My first encounter with Iran’s long history (and when I say long, I do mean thousands of years): the Khaju Bridge, in Isfahan.
We were still recovering, my friend Sara and I, after a 20 hour trip from Paris to Ispahan, to the house of my friend’s parents, when Sara’s father proposed to go for a night walk on the riverside. We dressed warmly, we took the customary scarfs to cover our hair and we were ready to go!
Build in 1650, the bridge was used for pedestrian and caravans’ passage, as well as a place for games and fireworks organized in honor of the king. But rather than facts on its history, I would like to tell you about the feeling of the Khaju Bridge.
Even though it was close to midnight, alongside the river’s banks (which actually are more of a huge park), people were still having dinner or drinking chai (made, of course, on the spot, using small gas cylinders – because Iranians like their tea the same way Italians like their pasta: hot, very hot). From time to time you would see a circle of fire glittering in the night – it was somebody trying to light the coal for a waterpipe. Make no mistake, we are in Iran: you could recognize women from a distance due to their (very often) black clothes, long sleeves and covered head, and couples would openly be seen together only if married.
The bridge was full of people coming and going, having their walk, talking or even having their pick-nick right there, under one of the many arches of this two-story bridge. It is under one of these arches that we stopped to buy some kind of boiled beans from an old, simple-looking man. After giving us one each to try and understanding I am a foreigner, he whispered to the ear of my friends’ father: “You have guests, it’s better your don’t buy from me – the beans were boiled yesterday.”
And yet another unexpected and beautiful meeting was to happen that evening: when visiting the upper part of the bridge, a man approached us asking if we knew this and that about the bridge. No, we did not know. So he engaged into an actual tour of the bridge, taking us up and down, showing us how the bridge was closed to become a dam, the way the arches of the lower level formed the shape of a candle, the glittering eyes of the lion guarding the bridge. He spoke in Persian, so I could only follow through my friends’ translation. But I liked his open, candid way of speaking to us, the energy and passion he put in his account, his shyness in being photographed.
One of my favorite moments on Khaju: sitting on the stone steps on one side of the bridge, looking and listening to the water rushing thought the sluice gates beneath us. It was as if the water was taking us into another dimension, far and free from the chatty and crowded world outside, a place of silence, a place of meditation.
As we were about to leave the bridge, a little red rose caught our eye. It seemed to me that the Khaju Bridge was saying goodbye.