‘Untold stories’ now available for you to re-discover majestic Isfahan
A selection of 200 “untold stories” about Isfahan is now available for you to re-discover the ancient city, which has long been nicknamed as “half the world”.
Each story is narrated within a one-minute video clip in different languages to make culture lovers and avid travelers familiar with the off-the-beaten tracks, lesser-known destinations, souvenirs, foods, traditions, rituals, cultural heritage, handicrafts, and above all the hospitable people of Isfahan. Directed by Iranian globetrotter and researcher Majid Erfanian, the clips have been produced jointly by Isfahan Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (ICCIMA), and the private company of Rah Abrisham Iranian Zamin. 100 of the videos, containing 100 fascinating stories, had already been uploaded to social media outlets, while the others were unveiled in an official ceremony hosted by the ICCIMA on Saturday evening. The event was attended by the deputy tourism minister Ali-Asghar Shalbafian, Isfahan governor-general Seyyed Reza Mortazavi, the mayor of Isfahan Ali Qasemzadeh, and Alireza Salarian, the head of Representative Office of Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Isfahan as well as a host of travel insiders, reporters, and journalists who discussed ways to jumpstart tourism. Erfanian stressed the need for greater public awareness about the cultural heritage of the ancient land, saying the “untold stories” are produced for that purpose. “Redefining destinations has rarely happened in the field of traveling [in the country], and now the city [of Isfahan] is a forerunner of such a trend to express its tourism brand in a new way,” he said. Talking about the clips, Erfanian said” “In these multi-language videos, we have tried to put the spotlight on inaccessible or lesser-known historical sites, foods, intangible heritage, people…. characters, craftsmen and figures who have played a role in shaping the identity of Isfahan.” “Sister cities of Isfahan, the diversity of religions, and intangible heritage are amongst other elements we have addressed in the videos,” he added. In an address to the unveiling ceremony, the deputy tourism minister used the context of modern architecture to discuss ways to highlight contemporary Isfahan shoulder to shoulder with its historical core. “We see in the videos that they mostly bring centuries-old architecture and culture into focus, however, we should consider casting a new light on the modern side of Isfahan as well.” “In the production of extra videos, newer ideas may be added to improve the quality of the work,” Shalbafian added. The governor-general of Isfahan reminded the attendees of the unique feature of stories and narratives, in general, to preserve cultural heritage for the coming generations. “In all over the world, paying attention to stories and narratives is of special importance for the development of tourism….. and we have many of such stories that have been forgotten in the course of history.” What you have done in this project is to revive such stories and distinct identities that if ignored, will lead to their disappearance, Mortazavi explained. Ali Karbasizadeh, a senior advisor to the ICCIMA, expressed the need for paying much more attention to the tourism industry, content production, training of all stakeholders and activists, conducting relevant studies, productive investments, tourism startups, and further cooperation with other provinces to develop the tourism paradigm of the country. Furthermore, Karbasizadeh discussed the advantage of adequate official holidays in Iran, saying the number of national holidays in Iran, which has a pivotal role in domestic tourism, is currently insufficient in comparison to many other countries. “If this issue is not addressed and solved, our efforts in other areas would not have desired results.” Salarian for his part noted that making one-minute videos of Isfahan is a good fit. “When we sent [some of the earliest] clips of the series to our embassies in various countries, they expressed a wish to have them translated into other languages as well….Now I see that this has happened.” “Even the municipality [of Isfahan] has produced a series of professional five-minute videos in ten languages that are well received by the audiences.” “Isfahan is one of the important destinations for the high-ranking Iranian officials and visiting officials from other countries. Therefore, it has a unique stance in the field of tourism that should be taken into account,” the senior diplomat explained. Finally, the mayor of Isfahan outlined the importance of storytelling for the time being and in various fields including tourism, saying: “Story [and storytelling] still works in the present day even in psychiatric discussions, story therapy is a growing concept.” “We are ready to expand cooperation and join hands with other activists in the realm of tourism because Isfahan has enormous potential to become a major destination for international travelers,” Qasemzadeh said. Half the world? Soaked in a rich history, Isfahan was once a crossroad of international trade and diplomacy in Iran and now it is one of Iran’s top tourist destinations for good reasons. It is filled with many architectural wonders such as unmatched Islamic buildings, bazaars, museums, Persian gardens, and tree-lined boulevards. It’s a city for walking, getting lost in its mazing bazaars, dozing in beautiful gardens, and meeting people. Isfahan is renowned not only for the abundance of great historical bridges but also for its ‘life-giving river’, the Zayandeh-Rood, which has long bestowed the city an original beauty and fertility. Isfahan has long been nicknamed as Nesf-e-Jahan which is translated into “half the world”; meaning seeing it is relevant to see half the world. In its heyday, it was also one of the largest cities in the region with a population of nearly one million. The cool blue tiles of Isfahan’s Islamic buildings, and the city’s majestic bridges, contrast perfectly with the encircling hot, dry Iranian countryside. The huge Imam Square, best known as Naghsh-e Jahan Sq. (literary meaning “Image of the World”), is one of the largest in the world (500m by 160m), and a majestic example of town planning. Constructed in the early 17th century, the UNESCO-registered square is punctuated with the most interesting sights in Isfahan. It was laid out under the reign of the Safavid ruler, Shah Abbas the Great, to signal the importance of Isfahan as the capital of his powerful empire. It is hemmed on four sides by magnificent buildings: to the east, the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque; to the west, the palace of Ali Qapu; to the north, the portico of Qeysarieh; and to the south, the eminent Imam Mosque. “The square was at the heart of the Safavid capital’s culture, economy, religion, social power, government, and politics. Its vast sandy esplanade was used for celebrations, promenades, and public executions, for playing polo and for assembling troops,” according to the UNESCO website. Right at the northern limit of the Imam Square, one will find “Qeysarieh Gate”, which leads to the unique and unforgettable “Grand Bazaar of Isfahan”. This vaulted marketplace is one of the largest and most labyrinthine bazaars in the country. Shops offering handicrafts, souvenirs, jewelry, silverware, traditional ceramics, and authentic Persian carpets. Modern Isfahan is now home to some heavy industry, including steel factories and a nuclear facility on its outskirts, however, its inner core wants to be preserved as a priceless gem. The city is also home to a gigantic, professional, and state-of-the-art healthcare city, which is a major destination in the realm of medical tourism. Unknown destination Even before the pandemic, Iran’s tourism was already grappling with some challenges, on top of those Western “media propaganda” aimed at scaring potential travelers away from the Islamic Republic. Some experts believe Iran is still somehow “unknown” for many potential travelers due to such a “media war”. They, however, consider bright prospects for the tourism sector of the country if it vigorously pursues comprehensive strategies to counter U.S.-led propaganda and strict sanctions, yet does its best to loosen tough travel regulations.