Initially, Isfahan was meant to be the main element on our itinerary in Iran. Although it offers a number of historical and architectural attractions, the overall visual impression was not breathtaking, probably due to the time of the year and the poor guiding service.
Accommodation – Abbasi Hotel
When choosing the hotel we were driven by similar factors as in Tehran i.e. we wanted something spectacular and very comfortable. This is how we arrived at Abbasi which has official 5-stars-category. The price was cheaper than in Tehran (150 euro for double room), however the class of the hotel was also lower despite the same official category.
Abbasi is located in the city center, within short walking distance from Imam Square. All other attractions except of the Vank Cathedral and the Christian District can be reached within walking distance too. Unlike in Tehran, numerous shops and restaurants are located in close proximity of the hotel.
We were impressed by the lobby and its imperial design and by the garden which can be entered directly from the lobby. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm decreased after having seen the room. It was clean, however the equipment and furniture were quite basic and partly tired thus recalling hotels for foreigners in communist countries in 1980s rather than the top hotel property.
Breakfast was OK but not more. The brown liquid available at coffee machine was Nescafé. Similarly to hotel in Tehran, wifi was only existing in theory.
Imam Square and Chehel Sotoun
Our guide picked us up from the hotel in the morning and we walked along the Amadegah Street while passing by Theological School on our right. Then we turned right into Chahar Bagh e Abbasi Street which was introduced to us as Iranian equivalent of the Barcelona’s Ramblas. Honestly, I did not see any similarities except of the walking strip between two driving lanes . We passed by the Golden Market and a small coffee shop (the best coffee we ever tried in Iran) and we got to Chehel Sotoun park with the palace of 40 columns. Actually, the palace has only 20 columns in front of it. However, they bounce in the water thus doubling their number.
From Chehel Sotoun we crossed the parks of Art University and we entered Imam Square through the Western gate. Well, when we arrived there the first impression was “is it really this place”? After having seen hundreds of pictures online, all of them taken from certain perspective and during favourable weather conditions we got a bit disappointed.
Imam Square is the historical place surrounded by the market place and several architectural monuments. However, the square itself was designed to become the contemporary leisure/ greenery area which clearly contrast against the historical spirit of the surrounding buildings. In my opinion, the place should be re-arranged in order to create the unity with the architectural substance of the historical buildings. Otherwise, it results in something which we called in Poland “melted pea and cabbage”.
In the square we took a walk through the corridors of the market place with plenty of shops offering local handicraft. Eventually, after having visited several market places worldwide we experienced a place which was certainly not “made in China”. Most of goods sold in the shops are made locally and make impression of good quality.
We passed by Ali Qapu palace which looks extremely disappointing and we headed towards Imam Mosque or Shah Mosque like it was called almost 40 years ago. This Mosque was the only place in the square which allowed us to feel the touch of history. After having entered the place and after having found ourselves in the courts of the Mosque we could easily imagine how it looked like hundreds of years ago because the place so pristine and remains well protected from the influences of the contemporary outside world.
From Imam Mosque we turned north to reach the gates of Lotfollah Mosque, which we did not enter though. The interesting thing we saw was that Lotfollah Mosque does not have any minarets around it. We asked our guide for explanation. He was quite surprised by the question, he called some friends and he told us that Lotfollah Mosque was built as a private property. Therefore, there was no reason to build minarets to call the population for a prayer.
Between Lotfollah Mosque and the Qeysarie Gate there is the money exchange point which offers the best exchange rate I saw in Iran. Close to this place there is an access to Hafez Street where we found a local tea house where men and women were gathering together at shisha pipes.
After having left Imam Square we took a walk to the neighbourhood of Friday Mosque and we targeted our hotel. On the way to the hotel our guide Reza was socializing a lot with us and he was very convincing in explaining how much he cares about comfort of his tourists. He was repeatedly passing the message on us that he does not belong to all these awful guides who end their job 5 PM. Then, he offered to go together for a dinner to the restaurant where live music is played. We felt like in heaven.
Be careful about the offers of your guide
In the evening he picked us up from hotel and we went to the Christian district on the other side of the river. We ordered the food which was very good, the guide was ordering with us. Then we spent 3 hours in an empty restaurant with a guy playing local songs on his guitar. We were quite surprised that our guide went to the cashier’s desk to pay and 3 minutes later he told us that we have to pay 70 euro for a dinner with traditional music. I got furious. I told him that I don’t want to be ripped off, I gave him 50 euro and he was not happy.
The positive aspect of this “event” was an opportunity to take an evening walk through the Christian district of Isfahan to see the people having fun, sometimes clearly with help of alcohol which must be available there.
On our way back we made an evening walk to the river side (almost no water, the smell was terrible) to see Siosepol Bridge.
Vank Cathedral and the Christian District
The next day we were picked up from the hotel to get to the Christian District and to visit the Vank Cathedral. This is certainly the place to see the history of Iranian Christians and their prosecution by the local authorities, with the most recent one dating back to the times of President Ahmadinejad some 10 years ago when some 5,000 inhabitants of the district left the country.
I truly recommend to see the adjacent museum and its exposition presenting the documents stopping the prosecution of the Christian minority rather than documents implementing the respective prosecution measures.