Esfahan is my favourite city in Iran. Grand, majestic and alluring. It is so appealing as it is so very green in comparison to other drier areas of the country like Mashhad. Esfahan has a certain charm and appeal that is hard to find elsewhere in Iran. It is a favourite destination for tourists and indeed Iranians and is famously described as ‘nesf-e jahan’ meaning Esfahan is half the world.
For a great haven and exhibition of typical Iranian handicraft, you need to go to Naqsh-e Jahan Square. Its construction started in 1602 and was the vision of Shah Abbas, being home to the most magnificent jewels of the Saravid empire. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is my all time favourite place to visit in the city and its name means ‘pattern of the world’. Naqsh-e Jahan square is a place full or artisans and craft, showcasing Iran’s famous traditions. This is where you should buy your souvenirs and your take home purchases. It is full of typical artefacts of Persian culture and everyone is warm, welcoming and eager to tell you about their work and passion.
At the Naqsh-e Jahan square you can find ceramic pots, turquoise sugar bowls and hand-made wooden framed clocks, not to mention impressive Persian carpets and much more. Shop to shop will sell you a selection of all things Iranian and are some of the best finds around. Even just to say you explored the shops in the Naqsh-e Jahan Square is a real treat. Note that it is not just homeware goods that are sold at the square. You can find a mountain of food and drink shops selling all things Iranian. From saffron ice-cream, pistachios and spices, there is something at every other shop for you to taste. You can really get a feel for Persian cuisine and eat as the locals do here.
What I like about the Naqsh-e Jahan square, apart from the most incredible mosques and palaces I have ever seen (which will be discussed in later blog posts) is the uniqueness of every shop. You will find some stores selling similar objects yes, but each shop and its contents are somewhat different and individual. Each artisan will have a different story to their piece, each seller will have some object that just won’t be exactly the same as another. That is what I love about the Naqsh-e Jahan square, the incredible finds and the fascinating stories.
Just wandering around the square is a remarkable experience in itself. The buildings, fountains and greenery are all just splendid. It’s good to go there at any time of the day, but the evening is my preferred slot, when the lights dim and the locals come out to sit out on the grass with a Persian picnic in hand. It really is just lovely to see, as the architecture is illuminated and is seen at its very best.
The Naqsh-e Jahan square is a touristy spot, but that in no way takes away the appeal of the place. It is 512m long and 163m wide and is the second-largest square in the world, so just give yourself enough time to walk around it at a leisurely pace as there is so much to see – you can even enjoy the square with a horse and carriage ride, if you wish. There is one thing that is sure though, this definitely needs to be on your itinerary – that is a must.