Isfahan Attractions: My Trip to a Persian Empire Capital

As I described in my Tehran post, my arrival by bus in Isfahan didn’t get off to a good start. My fantastic homestay.com host met me at Isfahan bus station and, from that point onwards, my time in the city became significantly better.

First, some history. The Persian Empire comprised of a number of dynasties from the Achaemenids in 550BC up to the Qajars in the 20th century. Isfahan was capital of the Safavid dynasty from 1598 to 1736. The majority of the sites listed here date from Isfahan’s time as capital.

NAQSH-E JAHAN SQUARE AREA 

My hosts welcomed me into their beautiful home in central Isfahan. Tea and chat followed as did a suggestion to visit the Isfahan attractions by night. I took up the offer and we found ourselves in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Naqsh-e Jahan Square, one of many Isfahan attractions I found myself visiting over the next day.

Naqsh-e Jahan Square Isfahan by night

Naqsh-e Jahan Square by night. I don’t normally include pictures of myself in posts but my homestay host was a much better night photographer than I was.

Dating back to the 17th century, this is one of the largest squares in the world and one of the most photographed places in Iran.

Naqsh-e Jahan Square by day Isfahan

Naqsh-e Jahan Square by day

The buildings surrounding the square are shaped in traditional arches which house shops and restaurants. A dusk visit is recommended as the arches are lit up while the setting of the sun behind the mountains is the perfect backdrop. The perimeter of the square is used for horse-drawn carriage trips, skaters and cyclists. The square itself wasn’t very well lit so we had to thread carefully.

Market around Naqsh-e Jahan Square Isfahan

Market around Naqsh-e Jahan Square

If you see a photo of an Iranian mosque with an exterior mosaic of blue tiles then it’s probably Masjed-e Shah. Also dating back to the 17th century, this mosque is located at the southern end of Naqsh-e Jahan square in a large complex that I didn’t get to see all, reluctant to disturb the prayer service being held.

Masjed-e Shah exterior Isfahan

The ornate entrance into Masjed-e Shah on Naqsh-e Jahan Square

At the east side of Naqsh-e Jahan square is Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfallah and is locally known as the women’s mosque. Despite the scaffolding on the dome I found this to be one of the prettiest buildings in Isfahan.

Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfallah Isfahan

Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfallah on Naqsh-e Jahan Square

If you haven’t noticed already, the Farsi word for mosque is Masjed.

ISFAHAN’S BRIDGES 

The other well-known Isfahan attractions are its elaborate bridges over the Zayandeh River. The two most famous and, according to locals, most beautiful are the Si-o-Seh Pol and Pol-e Khaju. Pol is the Farsi word for bridge. They are also great places to chat with locals who consider them hang-out zones.

To get to Si-o-Seh Pol from the centre of Isfahan, I walked south down the Ostandari Street and Bagh-e Goldaste Street. From the moment I arrived I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the pedestrian bridge and its 33 arches. The bridge dates back to the 16th century.

Si-o-Seh Pol Bridge Isfahan

Si-o-Seh Pol

The walk east along the riverbank promenade from to Si-o-Seh Pol to Pol-e Khaju was beautiful. I saw a whole host of groups doing activities including exercising, playing games, having picnics, reading and painting to name a few.

As soon as Pol-e Khaju came into sight, my camera went into overdrive. Shorter but more ornate than Si-o-Seh, Khaju bridge was exquisite. Anchor towers are found on either side of the bridge and in the middle. On the steps leading down to the water sat groups of friends, lovers and people writing.

Pol-e Khaju Bridge Isfahan

Pol-e Khaju

In between the arches young men were singing, their fine voices magnified by the arches’ acoustics. Despite the crowds and the noise of the water travelling through the arches I discovered it be the perfect place to write up my diary.

Pol-e Khaju Bridge arches Isfahan

In between the arches of Pol-e Khaju

OTHER ISFAHAN ATTRACTIONS 

Masjed-e Jameh mosque in the north of the city was recommend by locals for the absence of tourists. But that was the problem. I wasn’t sure what parts of the complex I was allowed into. Service appeared to be taking place so I decided not to linger. The outside of the complex was not as decorative as the previously mentioned mosques but I’ve been informed that the inner courtyard is glorious. Masjed-e Jameh is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Some people recommended Chehel Sotoon Palace while others recommended Hasht Behesht Palace. With my limited time, I regretfully had to jettison plans to see these palaces as Naqsh-e Jahan Square and the bridges were my priority. Chehel Sotoon is one of the Persian Gardens designated a UNESCO World Heritage site so regretted not visiting.

Excerpts from the Quran near Chehel Sotoon Palace

Excerpts from the Quran near Chehel Sotoon Palace

ISFAHAN TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

Where to stay in Isfahan: The homestay I stayed in was by far my best accommodation experience in Iran. It was located within 500 metres of Naqsh-e Jahan Square. homestay.com was the site I used and, as it’s an Irish company, it is not subject to US sanctions (Airbnb is). However, I couldn’t access the homestay.com site in Iran without a VPN.

Isfahan is the third largest city in Iran. It has a one-line metro system which runs near the areas described above. In order to walk to these sites, stay within a 2km radius of Naqsh-e Jahan Square.

Getting to Isfahan: I travelled from Tehran by bus and you can read about that in my Things to do in Tehran post.

Iran landscape

The landscape on the road from Tehran to Esfahan

Getting around Isfahan: I walked as all the sites on my wish-list were within walking distance. I also used the Snapp app for longer distances within the city. Snapp is the Iranian equivalent of Uber.

Moving onwards from Isfahan: The next stop on my Iran trip was Yazd and I travelled there by VIP bus from Kaveh bus station in the north of Isfahan. My homestay host booked the ticket so I presented the reference number at terminal and paid. I cannot remember the price but it was cheaper than the Tehran – Isfahan ticket. Unlike the Tehran bus experience, the personnel here were pleasant.

Other observations: I noticed that many businesses in Isfahan closed in the afternoon. Those around Naqsh-e Jahan Square never seemed to close.

For further Iran travel tips check out my Solo Female Travel in Iran post.

Isfahan Travel

 

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