Today, as every other day if I could, I was found wandering around the Great Bazaar in Esfahan. I am fascinated by this place and I apologise for being so one-dimensional but what a fabulous place it is.
Today I went exploring into areas not previously visited and came across some different crafts and products in the making.
The furniture shop was interesting. The frames of the chairs and tables already put together by the wood turner on his premises waiting for the customer to order their personal suite.
The copper beater (chaser) was sitting outside his shop putting the final touches to a large plate with a soft-headed mallet.
The blacksmith was taking a break from his anvil to make a cup of tea.
And a young girl was busy painting a typical Esfahan blue-ware plate by hand. Very steady and perfect in execution.
I’ve always been a fussy eater and never touch liver, kidney, any offal or products made from offal such as faggots. I would love to have been a Doctor but I am incredibly squeamish and can faint at the sight of my own cut finger if I don’t sit down first!
So after a hectic week of three wedding ceremonies, two birthday parties (fortunately no funerals) I thought that I had completed the pre-ordained endurance test.
How wrong could I be. The biggest test was still to come when I found out that for today’s Public Holiday celebrations, the family would be served Kaleh Pache-sheep’s head soup- for lunch. Now when Feri makes this at home, I ban the slow-cooker to the garage overnight as even the smell of it bubbling away makes me feel sick let alone taking the lid off to see the eyes bobbing on the surface with all the other “bits and pieces”.
Luckily, his family understand my reluctance and I was made a special lunch of my favourite dish Qormeh-Sabzi and dill rice instead. Much more palatable and it smelt delicious too.
Even the local stray cats eat the left-over Qormeh-Sabzi as I found out in Esfahan. Have you ever seen a cat eat lamb, kidney beans with herbs and boiled saffron rice? You have now!
After a slow meander around the Bazaar in Esfahan it is a treat to finish the day off by taking a ride in a horse-drawn carriage around the Naqsh-e Jahan Square and let the four hooves do the trotting whilst you take the weight off your feet. You get to see all the main sights around the square at medium pace and is a quaint experience as you listen to the rhythmic jingle of the sleigh-bells hanging from the horse’s headpiece.
All the horses have names except ours, a new addition to the stable. A horse with no name.
The horse who joined us on our trip was called “Samanoo” which is a traditional Persian dish made from wheat sprouts and is usually made at Iranian New Year (Now Ruz) coming up in March.
As ever, the sights seen from the buggy are as beautiful as those seen on foot but photographs are difficult due to the rocking of the carriage.
One of my favourite pastimes in Esfahan is strolling around the many alleyways, nooks and crannies which make up the great bazaar. I could spend the whole day “just looking” but Feri knows me better than that and so far I have been unable to shake him off and go it alone…..too much temptation to spend, spend, spend and consequently he sticks to me like glue.
The bazaar is organised so that the shops are grouped by trade or product. You can be walking past gold shops galore, turn the corner and be faced with mountains of nuts, dried fruit herbs and spices. The sights and smells as you walk round are simply stunning and I get a real sense of the Iranian way of life as I pass by each guild and their wares.
This time I found myself faced with hundreds of incense holders and lamps all hand made by father and son intricately woven in copper and brass. They come in all shapes and sizes, colours and patterns but looking up towards the bazaar ceiling I noticed two huge incense holders suspended by chains. Talking to the shop owner and son of the master craftsman, he explained that the two ornaments are a special order for a mosque in Malaysia. They have been paid for; the princely sum of £12,000 each but they will remain hanging in the bazaar until the dispute relating to the shipping costs of £1,000 each is resolved.
Long may the dispute continue I say-they are a magnificent sight!
The Armenian Christian sector of Esfahan is still a thriving community albeit much depleted from the mid-1960’s when the population reached approximately 100,000. Not many people realise that a Christian area exists in the predominantly Muslim city and it is in the section known as Julfa south of the Zayande Rud river that you will find the 13 remaining churches out of the original 30 or so.
On a beautiful sunny morning we visited just the one; and it is spectacular. The All Saviour’s (Vank) Cathedral is an amazing visual feast of religious murals, gold décor and superb architecture together with a selection of ancient artefacts and historical information located in the Cathedral museum.
In the midst of all the family celebrations and visiting relatives it was lovely to find a haven of peace and serenity in the almost deserted church and its grounds and I could have spent hours sitting on a bench looking at the frescos and murals trying to take in the exquisite detail.
Once inside the museum, for someone who had no idea what a chasuble was only last week it was rare treat to see two gorgeous examples on display. Sadly, no photos are allowed and postcards of the cathedral and exhibits are almost non-existent. I did however manage to take some of the external features but unfortunately I am unable to download them whilst in Iran. However, I have found a photo gallery and I think you’ll agree that it is beautiful.
Well it really doesn’t seem two minutes since we were saying our goodbyes to the family and heading home from Iran last October. Now, I’m packing again and getting anxious about the journey.
Packing is so much easier now that I know what to expect, and hurray for Wallis who have yet again provided me with my perfect Anglo/Iranian wardrobe; long sleeves, long lines, and fabulous printed flowing fabrics that I know I can wear here or there quite comfortably. Wonderful! I also popped into my favourite scarf shop in Nottingham today and treated myself to a new scarf! Very decadent but it is gorgeous.
Over the next 2 days I need to keep myself busy and try not to think about the 6-hour flight to Tehran. Flying and me do not mix and I get very anxious with claustrophobia and the general feeling of being out of control which can lead to aggressive behaviour and panic attacks (brown paper bag always on hand) The Valium is also packed and I am just hoping for a smooth flight.
Esfahan is the nearest city to where we live and it has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. How lucky that it is only a 20 minute drive away. I fell in love with Esfahan at first sight and I was amazed by its stunning beauty the likes of which I have never seen. Here are a few of the sights I can look forward to;
This time round I really want to visit the Armenian Christian cathedral as it looks spectacular and strangely not out of place in a predominantly Moslem country. However, I reserve final judgement until I have seen it for myself.
So there we are two days to go until we travel and I need to wrap presents, pack my case, paint my nails and generally get ready for part 2 of my Iranian adventures. I just wish I’d been more diligent with my Farsi 😦 but I’ll get by!
I look forward to sharing my experiences with you all over the next couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy them too.
Esfahan is Feri’s home-city and I have heard so much about this place that I felt that I could make my way round blindfold. That was of course before I encountered Iranian driving. I have read books about Esfahan, looked it up on the internet, watched videos and listened avidly to Feri’s stories and descriptions about the wonderful sites, culture and the history of Esfahan from way back when.
I had been looking forward to my first visit for quite a while, but nothing prepared me for the sight which greeted me as we entered the world-famous Maydan Imam, the main square. There are not enough superlatives in my vocabulary to describe my first experience of this view. Suffice to say I was blown-away by its sheer size, beauty and proud impact. For once in my life I was speechless.
These huge gardens are 500m by 160m and are now landscaped with trees, bushes, flower beds, and magnificent fountains. Coupled with the wonderful back-drops of the fascinating Ali Qapu Palace, the highly decorated blue mosaic Imam and Sheikh Lotfollah mosques, and the“bazaar”, it is a sight that everyone should see for themselves.
There are so many attractions in Esfahan that we will need 5-6 mornings to cover the main ones. On my first visit we only managed a visit to the Ali Qapu Palace, parts of the “Bazaar, the last remaining traditional tea house in the square and to finish off, a ride round the square in a pony and trap (Doroshkeh) which cost us the grand total of £2.80.
The palace of Ali Qapu was constructed around 1600 and, when you consider that this was 400 years ago, the technology and art-work must have been far ahead of its time. My favourite points of interest, of which there were many, were the Music Room and the original tile staircases.
Tiles-I cannot believe that with the number of visitors treading up and down these steps every day that no effort has yet been made to protect the beautiful ceramic tiles which are being gradually worn down and would, without intervention, erode completely. I understand however, that there is an Act currently being discussed in Parliament to provide some protective covering for the tiles so that this important artistic history is retained for generations to come. I vote “yes please and soon”.
Music Room-You could call this technology one of the earliest Dolby stereo systems but at 400 years old, that may be hard to believe unless you see it for yourself. The Palace itself is four stories high and the musician’s quarters were on the ground floor. The Shah however, sat on a platform on the higher floor listening to the music whilst watching parades and celebrations in the square. So how was this achieved without blaring out music at uncomfortable decibels? The music travelled from the ground floor up to the Shah’s music room by way of hollow columns which was then transmitted around the room by the hollow acoustic carvings in the plaster. Truly an amazing achievement and many more to come…..