Day 64: The other half of half the world
Esfahan Travel Blog› entry 90 of 260 › view all entries
June 8th, 2010 – by: Biedjee
When I posted I was going to Iran on the Couch Surfing forum, I was contacted by an Iranian guy, Alirezza, who studies in Holland, who would be visiting his parents in Esfahan during the summer. We had kept in touch and not entirely coincidentally we visited Esfahan at the same time. For the next two nights I would be staying with him at his parents' house.
He came to pick me up from the hostel in the morning and Michael joined us for some more sightseeing. Alirezza had been away from his hometown for a year, so he was happy to show us around town. Since he had a car, we decided to visit the two major sights which lie outside the centre of Esfahan.
The first stop was at the famous “Shaking Minarets”, the Manar Jomban. These are the minarets on the 14th century tomb of Abu Abdullah, which have the peculiar characteristic that they start swaying back and forth when pushed hard (which is done by an attendant on the hour). Sounds great, no? Well, not really. Iranians love the sight, but honestly it wasn't worth the trip. We were glad that we had come here by car and not travelled the 7 km by bicycle as was the original plan.
Watching the reaction of the crowd was more interesting than the shaking minarets themselves. It proved our earlier theory that things Iranians like aren't necessarily interesting for Western tourists (and vice versa).
More interesting was the ruin of a 3rd century Sassanian firetemple.
We went back to the centre to visit the southern end of Naqsh-e Jahan square, the part which we had not visited yesterday. Here we visited the stunning Sheikh Lotfallah mosque, a unique mosque in that it has neither a courtyard nor a minaret.
Next to the Sheikh Lotfallah stands the Imam Mosque, the grand mosque overlooking the square. This mosque is the opposite of Sheikh Lotfallah with four minarets, several portals and a large courtyard (covered by ugly canvas sun shades).
One particularly cool gimmick in this mosque is the echo under the main dome. The double layer of the dome creates a loud echo when you clap your hands or stamp your feet in the middle of the dome. Apparently up to 49 echoes have been measured (though only 12 are audible by the human ear).
The last building we visited at the square was the Ali Qapu Palace, the former residence of Shah Abbas I. At the time it was considered the largest palace ever built in any capital, though it is obvious that the French traveller John Chardin, who claimed this, had never visited the Potala Palace in Tibet.
Another palace lies nearby, Chehel Sotun Palace, which translates as '40 columns'. However, only 20 wooden columns are present at the front of the palace, the name refers to the reflection in the pool in front of the palace (if the sunlight is right, which it wasn't, hence no photo).
What was particularly interesting here were the frescoes depicting several scenes of human indulgence that adorn the walls and ceilings of this summer home. This is quite rare considering Islam forbids any depiction of living beings in art.
We ended the day with a nice chay and qalyan in a tea-house at the square. Unlike the one where we sat yesterday, this one is tucked away in a basement in a little alley, almost impossible to find. There are two separate entrances, one for men and one for women and couples. The couples can sit and socialise in a separate room, away from prying eyes. The interior of the tea house is stunningly ugly, with a huge collection of pots and pans and weapons and whatnot. For some reason photographs were not allowed, but we snapped a few anyway.
In the evening Ali took me to a party over at his friend's house. Mixed parties, socialising, alcohol and dancing are illegal in Iran, so obviously there was a lot of all of that going on.
As I knew from earlier 'parties' over at Araz' house in Tehran, Iranians can't handle their drink very well, and after a few shots of decidedly foul vodka several of the men started expressing deep brotherly love for one another and toasting to eternal friendship.
Michael came over as well. He was staying with another couch surfer tonight, but he didn't want to miss this party. It was a great night. In between the drinking and alcohol talk we had some very interesting conversations with the people. One particularly touching story was one of the girls who told about her father who got injured in the Iraq-Iran war. He is now bound to a wheelchair and can't work any more. From the government he receives zero benefits or compensation. At the same time the government uses the images of men who died, erm, got martyred in the war as propaganda all around the country. Everywhere you go you see the faces of the men who “were martyred for the Islamic republic”, up to the point where most people actually hate these faces even more than they hate the government.
I met so many great people in Iran. I discussed this with Michael, if we had recorded all the conversations we had with the people we met, we would have had a fantastic documentary on our hands. This country would be a paradise for journalists and documentary makers (which is probably the reason why they are not allowed in this country).
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