When one talks about Esfahan, many would ask, where? There are two groups of the people in the world, the people that know about the city, and the crowd that does not. Esfahan used to be the capital of the Persian Empire, one of the biggest powers in the world, and an important industrial city of the contemporary Islamic Republic of Iran.
For those that have spent days looking through books, they know that Esfahan has one of the highest historical values in the world. After all, Naqsh-e-Jahan Square was named a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the great Persian Shah Abbas had dined in 40th Column Palace with ambassadors far from Africa, Far East, and Europe.
Nevertheless, history has long been lost since the Revolution. Not many people outside of the Middle East know about the city for a simple reason: the Islamic Republic of Iran is still a rebellious destination for the brave. Its reputation as a manipulated state comes from the notorious terrorist groups, missiles, wars, Russia, among other scary terms, whose accusations are largely debatable, that would easily scare off a normal visitor.
I stumbled into Esfahan on a short excursion in Iran last Christmas, as I was bored of the forever ski holiday in Europe. I decided to do something different and visit somewhere with no Christmas. From that trip, I had an ongoing romance with a native Persian man for months. Since then, I have frequently visited Iran and started uncovering its mysterious beauty in depth with my Eastern-Western eyes.
WHERE TO VISIT IN ESFAHAN?
Situated in the centre of Esfahan, Naqsh-e-Jahan is a stunning must-see square-garden. Locals spent time chilling, while tourists, many of which were professional photographers, lowered their body to the ground to capture the next big shot of the Shah Mosque with sunset. One may get easily pestered by the locals wishing to take photos with the tourists. Do always haggle with the taxi guys, who tend to line up outside of the square.
CHEHEL SOTOUN (40TH COLUMN PALACE)
The old place where the great Shah Abbas welcomed ambassadors from around the world still shines brightly today. Inside the palace, there are vivid wall paintings of wars and peace. Visitors can see the grand wars against the Indians and the luxurious parties hosted with the Ottoman heirs. Shah Abbas has taken refugee of many Ottoman heirs, who had fled their own empire due to cruel power fight.
The old royal bridge has now opened its path to the pedestrians. One of the iconic two bridges, parallel to Shi-o-She Po, Khaju Bridge used to allow important people to walk above the pedestrians below. Featuring an elevated platform smartly connecting waters across its two sides, the water-preservation project today is a romantic site for couples to walk by. On the two sides of the bridge, visitors can see two lion eyes reflecting the lights from the other side. Ballads and singers tend to group together and chant through the night.
WHERE TO EAT IN ESFAHAN?
The Safavid House is a reconstructed building from an old residential house of Safavid Empire, the strongest dynasty Persians ever had. My partner took me to this historical house for a winter date. They have a pleasant garden, where visitors and diners can look at the stars, eat authentic Persian food, and warm up their hands with the fireplace.
This café is not the real Hermes café, but it is a luxury café carrying the French name. The café has multiple chains scattered around the city. I often stay at the Joffa one. The café offers fresh Western food, whose salads have saved my life as a vegetarian in the meat-loving Esfahan.
Sharzad Restaurant and Toranj Restaurant are also great restaurants to enjoy upper-scale Persian food in a nice environment. Sharzad is a place locals go for good food. Toranj has guest musicians over for performances in the evenings.
WHERE TO STAY IN ESFAHAN?
There are many good places to stay in Esfahan. For higher end, many people recommend the Viana Hotel or the Ghasr Monshi Hotel. For those more on a budget or looking for a social place, my friend runs the Rag Rug Hostel, which is now one of the most renowned hostels in Iran. While there are no AirBnBs in Iran, there are several guesthouses including the Tak-Taku Guesthouse and Kianpour’s Historical Residence.
PERSIAN STYLE AND AFTERMATH
This picture came from my second day on my first expedition to Esfahan featuring my travel style, which is modest with quiet chicness. I later learned that Persian girls rarely wrap their whole head in the scarf. Instead, they always put a hijab on the sides of the shoulder.
Similarly, I have also explored more of Persian fashion, which is topped with luxury items and fresh colour, on later expeditions, shopping, and Instagram following of prominent Persian fashion leaders. Persian fashion style is itself a blend of modern boho and pursuit of class. It is itself a system of style.
Before venturing into Iran, I was scared as I had heard too many bad things about the country. Even though I had already gathered enough traveling experiences and living in various places, I had barely heard any good news about this mysterious country. After visiting Esfahan, my world has expanded dramatically.
Years of segregation from the world allows Iran to manage its own fashion, food, cultures, ideas, philosophy. In a way, it is one of the last countries with relatively modern facility yet such distinctive stories from the worlds we are used to live, whether it is the democratic Western ideal or the attractive Eastern destinations.
You can watch my video on Esfahan here.
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