Despite the many park benches, the horse-drawn carriages for the tourists and the taxi stands, the square still resembles in many ways the field on the miniature drawing Keshwar gave me when we parted. It shows nimble riders with Mongol faces battling over a ball.
Since the spiritual leaders took over as the country's rulers, portraits of Khomeini and Khamenei frame the beautiful balcony, though they seem a lot smaller than four years ago. Directly opposite is the Sheik Lotfollah Mosque with its cream-colored, richly decorated dome. It was once the private mosque of Shah Abbas. A glance to my right makes me take a deep breath. There stands perhaps the most impressive work of Persian architecture: the Imam Mosque. I slowly walk towards it and sit on a low jutting wall in front of the splendid entrance.
"Madam, tiket!" I hear someone call, so I pay the required entrance fee. An old man checks the tickets. His tasbieh, the typical chain of pearls Moslem men carry, glides through his fingers as he greets me in English.
"Salaam. Hale shoma?" I answer in Farsi. Clearly surprised he sits up in his chair, and we strike up a conversation. He asks the usual questions then tells me of the many tourists who for the last few years have again begun to hazard their way into the city.
"It's not like before, you know, during the Shah's time, but it's getting better and better. There used to be barely enough place for everyone. So many foreigners visited us. They came from everywhere.

came from everywhere. From America, England, Germany, France. And the women were dressed stylishly and had nice hairstyles."
He waxes sentimental over the old days, "back when there was still freedom". But in his opinion things have already improved noticeably.
"When women feel they can come here alone, it can only mean good tidings. In the eighties there were practically no tourists."
"I was here for the first time in 1992 and hardly saw more than a handful of tourists in Esfahan. I've already run into that many this morning."
"See? Everything's getting better."
"Inshallah!" he answered with a wide grin.
"Since when do foreigners pay over ten times as much to get in? More than a thousand tomans instead of a hundred."
"That's new. Regulations, madam. For a couple of weeks now. I'm sorry. Pardon me."
We agree that I can visit the mosque any time without having to buy another ticket. Meanwhile, the Italian tour group has gathered at the entrance, and I exchange a few words with some of the older women. They got the blue smocks at the airport, they say, because their own clothes did not satisfy the regulations.
"But actually, we thought it would be much worse," says one woman in English with an amusing accent.