Architecture is the supreme Iranian art, and arguably its crowning glory is the collection of buildings that make up Eshafan’s immense Imam Square. The Persian style of geometry and symmetry, flourishes of colour and intricate detail set alongside imposing simplicity in design, all reach their zenith here. Take your time picking out a favourite of the square’s embarrassment of riches: the formal gardens, the magnificent tiled dome of Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque, and the interiors of Ali Qapu Palace all have their supporters among visitors and locals alike. And once you’ve overloaded on the rich Safavid legacy, the square’s north leads you to Esfahan’s bazaar: two buzzing kilometres of artisans and salesmen, crafts and carpets, all under a decorative vaulted ceiling.
A highlight of any trip to Iran, is the perfect place to check out the country’s tradition of carpet-making, and to try your hand at bartering for one. A respectful ritual of tea, careful inspections and unconvinced looks, carpet-bagging gives both an insight into Iranian culture and hospitality, and is a great way of gaining a close look at the extraordinary craftsmanship that is involved in creating these beautiful items. Be warned: a casual perusal of a shop’s more fabulous rugs and even the toughest market-bargainer’s resolve can rapidly wilt.