A Tour of Isfahan (August 2003), Part II

Here is a glimpse into the artistic beauty of an intricate culture. It ranges from the minute to the expansive.

Peering through the grillwork from one mosque to another, one looks out onto the Imam Square.We were told it is the second largest square in the world. (The largest is Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and the third largest is Red Square in Moscow). It is surrounded on all sides by some of the most precious architectural treasures in the world. It was a symbolic center over centuries and was used for holding festivals, markets, and games of polo. The original goal posts from the Shah Abbas ((17th century) Polo Games are still present at each end. Today it is still is a center of bustling activity, where artists and craftspeople at the enormous 'Great Bazaar' are working and selling their products, and sellers of crafts from all of Iran gather their wares for display and purchase. People stroll through the markets, and picnic on the huge lawnns.

The afternoon of our arrival, having been properly refreshed, and checked into our hotel, we began to explore, with our tour guide, hired by IPM, this fascinating world. He spoke in a poetic language of his own, often reciting his own poetry in two languages (English and Farsi). He explained the architecture in terms of the human body, and was intent on giving us as complete experience of Isfahan as could possibly be had in two days.

He gradually wove our way through the intricate paths through the Jameh mosque. The second and third photos show parts constructed in the 8th century.

Minute details like tiny flowers grew huge gardens of intricate patterns.

Hardly able to catch our breath, we were off to the 'Shaking Minarets', where we had to rush up the stairs of Abu Abdollah's tomb to put ourselves in the hands of the 'Official Minaret Shaker.' Friday, being the last day of the week and always a holiday, we were amidst hundreds of other tourists, mainly from other parts of Iran who stood on the top of the building too. Every hour the 'shaker' demonstrated how if he jumps into one of the towers and rocks hard, back and forth the other tower, and the whole building will shake too. The reason for this is debatable.

We were then, no sooner down the stairs, and thinking about a nap, than we were off to the fascinating 2,500 year old Zorastrian fire temple ruins. Zorastianism was the main religion in Iran until the Arabs brought Islam. It was one of the first religions to postulate an all powerful, invisible god, and kept fires 'eternally' burning in their temples. As tired as we were, we wished we had time to climb up and get closer to the top, but our tour guide had something else on his list.

It was to show us a present day, active, Zorastrian temple in Isfahan. There are still 80,000 practicing Zoroastrians in Iran. Iranians are proud of their 'minority religions' and told us that there were also active Christian churches, and Jewish temples in Isfahan.

Our guide conducted the service and made sure everyone was dressed appropriately. For once, Kathy looked more normal than anyone else.

We went for a very late lunch at 'Nikan Restaurant and Cafe Shop'and had a buffet 'salad bar' assortment of eggplant, salads and melon. We certainly did not feel like we needed any of the exercise equipment being advertised!

By this time, it had gotten dark! And we went to the vast and beautiful courtyard gardens of the Abbasi Hotel for tea. Fountains, and lights and a 'romantic' atmosphere filled the air. There were hundreds of people lounging and talking and being served tea.

This is how tea is served. There are very thin slices of citron sugar and sugar cubes. Often people put them in their mouths and drink the tea through them.. We liked it plain. You can see a bit of Kathy's journal in this photo (that's the book she is always carrying around) which is an interesting document of the trip.

We were very tired but happy at the end of this day. Remember, it began with a plane trip! Next to Rick is our friend mathematician Carsten Thomassen, from Denmark, one of the other 'keynote' speakers.

We'll see you tomorrow!

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