Isfahan

26 August 2015

Imam Square and UNESCO World Heritage

Persian Isfahan is a lodestar of Victorian Orientalism – the exotic east, old, charming and exquisite. It is resplendent in blue and turquoise mosaic, rich blonde stonework and a skyline of domes, towers and minarets. Imam Square is its focal point: baking hot during the day, at dusk buzzing, cheerful locals crowd the plaza in its purple light. Imam Square is fringed by a uniform colonnade and three important contributions to Persian architecture that make this a UNESCO World Heritage Site: the very grand Shah (or Royal or Abbas) Mosque, the smaller gem of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque with its soft and intricate mosaic patterns and the most beautiful interior dome in Iran, and the Ali Qapu Palace. The palace is remarkable for its large timber balcony that doubles as a showcase pavilion, and its extraordinary music chamber with musical instrument patterns cut into metal reliefs.

Farsi poetry under Si-o-se Pol Bridge

Crossing the Zayandeh River is the 17th century Si-o-se Pol (or Allahverdi Khan) bridge, a double-arched historical monument that is impressive in its length, scale and beauty but most memorable for the the people it attracts. From the moment the sun starts to set over Isfahan, families and friends stroll along the upper walkway of the bridge, clandestine lovers can be found in niches along the way – while underneath, intertwined amongst the foundations of the bridge, groups of men gather to sing Persian folk tales and Farsi poetry in ghost-like acoustics.

Isfahan is a gentle reminder that there are still some places left in the world with beautiful buildings and structures, but a living culture that has emerged alongside those buildings. It is delightful when both can be enjoyed simultaneously.

Isfahan’s Armenian community

While Iran is predominantly Shiite muslim, there are significant minority groups including Kurds and Armenians. Isfahan is home to a large Armenian community that is recognised in law by the Iranian State, and they can manufacture and consume their own wine and have their own churches. Their church is the Armenian Quarter provides a colourful and highly graphic visual representation of the life of Jesus Christ, which was quite a contrast after the iconoclastic Islamic design and architecture. The Armenian Quarter is also an excellent destination for very rewarding carpet shopping.

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