His voice boomed and echoed around the magnificent dome of Imam Mosque. The tone was rich and warm. The melody was so harmonious to the ears. I was lost in his singing for a moment, only to realize a minute later that a small crowd of tourists had gathered around us. By the time Hojat Sadeqzadeh stopped, he was only half way through a call to prayer written on the wall of the mosque, but everyone was already breathless. It was a mesmerizing experience! And the guy was our guide for the day.
We met Mr. Sadeqzadeh in front of the Imam Mosque by accident. He had just finished his early morning interpreting gig for a high delegation from Thailand and was walking around. A professional interpreter by trade, Mr. Sadeqzadeh has served numerous high ranking delegates from all over the world visiting Isfahan. He also works as a freelance tour guide in his free time because he loves meeting people and sharing his knowledge about the city. We did not plan to hire a guide in the first place, but curiosity took over, and we surrendered to his charm and charisma. The guy turned out to be a living Wikipedia of Isfahan and Iranian history, knew half of the city, and could get us into places even after opening hours. Isfahan used to be the dazzling capital of ancient Persia, whose size, wealth, splendor and grandeur inspired the Iranian proverb ‘Isfahan nesf-e jahan’ or ‘Isfahan is half the world’. There are so many treasures around the city. We spent the whole day with Mr. Sadeqzadeh, visiting the majestic Naghsh-e-Jahan Square, the magnificent Imam and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosques, the inspiring Chehel Sutun (Forty Columns) Palace, the vivid Imperial Bazaar, and the unique Si-o-She Pol Bridge crossing the Zayandeh Rud River. The amount of information he gave us that day was mind-boggling, but it was his inspiring singing under that soaring dome that made the day so special.
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. I still remember that quote from Simon Sinek in his TED talk. If that is the golden key to the art of selling, the Iranians have mastered it. Mr. Sadeqzadeh did not sell us a tour, he sold us his wealth of knowledge and his love for Isfahan. Sayed, the turbaned mullar we met in Qom, did not sell us Islam, he sold us his faith in the religion. The national team kickboxer-turned-printed cloth vendor did not sell us beautiful hand printed cloths, he sold us his father’s legacy, the master’s skills behind each product, and his pride in running the workshop with his cousin. The two Isfahan high-school students both named Fateme gave us free postcards but sold us their belief in a better world by having a better understanding and tolerance of others’ religions and points of view. Mr. Bekhradi, our architect host in Isfahan, did not sell us a room to stay for a few nights, he sold us the history behind the Bekhradi Traditional house, and his five-year effort to restore an exemplary treasure of Farvadi architecture. And with a broad smile and a simple greeting ‘Welcome to Iran!’, each local we met during the trip sold us their customs of being great hosts and treating guests with the highest honor. In one way or another, they all became ambassadors of their country and culture. It was only our 5th day in Iran, but I already bought into Islam as a religion of peace, harmony, tranquility and intellect, and Iranians as the most kind-hearted and peace-loving people in the world.
Driving to Isfahan
Naghsh-e-Jahan Square (Imam Square)
This huge square is the focal point of Isfahan’s cultural and historical scenes. It is surrounded by two-story rows of shops and top tourist attractions such as the Imam and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosques, Ali Qapu Palace, and the Imperial Bazaar
Chador-clad women strolling the square
Horse carriage service is quite popular as the square is huge
The big fountain
A mom watching her kids playing football
Even though Iran is an Islamic country, it is actually quite liberal. We saw a lot of young couples cuddling and holding hands in public.
A nice garden near the square
This magnificent mosque is considered one of the masterpieces of Persian architecture. It is famous for its seven-color mosaic tiles and calligraphic inscriptions.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
This small mosque is another masterpiece of Persian architecture
This small jewel of Isfahan has a secret. If you are there at the right time, and standing at the right spot, you’ll see a peacock tail on the ceiling. We did not know it until our guide pointed to a shimmering shard of light on the dome. Another ‘wow’ moment!
Chehel Sutun (Forty Column Palace)
Local girls taking selfie in the Palace garden
The Imperial Bazaar
Hand printed clothes
This guy used to be in the Iranian national team of kick-boxing. Now he’s running his father’s workshop
An artisan making Minakari copper plates
Si-o-She Pol Bridge
Locals walking around in the morning
This place is decorated with different quotes from the Quran
‘Curtains’ made of dried dates
Beryani – Isfahan’s special dish
This traditional house has been restored and turned into a boutique hotel by Mr. Bekhradi, a well-known architect in Isfahan.
The dining room
Our sumptuous breakfast for two. We hardly finished a quarter of the foods.
Even the trash bin looks beautiful
This cathedral reminds me of the Sistine chapel in the Vatican. Really amazing!