Iran City Guides - Esfahan
- Iran's principal tourist center
- situated in central Iran, south of Tehran
- masterpiece of Persian culture
- city of fine gardens, bridges and Islamic art
- grandeur dates back to the 16th century
- famed for the beauty of Imam Square
- beautiful bridges on the Zayandeh River
- population over 1.5 million inhabitants
- former capital created by Shah Abbas I
The city's splendour began with the reign of the Safavid ruler Shah Abbas I (r. 1587-1629), who made Esfahan his capital and built the huge bazaar, which was strategically located on the Silk Road.
Under Abbas, Isfahan enjoyed great prosperity and flourished as a centre of art, architecture and commerce (based on carpet, textile and silk production), with a reputation as one of the greatest and most beautiful towns in the whole of Asia.
Esfahan by night, Iran
Khaju Bridge, Esfahan, Iran
Isfahan's glory was short-lived however and the city began to decline on Abbas death and the capital later moved to Shiraz and then later to Tehran. Still much remains of the vision of Shah Abbas "the Great", to make the city a must-see for present-day visitors to Iran.
Jameh Mosque, the largest in Iran, contains architecture from over 800 years of Persian history.
Bazar-e Bozorg is a huge market several kilometers long, dating from the 16th century. The bazaar stretches from Imam Square to the Jameh Mosque. The main entrance is the Qeysarieh Portal, which has some fine, recently restored frescoes by Reza Abbasi, showing the victories of Shah Abbas against the Uzbek armies.
Imam Square (Naqsh-e Jahan Square or the Meidan) is the jewel in Esfahans crown and contains some of the finest Islamic architecture in the world. Naqsh-e Jahan translates as "pattern of the world" and the square, begun in 1602, formed the centerpiece of Shah Abbas new capital.
The scale is vast and the space is the second largest square in the world behind Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
Imam Mosque is rightly noted for the beauty of its blue-tiled mosaics and fine Safavid architecture. The huge entrance portal (pictured at the top of this page) is 27m in height and delicately designed with superbly executed geometric and floral patterns in mainly blue and yellow colors.
The portal is flanked by two towering turquoise minarets. Within the mosque itself are a number of beautifully decorated iwans (entrance halls) leading to sanctuaries with vaulted ceilings. The main sanctuary with its 36m-high domed ceiling and deep-blue mosaics is an exquisite sight.
The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque on the eastern side of Imam Square was dedicated by Shah Abbas to his father-in-law, Sheikh Lotfollah a noted Islamic scholar from the Lebanon. The tiled dome changes color through the day from pale cream to a pink hue at sunset.
The mosque was built as a place of worship for the women of the Shah's harem and the building is considered the most beautiful of Iran's mosques with beautiful blue and yellow tiling in the inner sanctuary and fine mosaics on the outer portal.
The Chehel Sotun Palace, set in a lovely garden, was originally built by Shah Abbas as a pleasure palace but was destroyed by fire in 1706 and later rebuilt. The Great Hall has a rich display of frescoes depicting the triumphs of the Safavids.
Another masterpiece of 16th century Persian architecture is the six-story Ali Qapu Palace, built as a residence for the great Shah. The palaces raised terrace offers fine views of Imam Square and although some of the interior mosaics and plaster work were destroyed in the Qajar period and later in the 1979 revolution, much fine secular craftsmanship remains.
The Hasht Behesht Palace (Eight Paradises) also endured considerable damage since it was built in the mid 16th century, but the building harmonizes perfectly with its garden setting.
The Madrasey-ye Chahar Bagh is a religious school, dating from the early 18th century, open to visitors on Thursdays only. The building has a peaceful courtyard, fine mosaics and two imposing minarets.
The historic River Zayandeh Bridges of Esfahan are another of the city's great attractions. There are 11 bridges in total spanning the river and six of them of historic interest. Some distance to the east from the central heart of the city is the oldest bridge - the Shahrestan Bridge with much of the structure dating from the 12th century.
3km to the west, the Khaju Bridge built in the mid-17th century by Shah Abbas also serves as a dam of the river. Moving west again is the 150m, 21 arch Chubi Bridge built to irrigate royal gardens close by. The next historic bridge is the almost 300m, 33-arch Si-o-Seh, which also serves as a dam for irrigation purposes and was built by a general of Shah Abbas.
Strolling along the river with stops at the many teahouses near the ancient bridges is a pleasant way to spend time in Esfahan. The bridges themselves are illuminated at night.
Si-o-Seh Bridge Isfahan, Iran
Khaju Bridge by night, Esfahan, Iran
Access - Getting To Esfahan
There are daily flights from Esfahan to Tehran, Shiraz and Ahvaz with less regular air connections to Mashhad, Zahedan, Kerman and Bandar-e Abbas. There are also some international flights to Kuwait and Dubai.
There are buses to many destinations including Tehran (7 hours), Hamadan (8 hours), Kermanshah (10 hours), Rasht (12 hours), Mashhad (22 hours), Tabriz (16 hours) and Yazd (5 hours).
There are regular trains to Tehran (approximately 7 hours). South east to Kerman or Bandar-e Abbas, change in Ardakan.
Will Yong and Kazem Vafadari