January 2017 - Iran (part 2)

 “Esfahan is Half the World”  - Persian proverb.

 Our arrival was well-timed – the sluices had been opened and the bone-dry river filled after a 9- month drought. That first evening, the entire population turned out to celebrate under the arches of the beautiful bridges spanning the river and we joined them – seemingly, the sole foreigners in the city - sharing their tea, sweets and unexpected joy.

A celebration with
tea & nargileh 
Water, at last!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A gorgeous city of elaborate mansions and mosques, elegant bridges and beautiful gardens, the centre of Esfahan and, perhaps, the Silk Road, was ever the breath-taking Naqsh-e-Jahan square, second (in size only) to Tiananmen. 

A tiny part of Naqsh-e-Jahan

Built in C16th as a focus for world trade and still lined with artisan’s shops and goods from all corners; each side is punctuated by a UNESCO heritage site. The immense Shah Mosque is considered the crowning glory but it was the jewel-like Lotfullah Mosque that brought tears to our eyes. The 2km-long shoppers’ paradise of the 1000 year-old bazaar leads from the north of the square to the rambling Jameh Mosque which showcases the different architectural, cultural and aesthetic influences over its 1300 year life.

 

Besides seeing the jaw-dropping sights, we were on the look-out for treasure! We wandered along the narrow lanes behind Naqsh-e-Jahan square and watched artisans at work. Esfahan has a rich heritage in arts and was once the capital and showcase for the Persian Empire. Craftsmen from all along the silk road were imported by the shah to turn his city into a glorious metropolis. In its golden age, Esfahan was more prosperous and cosmopolitan than Paris or London. Even passing Mongols didn’t destroy, but added their own architectural monuments. Now a new generation of Iranians, hugely proud of their history, are eager to preserve and restore the glory of Persia.

On our return we have too-frequently been asked “was Iran safe?” The answer always surprises – “yes, safer than England”.  We never once felt other than welcomed, whether by the general public or officialdom.  So, wandering the back streets of Esfahan was an absolute joy.

We chatted to craftspeople making pottery and intricate enamel paintings; watched a metalsmith make a huge copper pot and stumbled upon a talented young man, Bahman Poor, creating extraordinarily fine hammered silverware in his small workshop. We brought several of his platters back to the island.

A major pot-maker
Bahman Poor, silversmith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ultimate chess-board
from the country where
chess was invented

We were also searching for a unique craft called Khatam; an ancient Persian form of marquetry, created with precisely-cut, geometric pieces of wood, bone and metal – around 250 to each square cm.  On our last day in Esfahan we found the ultimate example – a simply stunning chess/backgammon board, with a superb 34-piece set of chess pieces made from rosewood and boxwood.  We couldn’t wish for a better-quality piece.

Mission accomplished, we were sad to leave this glorious city and its inhabitants but the road was calling and our next stop with a big history, Tehran, was waiting.