A Tour of Isfahan (August 2003), Part I

After the conference, we were taken by our hosts, the IPM, to Isfahan, an incredibly beautiful historical city a 40 minute plane ride south of Tehran. Flying over arid stretches, we were suddenly thrilled by lush foliage and watery places. It was something like arriving in California.... But turquoise domes peeked through the trees.

The province of Isfahan is located in the central part of Iran, and the city of Isfahan is in its center, 415 km south of Tehran. It traces its history back 2,500 years. 'Shah Abbas the Great' chose the city as his capital in 1598. He had it rebuilt with magnificent bridges, avenues, gardens, and a royal palace.

Here is the view from our hotel room:

The bridge that you see is the 'Si-o-Se Pol' or 'the bridge of 32 arches'. It is longest of the many bridges over the Zayandeh river which flows majestically through the heart of the city. The bridge is lit and alive with activity late into the night.

Beneath the bridge, on hot summer days, a different world opens up.

Besides resting, it is a place for a slower walk than the top bridge, and vendors and musicians share the space.

Wading in the cool waters is made easier with these wading steps from the lower bridge into the river

And by riverside, lined with elm, pine, cedar and willow, the picnics continue through the day, and late into the cooler nights.

There was a curious, well kept, and artistic monument in sight of the bridge. We asked what it was. We were surprised to hear that it was the tomb of an American couple who had lived in Iran for forty years, studying the art, and documenting it in books and articles. When they died in 1969, their will requested that they be buried in sight of that beautiful bridge that they loved.

This is the view from the tomb.

When we arrived from the airport, our tour guide rushed us to the local 'gymnasium'. It was perfect timing, he said, because on Fridays at 11:30 am, the event begins! We were ushered into tiered seats in an incredibly decorated atmosphere, to witness the surprising session. It was 'traditional exercise', accompanied by one dramatic musician perched above it all (with amplification) who pounded and lead the chanting of the men. Kathy was the only woman present. One of the exercises consisted of hopping and spinning for as long as possible.

Another was the swinging and juggling of weighted clubs! This was always accompanied by the chanting of poetry, and the music of the drummer. The elders, in the background, were given acknowledgement for their past acheivements, and were often nodded to by performers before their solos. We were told that the oldest, 90 years old, had practiced until a year ago.

After two hours of this, we were justifiably impressed, thirsty, hungry and exhausted. We were taken for lunch to one of the finest restaurants of Isfahan, Sharzad. Here we were had two familiar delicious dishes of Iran. One was lamb kabobs. They are served both as chunks and as minced, nicely spiced lamb, which is even more succulent. The other was chicken with walnut pomegranate sauce, a stew like mixture that was luscious. Cold sodas, bottled water, and non-alcholic beer refreshed us, and the beautiful decor gave us only a hint of what was to come.

Intricate, incredible worlds of artwork awaited us. Here is just the gateway to one of those worlds, the beautiful Imam Mosque.

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