There is a saying in Persian, “Agar Lahoor na bood, Isphahan nisf-e-jahan bood,” meaning if there was no Lahore (Pakistan), Isphahan would have been half of the world. I don’t know how far this saying is true, but those who haves seen Lahore, the show case of Mugul architecture, and then visited Isphahan, would be able to correlate the cultural and architectural richness of both the cities.
I heard this saying from my landlord when I had gone to Tehran, Iran for a yearlong study stint. Being a Lahorite, this saying promoted me to visit the nisf-e-jahan on the first available opportunity. So when our college was closed for a week on a mid tern break, I dumped my family into our Saipa (the Iranian version of Renault) and headed towards Isphahan.
Isphahan, located some 340 kilometeres south of Tehran, is the second largest city of Iran and was at its peak of development during the 11-17th centuries. The city is famous for its Islamic architecture with the Persian blend, besides beautiful mosques, palaces, bridges, gardens, monuments (dating back to 1000 BC) and bazaars.
The road was not very good, but the excitement to see nisf-e-jahan made it meaningless for us. When we reached the city, we found it very friendly and attractive, the same way when a visitor enters Lahore. We booked ourselves in a hotel and immediately went out for sightseeing.
Since it was about evening, we dashed to the Pol-e- See-o-say (33 arched bridge – bottom left above) on the Zayandeh Rood (Zayandeh River – river in Persian is called Rood). And believe me one is spellbound to see this beautiful scene when the sun is setting and the lights under the arches are switched on. We sat on one bank and kept watching the reflections of the bridge and its lights in the river for almost an hour – awe stricken. I cannot really do justice by explain the site, nor would a photograph of the bridge. You got to be there to see it for yourself. Beside Pol-e-See-o-say, there are ten more bridges on the river including Pol-e-Jolbee, Pol-e-Khajoo and Pol-e-Shehrestan. Although we also visited Pole-e-Khajoo, we found Pol-e-see-o-say to be more beautiful and a marvel of architecture.
Next day, we visited the Naghsh-e-Jahan Square, and spent almost our entire day there. The square is said to be the biggest square in the world and its magnitude stands true to this fact. It is a rectangular square, if I remember correctly, with a complex of mosques towards east, “Imarat-e-Ali Qapoo” – the building of Ali Qapoo to its opposite and a huge bazaar on its third end, where once you enter, you are lost into a unique world for as long as you are inside it. There are shops of every size and shape, selling traditional Persian rugs, carpets, jewelry, utensils, decoration pieces and lots of eatables. “Gaz” is one of the famous sweet dishes of Isphahan, rich in pistachio and almond kernels and saffron. One, who misses to eat this, loses an opportunity of having tasted a heavenly thing. We bought tins of rounded Gaz, besides eating many there. We also had the famous Beryooni (made from minced mutton and lungs and eaten with a special bread) for out lunch under the shade outside the bazaar from a small shop. It was very tasty. One can have a ride on the horse driven carriages around the square.
We also went up the Ali Qapoo building (top left above), located to the west of the square opposite to the grand Sheikh Lutf Ullah mosque, by climbing its narrow stairs. The seven storied building provides a panoramic view of the square. The building has seven floors and the beauty of the architecture is that each story is accessed by a different set of stairs. We could not go to the grand Sheick Lutf Ullah mosque (top right above) as it was closed for maintenance. The buildings around the square are a true reflective of Persian and Islamic architecture and the entire complex has been included as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
On the third and last day in Isphahan, we went to see the Chehl Satoon (Forty Pillars) Palace (bottom right above). This is a beautiful pavilion in the middle of a lush green park, decorated with countless colourful flowers. In the olden days of the kings, the pavilion was a venue for princely receptions. Our next destination was the Chaharbagh (Four Gardens). Unfortunately, we went at a time when the venue was closed. I made repeated requests to the watchman there that we had come from Pakistan and that that was our last day in the city and we be allowed in. But he wasn’t impressed and did not allow us entry. So we missed the place, which is said the motivation for building the Champs Elysees of Paris. The four gardens are spread in a six kilometres long corridor like shape connecting the north and south of Isphahan. Due to shortage of time, we also missed a beautiful Hasht Behest (eight Heavens) Palace and Abbasi Hotel.
We left Isphahan with a very heavy heart as there was much more to be seen. I wish I had time to see this beautiful city in all its grandeur and might. And let me confess it really is nisf-e-jahan.