“When I was a child, the water flowed under the arches of the bridge and sometimes overflowed to spill into the surrounding streets,” sighs Mr. Mirahmadi.
The bed of Zayandeh-roud (“fertile river” in Persian) runs nearly 400 kilometers from the Zagros Mountains in the west, winds under several historic bridges in the city, before continuing to Lake Gavkhouni in the east .
But the river has, with rare exceptions, been dry since 2000, when officials diverted water to supply neighboring Yazd province.
And young people are now used to seeing the dry bed of Zayandeh-roud. Like Amir, an 18-year-old high school student, who rarely goes near the river because it “is no longer pleasant without water”.
“Most of my memories and those of my generation are associated with the dryness of the river,” he laments.
From time to time, the authorities temporarily open the floodgates of the dam to irrigate the wheat fields east of Isfahan, the country’s third largest city with two million inhabitants.
Like for a few days mid-May. The opportunity for locals and tourists to rush to the river to capture this ephemeral landscape.
“Do you see this crowd today? In a few days, when there is no more water in the river, you will only see old men like us. And we will come just to remember,” says Mr Mirahmadi .
– Selfies with the river –
“These historic bridges are meaningless without water. When the water of Zayandeh-roud flows, the bridges have a special appearance and beauty,” says Ali-Mohammad Fassihi, charged by the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism with the oversee.
In the shade of the trees at the edge of the water, families rest around a tea or a shisha, some stroll, while others sail on pedal boats on the shallow river.
Selfies and photos abound, especially near the historic Khajou and Si-o-Se Pol bridges, built in the 17th century during the golden age of Isfahan, then capital of Persia.
“I didn’t have good photos of the bridge’s reflection in the river because it’s been dry since I learned photography,” said Mahnaz, a 27-year-old art student, camera in hand.
Under the arches of the Khajou Bridge resounds the voice of a man who sings a melancholic song about a lost love.
Below the majestic Si-o-Se Pol bridge, Mohammad-Réza Abdollahi, portrait painter, awaits clients. In the meantime, the 50-year-old draws the bridge while enjoying his tea.
“I hadn’t been to Isfahan for ten years because there were few tourists because of the drought in Zayandeh-roud. I only wanted to stay for a week or two, but I extended my stay” after the opening of the dams, he said.
– “Losing a mother” –
But in the middle of the week, the floodgates were closed.
A change visible the next day: the water flows only under two arches of the Khajou bridge, remarkable for its decoration and its steps descending into the current.
“Zayandeh-roud is the meeting place for all the people of Isfahan. When they are happy, they come to this river and its bridges to celebrate. And if they are sad, they come here to calm down” , says Borna Moussavi, who campaigns for the preservation of the river and the heritage of Isfahan.
For him, the disappearance of the river “would be similar to the disappearance of a family member or a mother for the people of Isfahan. Zayandeh-roud is like a mother for us”.
In November, tens of thousands of people, including farmers, gathered in the dry riverbed to complain about the terrible drought and blame authorities for diverting water.
In the spring, the municipality launched an awareness campaign on the fate of the river with several signs erected in the city. But the population fears the final disappearance of Zayandeh-roud.
For Mr. Mirahmadi, “if there is no river, Isfahan will become a desert and in four or five years, everyone will abandon the city. This river has kept Isfahan alive”.