Isfahan, quite well known among tourists, is located in central Iran and is one of the most beautiful cities of this country. The city’s history goes back to pre-Islamic era perhaps to Achaemenians but enjoyed its flourishing days during the Safavids era (1598-1722). At the time, besides being the capital of Iran, it was a major crossroad for international trading. Most of the beautiful architecture belongs to this period. Isfahan is also famous for its handicraft especially silver filigree and metal work. Isfahan has been a major tourist destination because of its plenty of historical monuments, magnificent mosques, beautiful gardens and amazing bridges on its unique river. It is called Life-giving River or “Zayande Rood” as the people believe much of the life, fertility, and beauty of the city comes from this vitalizing river. Since the river moves through the center of the city, a number of beautiful bridges such as the world famous “Si o se pol”, “Pol e Khajoo” have been build over it. Shah Abbas I chose Isfahan as the capital in 1598 and unified the whole country under Safavid dynasty. Isfahan in its heyday reached the peak of fame because of the elegant buildings, mosques, libraries, and gardens which astonished the European visitors at that time. Isfahan fame goes as far as being called Nef e Jahan (half the world) meaning that seeing it would equal visiting half of the world in 17th century.
The city has rapidly developed at the time of Pahlavi and in recent years after the Islamic revolution. Having so many highlights and beautiful places to see, Isfahan has changed to a major touristy attraction and actually of the two most important cities to visit along with Shiraz.
Meydan Naqsh-e-Jahan (Imam square)
Naghsh e Jahan square, formerly known as Shah square, was the heart of Esfahan at the time of Safavids in 17th century which was used for assembling troops, playing polo, celebrations and for public executions. Before Shah Abbas I added these monuments, an11th century garden existed in the vicinity of Imam square which was called Naghsh e Jahan (image of the world). The square is exceptionally significant because of its unique combination of architectural elements including arcades, floral ornaments, vast courtyard and flowering trees. Without prejudice, it can be called the most impressive square in Iran as it is bordered by magnificent historical buildings of Safavids dynasty.
The surrounding monumental buildings are Imam Mosque to the south, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque to the east, Palace of Ali Qapu to the west and Qeysariyeh Bazaar to the north. Naghsh e Jahan Square was enlisted as world heritage site by UNESCO in 1979.
Ali Qapu (The Royal Palace)
The royal palace, although originally a small Timurid palace built in15th century, was enlarged and decorated by the Kings of Safavids and changed to a magnificent six-story imperial palace. It was used for the reception of ambassadors and envoys from other countries at time of Safavids. The wide front porch whose refined roofing is carried by 18 thin wooden columns was used for watching ceremonies and games. Each floor can be easily accessed by an interesting spiral stairway. The painting and plasterwork of the palace are absolutely impressive especially in the reception hall and music room. In the music room, a fretwork of niches and shapes are cut into wood which served for the acoustics of the room besides their decorative function. The walls of the upper floors are decorated with plaster membrane covered with beautiful paintings of flowers and vessels.
Imam Mosque with its 48 meters minarets and half dome has picturesque tile work and amazing decorations both outside and in the interior. The mosaics, colors, columns and ornamental works are so admirable that it can be called one of the best examples of the Islamic art from Safavids era. While the azure color of ceramic ornaments is the most inspiring part, the rectangle of arcades and the courtyard surrounded by buildings are totally impressive as one enters through the gateway.
Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque
Still, the finest example of architecture and tile work of Iran in the 17th century can be found on the eastern side of Meydan Imam ie Seikh Lutfallah mosque. Being exclusively used by the King, his family and his close companions is probably the justification for its enchanting beauty and strange structure. The first peculiarity of this mosque is that it has neither courtyard nor minaret. Yet another point of difference is using yellow color both inside and outside the dome. Although turquoise, blue and pink are used in the motifs on the façade as the common color composition of the era, yellow dominates the dome. Decorative calligraphy in Sols alphabet along with realistic miniature-style motifs such as flower-bowls, peacocks, cypresses are widespread on the walls. The elegantly decorated cupola with the surrounding windows and a unique picture of a peacock in the center can be seen on your entry through the gateway.
The bazaar and caravansary which are located behind the famous Qeysariyeh Gate are among the other attractions. The bazaar is a real labyrinth of domed streets and the entrance is through a majestic gateway in keeping with the dimensions of the square. The entrance portal is perhaps the most beautiful part which is covered with great miniatures drawn by Reza Abbasi, the great painter of the time. According to Char Dan, the gate was modeled on a Turkish building in old city of Qaisarieh and thus named after it. As one of most lively bazaars in the Middle East, it cajoles visitors to take a long walk through its paths.
Jame Mosque is the oldest mosque in Isfahan, dating back to Al Buye duynasty in 10th century. Currently is used as a museum of Islamic architecture where you can see different styles of art from the 11th century to the 18th century, from the stylish simplicity of the Seljuq period (1051-1220), through the Mongol period (1220-1380) and on to the more baroque, Safavid period.
Chehel Sotoun (The Palace of forty columns)
Built by Shah Abbas II in 1647, Chehel Sotoun is situated in the middle of a park at the far end of a long pool. The palace was used for the Shah's entertainment and receptions of foreign guests. The name, "Forty Columns," was inspired by the reflecting image of its 20 wooden columns in the waters of the fountain. The ceramic paintings contain many aesthetic compositions in the traditional miniature style depicting a number of historical events as well as some romance scenes. The historical scenes show the battle of Taher-Abad in 1510 where Shah Ismail I killed the Uzbek King, the battle of Chalderan against the Ottoman Sultan Selim II in 1514, the welcome extended to the Mughal Emperor, Humayun, who took refuge in Iran in 1544, a banquet in honor of the Emir of Bukhara in 1611, a reception for an Uzbek King in 1646 and the most recent one; Nadir Shah's victory against the Indian Army in 1739. Unfortunately, some ceramic panels are missing, said to be kept in western museums and some were badly damaged during the afghan invasion.
Si-o-Seh Pol (The Bridge of 33 Arches)
This structure was commissioned by Shah Abbas I in 1602 and was built under the supervision of Allahverdi Khan, his famous chancellor. The bridge was formerly known as Allahverdi Khan Bridge, later became popular as “Si o Se Pol” because its 33 arches. The bridge is built on a series of lower and upper arches of great width. On the southern end of the bridge, there is a wonderful tea house. The footpath on the top is enclosed between high walls and the roof of the arches which give you shelter from the wind and the sun while you are walking through.
Pol-e Khaju (Bridge)
This bridge which was built around 1650 under the reign of Shah Abbas II derives its name from the district of Khajou on the northern bank. The brigde is some 110 metres long and about 20m wide and it is a replica of the older “Si o Sel Pol” Bridge with extended features. On the eastern side of the bridge, there is a basin for collecting irrigation water for the surrounding area, which is drawn off in a series of channels. On the western side there are a series of downward steps separated by the flow of water. People used to gather to talk or perhaps to do their laundry. The spacious second storey with a series of niches for people to sit is built over the 20 lower arches. In the centre of the bridge, you can see an octagonal pavilion which is now used as an art gallery.
Pol e choobi (Joobi Bridge)
One of the oldest bridges in Isfahan with a simple structure is Pol e choobi. The bridge which connected the royal gardens on the two sides of the river was a private pass way for the royal family and important visitors but was not intended for public use. The actual name is Joobi (having a gutter) which refers to the channel along the bridge which carried water to the other side. The current name “choobi” (wooden) is the wrong pronunciation of the name which was popularized by the local people in the past century.
Vank Cathedral - 17th century
Vank Cathedral was constructed by Armenians immigrants who settled in Isfahan after the Ottoman War of 1603-1605. The construction of this church commenced under the supervision of Archbishop David in 1606 and was completed around 1660. Despite the unexciting exterior and entrance, the interior is richly decorated with oil paintings of Jesus Christ and holy Christian characters. The central dome’s blue and gold paintings depict the Biblical story of creation of the world and man's expulsion from Eden. The ceiling above the entrance is painted with delicate floral motifs in the style of Persian miniature. There are a number of graves around a freestanding belfry. On the other end of the courtyard, there is a library and museum building, the exterior of which is decorated with stone carvings of some biblical scenes.
Manar Jonban (The Swinging Minaret)
The building is basically a mausoleum built in 1316 with two minarets; each 17 meters high and 10 meters far from each other. When one of the minarets starts shaking, the other one starts shaking simultaneously, therefore the vibration can be felt in the whole structure.
Chaharbagh Boulevard is a historical boulevard in the city of Isfahan dating from the Safavids era built around 1596. The name Chahar Bagh (four gardens) refers to a popular garden plan consisting of four plots divided by waterways or paths. At its inception, it was 1,650 meters long and was lined by palaces and residences of noblemen. The gardens have since been converted into roadways connecting the south of the part of city to the north with trees lining on the sides.
Hamam e Bahaei (The Bathhouse of Sheikh Bahai)
On the southern part of the old bazaar, there is the bath of Sheikh Bahai who was a great scholar, philosopher, architect, mathematician, astronomer and poet in 16th-century. The bath was largely famous for its heating system. It is widely believed that it was heated by a single candle which never needed renewing. The large candle can still be seen on the entrance and some English researchers are said to be responsible for its destruction.
Atashgah (a Zoroastrian fire temple)
The temple from Sasanid era is situated on a top of a hill on the western outskirts of Isfahan, eight kilometers far from the city. Some of the buildings in the complex have a classic “char taq” (four arch) plan, characteristic of Zoroastrian fire temple of the 3rd century onwards. Here is probably the actual atashgah that housed sacred fires.
Pol-e Shahrestan (The Shahrestan Bridge)
Pol e Maarnaan (Maarnaan Bridge)
Meydan Kohne (Kohne Square)
Talar Ashraf (The Palace of Ashraf)
Hasht Behesht (The Palace of Eight Paradises)
Madreseye Shah (Imam Jafar Sadegh after revolution)
Kelisaye maryam (Mary church)
Buqe'h-ye Ibn-Sina (Avicenna's Dome)
The Tombs of Nizam al-Mulk & Malek Shah
Jolfa (The Armenian Quarter)