Esfahan, Iran

The city of Esfahan (or Isfahan) is known as being one of the jewels of Iran and all the films and documentaries of Iran we had watched portrayed the historically rich city with such romantic notions. One of the famous Persian proverbs describes Esfahan as ‘half of the world’, as it once dominated as one of the world’s largest cities famous for its mosques, palaces, bridges and the beautiful Imam Square (Naqsh-e Jahan Square).

We arrived in Esfahan on a comfortable bus ride from Yazd and checked into the Amir Kabir Hotel in the evening. The trip took about four-and-a- half hours, and was about 100,000 Tumans (equivalent to five dollars) for both of us. We even received a snack box with a wide assortment of biscuits and juice (which we later found to be a standard part of any Iranian bus ride).

Naqsh-e Jahan Square (Imam Square)

Our first morning in Esfahan was spent familiarising ourselves with Imam Square. The Square was about a fifteen minute walk from our hotel. As it was Friday, we weren’t able to enter the main mosque – Imam Mosque as preparations for Friday prayers were taking place. We wandered around the square admiring its grandness (in size it is 160 by 508 meters and second biggest in the world after to Tiananmen Square in China). The perimeter surrounding the square is an under covered bazaar selling various Persian delights from gaz (the local Isfahahni speciality, a nougat-like sweet), rugs, handicraft to jewels made of Iranian turquoise.

Imam Square viewed from Ali Qapu Palace, Imam Mosque seen in backgroundImam Square with centre pond and fountainsGheysarieh Bazaar Entrance viewed from inside Imam Square

The highlights of our exploration of Imam Square were:

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque – located on the eastern side of imam Square this is a beautiful, perfectly architectured mosque built during reign of Shah Abbas I. We stood in the prayer hall dome of the mosque in absolute awe of its brilliant mosaic designs and architecture and found that no photos can do it justice.

The intricate Persian blue mosaics on the facade entrance of Sheikh Lotfollah MosqueThe interior hallway with intricate mosaicsSonya and some bright mosaics
The dome mosaics of Sheikh Lotfollah MosqueThe Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque Mihrab and domeThe Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque Mihrab
The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque domeThe entrance to Sheikh Lotfollah MosqueThe wooden door of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque and cream dome seen from Imam SquareSheikh Lotfollah Mosque entrance facade and cream dome seen from Imam SquareSheikh Lotfollah Mosque and cream dome seen from Imam Square

Ali Qapu Palace – on the western side opposite to Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is the Ali Qapu Palace. It was the entertainment palace for Shah Abbas the Great during the Safavid period and also a gateway to other palaces beyond the Square. The palace must have been quite impressive with its colourful motifs, however much of it is now damaged. The terrace provided great views of Imam Square.

The entrance facade to Ali Qapu PalaceOne of the many wall paintings on the open upper levelThe Ali Qapu Palace courtyard and mosque

Chehel Sotun Palace – we wandered across to this palace which is outside the Square. It started raining a little, however the site was still bustling with activity. It was still Noruz holidays, and everywhere we had been in Esfahan was unimaginably busy. The Palace is impressive (as with everything we’d seen so far!), but most enjoyable were the beautiful frescoes in the music room. Some depict battles between the Uzbeks and India… others show lavish banquets where the Shah entertained his guests.

Chehel Sotun PalaceLooking over the pond away from Chehel Sotun PalaceLooking over the pond at Chehel Sotun Palace
Beautiful floral wall paintingsLion head features on the corners of the outside water featureExterior paintings in the Chehel Sotun Palace open area
Frescoes in the music room of Chehel Sotun Palace a lavish banquets where the Shah entertained his guestsFrescoes in the music room of Chehel Sotun Palace depicting battles between the UzbeksFrescoes in the music room of Chehel Sotun Palace a lavish banquets where the Shah entertained his guests

Imam Mosque – Also known as Shah Mosque, this is one of the famous Isfahani icons (it’s even featured on the Iranian 20,000 Rials banknote). As you first walk into Imam Square it is impossible not to notice the beautiful iwan (entrance) to the mosque, the arch of the iwan decorated with blue stalactite tiles. The main courtyard also does not disappoint as each of the iwans to the prayer halls are truly breathtaking in their size, colour and mosaic designs.

Imam Mosque and turquoise mosaic dome viewed from Imam SquareEntrance to Imam Mosque with pair of minaretsThe inner outside courtyard facing the inner mosque
The inner outside courtyard with the entrance to inner mosqueThe inner outside courtyard with the entrance to inner mosqueThe inner mosque viewed from an arch
The intricate Persian blue mosaics of the mosque entranceThe mosaics of the mosques domeThe two-tiers of arches seen in the inner courtyard of the Imam Mosque
The two-tiers of arches and the entrance of the Imam MosqueLooking though an arch into a side courtyard at the Imam MosqueThe Imam Mosque with Turkish Blue (turquoise blue) dome slightly visible

We had lunch at a traditional Iranian restaurant in the square where we had some of the local Iranian cuisine – Dizi. This dish is particularly interesting as it comes in what looks like a handle-less clay pot with a pestle. It is served by draining the soup into a separate bowl and then mashing the contents of the pot (some kind of vegetable/meat stew) ferociously. You then place bite sized pieces of bread into the soup and eat the soup soaked bread, along with the solid remnants of the stew. It was actually quite tasty!

That evening we explored the surrounding bazaars in search of a carpet!

Jameh Mosque

Morning of the second day was spent wandering through the bazaars (again!). We then headed to the post office (which turned out to be closed due to Noruz), and then Jameh Mosque. This mosque is still operating and so we explored quietly. It is set on 20,000 square metres and is one of the biggest mosques in Iran.

Inner court of Jameh MosqueThe Persian blue mosaic facade of Jameh MosqueOne of the undercover spaces with circular column design
Looking through a hall of square columnsThe brick domes of Jameh MosqueOne of the undercover spaces with square column design

Bridges of Zayandeh River

We then walked to the Zayandeh River. It was a Saturday afternoon and the local Isfanhani as well as other local Iranian tourists were enjoying picnicking along the river with their extended families (we’d noticed Iranian’s loved picnicking!). We were there to look at the beautiful and famous covered bridges. We started at Si-o-Seh Bridge which contains thirty-three arches and walked all the way to Khaju Bridge (famous for its two-tiers of arches), passing by Chubi bridge along the way. In total, the bridge walk would have been about five kilometres in total and took a good hour!

Walking from Si-o-Seh Bridge to Khaju BridgeFerdosi Bridge looking eastFerdosi Bridge looking west
Approaching Khaju Bridge from the westKhaju Bridge two-tiers of archesKhaju Bridge two-tiers of arches

Chahar Bagh Madreseh

For the rest of the afternoon we visited Madraseh Ye Chahar Bagh, the Theological School of the Shah’s Mother. Usually closed, but opened for Noruz festivities, it is a pretty complex with a lovely courtyard filled with trees.

Looking over the empty pond at Chahar Bagh MadresehThe turquoise blue dome of Chahar Bagh MadresehThe mosque at Chahar Bagh Madreseh
The opposite side of Chahar Bagh MadresehThe Persian blue mosaics of Chahar Bagh MadresehThe colourful mosaics of Chahar Bagh Madreseh
The mosque with turquoise domes and minarets at Chahar Bagh MadresehTurkish blue (turquoise blue) and Persian blue (dark blue) mosaicsThe two mosque minarets at Chahar Bagh Madreseh

Hasht Behesht Palace

After we visited the Hasht Behesht Palace, which was once again another great palace but now very badly damaged.

The painted interior of Hasht Behesht PalacePainting of bird and flowers on walls of Hasht Behesht PalaceOverlooking the pond towards Hasht Behesht Palace

Our last evening in Esfahan was spent enjoying some gaz, falude (rice flour sorbet with rose water) and strawberries in our own little picnic at Imam Square and doing some more people watching and bazaar-wandering!