When the Safavid dynasty came to power in the 16th century they established their capital in various places before finally settling on Esfahan (or Isfahan, or Ispahan). Here, they set about building a fine city, worthy of the name Capital of the Persian Empire. They used to say "Esfahan nesf-e jahan" - Esfahan is half the world, an indication of how they perceived their own realm.
Their legacy is a sight to behold: several great mosques, including Jameh Mosque, one of the biggest in the country, with elements from Mongol, Turkic and Persian cultures; Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, with its fabulously decorated domed ceiling (the background image of this blog); and the Shah Mosque (called Imam Mosque since the revolution), beautifully decorated in blue-tiled mosaics. These are the most remarkable among many mosques in the city.
But it wasn't all about piety for the Safavids. They also built palaces to display their wealth, gardens with fountains and artificial streams for pleasure, and the fine Si-o-seh Bridge with its 33 arches to cross the Zayendeh River (completely dry in summer).
Many people in the street stopped us to ask where we were from and to welcome us to Iran. Most were genuinely pleased just to have visitors, but a few had ulterior motives. "It's so nice to see you! Come and have tea in my carpet shop." We did visit one carpet shop and saw some beautiful pieces. The prices are negotiable, and I got one guy down to half his asking price. I didn't buy; it was just practice. Maybe in Shiraz.
Although we're in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan (here, they say Ramazan), we could still get food and during the day in the restaurants and cafés of international hotels. But no alcohol! One waiter told us he could get us a bottle, but it would be expensive. For example, €100 for a bottle of cognac. We declined.
A trip to the Zoroastrian fire temple just outside the town rounded off our visit to Esfahan. Now we're off to the town with the biggest Zoroastrian population on the country, Yazd.