Among the cities of Iran, Isfahan is like a piece of jewelry that despite the historical fluctuations in the area has still retained its luster and glory throughout the centuries. The city is so vibrant that it seems as if it has been born today and yet it is so original that it looks as though it has always existed. The city’s rich culture and beautiful nature are in such perfect harmony that one seems to be a reflection of the other. Isfahan is an ultimate expression of the Iranian-Islamic Culture.
Isfahan: The City of Four Seasons
Isfahan is located in the central Iran inside the plains stretching along Zayandeh Rood River. The city is located in a relatively mountainous area in the center of the Iranian Plateau and stretches from the snowy Zagros Mountains in the West to the East and North-central deserts of Iran. There exists a variety of climatic conditions in the city thanks to regions with different altitudes.
Generally, as the altitude falls from Western city to the Eastern, the area temperature increases together with the decrease in the amount of rainfall. There is a breeze drifting in the city throughout the four seasons. The Western and Southwestern winds which blow along Zayandeh Rood River in the spring and fall endow the city with a glorious weather. Isfahan is a city with regular seasonal changes. Spring begins in late March with the trees in full bloom, summer in late June. The city greets fall color in late September with the leaves falling off the trees and winter starts in late December. Among all the seasons and months, Isfahan is in its perfect splendor in May. It’s the month when a breeze from the sky drifts through the colorful city in possession of a pleasant weather and luring lights. Isfahan is dowered with a full sunlight and is sunny three fourth of a year.
The Isfahan Bazaar is to be taken as a clear-cut example of the urban manifestation in the course history. Originally, it was constructed in the southeast wing of Friday Mosque and Kohneh Square but various arcades and rooms were later added to it. The history of the bazaar dates back to the 11th century, but the present remnant dates from the Safavid period during which the Qaysariya Bazaar was constructed in the north wing of Naghsh-i-Jahan Square, and was developed as a substitute for the Kohneh Square.
The Great Bazaar of Isfahan extends to the Friday Mosque and then to Bazaar Oryan (naked bazaar) called Bazaar Nezamiya. Its architectural structure is characterized by abundant historical monuments which lend cultural significance to it.
One of these architectural complexes is composed of the mausoleum of Harun and adjacent school resembling that of the Seljuq Sultan Mohammad called Haji Hasan’s school. Zolfaghar Mosque of 1561 A.D., Sadr Mosque, Mmavard school and Karevansaras (inns) including Gholshand and a number of bathrooms as remnants of the Safavid era.
Frescos on the portal of the Qaysariya Bazaar and its muqarnas (pendentive) ceiling testify its long history. The frescos portraying wars of Shah Abbas I as well as the European people survived until the early present century.
Its west wing, nowadays, portrays the hunting-ground of Shah Abbas I and the upper tilework on the portal portrays a hunter.
Once there was a building called Negar Khaneh on both sides of the Qaysariya portal but it was destroyed in the late Safavid period.
The Isfahan Bazaar is unique in strength and beauty. The most important and great Chahar-Su (crossroad) is the one located in central Bazaar and is a remnant of Shah Abbas l. It is nowadays the market place for various types of hand printed or calico cloths. Historical evidence indicates that Qaysariya Bazaar, among the most splendid areas of Isfahan of the Safavid dynasty, was allocated to jewelers and lathe operators.
The engraved metal handcrafts especially copper dishes are marketed in the form of precious and premium artworks produced by the demanding efforts of engraving craftsmen. It is one of the best-known and traditional industries that is of significance among the Iranian handcrafts.
Maestro Mahmud Dehnavi was a great engraver who mingled delicacy and skill and created superb works to be later housed in different museums.
Ostad Mahmoud Farshchian was born in the city of Isfahan in the year 1929. His father,a rug merchant, was an art aficionado who instilled a love for the arts in his son. Young Mahmoud showed an interested in studying art quite early in life and studied under the tutelage of Haji Mirza-Agha Emami and Isa Bahadori for several years. Farshchian left for Europe, where he studied the works of the great western masters.
Farshchian is the founder of his own school in Iranian painting, which adheres to classical form while making use of new techniques to broaden the scope of Iranian paintings.
Achieved through lengthy years of hand practices, this industry is exclusive to highly green-thumb Isfahani craftsmen. Master craftsmen translate their talents and experiences by hammer and elegant engraving tools into charming patterns on metal objects such as plates, vases, large trays, picture frames, cigarette packs and many other thing which are marketed to national and international customers in the shops adjacent to the Naghsh-i-Jahan Square and Chahar Bagh Street.
Composed of Chahar Bagh or Sultani School and Shah Mother’s inn, the complex was constructed under Sultan Hossein Safavi. It is recognized as the last example of a huge complex constructed in the safavid period. It dates back to 1722-1732 A.D. In 1961, it was turned into Abbasi Hotel, a hotel which dazzles the eyes of every viewer.
Originally a caravanserai, the Abbasi Hotel is composed of a mosque, a bazaar, and a caravanserai. It was commissioned by Sultan Hussein Safavi in 1700 C.E. The caravanserai was ruined after the invasion of the afghans to be later restored in Qajar era. In 1960’s, in a state of ruin, it was purchased by the iran insurance Company that totally restored this old hotel. In 1966, the hotel was decorated by a group of 150 artists under the supervision of Mehdi Ebrahimian. In 1972, the insurance company decided to develop the hotel. The Abbasi Hotel indicates the art of pre-Islamic and post-Islamic periods.
The major parts of the hotel include interior hall, Naghsh e Jahan hall, the entrance hall of the restaurant, Ali Qapu Hall, Chihil Sutun restaurant, Zarrin hall, and the new building of the guesthouse.
About Abbasi Hotel, Professor Pope writes, “The interior decorations are indicative of the sublime arts in Isfahan. They are enchanting and well-worked. It was an art which declined after a period of flourish.”
Constructed in 1610 A.D, the church was the extension of Hacoup Church as the first Armenian church in Isfahan which was constructed in 1606 A.D. It is currently located in the northwest wing of Mary Church courtyard. Hacoup is deeply revered by the Armenians as it is believed to be the first church which was constructed pursuant to the influx of the Armenians to Isfahan. The historical inscription characterizing the church belongs to its founder Khwaja Avdick, a famous Armenia merchant. During the reign of Shah Abbas I, he was a well-known silk merchant who commissioned the Church and funded its golden and silvery lights and candles, Persian boards and portraits and paid for the whole costs of the Church in his lifetime.
Two grand Venetian portraits brought as souvenirs by khwaja Ghorghagh, an Armenia merchant, are hung on the interior wall of the Church.
Minar Junban (Shaking Minaret)
Amu Abdullah’s shrine is characterized by a grand marble stone carved with the Qur’anic Sura of “Yasin” in rough Thulth Script and its south wing with “ It suffices when death is the preacher.” It is interesting to note that when one minaret is shaken, the other one shakes too. The shake is also transferred to other parts of the monument so that when a bowl of water is put on the grand stone in one of the Iranian arches, one can observe the effect on the water level, too.
Minaret of Ali mosque is built in the “Meydan-e-Ghadim” of Isfahan. It is a Saljughi era building. The decoration on this minaret is brickwork, like other buildings of the same period. “Haroon-e-Velayat” shrine is one of the holy pilgrimage of Isfahan and it is built during the region of Shah Esmaeel Safavi I .
Si-o-Se- Pol Bridge (Allah Verdi Khan Bridge)
With 300 meters long and 14 meters wide, the bridge is the longest one over the Zayandeh Rood. The bridge was built during the reign of Shah Abbas I in 1611 A.D. under the supervision of his warlord Allah Verdi Khan. It is one of the architectural masterpieces and grandeurs of the Safavid era. Its high walls protected caravans against wind and the rooms as well as other places were used as shelter and place of rest for travelers. Historically, the bridge is identified by various titles as “Si-o-Se Chishmeh” , “Chahar Bagh” , “Pol-i-Shah Abbasi” , “Zayandeh Rood” and also “Julfa”.
Nowadays, Allah Verdi Khan Bridge, due to its extraordinary glamour and beauty and the fact that it links two sections of Chahar Bagh Street (both upper and lower ones) is to be considered as the main tourist magnet while retaining its traditional road-way role.
According to the tourists who visited Isfahan in the Safavid era, the festival of water-sprinkling as a traditional Iranian festival, was held close to the bridge. Its proximity to the Julfa district had allowed Isfahani Armenians to perform their “Khaj Shoyan” (hair-washing) ceremony near it.
At the order of Shah Abbas ll, the monument was erected in the original site of the bridge in the Timurid Era in 1666 A.D. Its exteriors are decorated with highly fine plasterworks and ornaments and a special place was built in its central building named “Biglar Beigi” for the sojourn of the Safavid kings. The bridge has 24 arches behind which lies a wooden dam for water reservation, causing the bridge to serve as a dam.
Believed by many to be the largest bridge over the Zayandeh Rood, it displays special manifestation when flooding. The bridge is a public recreation site. Originally called “Pol-i-Shahi” (Royal Bridge), it is identified by various names such as “Hasan Khan Turkman” , “Pol-i-Hasanabad” , “Pol-i-Shiraz” and “Pol-i-Baba Rukn ad-Din.
It is currently called Khawju because it is situated in the vicinity of Khwaju district. It is about 133m long and 12m wide. In its central part lie a number of royal residential rooms and decoration halls.
Among the advantages of this bridge over others, apart from its distinctive architectural features, is the existence of many tilework ornamentations as well as colored tileworks on the monuments of the Biglar Beigi over the Bridge.
The Vank Church is the most magnificent church of Julfa district in Isfahan in terms of architecture and ornamentation, which was built on the debris of an old church, built in 1605 A.D. during the reign of Shah Abbasll.
The interior and walls are decorated with oil paintings and gold plating in Indian and Italian Styles, but other ornamentations are Iranian in style such that the gold plated ceiling and the interior of its dome are decoratively unique in their kind.
Meaning church in Armenian language, the church was built in 1645 A.D.
It is characterized by its splendid belfry in the front part of its main entrance. Its historical Armenian inscription is decorated with the names of Shah Sultan Hussein Safavi, archbishop and its founder, dating back to 1702 A.D. Highly unique and charming combination and collection of the Iranian ornamentation and architecture with European style are among its unique features.
Hasht Behesht Palace
As a small palace, the monument stands in the center of a garden known as Bagh-i-bulbul (Nightingale Garden) which was built in 1686 A.D. during the reign of Shah Suleiman. It occupies a special place among the unique places of the Safavid Era. It is decorated with many marble pieces and tile works designed by symmetrical portraits of various animals and birds. The monument and its garden survived until the late Qajar era, but now nothing is left of the palace except a building.
Chardin used to reside in Isfahan during the reign of Shah Suleiman and had frequently visited the monument.
“I have vowed to give a description of one of the talars of a garden. That is called “Emarat-i-Behesht” (Paradise Building). All its ceilings are decorated with fine mosaics. The walls and piers are two-storied and surrounded by corridors and halls. The corridors, containing hundreds of chambers are the most pleasant places all across the world each of which is lit up by a hole which affords illumination. The light is in harmony with the recreations for which the complexes have been established.
Chihil Sutun Palace
In an area of 67000sqm called Chihil Sutun Garden, a building by the same name was erected during the reign of Shah Abbas I. However, the complex was later developed into a palace during the reign of Shah Abbas ll for official reception of Safavid rulers. The Construction of the palace dates back to 1667 A.D. There is a combination of Iranian, Chinese and Western architecture. As the pillars are reflected in the frontal pool, the palace is identified by its present name. However, it is mostly believed that the word “Chihil” (forty) in “Chihil Sutun” is an indication of polarity, showing the multitude of the pillars supporting the structure. The palace was the government house in the Qajar era whose adjoining rooms were used for administrative affairs. The palace is estimated to be 75*48f in size and 25m in height. The frontal fountain lies in an area of 110*16m possessing a stone spring surrounded by the statues of four stone lions on its four corners.
Three of its painted rooms are decorated with portraits of Shah Abbas I. Other miniatures are clear examples of Reza Abbasi’s art works and rank among the most significant parts of the monument.
Some fundamental developments were made in the structure of the palace during the reign of Shah Abbas ll when the Talar-i-Ayeneh (Mirror Hall), Talar-i-Hijdah Sutun (eighteen-pillar Hall), two large northern and southern rooms of the Talar-i-Ayeneh, adjoining iwans to the royal entrance room and the large frontal fountain of the Talar (a columnar porch form usually located at ground level) along with its ornamentations were added.
Three of its painted rooms are embellished with portraits of Shah Abbas I. Other miniatures are clear examples of Reza Abbasi’s art works and rank among the most significant parts of the monument.
The walls are decorated with large mirrors, colorful glasses and marvelous paintings. The door and windows are fretted and inlaid.
Ali Qapu is believed by some to be an Ottoman word meaning Great Gate while while other attribute it to an altered word of “ Ali’s Qapu” meaning Ali’s gate because Shah Abbas had installed one of the doors of Imam Ali’s Holy Shrine (AS) in the entrance of the palace. In the Safavid era it was identified by different names such as “Dowlat-Khaneh Mobarak Naghsh-i-Jahan” and “Qasr-i-Dowlat Khaneh. The exiting plasterworks are among the most splendid examples of plasterworks which despite considerable damages, still retain their glory and grandeur. The combination of these with artistic miniatures by Reza Abbasi and the unique design of the complex leave deep impact on the visitors.
A unique monument of the Safavid era, the Ali Qapu Palace was commissioned by Shah Abbas I in the first quarter of the 17th century in the west wing of Naghsh-i-Jahan Square. The Palace was used for official reception.
“The Sound Room” or “Music Hall” characterized by acoustic plasterworks for natural reflection or reverberation of songs is a must-see. Plasterworks of the Music Hall were completely designed in the shape of various dishes such as bowl, pitcher, and so on which, besides their ornamental quality, serve natural acoustic purposes.
As a five-storied building, it is decorated with precious murals and plasterworks by master artists including Reza Abbas, a well-known painter during the reign of Shah Abbas I.
The Ali Qapu Palace was used for official reception by the successors of Shah Abbas I as well. However, some measures were taken to further the decorations. The construction of Hijdah Sutun iwan (a vaulted portal opening onto a courtyard) on the third floor which ended under Shah Abbas ll is one such construction measure. The iwan faces Naghshe-i-Jahan square and is characterized by wooden pillars and fences and a copper pound in the center. The iwan was used as platform by the Safavid rulers for watching military parades or polo games at festivals.
A monument dating from the Safavid period, the Abbassi Friday Mosque is deemed by many to be the most splendid mosque in grandeur of architecture and abundance of ornaments hitherto built in Iran. Located in the southern wing of Naghshe-i-Jahan Square, It is identified by various names including The Shah Mosque. The construction dates back to 19th, April 1916. It was started during the implementation of the third phase of building Naghsh-i-Jahan Square at the order of Shah Abbas the Great and ended in 1637 during the reign of Shah Safi.
The Imam Mosque is characterized by four iwans in an area of 100*130m, regardless of the infrastructure of the entrance. Two thin minarets of the southern iwan are 45 meters high. The 52 meter grand dome of the mosque is exposed between two internal and external layers with 14 meters high and a diameter of 25 meters. Despite the huge dimensions of the mosque and the complex structure, it has been most symmetrically constructed.
The location of the mosque in the south wing of Naghsh-i-Jahan Square and its amazing manifestation are obvious indications of its vital role. The motive of Shah Abbas the Great for constructing the mosque along with Qaysariya Bazaar, Naghsh-i-Jahan Square and the adjacent stores was to transfer the business center of the city, recently identified as the capital, from the Kohneh Square and old bazaar to a new site.
For this reason, the construction of the mosque was commenced pursuant to the purchase of the neighboring residential houses in 1611 A.D. Badi al-Zamani Tuni is said to have developed the structural plan and its portal inscription creator was Ali Akbar Isfahani, an architect and engineer.
One of the interesting thing which catch the attention of every viewer in the mosque is the symmetry of the entrance with that of the Naghsh-i-Jahan Square. The axis of the square is approximately concordant with the four main directions and the mosque designers have changed its internal section by 45 degrees to southwest so that the direction of qibla (the point toward which Muslims turn to pray, esp. the Ka’ba, or House of God, at Mecca) could be correct.
To remove the mismatch between the entrance and internal section of the mosque, a winding patch has been built between the entrance and the northern iwan which denies every visitor of turning the axis after entering the monument.
Its glamour and beauty, regardless of the talent employed in its architecture and grandeur, owes to the unique plasterworks.
The portal, a masterpiece of the Safavid plasterwork, is composed of top mosaic tiles characterized by various arabesque and inscription calligraphed by renowned Safavid calligraphers.
Other ornaments are further developed by using seven colored mud mosaics within which varying steaks of blue have been given preference over others. The quality of the building materials and methods of patterning the mosaic tiles of the entrance iwan are superior to those in the interior of the mosque.
Among the parts completed in 1963 A.D is the silver-glided portal of the mosque which is decorated with ornamental patterns and Persian poems in Nastaliq calligraphy.
Sheikh Lutfullah Mosque
Situated in the east wing of the Naqsh-i-Jahan Square, the mosque is among the fabulous masterpieces of the 17th century architecture and tileworks.
The monument was originally built on the debris of an old mosque at the order of the Safavid Shah Abbas I in 1617 A.D and was named after the prayer leader, Sheikh Lutfullah Missi Ameli.
Unique mosaic toleworks in the interior and exterior of its dome have given an outstanding status to the monument among other Islamic art and architecture works.
The mosque suffered damages in the Qajar era. Most of its portal and dome tiles as well as the golden perimeter of the dome were destroyed. The portal and dome were restored during the years 1928-1936 A.D. The restoration of the wonderful rectangular pool in front of the mosque is also among further reconstruction measures carried out in 1937-1939 A.D. The floor of its dome, once covered with plaster, is now stone-covered and iron windows have replaced the wooden ones to give more light to its underground.
Symmetrical sizes, powerful design and impeccable construction of the composing parts of the mosque are amazingly inimitable.
The mosque is among few Iranian mosque which lack minaret, which is itself an indication of its uniqueness.
According to the inscription on its mihrab, Mohammad Reza Ostad Hussein Bannaye Isfahani was the architect of such a unique mosque in which inscriptions bye Ali Reza Abbasi and Bagher Banna of Sheikh Bahaee’s and Sheikh Lotfollah’s poems are obvious art works. Its dome is among the most splendid ones in Iran whose interior and exterior are decorated with precious mosaic tiles. The interior of the dome is characterized by a marvelous inscription pattern designed by Ali Reza Abbasi, a martyred calligrapher of the Safavid period. The interior ornamentation fully characterized by fine mosaic tiles makes an enchanting sight.
Naghsh-i-Jahan Square – Iran Easy Tourism
Presently called Imam Square, the Naghsh-i-Jahan Square was Constructed during the region of Shah Abbas I in Southern Isfahan with a view to developing the city and which gradually took the place of the Kohneh square. It is believed by many tourists to be one of the superb
squares all across the world containing a unique set of historical monuments. The name is derived from a famous garden of similar name which had existed there prior to the emergence of the square.
The square which is rectangular stands in an area of 500*165m. Except for the monuments all around the square, it is surrounded by two-storied stalls, the ground floor ones are in the form of chambers which chiefly serve as market place for handicrafts and souvenirs the square was of such paramount economic significance that each corner was allocated to a particular profession.
The importance of the square, apart from its beauty and historical values, lies in the unique monuments surrounding it; the Imam Mosque in south, Sheikh Lutfullah Mosque in the east, Ali Qapu Palace in the west and Qaysariya portal in the north, all of which have conduced to the vital political, and socio-economic role of the square in the course of history. the square was used for festivals, military parades and sport
competitions such as polo and shooting in the Safavid era. Nowadays the stone gates in the north and south for polo conjure up its socio-cultural significance in the past.