On a beautifully warm and sunny mid-morning Feri and I walked along the Chahar Bagh (Persian: “Four Gardens”) and into a park. What struck me immediately was how very green everywhere was. The trees and the grass were a vivid and verdant green which only comes from copious watering. Gardeners bearing hosepipes make sure that the Bagh-e-Bolbol (“Garden of the Nightingale”) is kept well-watered and the lawns and flower beds full of smiling pansies in full bloom were immaculate.
A marble pool filled with crystal clear water sits in front of the Hasht Behesht ( “Eight Paradises”) palace and the fountains spout cascades of water all the time whilst gentlemen abandon their bicycles and sit round on benches telling stories all the time rolling strings of prayer beads in the palms of their hands.
It is a peaceful and calming place and just as beautiful as the Hasht Behest pavillion which opens onto the gardens and draws visitors into its rooms.
Sadly, the upper story is closed due to restoration work but there is enough beauty to admire in the ground floor octagonal rooms without having to climb upstairs and it will be something to look forward to when we return.
After an interesting visit to the old Jewish Synagogue and Cemetery we made our way to the shrine of Pir Bakran, a Sufi saint and mystic who died in 1303 and after which this small town is named. On arrival the gates were locked, but the phone number of the guardian was posted on the inside gates. We called the number and within 5 minutes the guardian arrived on his motorbike.
The shrine is noted for the stucco work which is particularly ornate and it’s amazing to think how long ago these carvings were done. The mihrab and entrance doors are fine examples of the famous stucco and I hate to think how long it took for the craftsmen to complete them. The shrine is also famous for the surviving Kufic script which, when written in blocks as it is here, looks very much like a maze.
As Pir Bakran’s fame spread, so the building in which he preached was extended to accommodate the increasing number of followers who came to listen to him and several rooms were added. From the outside the shrine looks like it is a 4-story building but in fact it is only 2 storys high which is reminiscent of the Ali Qapu Palace in Esfahan which appears to be 7 storys high but is only 4. This is no coincidence as the architect and project manager of the Ali Qapu Palace was inspired by Pir Bakran’s shrine design and carvings 200 years later and some of the designs are reproduced in the royal Palace.
One of the rooms has a circular area carved out of the floor where apparently Pir Bakran used to sit and meditate for up to 40 days at a time eating and drinking nothing and surviving only by touching sacred stones which provided him with the sustenance he needed to see him through these lonely periods.
In an adjacent room Pir Bakran’s tomb, together with that of the shrine’s architect Mohammad Naghash rest side by side covered in green cloth.
The guardian was extremely helpful and very knowledgeable and again, this site is well worth a visit if history, Persian culture, architecture and design are what interest you. Unless you speak Farsi however, it is advisable to travel with a Farsi speaker who is able to ring the guardian and ensure that you get the most out of your visit. You won’t be disappointed.
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…..