Esfahan, half the world !


A ceiling decorated with colourful tiles in the stunning Emam Mosque, Esfahan.


Esfahan, "half the world" ! 
We arrived in Esfahan after a beautiful drive from the Persian Gulf to be welcomed in the home of Ghazal, the University student we had met in Yazd. Esfahan is the most visited city in Iran and we were excited to be in this city full of character and beautiful buildings. For the first time during this trip, we had decided not to limit our time in this city. We eventually spent a week in Esfahan !


Ali Qapu
Ali Qapu is a palace located on the famous Emam Khomeini Square that is also home to the Emam Mosque. Emam Khomeini Square is one of the largest squares in the world (500 m by 160 m). We were stunned by this building as its high wooden pillars made us feel we had been transported into antiquity. Pillars on old historical buildings are usually made of stone or marble. The bath in the middle of this platform overlooking the square is covered with heavy looking lead plates and was fed with water through a complex system of viaducts coming from the mountains. 



Within the 11th century palace is one of the most extraordinarily decorated rooms we have ever seen. The ceilings and the walls of the rooms that use to house the family of the ruling Shah dynasty are painted and sculpted. The motives are those of musical instruments and common household artifacts of the times.




Emam Khomeini Square was not always called like this as it was built in 1612. It is a imposing example of town planning.


Emam Mosque
This mosque is said to be the one you have to visit last in Iran. All the mosques you see after this will look pale in comparison. It's completely covered, inside and out with bright blue tiles. Standing under the 54 m high dome and looking up to the ceiling was amazing. But it wasn't the most beautiful mosque we saw in Esfahan !




Jame Mosque
Jame Mosque is the most beautiful mosque we saw in Esfahan ! Again tourists are charged 25,000 rials to enter this building (in Esfahan Iranians also have to pay to enter mosques but 10 times less) so we decided one of us would enter the building and look around to see whether it was worth the price. Very kindly the man at the entrance laid Kathleen in for free and even took his set of keys to open the doors of several hidden prayer rooms and to show us around. This mosque is a museum of Islamic architecture as it displays styles from the 11th to the 18th century. Here we made the most of the fact that we had time and spent several hours wandering around and taking up the atmosphere.


The underground looking prayer hall with white sheets separating men from women (left), a small piece of furniture containing mohrs, in this case small round pieces of clay put on the floor and against which the worshipper will place his forehead when kneeling down (centre).


Stunning brickwork under a mosque dome, Esfahan.


In Esfahan we also managed to buy a couple of news magazines only to find that also these are censured by Iranian authorities. Black tape was spread a several pages that contained "unsuitable" pictures ! Fortunately, it was not too hard for us too peel of and to discover what lied behind it !


A censored copy of Time magazine : before and after ! Not much to write home about but a little too much for Iranian eyes ?


For the many Iranians wanting to leave the country, this bill on the wall means getting away to an Eldora do and the several millions of Iranians living in the North America (L.A. & Vancouver).


We stayed with Ghazal's family for 2 nights all together. Strangely and unexpectedly, the discussion at lunchtime after the 1st night turned to the standard of living in Belgium and how it might be possible for us to sponsor their move. After having tried to explain as honestly as possible it would be very difficult for them to seek a better life in our home country and we could not help in any way, things went sour. We would no longer go to a concert that evening, Ghazal could no longer stay with her family in Esfahan but had to return to University and we could no longer stay with them as their grandmother was ill. We had the very sad feeling their hospitality was calculated. It was agreed we would leave them by 10 am next morning ! Bang !


"Guardate la luna !". The moon coming up behind the walls of the old caravanserai as locals and foreigners alike sip tea and smoke their water pipes.


It was not such a bad thing after all as we decided to try our luck and our sponsorship file at the best hotel in town : the Abbasi Hotel. Not only were we successful, but we also felt like this was a small revenge on our bad luck as this was the place we should have stayed with Kathleen's parents ! The following day we were asked to attend a conference on tourism the hotel was hosting and shook hands with the Iranian Minister of Tourism. Unfortunately we were not asked to speak or we would have managed to explain how discriminated we felt about different entrance prices for Iranians and foreigners. All Iranians are not poor and all tourists are not rich ! We spent a lot of the next 3 days in our room watching BBC World as this was exactly when the US and British started their attacks against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. 


Two friends chatting under one of the many beautiful bridges of the Esfahan.


Despite the pictures you see on TV, we are doing well !

The ancient city of Persepolis Back to Trip page The Abbasi Hotel