Isfahan, half of the world
“Hello! Are you a football player?” This one too, I heard it several times before, but in Ispahan we broke all the records! I was asked this question several times a day! After visiting Tehran, I went to Isfahan, in the middle of the country. Isfahan means “half of the world”. I did my research to understand the origin of this name because we hear various things. From what I was told, Isfahan is called “half of the world” because all the historical eras (read dynasties) are gathered in the city.
I heard a lot of good things regarding Isfahan, many times I heard that it was a wonderful city, that I absolutely had to go. And honestly, I wasn’t disappointed at all. We’re not in a big city anymore with cars everywhere like in Tehran (although there’s still some traffic). But here, I have to say, I was astounded. This is where I told myself “I really feel like I’m walking in the setting of One Thousand and One Nights“.
A few years ago, I went to the westcoast of the US and it me made think a lot of the video game GTA San Andreas. And here, I really felt like I was walking around in the setting of the first Prince of Persia (the video game), or Aladdin. Because carpets and magic lamps, you see a LOT of them in the city! An Iranian guy told me that Isfahan is THE city in Iran known for its high-quality carpets, it’s cultural. I don’t know shit about carpets, but indeed I saw a lot of guys selling carpets. Apparently some carpets are worth thousands of euros and have an average lifespan of several decades.
Isfahan is known for its culture of business, of bargaining. Shops everywhere in the streets for hundreds of meters (bazaar, cheap jewelry…), some guys trying to sell you their carpets, stray cats (but no dogs)… Less traffic than in Tehran, but quite a few motorbikes and a lot of cyclists, especially the elderly. Once again, I was told it’s cultural.
I’m still a star, and I’m not gonna lie, it does feel good (the risk is to get used to it). They stare at me a little less than in Tehran. But I get a lot of “Hello!“, “Salam!” in the street, “Welcome to our country! Welcome to Isfahan!“, with big smiles. People ask more often to get a picture with me, especially girls. When I asked if I could get a picture as well, most of them refused. Anyway, when they asked for a picture, it was always done with respect and in a good mood, so that didn’t bother me. I met a black guy in the city, and he came straight to me just to chitchat. He’s also a star, and he’s loving it!
What to visit in Isfahan?
Imam Square is quite simply an unmissable. I think that even if you try to avoid it, it won’t be possible to miss it. Also called Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Imam Square is 400 years old. Its size? 160 metres (520 ft) wide by 560 metres (1,840 ft) long. No traffic at all in this square (a few horse carriages here and there), and it feels good. Isfahan inhabitants meet up here to relax, to picnic, savor an ice cream, take a walk with the family on evenings. This square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On Imam Square, you’ll find the Shah mosque. A very beautiful mosque that you have to visit. Unfortunately, the mosque was under construction during my stay in the city. There was scaffolding on several parts of the mosque. But still, this mosque is still wonderful, and you really have to see it. The entrance fee is 200000 rials (around 4.50 euros). Don’t be fucked over by that guy when you get in who will impose you the audioguide. All right, it’s just 150000 rials (a little bit more than 3 euros), but still! Don’t take it if you don’t want it!
Still on Imam Square, another mosque, the Sheikh Lotfallah mosque. If I had seen this one first, I don’t know if I would have been to the Shah mosque. Although the Sheikh Lotfallah mosque is beautful, it’s a minuscule one. You’ll see all of it in 5 minutes. Once again, it’s 200000 rials (4.50 euros) to get in, and you can pay an extra for an audioguide.
The bazar, that you’ll find around Imam Square, is worth a “visit”. Once again, a lot of shopkeepers next to one another. Get ready, they’ll come to you more than once “just to have a look“, and of course, when you get in the shop, they’ll try to sell you something.
Another one, the Jameh Mosque of Isfahan. This one is beautiful as well (a little less than the Imam mosque in my opinion). And this one was also under construction so it was complicated for the beautiful pictures… Anyway, you can go visit it, just for its beauty.
There’s also a cathedral in Isfahan, Vank cathedral! This cathedral is located in the Armenian district of the city, an area with a lot of Orthodox people. The interior of the cathedral is very beautiful and in the back of the courtyard, there’s a building explaining the Armenian genocide (I briefly talked about it in my post about Yerevan). Documents, paintings, portraits, maps, clothes from that period of time, videos… It’s gut-wrenching. Entrance fee is 200000 rials (4.50 euros).
Isfahan is also known for its bridges. The most famous is Si-o-se-pol but Khaju Bridge also draws people’s attention. There’s also Ali Qoli Aqa, a museum which was a hammam 300 years ago. It wasn’t worth the 180000 rials (4€) I paid. You can skip it…
I really recommend going to Isfahan if you visit Iran. But you don’t need to spend a week there just because it’s Isfahan. Everything is in the same area. 2-3 days are enough.
Info to visit Isfahan
- I wrote an article with a lot of travel tips before going to Iran (money, visa, safety…). Check it out!
- Do not leave home without a travel insurance! You never know what could happen. Anyway, before going through customs, they’ll ask you to show a document proving you’re insured…
- Check my travel resources page to help you getting organized before your trip in Iran.
- You can find cheap flights to Iran on Skyscanner.
- Many websites are blocked in Iran. To use the internet freely, you need a VPN. I use ExpressVPN, fast and efficient. I really recommend it! It allowed me to surf the net freely.
- Isfahan is a wonderful city, but there’s no need to stay there too long.
- Going from one city to another is very easy in Iran. Their bus network is very efficient. From Tehran, I paid 330000 rials (around 7.50 euros). Knowing they put me in a VIP seat (I found out later). So it’s possible to pay less. It was a 6 hours ride.
- I was hosted by Iranians, therefore I can’t give you a nice place to stay.
- If needed, get an Iran travel guide.
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