Sole Sister

Cruising in the single lane


The eyes have it

One of the revelations on visiting Iran is the beauty practices of the women. With cloaking the body and covering the crowning glory in public mandatory the female face gains great significance in the looking- beautiful stakes.  Immaculately groomed, tattooed eyebrows and tattooed liplines are de rigeur. But the most noticeable enhancement is rhinoplasty – the nose job.

Apparently Iran has one of the highest rates of nose jobs per capita in the world. One figure has it at four times the number of those in the rhinoplasty capital of the world, America. So trendy are nose jobs that it’s commonplace to see women, hijab-framed faces sporting designer sunnies, with a bandaged nose as part of their fashion statement.  I read that some women kept the plasters in place long after necessary to prolong the fashion kudos.

IMG_2159 ed2

 Iran fashion statement. 

Behind this penchant for proboscis perfection is a fascination with Western ideals of beauty. The regally arched Iranian nose does not fit the ideal. One of our tour companions was blessed with a pert, upturned nose that our guide said Iranian girls would spend big money to have. Another explanation given was that the strictures of dress codes have given style-conscious Iranian women little scope to manoeuvre in displaying their beauty.

The everyday nature of cosmetic surgery is highlighted in an Iranian movie currently being screened in Australia, A Girl Walked Home Alone at Night. A scene in the very- out-there production, described as the first Iranian vampire western, and directed by a woman, Ana Lily Amirpour, features a young woman from an obviously well-to-do family sporting the tell-tale nose plasters.

Cosmetic surgery is just one of the revelations in the appearance game in Iran. Others include the very loose interpretation given by some women to covering the hair and dressing modestly.  And we came across some interesting store dummies.

IMG_5073 ed

Making a statement.

dummy ed

Mmm…do I look fat in this?

unnamed (6) ed

Mr Cool.

unnamed (8) ed

What the well dressed Master Shrek and friend are wearing. 

IMG_5343 ed

Decisions! Decisions! Which chador to choose?


How bazaar

One major attraction of Middle East travel to this inveterate shopper and browser are their wonderful bazaars. In a world where shopping malls share the same franchises  whether they be in London, San Francisco or Brisbane, it’s exhilarating to step back what seems centuries to soak in the colour and chaos of the Middle East’s exotic bazaars. Sadly, browsing through some of my favourite bazaars, such as Damascus and Aleppo in Syria, is now virtually impossible. And with recent events caution would now be advised visiting Istanbul’s famed Grand Bazaar and Cairo’s labyrinthine  Khan el-Khalili. So discovering Iran’s kaleidoscopic equivalents, like Isfahan’s addictive Bazar-e Bozorg, is an exciting prospect for bazaar junkies. If you’re visiting Iran and Isfahan is on the itinerary definitely hold off until your stopover here to buy your souvenirs.

This is definitely the place to find all manner of local arts, crafts, and must-have items: beaten copperware and metal platters; colourful scarves; herbs and spices – especially prized saffron! – carpets; pistachio nougat and other sweets;  bright woven backpacks and bags; elegant Iranian fashions; ceramic tiles; hand-drawn miniatures; block printed cloth; hand-painted Islamic Persian copper embossed enamel. It’s a true Aladdin’s cave of treasures jumbled in with restaurants, coffee shops, antique stores, and outlets for virtually anything else you may want to buy.

IMG_5410 ed

IMG_5408 ed

IMG_5411 ed

Hand-beaten copper cookware; decorative metal platters. 

IMG_5402 edIMG_5404

Scarves are in great demand in Iran. 

IMG_5401 ed

IMG_5400 ed

IMG_5307 ed

IMG_2188 ed

Fresh veges, aromatic spices, nuts..

IMG_2177 edIMG_2178 ed

Colourful and practical bags, elegant Iranian robes. 

IMG_2182 ed

Eccentric tea shop in the bazaar’s back-streets. 

IMG_2141 ed

Miniaturist at work. 

unnamed (2) ed

Islamic Persian copper embossed enamel artists in their bazaar workroom.

unnamed ed

Block printing a table cloth.

IMG_5415 ed

I’m not sure about the customer base for this but it looks like a taxidermied chook and chickens.


Jewel in the crown

If Shiraz is the pearl of Iran, Isfahan is the jewel in the crown. Applauded variously throughout its long history as “the Persian Florence”, as being “more cosmopolitan than Paris” or “grander than Istanbul” – or should that be Constantinople? – Isfahan has negotiated its roller-coaster past to remain a star on the world stage.  In its long lifetime this twice capital of Persia has weathered sacking by Mongols in the 13th century, the Afghan army in the 18th century and long-range missiles from Iraq late last century.

IMG_5420 ed


IMG_2157 ed

IMG_2169 ed

World Heritage-listed Naqsh-e Jahan Square, or Imam Square, and Shah Mosque.

Isfahan is Iran’s third largest city after Tehran and Mashad, mainly known today for being home to Iran’s premier nuclear research facility. But significant moves are afoot by entrepreneurial locals to halt the despoliation caused by rapid modernisation and resurrect Isfahan’s hidden beauty and many charms. Apart from the exquisite art treasures incorporated into so many of its old buildings, its allure resides in its setting, nestling in surrounding hills with the (sometimes dry) Zayandeh River intersecting the city. Leafy streets and river banks lined with cooling trees and abundant shading parks are scattered throughout. Numerous elegant bridges span the river the most famous being the Si-o Seh Pol, or Bridge of 33 Arches. At night the bridges are decoratively lit and must create a wonderful spectacle when the river is running.

IMG_5394 ed

IMG_5382 ed
IMG_5365 ed

Isfahan’s elegant bridges.

IMG_5367 ed

IMG_5387 ed

Under the bridges – a popular place to escape the heat, or have wedding photos taken. 

IMG_5385 ed

Young bridge visitor. 

IMG_5366 ed

IMG_5395 ed

IMG_5374 ed

IMG_5373 ed

Leafy streets and river banks lined with cooling trees and abundant shading parks.

Isfahan’s premier site is the World Heritage-listed Naqsh-e Jahan Square, or Imam Square, famous for its size, grandeur, and gracing vibrant Safavid-era buildings including:  the Shah mosque, home to Friday prayers; Ali Qapu Palace; Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque; and the Isfahan Grand Bazaar. Measuring 160m by 560m – an area of 89,600sqm – the 16th  Century square reflects its founder Shah Abbas’ ruling priorities incorporating the power of the merchants and that of the clergy right under his watchful eye from Ali Qapu. Features of the square include the exquisitely coloured tile domes of the Shah mosque, built with no supports thanks to the outstanding architectural and engineering expertise of their designers, one of whom was rumoured to be the polymath poet Omar Khayyam. Ingenuity is also on display in the beautiful music room of Ali Qapu Palace with its finely carved walls combining decorative and acoustic qualities.

unnamed (3) ed

Ali Qapu Palace music room’s exquisitely carved walls combine decorative and acoustic qualities.

The square’s impressive dimensions made it an ideal location for the popular Persian pastime of polo, a favourite subject for Iran’s renowned miniaturists, and created a pleasing space for outdoor family recreation. On Thursday evenings, the equivalent of Friday evening for Iran’s workers, Naqsh-e Jahan Square is the place to be to enjoy some family down time. No TGIT drinks though!

IMG_5412 ed

IMG_5417 ed

IMG_5423 ed

Thank God it’s Thursday. 

Other outstanding venues are the Jameh Mosque (the old Friday mosque) dating from the 11th century, the largest in Iran, and the Chehel Sotoun – or Forty Columns – Palace so called because of the 20-columned portico reflected in the entrance terrace pool. Built by Shah Abbass II for entertainment and receptions it is set in lush grounds, one of Iran’s World Heritage-listed gardens, and contains a treasure trove of delicate frescoes and ceramic paintings.

IMG_5341 ed

IMG_5339  ed

IMG_5336 ed

IMG_5313 ed

IMG_5327 ed

Isfahan’s Jameh Mosque, dating from the 11th century, the largest mosque in Iran.

IMG_5300 ed

IMG_5295 ed

IMG_5269 ed

IMG_5272 ed

IMG_5291 ed

Chehel Sotoun Palace, a treasure trove of delicate frescoes and ceramic paintings.