This city was conquered by Islam army in 20 A.H. (640 AD.). Islamic art and civilization gradually developed and buildings with Islamic architecture were constructed.
Isfahan was captured by Samanids after 301 A.H. (913 AD.) and gradually was extended. In the 6th century AH (12th century AD.) was destructed by Isma'i1s. It was capital for Toghrol Saljuqi for a while and during the Mongol invasion, Soltan Jalaladin Kharazmshah saved this city from distruction. During the reign of Shah Abbas I, Isfahan become the capital and so many beautiful buildings were built by his order and from that time Isfahan was known as Isfahan nesf-e-Jahan (half of the World).
Isfahan city with an area of 250 sq. klm, elevation of 1575 m, and a population of 1,159,102 (1992), is the centre of Isfahan Province, which is situated on the eastern slopes of Zagros on the northern and southern bonks of Zayandeh Rud. It is 414 klm to Tehran, .481 klm to Shiraz 316 klm to Yazd. The International Airport of Isfahan is located in north east of the city at a distance of 35 klm which has daily and weekly flights to other cities and countries. It is 335 klm to Tehran by air.
Here are some important attractions of Isfahan:
Ali Qapu Palace
Chahar Bagh Theological School
Chehel Sotun Palace
Imam Square (Naghsh-e-Jahan)
Shaking minarets (Monarjonban)
Sheikh Lotfollah mosque
Sio Seh Pol Bridge
Ali Qapu Palace
On the west, over the gateway to the palace quarters, the Palace of Ali Qapu contains state apartments, assembly halls and the terrace from which the emperor used to watch the polo games that were played on the Square. Though the Ali Qapu looks like a grandstand, and indeed served as one, it was in fact a royal residence as well. It is a very tall rectangular building of six stories; the facade facing the Square carries an enormous balcony, covered with a wooden roof supported by very tall wooden columns, the height of the third and fourth stories combined. This terrace is the talar; or royal enclosure, from which the Safavid kings, watched the ceremonies and sporting events in the square below. From it, or even better from the floor above it, one can still obtain the finest view of the Square, the Royal Mosque, the Sheikh Lotfollah dome, and in deed of the whole layout of the city with its mud domes, blue-washed porticoed colonnades looking into private gardens, and its battery of minarets on the north-eastern horizon. The interior of the roof is embellished with marquetry. Behind the talar is the throne room which was used as an audience chamber; it is decorated with wall paintings of the period in which European influence was strong. For the rest, the interior of the Ali Qapu is at once quaint and complex. A most involved system of winding stairways leads from one floor to another and on all floors there are wall paintings of much charm; the rooms were decorated in red, white, blue and gold, the walls painted with landscapes and hunting scenes, the floors covered with carpets of silk and gold. The decoration of the Music Room on the top is very original. The walls are covered with mural paintings and niches of various shapes fitted into the walls. The terrace is covered by a ceiling, decorated with wooden marquetery and precious metals. The roofing of the hall is supported by three rows of high slender wooden columns with capitals. In the middle of the terrace is a rectangular pond with a jasper border. There are miniatures by the famous artist Reza Abbasi of Shah Abbas days which have suffered much damage, paintings in the conventional style, flowers and patterns, branches and leaves, animals and birds and wonderful stucco work especially on the 6thfloorofthe building in the shape of various bowls and pots all over the roof and walls, all of these are attractive.
Chahar Bagh Theological School
Chahar Bagh Theological School which was previously called Madrasahe Madare Shah is the last (not the least) and the most beautiful masterpieces of Safavid period and was built at the time of the last Safavid king, Shah Soltan Hosain, between 1704 and 1714. It is famed for its tile-work, which represents Safavid art at its best. The tiled double dome is also an architectural masterpiece. The exterior walls are covered with extremely fine tile-work in a wide range of designs and patterns .The delightful garden shaded by tall plane-trees abut with pools along with the marble basin in the middle fed by a long canal that runs through the whole courtyard, add a note of freshness, producing f.1scinating effects of light and shade. The building has two principal gateways, one leading from the Chahar Bagh Avenue and the other from the Qaisariyeh Bazaar. The former, constructed of silver and gold, is a masterpiece of metal-work and engraving, while the one leading to the bazaar is of original Safavid inlaid work. Although it is a theological college, not a mosque, it contains a notable prayer hall with a fine altar (mihrab) facing towards Mecca. One hundred and fifty chambers on two storeys are set round the court yard. It is said that the work was financed by the Shah's mother-whence its name. From the outside, the building looks magnificent; in its style and decoration, the high cupola is similar to those on all Safavid mosques, only the shades are brighter and more varied; the strip of blue faience bearing the dedicatory inscription in white letters is wider, and there are two small yellow friezes. The decorative motifs, especially the large stylized flowers with delicate curves, are truly remarkable.
The minarets flanking the south portal on the inside are admittedly rather short but they are undoubtedly the most ornate minarets in Isfahan. The private chamber of Shah Soltan Hosain -the first on the right on the west side of the courtyard-is embellished with rich gilt decoration. In accordance with custom, the richest portal is that of the south iwan. The mosaics of jade and turquoise on a golden ground that surmount the ogival arch are extremely beautiful. A wide ultramarine string –course with delicate white lettering runs all round the portal. The use of yellow and gold shades is particularly characteristic of the last style of Safavid decorative art. The theme of flowers is constantly repeated in all the niches and alveoli of the vault; the ribs are set off by a double line of gilding. Regarding architectural harmony and tile-work designs, the dome of Chahar Bagh Theological School is the most beautiful one other than Sheikh Lotfollah's. The sumptuous altar (mihrab), the single marble pulpit (minbar), the private chamber of Shah Soltan Hosain and the wooden windows are also of picturesque views of the theological school.
Chehel Sotun Palace
Chehel Sotun Palace where the Shah Abbas I held his receptions and entertained his guests, was a very large open porch, handsome and so majestic. It stands inside a vast royal park built by Shah Abbas II round an earlier building erected by Shah Abbas 1. An inscription states that the decoration and frescoes were finished in 1647.Themain hall of the palace possesses six remarkable wall paintings, four of which are of the Safavid period. These depict:
I. Shah Abbas I receiving King of Turkistan, Vali Mohammad Khan
2. Shah Tahmasb, receiving Mongol Emperor Homayoun
3. The battle between Shah Abbas and the Uzbeks
4. Shah Abbas II entertaining the King of Turkistan
The remaining two paintings, added after the Safavids, depict:
I. Shah Isma'il I fighting the Ottomans at Chaldiran
2. Nader Shah Afshar's battle with the Hindus at Kernal Beneath these great scenes are smaller paintings, closer in style and subject matter to Persian miniature. Covered in plaster during the Qajar period, they have recently been carefully restored. All around the room are a series of Safavid objects including carpets, armor, porcelain and coins. This pavilion opens on the gardens by means of an elegant terrace, only a few steps high and supported by slender, delicate wooden pillars. In reality, there were never more than twenty columns, but they were reflected in the pool in the park, and so the Persians liked to call the building the "Pavilion with Forty Columns" (besides, the number 40 had a symbolic meaning in Persia and expressed respect and admiration). Two rows of water-spouts and fountains in the shape of stone lions at the four corners carried water to the huge, elegant rectangular basin. The terrace is a marvel of elegance. The slender pillars support alight wooden ceiling with wide fretwork louvers. Here we should note the influence of Eastern Asian architecture. Part of the sumptuous decoration -which is perhaps a little heavy-has disappeared. We must picture the back wall covered with mirrors, the doors of rare carved wood, and the pillars, each cut from a single plane-tree trunk, with their fine veneer, their brightly colored paintings, their mirrors and studs of colored glass. We still have the remarkable ceiling with its beams, it's coffering, and it's painted wood louvers, and its careful inlay-work-rosettes and suns, stars, stylized fruit and foliage. The great wooden ceilings are among the finest achievements of secular Persian art. In the center of the terrace is a marble basin guarded by four lions which support the central columns. In contrast to these large official paintings, we find -on the lower part of the walls-small genre paintings which express a subtler, more delicate aspect of Persian art. These include ceramic panels in which predominantly rich colors are set against a deep ultramarine background; they are in shades of green and jade, ochre and gold. There are also much more delicate paintings in which browns and reds predominate which are dear to the Persian genre painters: young women and very effeminate young men, dances, entertainments, concerts, and flirtations, all in a setting of gardens and orchards, shady cypresses and fruit trees, and grass studded with flowers. This large stateroom is flanked by two smaller rooms, wide-open to the garden and containing other paintings believed to be portraits of ambassadors. In the smaller rooms there are showcases containing an outstanding selection of fine items of Persian decoration (imaginary animals, dragons); the blue decorations on a white ground are exquisite.
Constructed in 1660 AD by the decree of Shah Soleiman this is the palace where the last kings of the Safavids period were living. It is a two floored palace with eight separate units. What making this palace beautiful and interesting are the tile workings indicating birds and wild animals decorating the exterior view of this palace? In the middle of the palace an octahedral basin which would be filled through the fountains made in its bottom absorbs our attention. By having an exact look in and around the palace we can see this palace mostly considered for springs and summers, for it is mostly an open construction with four porches in four sides. Entering its different rooms we can see beautiful paintings quite different from each other being Indicative of the genius of the architect.
The massive splendor of the Royal Mosque epitomizes the glory of Safavid Isfahan. The portal, understood as an aspect of the square rather than of the mosque, is the most thrilling example of human artifice that could be imagined. For Shah Abbas needed a great show-place, just as he needed the Lotfollah Mosque for private meditation, and he built this whole gigantic structure, with two Madrasahe (seminaries) in the few years from 1611 until his death in 1629, the year of the great cupola's completion. The two iwans on the east and west are identical and each gives access to a domed chamber. The south iwan, which is bigger than the two others, leads to the sanctuary that contains the mihrab and is topped by the huge green faience bulb of the horseshoe dome. The great chamber itself is flanked by two hypostyle halls. Thus the layout is rigorously symmetrical with respect to the axis that points towards Mecca. The two minarets that rise one on each side of the main iwan and provide a visual frame for the dome, stress the perfection of this distribution. The great entrance portal is overwhelmingly sumptuous. Shah Abbas wished it to be finished first so as to complete the imposing square and to offer a majestic counterpart to the portal of the bazaar on the opposite side. This portal is one of the most ornate, but also one of the most successful, works of Safavid art. The vast doorway, with its cut off corners, is embellished by ogival windows and blue and green mosaics. The foundations of the porch consist of large slabs of white marble from Ardestan (180km.from Isfahan).Above are rich mosaics of rare exuberance with a mingling of blue, turquoise and black. There are amazing geometrical designs (rosettes, interlaced patterns, spirals, etc.) on ornamental "carpets", stylized leaves and flowers, peacock feathers, and long friezes with inscriptions executed by the most famous calligraphers of the kingdom. At the base of the vault, in the side walls, are elegant niches with fine honeycomb decorations similar to those on the large vault of the porch itself These alveoli, or honeycombs, are covered with slender stalactites, each with a delicate decoration of small white flowers on a blue ground. These are the most sumptuous examples of Persian mosaic art. The courtyard is rather small and in the classic Iranian style: a square basin in the center for ablution s, and four iwans on the four sides. The outer wall of the porch is decorated with marvelous white arabesques on a blue ground; white and gold lettering runs along a string-course right at the top. The vault is less sumptuous than that of the entrance, but it repeats the same decorative motifs, ogives, and stars, in lavish gold tones. The Mosque has two domes, the inner 38 meters high and the outer 54 meters.
The northern side is set off by two minarets, and domes rise on all the other sides, with the double dome on the south side one of the highest in the city. The porch is flanked by two minarets which frame the cupola in the back ground. Solidly anchored on square bases, the slender cylindrical shafts of glazed turquoise bricks with white geometrical designs uphold delicate projecting balconies by means of blue and gilt supports. The cupola stands on a high circular drum lit by windows with magnificent partitions. Except for a narrow ultramarine string-course with extraordinarily delicate lettering, the whole cupola is faced with splendid glazed bricks with a turquoise ground that gleam in the sun. The artist decorated the drum with geometrical lines and white lettering, as well as some black and red designs. T he west iwan has a large porch surmounted by the goldatesh. Floral motifs predominate with fine blue and white corollas; the shades are softer and more varied, and mauves and pinks create as subtler harmony. This west iwan leads to a small prayer hall covered with a cupola, and the altar (mihrab) is on the left, facing Mecca. From the south iwan one can enter the large prayer hall. This square hall is surmounted by a cupola 37 m. high. The interior decoration of the dome is amazingly rich, with white, yellow and gold floral designs on a back ground of deep blue.
Imam Square (Naghsh-e-Jahan)
A royal area where you could visit one of the largest squares of the wort: 525meterslongand 159meterswidearoundwhichthereare200shops mostly for selling handicrafts and the Isfahanian famous sweet. Gaz the applications of this square were: First. A wide place for polo matches performed in the Safavid time. In the south and north of the square, you can see two columns specialized to e used as the gates of the polo players who would play before the Shah II was at this place where the Shah would observe the marches of his Army The second application regarded for this place is trading and the third regarding it as a religious place by constructing Imam and Sheikh Lotfollah mosques in the northern and the eastern lines of the square.
Well to the north-east of the center of the town stands the great Jame' Mosque, historically and architecturally the most important building in Isfahan. It is a hug e ensemble of numerous structures, some probably dating from the l0th century and to the beginning of the 12thcentury. The harmony of the brickwork, the tile work added later, as well as the plaster moldings, inscriptions, and other decorations in a setting of glorious simplicity, engulf the beholder in an almost spiritual aura. All the buildings are set round a fine rectangular central courtyard from which the four iwans open off -these are deep porches decorated with ceramics and glazed tiles and offer a splendid example of the varied and original art of decoration in medieval and Safavid Iran. A very simple fountain for ablutions faced with fine slabs of white marble stands in the center of the courtyard. The south porch is the most sumptuous. Its facade, decorated with fine blue mosaics, is flanked by two minarets with geometrical designs and alveoli. The vault is opened by a very obtuse ogival arch. The large string-courses with inscriptions on the outside of the porch and those with white faience on a blue ground inside the arch date from the 16th and 17th century. The most interesting decoration, however, is to be found on the two side walls. These mosaics date back to the 15th century and contain extraordinarily rich and very original geometrical designs (stars, rosettes, and some stylized floral designs). The colors are rather dark-various shades of blue and some black patches on a background of white marble. The rather larger west iwan is surmounted by the goldatesh, a small tower from which the faithful are called to prayer. Faience decorations dating from the Safavid period, some-the richest-even from the beginning of the 18th century, adorn the outer wall, the interior foundations and the,-vault itself; they are brilliantly colored in a wide variety of ones. This rich exuberance contrasts with the moderation of the south porch. It is very interesting to compare the two styles. The north iwan also has a majestic monumental porch. Built also in the Seljuq period, this porch-or at least part of it-has remained relatively sober. A fine slab of white marble inside the arch bears Kufic lettering in which the lines often imitate stylized leaves or flowers. The few contributions of the Safavid period consist of glazed tiles and blue and white stuccoes. In the east iwan we come back to Seljuq and Mongol architectural forms and decorations, especially in the mosaics on the substructure and on the inner side walls. The magnificent altar (mihrab) of Oljaitu in the Jame' Mosque is Oljaitu's memorial in Isfahan. The work is in chiseled stucco-a craft with, even at that time, a millennium of history behind it; it shows Naskh script set against complex foliate scrollwork, borders of twisting vine-leaves and a panel of what are usually described as lotus flowers. This altar (mihrab) is the most elaborate but not the most subtle, example of Mongol stucco-work in Iran. The arched niche is framed by two slender columns and surmounted by panels of exquisitely chisel led plaster, with exuberantly shaped floral designs, inscriptions, and arabesques and string-courses of geometrical designs. Immediately beside it is the large winter hall built under Tamerlane's successors (in 1448). Beyond the iwan, to the south, is the so-called room of the south altar (mihrab) facing Mecca, in the direction of which the faithful turn during prayer. This square room, shut in on the south side by the wall of the enclosure and opened on the others by large arches, is covered by a brick cupola and is beautifully proportioned. An inscription in Kufic script dating from the 11th century runs along the base of the cupola; the remainder of the decorations on the walls and arches date from the l5th century (Timurian) and from the 16th century (Safavid). Within a few years of the reconstruction of the Sanctuary, a smaller dome-chamber, sometimes known as the Gonbad-e Khaki, was built on the northern boundary of the mosque. T his is dated 1088-9 and was erected by Taj-ol Molk, counselor of Malek Shah's mother and as worn rival of the Nezam-olMolk.
The best known of the historic Safavid bridges is the Khwaju Bridge, with storied recesses, galleries, and arcades which provide the citizens with a favorite place of rest and recreation. With one exception, this is the last of the great monuments of Isfahan, and it is perhaps the most remarkable of all Safavid buildings. The Khwaju Bridge was built on the ruins of an old bridge con strutted by Hasan Beig Aq Qoyounlu with stone and brick, 133 m .long and 12 m. wide. Situating on the way to the old Isfahan-Shiraz road, Khwaju Bridge was built by Shah Abbas in the middle of the 17th century. Other than Khwaju, it was also called Shahi, Baba Rok-od Din, Shiraz and Hasanabad. It rests on twenty-four enormous piers of masonry divided by narrow channels in which the water, when required up stream, can be dammed. Each of these channels is covered by a bro ad pointed arch, with geometrical tiles in the spandrels. The road way is at the level of the upper tier, every fourth arch being open to give access to it. In the center of the bridge there is a hexagon al projection constituting a sort of pavilion, with small iwans facing outwards, decorated in mosaic. On the downstream side of the bridge steps descend to the river. T here is a series of low vaults running within each arch along the whole length of the bridge. The sides of the upper tier of arches, on each side of the bridge, are pierced by smaller round-headed doorways, providing. A footpath looking outwards beside the road but separated from it save by the gap in every fourth arch. It is an astounding construction, ingenious, practical in the highest degree and at the same time lovely to behold.
Shaking minarets (Monarjonban)
The shaking minarets of Isfahan are located six kilometers far from the city. The date of their construction goes back to seven centuries ago. They are Mongolian in style. This building is constructed over the tomb of Amu Abdollah Karladani. One of the Islamic scientists of that time the reason of the importance of this building is mostly due to the resistance of the building against the vibrations. Therefore when one of the minarets is shaken the other minaret will be shaken too simultaneously. The minarets are seventeen meters high and the distance between them is ten meters.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
The Mosque of Sheikh Lotfollah on the east side of Naqshe Jahan Square is a pleasantly proportioned small sanctuary preceded by a shady square and a large pool. It was built by Shah Abbas I between 1602 and 1619. It is named after scholar of Islam who was greatly venerated at the time. A native of Lebanon, this sheikh was invited by the king, first to Mashhad, near the sanctuary of the Imam Reza, then to the capital where he has put in charge of the king's mosque and the school of theology. The great originality of the cupola is due to the cream or pink-according to the time of day-ground color to which the artist has added a very delicate decoration of serried arabesques and black and blue flowers. The turquoise and sapphire shades of classic Safavid art appear only on the drum and right at the top. The cupola is recognized as the most perfect in Iran. Uncanny lighting seeps through the windows at the base of the vault. Widespread use is made of the decorative value of calligraphy in the Thulth lettering style, but there are also realistic miniature-style motifs: flower-bowls, peacocks, cypresses, etc. The decoration of the entrance portal consists of vaults with stalactites and blue and yellow mosaics, and anticipates that of the great iwans of the Kin g's Mosque. Here, however, the subjects are amazingly varied, as for instance on the panel showing two peacocks framing a flower vase filled with luxuriant branches. The inside walls of the mosque are covered with turquoise blue tile-mosaic of superb quality and have many inscriptions in beautiful white lettering on a dark blue ground. The interior of the dome has a most intricate design which radiates out from the central medallion. Another peculiarity of this mosque is that it has no courtyard or minaret, since it was not a place for public worship, but was exclusively intended for the King, his family and his close collaborators; there is only a small prayer hall which is approached by a corridor. However, it is a real gem in which the art of mural mosaics in Isfahan reached its peak. There is not a flaw in the quality of the materials, the balance and harmony of the colors. The walls are entirely faced with sumptuous ornamental "carpets" of gilt geometrical designs on a splendid bluish-green back ground. All round the large panels are string-courses on which the Persian calligraphers have drawn elegant white lettering. T he inscription in the mihrab gives the name of the architect: "a poor and humble man, seeking God's mercy, called Ostad Mohammed Reza, the son of Ostad Hosain, architect in Isfahan in 1028 A.H.". The mihrab itself is a model of its kind with its high niche and ceramic facings.
Sio Seh Pol Bridge
The city of Isfahan lies on the north bank of the Zendah Rud River, which is crossed by eight magnificent bridges. The Sio Seh Pol or Allahverdi Khan has 33 arches and is 300 m. long, with a paved roadway some 14 m. wide. It has galleried arcades on each side for pedestrians and brings you right into the famous Chahar Bagh Avenue. The construction of the bridge was started in 1602A.D.byorder of Shah Abbas I, and was completed by Allahverdi Khan, one of the Shah's generals who had been appointed for the purpose. The thirty-four piers on which it is constructed are 4 m. thick and the arches are 5.57 m. wide. The southern side of the bridge, where the waters of the Zayandeh Rud River run more swiftly has supplementary arches, and it is this that makes them suitable as a tea house.
The most interesting Armenian Church surrounding the charming square of Jolfa is the Cathedral of Vank or the Holy Savior. Though plain and uninteresting from the outside, a quick look at the interior reveals a completely new page of art history. The center of a Christian community on Islamic territory, this imposing cathedral was built in the reign of Shah Abbas II, between 1655and1664. In common with all the buildings in Isfahan it was magnificently decorated. A large bulb-shaped cupola on a high drum rises above the choir, and a square belfry on a large, slender arcade precedes the entrance. The outer walls are badly damaged and have been covered with a protective brick coffering which is in its turn covered with white wash. The decoration is no longer visible. In the interior, however, there are rich l5th-cenrury (ca. 1710) white wash. The decoration is no longer visible. In the interior, however, there are rich 18th-century (ca.1710) ceramics on the lower part of the walls and, above, large mural paintings that clearly show a Western influence (Holland, Italy) fostered by the extensive journeys made by the Armenian merchants to Europe. The murals include scenes from the life of Christ. The museum near the Cathedral has an admirable collection of objects of art and gives a very interesting picture of this Christian civilization in Asia. Note especially: period costumes on models, examples of leather work, embroideries and tapestries; richly illuminated Armenian manuscripts (including a 9th-century Gospel); privileges confer red by the Safavid kings and signed by them on colored paper richly decorated with paintings: a Rembrandt sketch, etc. There can be seen some of the privileges of the Armenian Community written on parchment.