Esfahan – Iran’s ethnical diverse Mosaic City host of multiple world heritage sites

A mere hour’s flight south from Tehran, a visit to Esfahan could alone justify a trip to Iran.

It is hard to say whether the city’s immense charm lies in its aquamarine-tiled mosques and elegant gardens and palaces; in its location at the foot of the snow-capped Zagros mountains and along the curve of the Zayandeh river with its fairytale arched bridges; in its unique, majestic urban plaza and its evocative bazaar; or, year-round clear blue skies. Winters here are crisp and cool, summers sizzling, and spring balmy.

Undoubtedly the most elegant city in Iran, Esfahan was the Persian capital for a hundred-year period from 1588, when it flourished under the rule of the arts-loving despot Shah Abbas I. Traditionally a crossroads for international trade and diplomacy, the city has never ceased to wow visitors.

Isfahan Naghsh-e Jahan

Naqsh-e Jahan Square

However, Esfahan is more than a living, breathing work of art: it is an industrial supremo, a modern, cosmopolitan city, with a population of over 1.5 million. Ethnically diverse – the Christian and Jewish minority live alongside the Muslims in peace – the streets are alive with the irrepressible vitality of its youthful residents. Whether you strike up a conversation with a local, lose yourself in the winding alleys of the old quarter or relax in one of the city’s cosy teahouses, you too will fall under Esfahan’s spell. Esfahan Naghsh-e Jahan 2_HQ Esfahan Naghsh-e Jahan 3_HQ

What to do First stop has to be Naqsh-e Jahan Square, in the centre of town. Begun in 1602 and originally used as a polo ground, it’s one of the world’s largest – beating Russia’s Red Square – and is now a Unesco world heritage site.

The grassy fountain-filled courtyard is the perfect spot for people-watching, a picnic or simply soaking up the splendid monuments that surround it, such as the massive Imam Mosque complex. Adjacent to the Imam Mosque is the more intimate Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque – its intricately tiled dome never fails to mesmerise visitors.

https://i0.wp.com/persepolis.free.fr/iran/history/images/aliqapu.jpg

Ali Qapu Palace

Opposite it, is the Ali Qapu Palace, one time roost of the Safavid rulers, and at the far end is the entrance to the Grand Bazaar. It, like the covered arcade that runs around the square, is your best bet for booty: miniature paintings, decorative tiles, enamel vases and plates, jewellery, carpets, clothes and accessories – from colourful scarves, to fake designer handbags, rupushes, a type of long coat, and hijabs – as well as nuts and sweets. The city is famous for gaz, a type of nougat.

Chehel Sotoon

Chehel Sotun

Drag yourself away, if you can for another opportunity to savour high Persian culture in the form of Chehel Sotun Palace, with its mirror work, pillared hall and landscaped gardens, now filled with gaggles of friendly students. Conveniently, it’s also in the vicinity of the Museum of Contemporary Art, which exhibits works by both local and international artists.

Vank Cathedral

Don’t forget to check out Jolfa, the Armenian quarter, south of the Zayandeh River. It’s dotted with churches, including Vank Cathedral which is famous for its striking religious tableaux. Whatever you do, be sure to take a sunset stroll along the banks of the river to the striking Khaju bridge, a discreet haunt for courting couples.

khawju bridge isfahan1

Khaju bridge

Ararat Armenian Sports Club and it’s stars

the Ararat Armenian Sports Club. Vanak is home to a high concentration of Armenians; half of the approximately 80,000 Armenians in Iran live in Tehran, and most of those Tehrani Armenians live within Vanak and its orbit.

The Ararat Armenian Sports Club predates the Revolution and predates Reza Shah Pahlavi.

The Sports Club is home to FC Ararat Tehran, a borderline-defunct soccer club that produced two heroes of Iranians, Armenians, and of course Armenian-Iranians. Andranik Eskandarian played for two years at Ararat before moving onto Taj (now Esteghlal due to yet another Revolution-necessitated makeover) as a stalwart defender. His national teams won the 1968, ‘72, and ‘76 and went to the country’s first World Cup in 1978. Andranik would later move to the United States to play for a legendary New York Cosmos side. A generation later, Andranik Teymourian would play youth ball for Ararat before moving on to Bolton in the English Premier League and one of the most iconic images from the 2006 World Cup: Teymourian collapes after Iran’s game against Angola

Someone like Teymourian can be a hero for Iranians of all religions without a hint of conflict.

The situation of Armenians (and other Christians) in Iran is of course far more normal than prevailing Western discourse may have an outside observer understand. Armenians have different treatment from most Iranians, with special privileges to consume pork, alcohol, and having Sundays off work that Muslims do not enjoy. But they are still effusively Iranian. Surp Khatch, for example, was built in part to memorialize the thousands of Armenian service members killed in the Iran-Iraq War. When Teymourian crosses himself before a match, his countrymen cheer this act as the mark of a pious Iranian.

Unfortunately, these days Ararat FC is far from its glory days. The team last competed in Iran’s top league in the 1995-1996 season.

http://ajammc.com/2012/12/01/towards-an-armenian-iranian-modern-tehran-church-architecture-post-revolutionary-soccer-culture/

About famous Armenian churches in Iran and Armenian Iranians in general

One of the finest examples of Iranian architecture in the neighborhood is an Armenian chapel, Surp Khatch.

Surp Khatch Chapel - Tehran Iran

Surp Khatch Chapel holds a peculiar significance within Armenian-Iranian life. There are dozens of Armenian churches within Iran, mostly in Tehran and the western provinces. Vank in New Julfa deserves special recognition, of course, for its role as the heart of the Isfahani community, brought to Persia by Shah Abbas I in the 17th century.

Vank Cathedral - New Julfa, Isfahan

The Prelacy – the bureaucratic head of the Armenian Church in Iran – makes its home in Saint Sarkis, a church that dates back to 1970.

Saint Sarkis Apostolic Church - Tehran, Iran

Armenian-Iranian architecture, particularly Surp Khatch, fits comfortably within the Iranian modernist idiom. The situation of Armenians (and other Christians) in Iran is of course far more normal than prevailing Western discourse may have an outside observer understand. Armenians have different treatment from most Iranians, with special privileges to consume pork, alcohol, and having Sundays off that Muslims do not enjoy. But they are still effusively Iranian. Surp Khatch, for example, was built in part to memorialize the thousands of Armenian service members killed in the Iran-Iraq War. When Teymourian (popular Armenian Iranian football star) crosses himself before a match, his countrymen cheer this act as the mark of a pious Iranian.

The negotiating of political space for religious minorities in an explicitly Islamic Republic is an ongoing political issue that is going strong on its fourth decade. But political concerns hardly frame daily life; Armenians and other religious minorities in Iran generally name their primary concerns as drug use and a rapidly deteriorating economy. The communities’ problems aren’t necessarily their status as minorities, but the general problems that stem from being Iranian. Indeed, minorities in Iran are well-integrated not only socially and culturally but politically as well. There are five Armenians in Parliament (compared to four Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, three Jews, and two Zoroastrians in the 290-seat Majlis). There are also Armenian observers to the Expediency Council and the Guardian Council.

http://ajammc.com/2012/12/01/towards-an-armenian-iranian-modern-tehran-church-architecture-post-revolutionary-soccer-culture/

Jewish Australian Ben Winsor: Truth about Iran – Facts that may surprise westerners

mosque in iran

Isfahan Iran, Naghsh-e Jahan Square

Since the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis of 1979, Iran has had antagonistic relations with the U.S. and other Western nations, with little official communication between heads of state, fierce rhetoric on opposing sides, and increasing sanctions.

Given this history, it’s not surprising that many Westerners fail to appreciate ways in which Iran is a relatively advanced and even liberal state.

It certainly took me by surprise when I traveled there last year.

A Positive Opinion Of Westerners

Opinion polls show the majority of Iranians hold a favorable opinion of Americans, making Iran second only to Israel as the most supportive country in the Middle East.

To travel as a Westerner in Iran is to be routinely stopped on the street and welcomed by curious and generous strangers. You will be given cool drinks, invited to parties, and offered free tours of anything nearby.

Young Iranians get their hands on iPhones despite the sanctions, use VPN software to hack past their regime’s ban on Facebook, and watch American TV shows and movies online.

As reported in The Atlantic, a clear majority of Iranians want the current Iranian–U.S. nuclear talks to succeed. If talks fail, however, many expect that moderates like the current president would lose power to religious hardliners.
[…]
Related articles: http://theotheriran.com/tag/foreigners-in-iran/

Better Gender Equality Than Some Countries

Unlike in Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally, women in Iran have the right to vote, drive, and travel alone. Women have served in parliament and in cabinet, though they are banned from running in presidential elections, and they attend universities, though some have restricted them from taking certain courses.

The issue of women’s rights highlights the conflict between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani — who is on the more moderate end of the country’s religious-conservative ruling clique — and the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

On International Women’s Day in April, Rouhani spoke live on television and criticized those who consider women a threat, saying Iran had “a long way to go” and that he “will not accept the culture of sexual discrimination.”

Iranian mother, daughter and some christmas trees

Iranian mother, daughter and some christmas trees

Articles on Iranian women: http://theotheriran.com/tag/women/

Birth Control

After the Iran–Iraq war, when focus shifted from conflict to the economy in 1988, the same Ayatollah who legalized sex-changes issued a ruling making birth control free and widely available. He was convinced a high birth-rate would be bad for the economy.

With family planning sessions provided to all newlyweds, the birth-rate fell more than half, allowing parents to invest more in their children’s education and giving women the chance to gain ground in the workforce. More than 60% of Iranian university students are now women, with numbers even higher in some science and engineering courses, the BBC reported.

An American Ally?

Iran has found itself partially aligned with the West in fighting groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan, and jihadists in Iraq and Syria.

After 9/11, Iran supported overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan and assisted NATO with strategy and the formation of a new government.

Iran also had no great love for Iraq’s regime, having fought a brutal war against Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. Backed by the Reagan Administration at the time, Hussein used sarin gas and other chemical weapons  on thousands of Iranian soldiers.

The dynamic changed in 2013, however, when Iranians elected President Rouhani, a reformist who has staked his presidency on mending ties with America.

Iranian policy in Iraq has now also refocused with the rise of Sunni ISIS jihadists. Iran worries that ISIS is destabilizing the region and jeopardizing the current pro-Iranian governments in Iraq and Syria.

Kurds battling ISIS in northern Iraq report that Iran was the first country to respond when they requested support.

Related articles: http://theotheriran.com/tag/usa/

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-truth-about-iran-2014-9#ixzz3GW9CEQAj

Blog recommendation: American woman backpacking in Iran

Read the blog and enjoy Silvia’s descriptions and pictures. Here are the links to the posts on Iran:

http://www.heartmybackpack.com/blog/backpacking-solo-through-iran/

http://www.heartmybackpack.com/blog/kafka-cigarettes-tehran/

http://www.heartmybackpack.com/blog/isfahan-iran/

If you are lazy just read some quotes here and go to the links to enjoy the pictures:

“I mean, Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, hosts thirteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and boasts beautiful landscapes stretching from dense rain forests to snowcapped mountains to desert basins. Plus, so many travelers whom I met in Central Asia absolutely raved about Iran. The hospitable people, delicious food and historic sites – how could I not add Iran to my travel itinerary?”

“My first Couchsurfing hosts in Tehran, a young Ph.D. student and her roommate, said they were so excited to be hosting an American girl, and that they hope more tourists will start to come to Iran. They were incredibly warm and welcoming hosts, cooking delicious Persian food and asking me countless questions about Norway and the U.S. and foreigners’ impressions of Iran.”

“The thing is, I haven’t felt alone once since I landed in Iran. The receptionist at my first hotel took me in as her daughter, accompanying me to breakfast and lunch and suggesting sites for me to visit, my Couchsurfing hosts were like cool older sisters, chatting with me about religion and politics as well as the plot twists of Lost and J-Lo’s divorce (I’m so out of touch), and Rana truly has adopted me as her sister, with an invitation to lunch turning into a trip to visit Esfahan and then several days with her family in Tehran.”

“So far my experience in Iran has only been one of warmth and hospitality, and really, really amazing food! Though, in a few hours Rana and I are heading to Marivan, a small Kurdish city on the border to Iraq. So you know, maybe I’ll have some more eventful things to share from there! (Kidding, family, Kurdistan is of course totally safe.)”

“My stay in Tehran was far too short and left much of the city unexplored, but I did leave with an overwhelming crush on a city so full of life and passion. Shopkeepers greeted me with warmth (if also a degree of surprise), and the discussions I had with people there were always filled with genuine interest and reflection. ”

“While now a bustling modern city, Isfahan was once one of the largest cities in the world as it sat on a major intersection of the main north-south and east-west  routes crossing Iran. We seemed to stumble on reminders of Isfahan’s past glory around every corner, from impressive squares and tree-lined boulevards to covered bridges, palaces and mosques.”

“Moreover, while Isfahan might be dominated by Islamic architecture, the city is also home to important Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian sites. Rana and I visited the Church of Saint Joseph of Arimathea, built by an Armenian community that settled in Isfahan in the early 1600s.”

Ok if you read so far, just make sure to visit the links above

Iranian players handed white roses (a symbol of peace in Iran) to the US players prior to soccer match

American and Iranian team players pose before their historic game at the 1998 World Cup in France, which Iran went on to win 2-1.

The game was an exceptionally fair game and both teams received the fairplay award for the 1998 world cup:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FIFA_Fair_Play_Award

All USA – Iran must read posts on this site: http://theotheriran.com/tag/usa/

Iran’s exceptional reaction to 9/11 attacks: candlelit vigils for the victims and 60k soccer fans respected a minute’s silence

“Iran’s sympathetic response to the American tragedy has been exceptional for a country under US economic siege for two decades. Only hours after the Sept. 11 attack, President Muhammad Khatami condemned it, as did Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Other officials have sent sympathetic messages, including one from the mayor of Tehran to the mayor of New York – the first public official contact between Iran and the US since the 1979 Iranian revolution. […]

More important, 60,000 spectators observed a minute of silence during a soccer match in Iran’s Azadi Stadium, and hundreds of young Iranians held a candle-lit vigil in Tehran.”
Source: The Christian Science Monitor | US and Iran must work together against Taliban by R. K. Ramazani – September 24, 2001

“Iranian women light candles in Tehran’s Mohseni Square in memory of the victims of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC. [see first picture above] […]

Even the most hardline Islamic clerics, who despise the United States, have been shocked into silence by the attacks. President Mohammad Khatami set the tone for Iran’s reaction with a statement that in Persian rang with deep compassion: ‘On behalf of the Iranian people and the Islamic Republic, I denounce the terrorist measures, which led to the killing of defenseless people, and I express my deep sorrow and sympathy with the American people.’ […]

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned the attacks which have been blamed on Saudi-born Osama bin Laden. […]

‘Why should Americans deserve this? That’s a sick thought. They are just ordinary people like us,’ said Massoud Moshiri, as he bought cigarettes at a juice stand.” […]
Source: Times.com | Photoessay | Iran mourns America’s dead – September 18, 2001

“Last week, for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution, there were no chants of ‘death to America’ at weekly Friday prayers around the country, which are controlled by the conservatives. […]

On Tuesday, Ayatollah Khamenei, in his first public remarks on last week’s attacks, markedly failed to brand the United States an enemy. ‘Islam condemns the massacre of defenseless people, whether Muslim or Christian or others, anywhere and by any means,’ he said, adding pointedly: ‘And so Iran condemns any attack on Afghanistan that may lead to another human tragedy.’ […]

On Tuesday, more than than 3,000 mostly young people held a candlelight vigil in Tehran for the victims of the terror attacks, closely watched by security forces.

One reformist member of Parliament, Ahmad Borghani, even went to the United States interest section at the Swiss Embassy on Tuesday with a wreath of white flowers to sign the memorial book in sympathy with the family’s of the victims. ‘This tragedy has brought the two countries closer,’ he said. ‘But the United States must not expect Iran to cooperate in a military attack — considering our past relations.’
Source: The New York Times | World | A NATION CHALLENGED: TEHRAN; Iran Softens Tone Against the United States by Nazila Fathi – September 21, 2001

“IRAN — President Mohammad Khatami condemned ‘terrorist’ attacks on the United States”
Source: The New York Times | US | Reaction from around the world – September 12, 2001

“Leaders of Middle Eastern nations, including U.S. foes Libya and Iran, have condemned the terror attacks on the U.S. […] Mohammad Khatami, the Iranian president, said he felt ‘deep regret and sympathy with the victims.’ ”
Source: CNN.com | World | Attacks draw mixed response in Mideast – September 12, 2001

“Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, a moderate who is struggling for power against the country’s hard-line Islamic leaders, expressed ‘deep regret and sympathy with the victims’ and said ‘it is an international duty to try to undermine terrorism.’ ”
Source: FoxNews.com – September 12, 2001

“And in Iran, Tehran’s main football stadium observed an unprecedented minute’s silence in sympathy with the victims. Iran’s Ayatollah Imami Kashani spoke of a catastrophic act of terrorism which could only be condemned by all Muslims, adding the whole world should mobilise against terrorism.”
Source: BBC News | World | Americas | Islamic world deplores US losses – September 14, 2001

“Even in Tehran, where anti-American chants are all too common, thousands of people attending a World Cup qualifying match between Bahrain and Iran observed a moment of silence.”
Source: The New York Times | US | AFTER THE ATTACKS: THE VIGILS; Surrounded by Grief, People Around the World Pause and Turn to Prayer by Dan Barry – September 15, 2001

“In Iran, antipathy toward the United States was set aside as 60,000 spectators and players observed a minute of silence at the Tehran soccer stadium before a World Cup qualifying match.”
Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal | REACTION ABROAD | World grieves along with America by Audrey Woods from Associated Press – September 15, 2001

“Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has strongly condemned the suicide terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. ‘Mass killings of human beings are catastrophic acts which are condemned’ he said ‘wherever they may happen and whoever the perpetrators and the victims may be’. ”
Source: BBC News | World | Middle East | Iran condemns attacks on US – September 17, 2001

“Last week, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran, one of the most conservative and anti-American Muslim clerical leaders, called the fight against terrorism a ‘holy war.’ He joins a host of learned Muslims who have loudly condemned terrorism as forbidden in Islamic law in the wake of the attacks on Sept. 11.”
Source: The New York Times | Opinion | Islam and the opposition to terrorism by Roy Mottahedeh – September 30, 2001

“After news of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks spread to Tehran, hundreds of Iranians, students, merchants and housewives joined in a candlelight vigil in a downtown square. Many were crying. Three weeks later, I am still approached by ordinary Iranians, in restaurants, Internet cafes and on the street, telling me how sorry they are, and how worried they are about the ‘American war’ that is about to begin, just next door.”
Source: NBC News | Inside Iran, a nation conflicted by Jim Maceda – October 7, 2001

“On the evening of September 11, 2001, about two hundred young people gathered in Madar Square, on the north side of Tehran, in a spontaneous candlelight vigil to express sympathy and support for the United States. A second vigil, the next night, was attacked by the basij, a volunteer force of religious vigilantes, and then dispersed by the police. […]

The statement that Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s popularly elected President, made was extraordinary — extraordinary to American ears, at least. ‘My deep sympathy goes out to the American nation, particularly those who have suffered from the attacks and also the families of the victims,’ he said. ‘Terrorism is doomed, and the international community should stem it and take effective measures in a bid to eradicate it.’ ”
Source: The New Yorker | Letter from Tehran | Shadow Land by Joe Klein – February 18, 2002

“Iranian Students are calling for pro-american demonstrations, marking 9/11
A Public Call For Rememberance of the 9/11 Tragedy […]
Now, with the first anniversary of 9/11 tragedy upon us, as SMCCDI expresses its sympathy to the families of the victims and survivors of that ungodly event, and the honorable nation of America; it invites all free spirited Iranians to honor the memory of the victims of that day by gathering and lighting a candle in front of the main entrance of the Tehran university and major public squares in Tehran, and the main squares in other cities and townships, from 6:00 PM till 9:00 PM, on Wednesday 11 September.”
Source: daneshjoo.org | Post 1873 by SMCCDI Political Committee – September 10, 2002

“Finally, I’ve found a pro-American country. Everywhere I’ve gone in Iran, with one exception, people have been exceptionally friendly and fulsome in their praise for the United States […]. Iran is also the only Muslim country I know where citizens responded to the 9/11 attacks with a spontaneous candlelight vigil as a show of sympathy. ”
Source: The New York Times | Opinion | OP-ED Columnist: Those Friendly Iranians by Nicholas D. Kristof – May 5, 2004

“Ordinary Iranians have long had a softer stance toward the West than their leaders; after the Sept. 11 attacks, Iranians held a spontaneous candlelight vigil in Tehran.”
Source: Chicago Tribune | News | Contenders for Iranian presidency talk up U.S. by Evans Osnos – June 12, 2005

“In Iran, vast crowds turned out on the streets and held candlelit vigils for the victims. Sixty-thousand spectators respected a minute’s silence at Tehran’s football stadium.”
Source: BBC News | Middle East | Iran-US: Gulf of misunderstanding by Gordon Corera – September 25, 2006

“Mourners held a spontaneous candlelight vigil as thousands of people took to the streets of north Tehran chanting, ‘Death to terrorists.’ Iranian soccer fans observed a minute of silence before a match with Bahrain. Even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned the attacks: ‘Mass killing is wrong, whether it’s in Hiroshima, Bosnia, New York, or Washington.’ During Friday prayers at Qom, Ayatollah Ibrahim Amini said that the Iranian people grieved with the relatives of those killed, and the traditional slogan ‘Death to America’ was absent from the crowds’ mantras.
Source: Command Posts | Focus on: 9/11, Iran | After 9/11: The United States and Iran by David Crist – September 11, 2012

“Iranians mourn 9/11 victims”
Sources: shabhaft.blogfa.com | Post 134 and LiveLeak.com | Forgotten fact: night of 9/11, Iran – Spontaneous candlelight vigil to express sympathy and support for the American people

Other must read Iran-USA news: The other Iran | Tag | USA

” 2001/09/11, thousands and thousands Iranians went instantly in the streets with candles in homage to the victims ”
http://news.blogs.cnn.com/category/terrorism/september-11/” iranians mourn 9/11 victims ”
http://shabhaft.blogfa.com/post-134.aspx” Iranian Students are calling for pro-american demonstrations, marking 9/11 ”
http://daneshjoo.org/article/publish/printer_1873.shtml
Read more at http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=44b_1359356589&comments=1#DDqQZ5dOfJ70MPYf.99
” 2001/09/11, thousands and thousands Iranians went instantly in the streets with candles in homage to the victims ”
http://news.blogs.cnn.com/category/terrorism/september-11/” iranians mourn 9/11 victims ”
http://shabhaft.blogfa.com/post-134.aspx” Iranian Students are calling for pro-american demonstrations, marking 9/11 ”
http://daneshjoo.org/article/publish/printer_1873.shtml
Read more at http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=44b_1359356589&comments=1#DDqQZ5dOfJ70MPYf.99In Iran, vast crowds turned out on the streets and held candlelit vigils for the victims. Sixty-thousand spectators respected a minute’s silence at Tehran’s football stadium. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5377914.stm