A 2,500-year-old city and Persia's capital from 1598 to 1722, Esfahan is filled with old gardens and some of the best sights in Iran. The city's golden age took place under the reign of Shah Abbas I (1587-1629), who kicked out the Ottoman Turks and unified Persia. The city's stunning blue-tiled mosques are among the world's great treasures. Especially notable are the colorful Chahar Bagh Mosque, the 17th-century Friday Mosque, the Imam Mosque (intricate tile work) and the Sheikh Lotfullah Mosque (spectacular 140-ft/43-m dome). In the predominantly Armenian section (New Julfa), which still has a considerable if dwindling Christian community, visit the Vank Cathedral, the Church of Bethlehem and a covered market/bazaar (Quaisariyeh). Other sights include the Imam Square (Maidan-e Imam); Zoroastrian Fire Temple; 16th-century Ali Qapu high gate; palaces (the Great Palace of Shah Abbas, in particular); and bridges (especially the Shahrestan, Khaju and Seeyo So Pol). The enormous Flower Garden of the Martyrs, a cemetery for soldiers killed in the war with Iraq, gives an idea of the incredible toll that war took on the country.

Although the elevation is 4,900 ft/1,500 m, the terrain is relatively flat. The city is known for its silver filigree, metalwork and aggressive merchants (you might find a better deal in the surrounding villages). 220 mi/355 km south of Tehran.

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