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January 17, 2003

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From the ruins of the first Persian Empire at Persepolis we drive north to Esfahan, the capital of the last Persian Empire, the Safavids. Sheik Safi od-Din founded this dynasty in the early 1300's. They fought Mongols and then Ottoman Turks. By the late 1500's under Shah Abbas the Great they had reconquered all of the Persian heartland, from Baghdad, Iraq to Herat, Afghanistan. Then they settled down, attracted artisans from as faraway as China, and built a capital at Esfahan to impress the world. Because of its beauty the Persians say, "Esfahan nesf-e jahan" (Esfahan is half the world).
This is an Armenian church (you're thinking we've seen enough of these already). There is something unique about these Christian churches in Iran; they show Islamic influence in the design motifs used around the borders of murals.
Esfahan boasts the best architecture in Iran, starting with the old yet aesthetic bridges.
Bring a compass. In Esfahan's bazaar it's easy to lose yourself under the winding and covered lanes which are many kilometers long.
Emam Khomeini Square (or Naghsh-e-Jahan as it was once known) hosts a few of the Islamic world's most important buildings such as the Emam mosque (seen in the center) or the Ali Qapu Palace (on the right).