pleasant cascades. An uplifting feeling in my legs carries me into the street. It is a brilliant spring morning, and after the heavy rains there is a distinct freshness and the scent of moist flowerbeds in the air. Light green leaves glisten in the sunlight. Rushing water in the creeks of the Chahar Bagh easily drowns out the noise of the omnipresent Peykan hordes. The broad walkways and the lovely center strip beneath the sycamores are full of people, and I join the river of pedestrians enjoying the morning either on business or just strolling. Down to the right leads to the Zayandeh Rud with its fascinating bridges, and to the left is Shah Square, or Imam Square as it has been called since the Revolution.
There is so much to see in this city which is surely one of the most beautiful in the orient. It is a highlight of Persian art, and its turquoise domes, fantastic mosques and decorative minarets cast as spell on every visitor. The "Pearl of Persia" or the modest "Half of the World" are common nicknames for this oasis city that owes its current look to the great builder and Safavid ruler Shah Abbas I who ruled his empire from here at the end of the sixteenth century.I decide on my first walk to visit the main square before the bazaaris take their noon breaks and close the silver-trimmed gates of the great mosque to heathen tourists. A gaggle of Italian voices draws my attention to a group of strangely dressed women. For two weeks I felt as though I were the only European in the country, and now I am curious about the other foreigners. The Italians have conformed to the clothing regulations with fanciful shawls,

clothing regulations with fanciful shawls, scarves and brimmed caps. One older lady is wearing only a long wide blouse over her jeans and a colorful headscarf. Apparently travelers in groups are allowed the occasional faux pas. Most of them, however, are running around in a kind of dark blue smock.
To test my orientation, I refuse to use the map. It has been four and a half years since I first saw the city, but that short encounter is deeply etched in my mind. Now I want to rediscover it. On my first day, I will not visit my hosts from the last time, despite my bad conscience. I want to traipse along the streets alone and independently.
The Chahar Bagh leads me towards the square, but at some point I will have to turn right. Just to make sure I ask a woman who raises her sunglasses and points the way to me in gestures. Through a nondescript alley I finally reach the Meidane Imam. I am excited as though about to meet an old girlfriend after many years. Another few steps and I have reached my destination.
The two-story arcades with their shady nooks line the enormous rectangular square, one of the biggest in the world. I am standing right next to Ali Qapu Palace, the column pavilion of Shah Abbas I, on one of the long sides of the square stretching over half a kilometer. Above me lies a room open in three directions with slender cedar columns supporting its richly decorated roof. This is where the ruler used to watch the games on the former polo grounds. Despite the many park benches, the horse-drawn carriages