By Svetlana Baghawan
Every city in the world has a character of its own which is reflected in everything it has to offer and is seen in its heritage, natural beauty, culture, food etc. From ancient times, it has been told that if you have seen Isfahan, you have seen half the world. Architecturally a wonder, artistically stunning, naturally blessed with abundance of flowers and trees and delightful weather, Isfahan is the choicest jewel in the glittering crown of Iran. The third largest city in Iran, Isfahan is well-planned with clean, wide, tree-lined roads, efficient transport system, picturesque bridges, parks, modern shops, restaurants and all facilities. Roses and cypresses grow out of wilderness and bedeck the city streets like colourful garlands and infuse the air with their heady fragrance. The city highlights are the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Chehel Sotoun, Jame Atigh Mosque and Khajou Bridge. Since ancient times, the city was famous far and wide for its beautiful palaces and mosques and their architectural genius and spectacular blue mosaic and tilework which were commissioned by the powerful dynasties who ruled from here. The Chehel Sotoun with 20 columned porticos, lovely wall paintings and a flower filled park makes an enchanting visit.
The Naqsh-e Jahan Square which is the second largest square in the world is a charming fairy-tale place busy with fountains, flowers, horse-carriages, ancient bazaars with age-old handicraft shops and Ali Qapu Palace, Sheikh Lutf Allah Mosque and Masjid-e-Imam. A climb up the colourful tile-lined stairs of the thousand years old Ali Qapu Palace reveal cleverly concealed floors within floors, fountain on the third storey and music-hall with hollow carving on the ceiling for perfect acoustics. The Masjid-e-Imam was a congregational mosque again famous for its size, architectural wonders, ornate tile and mosaic work and the natural surround sound system the prayer dome produces, which used to facilitate the masses far-off to hear the Imam's prayers in ancient times. It amazes you with the sheer power of its size and drowns you in a sea of blue opulence. Sheikh Lutf Allah Mosque on the other hand, is like poetry, perfectly fluid with its intricate blue floral mosaic and calligraphy designs and golden fan tailed peacock dome.
Ishfahan is living art and even the local food represents the same. The ancient Naqsh-e Jahan Restaurant which is in the old market area in the square is a perfect resting place for weary awestruck visitors. Relax in comfortable couches, soak in the stained glass and crystal ambience and try the house specialty dizi. It is a lamb stew with peas, beans, potatoes accompanied with freshly baked sesame bread, salad, pickled olives, freshly peeled young onion, sour orange slices and glasses of flavoured yoghurt drink called douk. Like the rest of the city, eating dizi is also an art. The waiter first strains the stock and grinds it in a traditional mortar. Then he places the ground stock on a plate and pools the broth in the middle and flavours it with sour orange juice. Scoop it up with a portion of bread, with a spoonful of olives and few slivers of onion and enjoy a feast fit for a king. You can also try gaz, the almond scattered chewy yoghurt candy. Exploring the Jame Atigh Mosque is like standing in history. Present since 512 BC, first as a Zoroastrian fire temple and later converted into a mosque, the high clay bricked vaulted ceilings, beautiful porticos with their exquisite honeycomb designs and the remains of the ancient columns stamped by their artists surrounds you with an overwhelming sense of peace. The love with which the artists patiently created it over centuries strikes you from every stamp marked. Shopping for blue enamel work, Persian carpets, calico-work in the old market is exciting and good bargaining skills surprise you with really good deals. As you unwind by the Zayandeh River and watch the panorama of the lit up Khajou Bridge at dusk, you truly feel the tangibility of a masterpiece being created yet once again in the beautiful city of Isfahan.