Esfahan Market Delight

The Grand Bazaar of Isfahan
The Grand Bazaar of Isfahan

Esfahan is not only one of the top travel destinations of Iran but also the place to get something to take home.  The US has many restrictions on how much it’s citizens can spend in Iran. This restriction along with the obstacle of having enough cash to float you the whole visit restricts spending and raises the question “What do I buy and where”?  It’s a conundrum but I’m going to make it easy.

Isfahan Traditional Restaurant - Naqsh-e Jahan Square
Naqsh-e Jahan Square Shopping area and the Isfahan Traditional Restaurant

First, Esfahan is located on the central tourist route which goes from Shiraz in the south to Tehran in the north.  It’s not to say that other cities and towns along the way won’t have unique items available to buy such as carpets in Kashan or Qom or enamel wares found in Shiraz shops. Esfahan is home to masters of  miniature painting found on camel bone and has some nice carpet shops.

Miniatures on Camel Bone or parchment:

Chehel Sotoon Palace
Chehel Sotoon Palace where Reza Abbasi is on display

Esfahan was one of the many cities in the vast Persian Empire who developed a Persian standard to the style and composition of miniature paintings.  The city has been a center for Persian traditional crafts for centuries.  The paintings were indirectly  by Chinese and Indian art but have their own unique characteristics including bright colors, idealistic settings and later, scenes of ordinary life.  Works beauty and detail continued to blossom throughout the Safavid period.  Shah Abbas the Great wanted to see Persian artists take the miniature art to the next level and give the craft a distinct Persian look to it.

The miniature reminds me of whales tooth scrimshaw that was done by sailors while they waited for Moby Dick to come along.   In ancient Persia, small finely detailed paintings depicting Polo matches, bird hunting and a romantic meetings were created on the surface of camel bone and parchment.  Miniature style progressed and the pictures began to intentionally go beyond the rectangle borders and included poems. Artists were commissioned by royalty and many began studying the craft as demand increased throughout the Ṣafavid Period.  Most of the pieces seen in galleries and museums around the world today are ones done by or similar to the style of Reza Abbasi who worked in the Late Safavid period under Shah Abbas I.  Some are currently on display in The Metropolitan Museum – New York.

There’s plenty of miniatures on display and for visitors to buy and take home.  Like most of Iran, there’s little pressure to buy, so take time and check out the many studios located in the bazaar corridors of the square.  It doesn’t cost anything to look and many shopkeepers are keen on educating their customers on what they have to sell. Esfahan is the best place to even just look.

Carpets

Carpet Museum of Iran
Carpet Museum of Iran

Iran is most famous for its carpets which are filled with geometric shapes, flowers, tendrils and shapes that almost look like animals.  The carpets are on display in hundreds of shops around Esfahan.  The only thing potential buyers need is time, patience and some kind of idea what they are looking for.  Some say it’s not the buyer choosing the carpet but the carpet chooses you.  This is if you have the funds of course.  If not,  there’s always the token small patch of carpet that are used for seat covers that will set you back a quarter million Rial, or 25K tomans or $25 USD.  I know it’s confusing but if you go better get your currencies straight because some prices are based on Rial and some on the old Toman.


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