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Exploring

CLASSICAL PERSIA

The Jewels of Islam's Crown and top five cities: Esfahan, Shiraz, Yazd, Teheran and Tabriz

Could Iran be the friendliest country on earth?

 

During our first visit, this old Persian empire didn’t fail to get under our skin. As wide-eyed first-timer’s we fell instantly in love with the warm-hearted people, legendary hospitality, bombastic nature, and signature Islamic architecture and art – single handedly, all of these are reasons enough to visit.

 

Now, as frequent visitors, we are still amazed, and when bumping into other world travelers during our many journeys we can always identify people with a common passion for Iran by their shiny eyes and big smiles as the question is mentioned: "Have you been to Iran?"

Location: Iran, during 2 months

This page is dedicated to what we coin as Classical Persia with a focus on the five main cities: Esfahan, Shiraz & Persepolis, Yazd, Teheran, and Tabriz – and a focus on portraying the Iranian people. We uncover several of the old, magical silk road cities and bazars and some of the most beautiful architecture on the planet. As mentioned, Iran's greatest attraction could just be its people.

Actually, we've seen much more of Iran - a really is vast country. Comprising the size of the UK, France, Spain, Italy and Switzerland all combined, it is a land of great contrasts, physically, climatically and culturally.

 

We've traveled in the North, mostly off-the-beaten-track, from Iranian Azerbaijan to Tehran along Jolfa, Tabriz, Mausuleh, Kandovan, Zanjan, Lahijan and Rasth. Many of these places were part of the old Silk Road (see our 'Hippy Trail I' site for more info). We've travled in the West in the Kurdish regions (see our 'Kurdistan' site on Iranian Kurdistan). We've seen the Central and Sourthern parts from Qom and Kashan, over Esfahan, Shahr-e Kord, Na'in, Tabas, Kharnaq, Yazd, Chak Chak, Meybod and Garmeh to Bandar Abbas, Minab and Zahedan. Along the way we've explored several historic sites, including Ardalan, Kizerun, Bishapur, Persepolis and Parsargadae, while also spending time in the Dast-e Kavir desert and the Lut desert, Iran's two largest deserts, with charming oasis villages and sand castles (see our 'Hippy Trail II' site for more info on these parts). Oh, and finally,  we’ve also been exploring the Gulf and the Sea of Oman, marking Iran’s southern limits (see our 'Persian Gulf' site for more info), and we've also climbed climbed 'Damavand', the highest mountain in the Middle East.

 

Being a nation made up of numerous ethnic groups and influenced over thousands of years by Greek, Arab, Turkic and Mongol occupiers, history has put is mark on the endlessly welcoming Iranians. It is impossible to return even from a short visit without being compelled to consider your own stance on kindness and generosity.

Selected pics from this encounter:

Welcome to Esfahan!
Welcome to Esfahan!

Pretty girl in the Shahrestan area of Esfahan. Today, about 1.5 million live here. Back in the 1600s it had the same size of London with about 600.000 inhabitants.

Masjid-i Imam at Maydan Imam square, Esfahan
Masjid-i Imam at Maydan Imam square, Esfahan

Since ancient times, the sheer scale of Esfahan and the beauty of its buildings had amazed most foreign visitors who marvelled at the turquoise domes and the dramatic minarets. It is said to be three times the size of St Mark's Square, Venice. Now the square has lawns and fountains, but it was once a royal parade ground where tje sjajs watched military exercises, wrestling bouts and polo matches. The mosque is some of the most impressive mosaic tilework on earth.

Another shot of Masjid-i Imam, Esfahan
Another shot of Masjid-i Imam, Esfahan

In 1598, Esfahans fortunes changed for the good and the town planning began immediately with the construction of the Chahar Bagh gards and the the main square with its royal buildings and mosques. In 1660, Esfahan had 162 mosques, 1802 caravanserais, 48 colleges and 273 public baths to serve around 600.000 people.

View of the peacock entrance to Masjid-i Imam, Esfahan
View of the peacock entrance to Masjid-i Imam, Esfahan

Is this the best mosaic tilework in the world? Through the great silver doors of 1636, an inside country yard is set at a 45 degrees angle necessary for the correct direction toward Mecca. Walking slowly around the mosque allowed us to see the astonishing range i the tile colouring and patterns on the walls, vaults and side domes. The peacock motifs on the entrance also feature at the Ardabil and Mashhad shrines.

Masjid-i Jami of Esfahan; "Isfahan is half the world"...
Masjid-i Jami of Esfahan; "Isfahan is half the world"...

...is a known proverb globally, and it could be taken to imply that the city is home to a large number of historic monuments, which is exactly the case. It is impossible to do justice to them all.

The coffee-coloured portal of the Masjid-i Shaykh Lotfallah, Esfahan
The coffee-coloured portal of the Masjid-i Shaykh Lotfallah, Esfahan

Named after a famous preacher, this mosque functioned as the mosque for the ladies of the royal harem.

Quaisariyeh bazzar of Esfahan
Quaisariyeh bazzar of Esfahan

Esfahan fell to the Arab Muslims in 643 and quickly gained a reputation for its textiles. Even today its bazaars are loaded with carpets and other texitle products. Besides textile, the bazaar has many more shops, including a couple selling the famous Isfahani gaz nougat.

Khaju bridge and Zayande river dried out
Khaju bridge and Zayande river dried out

Esfahan is actually quite famous for its river and its many beautiful bridges. The picture shows Khaju Bridge. In august however the river was completely dry.

Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Propoganda inside Qaisariyeh bazaar in Esfahan
Propoganda inside Qaisariyeh bazaar in Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan bazar, Iran
Esfahan bazar, Iran

He tried to speak English as he had once been in England before the 1979 revolution in Iran where the shah left and the country went from open to closed under Khomeini.

Armenian Jolfa bazar
Armenian Jolfa bazar
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Ice cream? Esfahan
Ice cream? Esfahan

This guy covered the front-page of the 4th edition of Lonely Planet on Iran , and he was very proud to let us know.

Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Esfahan
Goodnye Esfahan - see you another time!
Goodnye Esfahan - see you another time!

The main bazaar

Tomb of Hafiz, Shiraz
Tomb of Hafiz, Shiraz

Most overlanders come to Shriaz to visit nearby Persepolis, but Shiraz itself is quite nice with several gardens, citrus trees and pools.

Bazaar in Shiraz, Iran
Bazaar in Shiraz, Iran

The bazar is similar to what you will find in Esfahan or Tehran, but the caravanserai in the middle of town is superb.

Bazaar in Shiraz
Bazaar in Shiraz