My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Friday, 23 December 2016

Iran: A Persian Odyssey - the bridges of Esfahan and more

Esfahan sculpture
Esfahan October 2016. The street cleaners are out early – The Iranians do keep their towns spotless – and after the many family picnics which happen everywhere nothing is left behind. I do wish I could say the same in the UK.
Esfahan beats hands down any other city I have ever visited. It is so beautiful with so much to see.
the 40 column palace

battle painting in main hall Chehel Sotun

Imagine twenty 16m high richly decorated columns reflected as in a mirror in the perfectly still waters below them, creating the illusion of there being 40 not 20 columns. After a wonderful breakfast at the Abbasi - claimed to be the best hotel in Iran and easy to see why - this is where we are off to in our coach; the Chehel Sotun  - or 40 columns - the most important surviving Safavid (1501 - 1736) pavilion - and what a sight. 

The painting and gilding of the columns has long since faded, they are no longer hung with curtains scented with rose water, but the overall beauty of the place is still there. The huge battle paintings in the main hall and the exterior murals are all worthy of some detailed study, some dramatic, some very beautiful. Here the Safavid rulers received their foreign envoys and Shah Soleyman was invested in 1668.
beautiful Persian carpets

a display of carpet styles through the ages

No visit to Esfahan could possibly be complete without a visit to a carpet factory – where we see some very beautiful carpets and learn much about the different designs through the ages, about knotting and warps and the dyes used – arrowroot, asparagus, saffron, pomegranate skins, onion skins, cochineal, rose madder (Rubia tinctorum the madder plant).

the Khajou Bridge with octagonal kiosk

The Zayandehrood River flows through Esfahan - or rather it used to. Today it is a very wide and dried up river bed with a row of colourful but forlorn redundant paddle boats lining the bank and locals wondering across its vast expanse. Ten years ago locals swam in it, and it was the centre of social life in the city on balmy summer evenings. Thanks to drought, claims of mismanagement
and increasing population demands it is now a sorry sight. Long gone are the cafes but the gardens remain. Photos to be found online show how very beautiful it must have all looked when the water was in full flow. It seems doubtful if the water will ever return and the city's water supply could be in crisis.
panoramic view of Khajou Bridge
We visit two of the pedestrian bridges here – first the Khaju Bridge with 24 arches, a central octagonal kiosk and guarded by a stone lion, a tomb stone probably of a local champion wrestler. 

Se-o-se Pol or 33 arch bridge

The second bridge, the 33 arches bridge or Se-o-se Pol – with its legendary link to the age of Jesus Christ when he died and the idea that we will all be 33 in heaven, is 360m long, 14m wide, on two levels and with high walls which were designed to protect the camel trains from the potential buffeting of winds on the otherwise exposed trip across the river.
We then hear that the Bosnian president is visiting the city today – in our hotel apparently, so all the city sights have been closed without warning and we were lucky to see Chehel Sotun before it closed to the public. Many other tour groups have not been so lucky. So we have to rethink the itinerary for today.

redundant paddle boats  on dry river - relics of a happier time
no hubble bubbles allowed in park
Lunch is at the Azadi hotel – the inevitable soup starter is said to be the very best the group had tasted – the flat bread was very nice and fresh – with the usual salad plate – then trout, or chicken or meat kebabs – how the Iranians love their kebabs! I thought the veggie option was very good, made of split lentils and potato cubes in a spicy and tasty tomato sauce – until I found three chicken lumps. Our guide complained and they brought a new bowl – but I swear that all they had done was take another scoop out of the same stew taking more care to exclude any chicken lumps! No dessert, tea or coffee – probably because we are now off to the mountain above the city for the view and a tea/coffee served from our coach surrounded by local picnickers. 
locals enjoy a picnic above the city

We climb up above the car park to see splendid views of the city – and young men smoke hubble bubbles under the trees on the shady terraces.
We cannot make our planned visit to the mosque today because of the President of Bosnia visit – most of us opt to go back to the hotel – I fancy some quiet time enjoying the total peace and beauty of the hotel grounds. There is very bad traffic congestion because of the presidential visit– street cleaners in high viz vests travel the city on bikes and motor bikes with besom brooms cleaning the streets where they see the need. And this isn’t just for the President – the streets are always kept clean here. This puts us to shame in England.

our picnic cakes

my veggie supper at Abbasi was delicious
Some of the group are dropped off at the bazaar and make their own way back in time for supper. Back at the hotel I stroll across the road to the shopping mall opposite which gets a guidebook mention – but I am disappointed – it seems to be mostly bookshops. The Chehelsotoun Hall (or 40 column) restaurant at the Abbasi Hotel is a wonderful setting with its paintings, gilding, mirrors and plaster moulding – below the upper breakfast room. 

This was my very best veggie meal of the trip so far – with mixed vegetables, roasted, courgettes, aubergine, peppers, onion, spinach, sweet corn, peas – all beautifully arranged and delicious. A high quality crème caramel completes a satisfying meal.

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