches). And, let’s not forget the Vank Cathedral, an Armenian church with walls covered with frescoes and gilded carvings.

But of course, it is people, not only buildings, which define a city, and I was struck by the way the Esfahan citizens seem to enjoy their city thoroughly. The square is full of people all day, particularly so in the late afternoon. Of course, many people come to do their shopping in the bazaar, but others come merely to enjoy the atmosphere of the square. I met young people there after school, some rollerblading around the square, carefully avoiding the horse-drawn carriages available to provide a tour around the square. A group of older men holds court there every day, gladly chatting with anyone willing to engage (as I was) and singing the occasional song.

The Vank cathedral is also a popular destination for tourists and locals.   After seeing the colorful frescoes, an older lady was resting, waiting for her grandchildren to join her–one of them already a stunning young woman. A group of young Kurdish men was also there to enjoy the church’s fineries.

On Fridays, a day of rest, everyone is out for a stroll or a picnic along the Zayandeh River, crossing back and forth on the historic bridges. Entire families sit on a rug or a blanket with elaborate baskets of food they are always willing to share. Some men sing and dance under the bridge (dancing in public is not allowed for women.)   Time and time again, I am invited to sit down and partake in whatever is being consumed, be it a full meal, a slice of fresh fruit, or the inevitable cup of tea. And who would not want to share a cup of tea looking at the water falling from the imposing Khaju Bridge?

Be salamati,




16 Responses

  1. A incredibly beautiful place and people captured so well in your inspiring pictures, France.
    Thank you, Jane Bradbear

  2. Another beautiful set of images and storytelling. It’s so heartening to see the welcoming smiles of the people you photographed; those are my favorites. Adding Iran to my already long list of places to see!

  3. A wonderful set of photographs. I would love to go there. The square is magnificent and the architecture exquisite, and I’ve read about the famous Iranian hospitality.

  4. Another well-written post with beautifully taken images, France. I so enjoy reading your blog posts. Esfahan was definitely the highlight of the trip for me. Hope the foot’s recovering well.

    1. Joyce, Thank you very kindly. Good to hear that you are enjoying the blog. Yes Esfahan was a great time. I am glad we did it together. The foot is recovering… I think!

  5. Hi France,

    A beautiful collection of images. I have last been to Iran in 1971. Unfortunately, I do not believe I will ever be able to return. It is too bad, but politics, and unfortunately ugly and dangerous politics dictates the world’s events. I am glad you had a great time and had a chance to see a country I remember as a beautiful one. Ruti

  6. We happen to be in Esfahan today!
    Wonderful place!
    You took some great photos.
    Iran is fantastic.

    1. Thanks Judy. What a fabulous city it was, wasn’t it? I am still in Africa and basically just out of the bush. The foot was a bit of a challenge initially but it is getting better now. Warm regards. France

    1. Rasoul, sorry for the late reply. I was traveling with limited email access. I am glad you agree with my Esfahan post. I love your city. I hope to be able to visit again. All the best, France

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