Monday, June 22, 2009

Travelogue : Iran : Esfahan

01/06/09 : Esfahan

We found Esfahan cooler than Shiraz in the morning, with cool morning breeze. (Unfortunately, just as hot in the afternoon). Our hotel in Esfahan was Julfa hotel, which is in an Armenian quarters, nearby the Armenian Vank Cathedral. But later on that.

Dining hall

Our hotel- Julfa

Carpet covering the staircase

Pakciks making bread, at a bakery next to our hotel

Our guide in Esfahan was Mr Ali and our driver Mr Akbar. Akbar is a university student trying to get extra money by driving us around. We found Ali less friendly than Saba (and less patient), he was really looking forward to go back, as he said that our tour should end at 5pm. But we dragged him til 7.30pm Read on ;-)
Sio-se-pol Bridge
We started with the Sio-se-pol (33 arch) bridge. It is also called the Allah-Verdi Khan Bridge, is one of the eleven bridges of Esfahan. Commissioned in 1602 by Shah Abbas I from his chancellor Allahverdi Khan Undiladze an Iranian ethnic Georgian, it consists of two rows of 33 arches. There is a larger base plank at the start of the bridge where the Zayandeh river flows under it, supporting a tea house.

Sio-se-pol bridge
Unfortunately, it was the dry season, so the river was dry. We took so many pictures here that Ali felt that we weren’t paying attention to him. We never intended to, we just like snapping away happily. Btw, there was a Pak Arab who fancied K Liza and asked to take a picture with her here ;-)
Dry river

Ahem...K Liza with Pak Arab ;-)
Khajoo Bridge

Because we spent too long at Sio-se-pol, we missed the 10am “Shaking Minaret” show. So we proceeded to Khajoo bridge to catch the 11 am instead. Khajoo bridge was built in 1650 at the time of Saffavid’s Shah Abbas II. It connects 2 sides of the river with an accurate structural analysis. It also functions as a weir; the downstream side is formed as a series of steps carrying the water to a much lower level. Khaju is one of the bridges that regulate the water flow in the river because there are sluice gates under the archways over the river. When the sluice gates are closed, the water level behind the bridge is raised to facilitate the irrigation of the many gardens along the river upstream of this bridge. One of the bridges of Putrajaya – Putra bridge emulated the design of Khajoo bridge.

Khajoo bridge
KL street
We then stopped by Kuala Lumpur street ;-) Esfahan is the twin city of KL
KL or Esfahan?
Fire temple
Before we went to the Shaking Minaret, Ali brought us to the Zoroastrian fire temple or Atashgah Monument or Marbin Fortress. It was really hot already by the time we arrived, so this would be our Kerja Gila #2. And we had to climb up the steep hill. And Ali asked us to do it within 30 minutes. While he and Akbar sat and waited for us under the tree! According to the Zoroastrians, the higher they built their temple, the nearer they would be to their god. It sure was a quite a hike up there! But the vista was marvellous! We got to see the city surrounded by canyons.
The Atashgah of Isfahan is a Sassanid-era archaeological complex located on a hill of Atashgah. The hill, which rises about 210 meters above the surrounding plain, was previously called Maras or Marabin after a village near there. One part of the complex are the remains of a citadel of about twenty buildings (or rooms within buildings). Several buildings in the cluster have a classic char taq "four arch" floor-plan, characteristic of Zoroastrian fire temples of the 3rd century onwards and that are the actual atashgahs that housed sacred fires. Another feature of the complex are the remains of a tower-like circular building on the very top of the same hill. This structure, which was once at least twenty meters high, is known by the local populace as the Burj-i Gurban, or Burj-i Kurban "Tower of Sacrifice," and appears to have been a military watch-tower with a flare that could be lit to warn of an approaching enemy.
The fire temple

Aksi! aksi!

the vista
Shaking Minaret
Finally we arrived at the Shaking Minaret or Menar Jonban. It is actually a tomb of Ibni Mohammad Ibni Mahmoud, one of the mystic men of the 7th and 8th century Hijrah. There are 2 minarets at the tomb, which are 17m from ground and 10m apart from each other. When one minaret starts shaking, the other starts shaking with the same frequency simultaneously, hence the vibration can be felt in the whole structure. One grouse though – the shaking was done manually by a person in the minaret. No, it was not magic. And the shaking (every hour for a few minutes) could damage the structure.
the shaking minaret
Ali then brought us to a carpet shop (which was nearby the most expensive hotel in Esfahan –not sure the name ), hence the carpets would be expensive as well. Raph specifically said that we wanted to shop where normal Iranians shop, but no, he brought us to a high end shop. Oh well, he gets the paid the commission I guess. K Liza #1 & 2 both bought a ring each. (Yes, it was a carpet shop that also sold rings). Therefore, this was Kerja Gila #3: buying rings at a carpet shop??!!
the carpet shop
We made a detour to the hotel, and took some pictures. A really beautiful hotel, with a garden in the middle. I didn't jot down the name of the hotel though..
hotel mahal interior
the garden in the middle of the hotel
After dropping Ali (he wanted to go home), we went for lunch. Searched for rice as usual, and we were lucky. We picked up Ali again after lunch and proceeded to Imam square.
Imam Square
Imam square (official name) is also known as Naghsh-e Jahan Square formerly known as Shah Square.
It is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. The square is surrounded by buildings from the Safavid era. The Shah Mosque is situated on the south side of this square. On the west side is Ali Qapu palace. Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque is situated on the eastern side of this square and the northern side opens into the Esfahan Grand Bazaar. Today, the Namaaz e- Jom’eh (Friday prayers) is held in this square in front of the in front of the Shah Mosque.
Chandeliers and carpets at the Esfahan Grand Bazaar
Shah Mosque
Shah mosque has been constructed during the Safavid period, in 1611 with seven-color mosaic tiles and valuable inscriptions. The portal of the mosque measuring 27 m (89 ft) high, crowned with two minarets being 42 m (138 ft) in height, frames the front of the mosque which opens into Naqsh-e Jahan square. The inscription above the entrance being made of white mosaic tile on ultramarine background, is written in Sols script by Alireza Abbasi. The master architect has designed two passageways being different in length on both sides of the hall to assimilate the axis of the mosque to the direction of kiblah which has an angle of 45 degrees, to cover the change of direction without losing the proportions.
Sols script inscription at the Shah Mosque entrance

Shah Mosque interior
The acoustic properties and reflections at the central point under the dome is an amusing interest for many visitors. There is a marked spot under the dome, right at the centre, where if you stand here, or stamp your feet on the marked spot, your echoes will surround the hall, like being heard in a modern surround sound system. We recorded our echoes here ;-)
the dome where your echoes will surround you
The architects of the mosque are reported to be the following masters:
Ustad Ali Akbar Isfahani
Ustad Fereydun Naini
Ustad Shoja' Isfahani
The mosque is one of the treasures featured on Around the World in 80 Treasures presented by the architecture historian Dan Cruickshank
Read more about the stunning Shah Mosque here (I thought it was more stunning than Taj Mahal! Anyway, Taj Mahal was built by a Persian architect – Ustad Ahmad Lauhari - so not a surprise there)
Ali Qapu palace
Ali Qapu palace is the entrance to the vast royal residential quarter of the Safavid Isfahan which stretched from the Maidan Naqsh-i-Jahan to the Chahar Bagh Boulevard. was built by decree of Shah Abbas the Great in the early seventeenth century. It was here that the great monarch used to entertain noble visitors, and foreign ambassadors. Shah Abbas, here for the first time celebrated the Nowruz (New Year's Day) of 1006 AH / 1597 A.D. A large and massive rectangular structure, the Ali Qapu is 48 m (157 ft) high and has six floors.
Read more about Ali Qapu palace here
Again, the entrance fee was Riyal 5000 for Shah mosque and Ali Qapoo palace each
interior of Ali Qapu
View of Emam Square from Ali Qapu palace
students looking for ideas
We found a Japanese tourist at Imam square, his name was Wakaru (or so I thought). I tried to introduce myself in Japanese (thanks to Nurul who taught me!). Maybe he was saying he understood me? (wakaru = understand).
Us with Wakaru-san
Then a drama unfolded. Ali couldn’t contact the driver – Akbar. So he asked us to take the taxi instead, and he said he would pay for it. But we didn’t want to take a taxi as we were promised a van, and we didn’t want to be separated. In the end, Ali contacted another driver, but Akbar did come, later. We saw Ali and Akbar in a heated argument, but we didn’t want to be involved. We went back with the other driver instead. We felt pity for Akbar as he might have not been paid – he didn’t finish his task. So we secretly told Akbar (without Ali seeing) to send us to the airport the next day, and we would pay him.
That night was a bit fruitful thankfully, I got to change some more money (ran out of it already!) and we got a jubah each.
02/06/09 : Esfahan – Tehran
Vank Cathedral

A short time only in Esfahan as we had to leave for Tehran at 11.30am. Our flight was at 1.30pm That morning we stopped by at the Armenian Vank Cathedral, nearby our hotel. We didn’t go in though; we didn’t have enough time, we just took some pictures with the pretty Armenian girls.
Vank Cathedral was one of the first churches to be established in the city's Julfa district by Armenian immigrants settled by Shah Abbas I after the Ottoman war of 1603-1605. Construction is believed to have begun in 1606, and completed with major alterations to design between 1655 and 1664 under the supervision of Archbishop David. The cathedral consists of a domed sanctuary, much like a Persian mosque, but with the significant addition of a semi-octagonal apse and raised chancel usually seen in western churches. The cathedral's exteriors are in relatively modern brickwork and are exceptionally plain compared to its elaborately decorated interior. Read more here

Armenian scripture
Vank Cathedral entrance
Aksi! aksi! with pretty Armenian girls
Shops only open at 10am, so there was not much time to browse through as we had to leave by 11.30am. K Liza managed to get 2 jubahs though. Bravo! ;-)
Otw to the airport, we saw a Gen2 car, so we quickly snapped a picture of it.
Gen2 in Iran
Iranian car: Saba brand
To be continued. Next post: Tehran



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