I have read many times that Isfahan is ‘one of the most beautiful cities in the world’. If you search that phrase on google you will find Isfahan mentioned many times in various lists and blogs.
It is immediately obvious to see why Isfahan is considered such a beautiful city. The first place I and most other visitors head to in Isfahan is the Naqsh-e Jahan Square. It is located very close to the centre of the city and it is home to the Isfahan Grand Bazaar as well as the very famous Shah Mosque and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque.
Before coming to Iran I had read that Naqsh-e Jahan Square is the second largest city square in the world, behind Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Wherever this claim appears, I never see a source provided. The is however a Wikipedia article that contains a list of city squares arranged by size. It does include Isfahan but it is not at position number 2 even in the top 20. I consider this ‘city square size’ myth very much busted. However, I think if you were to rank these same city squares not based on their size but by their beauty, I am sure Naqsh-e Jahan Square goes rocketing up this list.
The photo above is looking south from the centre of the square down towards the Shah Mosque. The entry portal into the Shah Mosque is the most beautiful entry to any building I have ever seen anywhere.
Like many of the domes, doorways and entrances to mosques in Persia, this one is a mosaic made up of tiny pieces of coloured ceramic tiles, each one cut to shape and then pieced together like the worlds biggest jigsaw puzzle. From a distance the colour and details stands out, but up close these designs become even more impressive. Up close you can fully realise the magnitude of the task that the builders of these mosques faced.
The Shah Mosque opens up in a central courtyard once you are inside but there are dozens of small corridors that branch off. The attention to detail on the mosaic walls of these spaces is no less detailed than the dome or entrance way. Absolutely stunning.
The domed top of the Lotfallah mosque, the other mosque located in Naqsh-e Jahan Square, is maybe the most beautiful in all Persia. I think it has probably been recently restored, because the colours are so strong and the ceramic tiles have a glossy finish and shine as they catch the sun. Both of these mosques cost 200 IRR (5 €) to enter.
Leaving Naqsh-e Jahan Square I began to explore the parks and boulevards by the Zayanderud river and its many bridges. Because I was here at the tail end of winter, most of the trees in these parks where devoid of leaves, however it was still an extremely pleasant area to be in. I can only imagine what the area must be like in the spring and summer. The leafy foliage would I imagine provide excellent refuge from the high heat in the summer months. I expect the area is full of young families having picnics and young couples on dates.
While walking around the river and across the famous bridges of Isfahan, there was one very obvious missing element. Water! Unfortunately, in modern times the Zayanderud runs dry for most of the year. The primary culprit is the Zayanderud Dam. Built in 1972, this dam is used to stabilise the water flow and prevent flooding. It also generates hydroelectricity and supplies water for agriculture use and human consumption to Isfahan and the surrounding area. Of course this dam, like most dams around the world are completely necessary to enable modern cities to grow and develop. However the effect that this has on the river down stream, in such a dry region, is pronounced.
There are many beautiful bridges crossing the Zayanderud. The Se-o-seh pol is located in the very centre of the city and serves as the main thoroughfare for foot traffic across the river.
Unfortunately as you can see above, there was no water flowing when I was there. The lack of water creates a kind of post-apocalyptic scene. Dozens of very sad-looking paddle boat swans line the shores.
The Si-o-se Pol is always a bustling place and appears to be a bit of hangout spot for young people in Isfahan.
There are a lot of little nooks and crannies on this bridge. I saw a lot of small groups hiding away in them, playing musical instruments and chatting. There is also a lot of space located underneath the bridge. Due to the lack of flowing water, it actually serves as a very peaceful place to hang out. You wouldn’t want to be caught under here on a day when the river starts flowing again, but when it’s dry it’s a nice space.
One of the other places I visited in Isfahan that I really liked is the Seyed Mosque. While the Shah and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosques, are beautiful, they do cost 200 IRR (5€) each to enter. If you are travelling on a budget, 5€ per mosque really adds up. The Seyed Mosque is stunningly beautiful and is not very busy making it a great spot to visit. You may be the only visitor in the entire mosque if you are lucky. It is also located just around the corner from the hostel I stayed at, Amir Kabir hostel.
I really liked the combination of tiled mosaics and intricate wood panel carvings in the Seyed Mosque and seen in the pictures above and below. It boggles the mind to consider the time and effort that this type of work would take.
That’s it for Isfahan. A beautiful city with some of the most beautiful architecture and religious buildings I have ever seen. Next up is Shiraz and its beautiful Pink Mosque!