Over twelve million people charge busily around Iran’s capital city, a figure that has almostdoubled since 1991. Tehran is one of the most polluted cities in the world, but despite the choking smog it is still worth a visit. Home to many museums, mosques, and vaults of crown jewels, a few days here are necessary for anyone intrigued by Iran. The Archaeological Museum is excellent, as is the Glass and Ceramics Museum, and if carpets are your fetish, there is a Carpet Museum as well. Try to keep to only a few days, though – people seem to get stuck in Tehran and stay far longer than they intended, and Iran has more cities well worth checking out.
In comparison to Tehran, Esfahan – 210 miles south and the location where Arabian Nights was filmed – is a city to relax in. There are some beautiful gardens, a stunning bazaar to exhaust the most avid shopper, some gorgeous buildings, and a lot of bridges over the river Zeyandeh to stroll back and
The huge and majestic Imam Square is worth a wander through. Spot the goalposts from when the square was called ‘Shah Square’ and housed the Shah’s polo field. The seven-storey palace on the west side of the square has a huge pavilion for watching the polo games from. Not a polo playing country any more, in post-revolutionary Iran your best bet is to use the pavilion to people-watch.
Many of the sights of Esfahan rim the square – on the northern edge is the bazaar, most of which was built in the 16th Century, although some part are 1,300 years old. High domed ceilings with huge windows make the numerous corridors pleasant to hang around in, and there are little surprises dotted around – mosques, gardens and baths. At the southern end of the square is the Imam’s Mosque. A grand building decked out in intricate Esfahan-blue tiling, hours can be lost here in tranquillity, watching the light play on the tiles, listening to footsteps echoing around, and feeling small amongst the enormous architecture. If you suffer a blue overload at any point, go and recover in the family mosque on the east edge of the square which is an unusual calming yellow on the inside.
By Hannah Englekamp