THERE were rumors that the feared Revolutionary Guard did not want us in Iran and we might be followed or detained.
But 24 hours later I was bathed in heat watching a fountain shoot water above the painted dome of a mosque in the cradle of one of the world’s oldest civilizations.
Walking around the historic city of Isfahan is like stepping back in time. It also provides intriguing insights into life in the paranoid Islamic republic.
Imam Square in the city’s center is a Unesco World Heritage Site, built between 1598 and 1629, and the Shah Mosque on the south side is a masterpiece of Persian architecture.
Huge stone columns curve into impossibly large roof beams covered in hand-painted mosaic tiles. The rooms are awe inspiring — deep blue, lemon, ivory and gold slabs framed by marble walls and Arabic inscriptions from the Koran.
Built for Shah Abbas, it is said to make even non-believers feel the presence of God. The towering entrance looks like a huge spaceship just landed on Earth.
Isfahan really is “the Florence of the Middle East”, as one Iranian described it.
Another highlight was the Malek Sultan Jarchibashi restaurant in the basement of a bathhouse built 450 years ago. It has a tiled floor and walls, expertly painted columns and Persian cloths on every table.
The food was sumptuous — saffron rice, custard-yellow yoghurt and piles of meat and chicken washed down with a salty yoghurt drink that took a bit of getting used to. We walked down the Square’s bazaar, redolent with the smell of fresh spices, olives and lemons, to browse the clothes, ornaments and intricately carved picture frames and chess sets on sale.
In the Armenian quarter, extravagant paintings adorn the walls and ceiling of the Christian church. The genocide carried out by Turkish troops in 1915 is commemorated in the museum.
The next day we took a local Qeshm Air flight back to the capital Tehran.
I am not a huge fan of the airline. Security failed to check our passports at the airport and the British Aerospace 146 jet we flew in looked older than ideal.
But Qeshm has a good safety record and flying is a practical way of getting around Iran compared to the dangerous roads.
BY GRAEME CULLIFORD