Despite being the third largest city of Iran, Esfahan (or Isfahan), the parks, the gardens, lined trees streets and the Zayandeh River whose green margins attract local people savoring the fresh air of the end of the day, makes us forget that here lives a population of nearly two million inhabitants and that all the way around the landscape has little more to offer than desert.
The city of Esfahan developed over centuries along the Zayandah River, whose waters coming down from the Zagros Maountains irrigate the surrounding fields becoming increasingly green landscape as we approach the city, leaving back rolling plains interspersed with desert mountains. Landscape that despite its vastness that inspires a feeling of expansion and freedom becomes monotonous, inviting to sleep during bus trips.
The Zayandeh River, the largest located in the central Iranian plateau, and unlike many other rivers had flow throughout all the year, since 2010 it has almost dried entirely due to the construction of upstream dams to irrigate farmland, leaving the four famous bridges built during the Safavid dynasty, that ruled Persia from 1501 to 1722, as also the other built more recently, linking banks of a dry clay riverbed where lush vegetation grows.
But the water that reaches Esfahan is enough to keep the green gardens that extend along the river and leafy trees existing along most of the streets of the city center, that beyond the shadow also provide a pleasant atmosphere.
As the sun disappears and the air gets cooler, the population at the end of workday forwards to the gardens by the river, in family or groups of friends, walking, nibbling seeds, chatting, delighting with ice cream… or just alone admiring the calm scenery with the magnificent colours of the sunset that tinges the sky with orange and violet tones. Throughout the various bridges linking the two sides of the central part of Esfahan – Si-o-seh, Khaju and Joubi Bridge – musicians come together to play and sing Iranian songs whose melancholy combined with the warm air and warm colours that light up these centuries-old constructions.
Bridges over the Zayandeh River
- Si-o-seh Pol, which although officially be called the Allahverdi Khan Bridge, everybody identifies with “Bridge of 33 Arches” in Farsi ie Si-o-seh, built in 1632
- Khaju Bridge (Pol e-Kanju) pedestrian bridge built in 1650
- Joubi Bridge (Pol-e Joui) but also called Choobi Bridge, built in 1665
- Shahrestan Bridge (Pol-e Shahrestan) built in the 11th century, is the oldest and the one that is furthest from the center of Esfahan
Esfahan among backpackers is unanimously recognized as the city of Iran where it is most difficult to find affordable accommodation, even for those who don’t mind to give up of some comfort. The option was the Shad Hostel, which from hostel only has the name, being a normal hotel with rooms that can be shared by three people.
Address: Chabar Bagh Abbassi Street (just above an ice cream shop)
Single room: 400,000 rials
Double room: 600,000 rials
Free wi-fi (with the password changing several times a day).
The rooms are small and decadent, with the need of some improvement, but still acceptable. The staff does not speak English and shown to be unhelpful. The Shad Hostel, win for the good location, at the same distance from Imam Square and Si-o-seh Pol.
Where to eat:
As it is not easy to find vegetarian food in fast-food restaurants, exept falafel and pizza, so the ash-e reshteh soup was the most frequent options during their stay in Iran, verifying that the recipe change a bit from place to place, and from city to city.
The best of this soups found in Esfahan was in a small shop, located on the right side of Hafez Street, towards those coming from Iman Square, which is served with bread and a topping of Kashk, a sort of sour cream; it costs 30,000 rials.
This shop also serves the halim (haleem) made wheat-based grain, milk and meat (lamb or turkey), which are cooked for a long time and is then crushed until becomes a very thick puree, some times seasoned with saffron, that give the yellow color instead the usual white pale. It can be served plain or with sugar and cinnamon and is often consumed for breakfast… a kind of richer and caloric porridge.
In terms of sweets, Esfahan is known for the fereni, a milk pudding, served with a dates syrup topping… delicious combination. The choice went to the small shop on Hafez Street, Hafez Golha, on the left side of those coming from Imam Square.
The Kaveh Bus Terminal, the main terminal for long distance buses, is located 7 km north from the city center and wasn’t possible to obtain information on how to get there by public bus. So the solution was the taxi, which cost 100,000 rials (which was divided by 3 people). The alternative is the share-taxis that are not easy to identify but much cheaper, costing half or even one third of the normal price; they usually gathering in usual places but can stop anywhere if so requested. These share-taxis don’t have any identification but are generally very old vehicle, white or gray color.
Modern and well organized, but difficult to orientation, from Kaveh Bus Terminal, departing throughout the day buses to major destinations in the country including Tehran, Shiraz and Yazd; there are many companies to make these connections without the need to reserve with advance unless you want a very specific schedule or if you are traveling at week-end or festive seasons.