Isfahan is an ancient city with the kind of history that fascinates me. It has always been an important city of Persia but reached its zenith after 1598 when Shah Abbas Safavi made it his capital city.
For me a visit to the city was a dream. On earlier visits to Iran I had only done ziarat ( pilgrimage) to Mashhad and Qom. This time I was determined to see Isfahan and do a pilgrimage of a different kind: the historical pilgrimage too. Not for nothing is it calked Nisf e Jahan ( half the world).
I only had a day to see the parks, bridges, palaces, churches, mosques and shrines of imamzadehs. So I made the most of it.
After a full day’s exploration we went to Pul e Khaju. It was near our hotel. I had read Anand Taneja ‘s book and also been told by him to go in the evening when the city gathered there.
Pul e Khaju
Pul e Khaju is on the Zāyandé-Rūd( Zayande River) : I fell in love with the name!
The bridge on Iran’s largest river was built around 1650, under the reign of Abbas II, the seventh Safavid king (shah) of Iran, on the foundations of an older bridge. The existing inscriptions suggest that the bridge was repaired in 1873.
It is decorated with paintings and tileworks.
There is a pavilion located in the center of the structure, inside which Abbas II would have once sat, admiring the view. Today, it seems remnants of a stone seat is all that is left of the king’s chair. It’s locked so we weren’t able to see it from inside.
As soon as I reached there I knew exactly what Anand had experienced.
“I wept in that moment because, in viewing the celebration of life and beauty and music that occurs nightly at this bridge, I was reminded of another. The Satpula in Delhi, like the Pul-i Khaju, is a combination bridge and dam with marvelous vaulted arch-es. But where the Pul-i Khaju bustles with life and laughter and song, the Satpula lies dark and aban-doned. The stream that used to run through its sluices has been diverted around it and is also dark and fetid, full of untreated sewage.”
“Jinnealogy: Time, Islam, and Ecological Thought in the Medieval Ruins of Delhi” by Anand Vivek Taneja.
Photos from a historical walk in Satpula : you can see the similarities
Like the Satpula, Pul e Khaju is also a weir but unlike the former it’s still functional
It was evening and children were playing, Isfahanis were sitting on the edge enjoying the soothing sound of water.
People were gathered around singers in the various arched vaults. They were joining in on the chorus, clapping and singing joyfully with him. Singing in the arches of the bridge is a tradition and one gets to hear the most glorious of Persian classical songs. All I could make out was the word mohabbat and I wished I knew Farsi.
On the actual bridge on top there were more youngsters in the various arches, singing, playing music, meditating or just ruminating
There are 23 arches in which singers and young people sit and enjoy.
Besides functioning as a bridge and a weir, it also functions as a building and a place for public meetings.
Legend has it that the eyes of the marble lions guarding either end of the bridge glow in the dark.
It has 23 arches ( on lower level) with a length of 133 meters and width of 12 meters. The bridge passway is 7.5 meters wide and this two-storey bridge is made of bricks and stones
As Upham Pope puts it:
The culminating monument of Persian bridge architecture and one of the most interesting bridges extant…where the whole has rhythm and dignity and combines in the happiest consistency, utility, beauty, and recreation.
There used to be tea houses but those are long gone.