Iran. Part 10.
Esfahan is famous for its bridges. We crossed the river beneath the Khaju bridge, the swirling water flowing rapidly mere inches below our feet. We traversed the Sharestan where I that’s not I, for once, was rendered speechless when he bumped into a young lady with her Iranian husband and he found out that he knew her parents back home as they lived just down the road from him. It’s a small world..
We visited the imposing Vank cathedral in the Armenian quarter of the city. Much, these days, is made of religious intolerance but here, in what was thought of at the time as a hotbed of Muslim extremism, Christianity had its place and was openly practiced without rebuke or interference. Groups of Iranian schoolchildren listened attentively to their teachers and studiously made notes of what they heard and saw. Occasionally, realising we were tourists and, possibly Christian, our services were enlisted in the interpretation of the stations of the cross or stained glass imagery.
I am not of religious persuasion. None of my family are or were. My grandfather felt closest to the Buddhist ideology and, of all religions, that, perhaps has most merit.
But I am not an atheist. I practice, if that be the word, a spiritual agnosticism. I believe in a higher power, a purpose, a reason but not one that needs a name or solidifying by being given a role or a gender. I simply believe that we are here for a purpose that may never become apparent to us but that we should live our lives being kind or, if not that, at least accepting of others.
Therefore I do not denigrate religion or those who practice it. It’s a matter of choice and belief. I do not want to be persuaded or converted to anything organised and am happy, spiritually as I am. But I find religious monuments and buildings utterly beguiling.
From Egyptian temples, to the mighty pagodas of Burma, to the Jain temples of India and to the Catholic Churches of Mexico, they have the power to bewitch and intoxicate. There is power there, in the stones. A power born of centuries or decades of belief.
Esfahan has a main square. At one end of the square stands, beyond doubt, the most vibrant and powerful creation for a deity that I have ever visited.
The Masjed e-Emam Mosque is pure, unadulterated poetry. I could call it beautiful but that seems such an insignificant word. It is a rhapsody in blue tiles, a melody in Islamic art and it is a place where heaven truly touches earth. The mighty domes and minarets are reflected in large pools in quiet courtyards. There is such a sense of peace. The angle of the main area of the mosque is such that it faces Mecca and it took 26 years to construct but it was worth every day spent on it.
On the left side of the square, as you face the mosque, stands the much smaller but intricately designed Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, built for a family and notable for not having any minarets. It’s dome both inside and out, is exquisite. The creamy exterior with its delicate leaf pattern tiles that subtly changes colour from cream via brown to rose pink and its interior, orange, perhaps red, or is that brown or black, delicately lit via thin streams of sunlight through high windows, dust motes dancing in the beams.
Esfahans bazaar is larger than any I had visited and the array of goods on offer dwarfed even Tehran. Peter purchased a Persian carpet which he carried back to the hotel, nonchalantly draped over his shoulder. I purchased an exquisite little painting of a female wine bearer in an inlaid frame which sits on my mantelpiece as I write this. I recall its purchase well, unpressurised, over a soothing cup of mint tea, a gentle, restrained bargaining, a deal to suit all.
Soon our last day in Iran would dawn. Here, in the city that is half the world..