Esfahan is located about 340 kilometres south of Tehran, on the main north–south and east–west routes crossing Iran, and was once one of the largest cities in the world. It flourished from 1050 to 1722, particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries under the Safavid dynasty, when it became the capital of Persia for the second time in its history.

Even today, the city retains much of its past glory. It is famous for its Persian–Islamic architecture, with many beautiful boulevards, covered bridges, palaces, mosques, and minarets. This led to the Persian proverb "Esfahān nesf-e- jahān ast" (Isfahan is half of the world).

The Naghsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan is one of the largest city squares in the world and an outstanding example of Iranian and Islamic architecture. It has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The city also has a wide variety of historic monuments and is known for its paintings, history and architecture.

The bridges over the river include some of the finest architecture in Isfahan. Included in these is the Si-o-Seh Pol or bridge of 33 arches. Built during the rule of Shah Abbas the Great, it linked Isfahan with the Armenian suburb of New Julfa. It is by far the longest bridge in Isfahan at 295 m .

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Ashura Parades

Due to the incompetence of our local guide in not knowing the times of the parade in the main square, we arrived at the square just as the last group reached the palace viewing point. So we only saw the tail end of what appeared to have been a really impressive parade. In spite of the signs doing down USA, Israel and Saudi Arabia, the occasion was calm and peaceful. Less threatening than the previous day's processions in Kashan, probably because the sun was shining and the action was not taking place in a confined space.

We saw the last group (only males in the parade) go through the ritual self-flagelation, then disperse. Once the parade had finished, the square became a busy scene of families having picnic lunches under the shade of trees and bushes

Everybody was very welcoming towards us, with offers to share food. We stayed here some time just to enjoy the atmosphere

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Ali Qapu Palace

Ali Qapu is a grand palace on the western side of the Naqsh e Jahan Square, opposite to Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, and had been originally designed as a vast portal. It is forty-eight meters high and there are six floors, each accessible by a difficult spiral staircase. On the sixth floor, there is a Music Hall; deep circular niches are found in its walls, having not only aesthetic value, but also acoustic.

The square of Naqsh e Jahan was originally a polo pitch and from the upper galleries of the palace the Safavid ruler watched Chowgan (polo) and horse-racing.

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Armenian Cathedral and Museum

The cathedral is dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of Armenian deportees that were resettled by Shah Abbas I during the Ottoman War of 1603-1618. The varying fortunes and independence of this suburb across the Zayande River and its eclectic mix of European missionaries, mercenaries and travelers can be traced almost chronologically in the cathedral's combination of building styles and contrasts in its external and internal architectural treatment.

The construction is believed to have begun in 1606 by the first arrivals, and completed with major alterations to design between 1655 and 1664 under the supervision of Archbishop David. The cathedral consists of a domed sanctuary, much like an Iranian mosque, but with the significant addition of a semi-octagonal apse and raised chancel usually seen in western churches. The cathedral's exteriors are in relatively modern brickwork and are exceptionally plain compared to its elaborately decorated interior.

The courtyard contains a large freestanding belfry towering over the graves of both Orthodox and Protestant Christians. A tile work plaque inscribed in Armenian can be seen by the entrance to the cathedral. Graves are also placed along the exterior wall before the entrance, with inscriptions in Armenian. In one corner of the courtyard, there is a raised area with a memorial to the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Turkey. Across the courtyard and facing the cathedral, there is a building housing a library and museum. Outside of this building are several carved stones showing scenes from the Bible.

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Abbasi Hotel

This is a well positioned 5 star hotel with a wonderful central courtyard. The main rooms look down over the courtyard, and are, I assume magnificent. The rub is that they have added on a 3 star annex to expand their market. You walk miles to get to the annex which is in another courtyard. The rooms here are smaller and ours looked over the street and building debris. On balance the TripAdvisor reviews are negative on this hotel, I assume the tour operators who put their clients up in the annex don't think that the clients will be smart enough to notice that they are second class travellers in third class rooms

The main courtyard is superb. Various antique and carpet shops, an ice cream shop (which quite bizarrely did not open till 16.30) , and a cafe. Plus lots of room to just sit - we had to sit here in fact because the wifi did not stretch to our second rate room. There are three places you can eat, but they are, as you would expect, expensive - one of them is a buffet. We had this, and although the quantity was there, the quality was not not.

Breakfast was excellent - once you had cracked the system on how to get a decent cup of fresh coffee - a tip for you: find the queue and that leads you to the coffee.

We walked to the main square from here - about 15 minutes, and to the old bridge (about 10 minute)

So a very good 5 star hotel, as long as you avoid the 3 star annex. I would stay here again only if I got a proper room in the main part of the hotel, over looking the courtyard

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Arc A Restaurant

This is apparently the old Armenian Club, which is now an up market restaurant. It it close to the Armenian Church, and a good venue for a lunch break as you wander round the old town. The restaurant is a vast interior courtyard, It has decent table settings and cutlery. The design and décor are very good. Make sure you sit under one of the many sun umbrellas, as the noonday sun can be very hot They serve an interesting selection of non-alcoholic cocktails - remember this is Iran. The food is "International" and is a more interesting choice than you get in most Iranian restaurants Yes it is bit more expensive that many local restaurants, but nevertheless is good value for money. I would recommend that you stop there for a meal, I certainly will if I am in Esfahan again

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Miniature Paintings

There is a long history of miniature painting in Esfahan. Today there are about a dozen small shops selling miniatures on camel bone. It is a bit "touristy" but is not high pressure selling, and I was very impressed by the craftsmanship. The owner of the shop we were in knocked out an excellent little miniature of an imam, as a gift for Emma, in a couple of minutes

As well as the paintings there were also little jewel boxes. The painting is done with very fine camel hair brushes, the finest being only one hair

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Cafe Spadana

Let us be clear, this is a coffee shop and not a restaurant. They serve a nice selection of home made cakes and biscuits as well as coffees. You will find it in a beautiful courtyard just off the Imam Square Souq near Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque. There is a coffee shop, and the tables are in the courtyard itself. The courtyard has a sort of mini garden in the centre, and is surrounded by shops. It is very busy and an ideal place to people watch

I had no problem with the quality of the coffee, I really enjoyed it, and I thought that the cakes were very good too. The service was friendly, and we enjoyed our coffee and cake here.

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Restaurant Shahrzad

Forever remembered amongst us for its Chicken with Pomegranate Sauce, the cause of many tummy troubles. And if anyone wants to know what this culinary delight looks like, it is in the last photograph below - bon appetit.

This is a big, and popular, restaurant, near the old bridge. It seemed to be crammed with large tour groups, and so there is a lot of noise. One could not call it atmospheric The food is very middle of the road, and is certainly not gourmet. Chris and some others suffered a runny tummy after eating here, which did not help my perception of the place.

Service is not good, bordering on the indifferent. I assume because they get such vast crowds every day, they, the waiters, are rushed off their feet So my summation is that this is a large tourist restaurant serving mass tourist food. I personally would not recommend it, and would not go back there myself

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From Esfahan we flew the next day to Tabriz, via Tehran

On to next town - Tabriz

Back to Overall Itinerary for Silk Road Trip 2016