Isfahan (historically also rendered in English as Ispahan, Sepahan) is the capital of Isfahan Province in Iran, located about 340 kilometers (211 miles) south of Tehran. It is Iran’s third largest city after Tehran and Mashhad.
Isfahan is famous for its Persian–Islamic architecture, with many beautiful boulevards, covered bridges, palaces, mosques, and minarets. This led to the Persian proverb “Esfahān nesf-e- jahān ast” (Isfahan is half of the world). Naghsh-e Jahan Square (the UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Isfahan is one of the largest city squares in the world and an outstanding example of Iranian and Islamic architecture.
Imam Square (Naqsh-e Jahan)
Before Isfahan was selected as Capital by the Safavid dynasty, a square called Naqsh-e Jahan (Image of the world) existed in the vicinity of Imam square. During the reign of Shah Abbas the Great, this square was enlarged to almost its present dimensions and the most famous historic buildings of Isfahan were constructed around this square. This square has an area of more than 85 thousand square. During the reign of Shah Abbas I and his successors, this square was an area where festivities, polo, dramatics and military parades took place. Two stone gates of the polo are embedded in the north and south of this square. The length of this great square is 500 meters from north to south, and its width about 150 meters from east to west. Most of the foreign tourists believe that Imam square is one of the greatest squares in the world. Naqsh-e Jahan Square has witnessed many historical memories of Iran during the past four centuries. Memories of the life of Shah Abbas the Great and his successors until the end of the Safavid era is associated with this great historical square.
The construction of this mosque situated at the south side of Imam Square (Naqsh-e Jahan) started in 1020 A.H under the order of Shah Abbas I during the twenty-fourth year of his reign, and the decorations and extensions of the building were completed during the rule of his successors. The chief architect and the supervisor of the building were Ostad Ali Akbar Isfahani and Moheb Ali Beik. This mosque is a masterpiece of the 16th century from the viewpoint of architecture, tile work and stone carving. One of the interesting features of this mosque is the echo of sound in the center of the gigantic dome in the southern section. The height of this dome is 52 m and the minarets therein 48m; whereas the minarets at its portal in the Naqsh-e-Jahan Square reach an elevation of 42 m. The huge one-piece marble and other slabs of stone, besides the intricate tile work and adornments prove extremely spectacular views of this mosque.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
This mosque is another masterpiece of architecture and tile work of the 16th century which was constructed by a decree issued by Shah Abbas I and took a period of 18 years to be completed. The architect and mason of this structure was Ostad Mohammad Reza Isfahani. Inside tile work decorations of the plinth to the top are covered with mosaic tiles. In terms of the architectural grandeur of the mosque, foreign archaeologists believe: “It can hardly be considered a product of human hands.” Sheikh Lotfollah was one of the great pious in the Shia sect, in what is known as Lebanon today. At the invitation of Shah Abbas I, he came to reside in Isfahan. This place was constructed in honor of this great man who led the prayers and preached in this mosque.
This palace which is a unique example of palace architecture in the Safavid era was constructed under the order of Shah Abbas I in the early 11th century A.H. The monarch received special envoys in this palace and held his audience here. There are five floors in this palace and each floor has its special decorations. During the reign of Shah Abbas II, a royal parlor (Shah Neshin) was added to the main building and the sovereign and his guests watched polo, illuminations, fire-works and the dramatics that took place in the Nagsh-e-Jahan Square from the halls of this elegant palace. This palace was also called ‘Daulat Khaneh-e-Mobarakeh Nagsh-e-Jahan’ and the ‘Daulat Khaneh Palace’. Its unique archaic architecture is related to the Safavid era.
The Chehel Sutun (Forty Columns) Palace
The Chehel Sotune Palace and its garden cover an area of approximately 67,000 sq. m. This palace was constructed during the reign of Shah Abbas I and a building was established in the middle of this garden. Shah Abbas II was also responsible for additions to this palace. The reflection of the twenty pillars of the hall in the pool opposite the palace brings about a conception of forty pillars. But in fact, the number of “Forty” represents the quantity and multitude in Iran and the reason for which the mentioned building is called Chehel Sotun is the great number of the pillars in this palace.
Hasht Behesht Palace
The historical edifice of Hast Behesht, an example of residential palaces of the last kings of the Safavid dynasty, was constructed during the reign of Shah Soleiman Safavid in 1080 A.H. Tile work of the building representing different kinds of birds, wild animals and reptiles which are the remnants of this palace, can be noted. Today, only a minor portion of the grounds remains. However, the historical palace is still a valuable and interesting monument. A park has been built around it after the Revolution.
Chahar Bagh School
Chahar Bagh School, also known as Madraseh-ye Madar-e Shah (The King-mother’s School) is the last architectural masterpiece of the Safavid era. This school was constructed for theological studies, late in the reign of Shah Soltan Hossain Safavid in the years 1116-1126 AH. In terms of tile work, Chahar Bagh School contains various types of tile works which have turned it into a unique building. In fact, the school is known as the Museum of Tiling of Isfahan. King’s mother had a large caravansary built nearby, which was the most luxurious passenger accommodation about three centuries ago. This caravansary has recently been rebuilt as the most famous luxury hotel in Iran, Abbasi Hotel. The architecture structure of this hotel is spectacular and unique in the world.
Chahar Bagh Boulevard
Isfahan was chosen as the capital of Iran during the reign of Shah-Abbas I in 1006 A.H. From that time, many considerable activities started for constructing palaces, bridges and historical mosques in order to decorate the capital. Constructing a boulevard like Chahar Bagh was also taken place in this year under the command of Safavid king. Chahar Bagh Boulevard is a historical broad tree-covered avenue which connects the north of the city from Darvaze Dolat (across the current mayoral palace) to south (Darvaze Shiraz).
This bridge is a unique masterpiece of the reign of Shah Abbas I. It was constructed under the supervision and expense of Allah Verdi Khan, one of his famous commanders. This bridge is approximately 300 m. in length and 14 m. in width and is the longest bridge on the Zayandeh Rud River which was constructed in 1005 A.H. The Armenians used to hold special festivities near this bridge in the Safavid period. Julfa Armenians held “Khaj-Shouyan” ceremony around this bridge. This bridge is one of the masterpieces in bridge construction in Iran and the world.
Khaju Bridge (Shahi Bridge)
This bridge took its foundation in the late Timurid period and was constructed according to what it is currently in 1060 AH, under the orders of Shah Abbas II. There is a structure in the center of the bridge, known as the Beglarbegi construction which is still standing with painting decorations on the top. The same was used as a temporary residence for the royal family. The name of this bridge is a distorted version of the word ‘Khajeh’ which was a title for great personalities in the Safavid era.
The Vank Church is one of the most famous churches in the Jolfa vicinity of Isfahan. The construction of this church commenced in the reign of Shah Abbas II in 1065 A.H and was completed in 1074 A.H. The interior of the church is richly decorated with painting decorations, interesting tile works and beautiful oil paintings of Jesus Christ’s life. Except for the religious paintings revealing an Italian and Netherlands touch, the type of its architecture and all the other decorations of this church are Iranian.
Manar Jonban (the swinging minaret)
This structure comprises of a mausoleum and two minarets, constructed on the tomb of ‘Amoo Abdollah’ a reputed personality of the 8th century A.H. The construction of Manar Jonban is based on Mongol architecture and there are tile works remained of that era. The two minarets were added later in an unknown date, but probably at the end of the Safavid era. It is extremely interesting to note that on shaking one minaret, not only does the other move, but that the structure itself sways.
Atashgah (Fire Temple)
The Atashgah of Isfahan, the top of which is made of thick and hard brick, is a Sassanid-era archaeological complex located on a hill of the same name about eight kilometers west of Isfahan. According to the historians, the Atashgah was one of the most famous fire temples in Isfahan. Although it is difficult to determine the date of the final structure, what is certain is not newer than the Sassanid period. On a low mountain about twenty kilometers west of Isfahan and in the lovely plain named Qorb overlooking the Zayandeh Rud River, remains of an old building are still left which dates back to probably the Parthian era or Sassanid period.
Old Qaisarieh Bazaar
Qaisarieh Bazaar was one of the largest and most luxurious shopping malls in the Safavid era. This bazaar which is now the greatest supplier of handicrafts in Isfahan was constructed in 1029 A.H on the north side of the Imam Square. This bazaar used to be a center of selling precious fabrics during the Safavid dynasty and foreign companies were also trading there. The entrance to the bazaar is through a majestic gateway which is decorated with paintings and mosaic tile works representing two archers with lion torso and dragon’s tail. There are two platforms situated at the either side of the entrance gateway on which the goldsmiths used to represent their goods for sale in the old days.