The province of Isfahan lies to the southeast of the central province, almost in the heart of Iran. This city, once the capital of Iran, is now only the administrative headquarters of the province. It lies about halfway between Tehran and Shiraz. Choosing Isfahan as his capital, Shah Abbas the Great made it a large and important city. In the 17th century it was given the title of Isfahan is half of the world. Today it has an estimated population of one million people.
Of all the cities in Iran, Isfahan is perhaps the richest in historical and architectural wealth. In 640 AD it was conquered by the Muslims. During the Islamic era, it has endured battles and dreadful setbacks and it has seen prosperous times. Once, a conqueror called Timur of Mongol is said to have slain about 200.000 of its citizens because they resisted his warriors.
The Safavid Dynasty ushered in Isfahan’s golden age in the later part of the 17th century. Under the new rulers and especially during the reign of Shah Abbas the Great, Isfahan again revealed in its glory. It’s reputation soon spread throughout the civilized world. The Safavid Kings ruled nearly 150 years and this city was their capital. Schools, mosques, and magnificent buildings were built, while science, architecture, handicrafts, decorative arts, calligraphy and miniature paintings flourished. Fortunately, most of Isfahan’s former glory is survives or is being restored. New parks, roads, colleges and factories (including a massive steel mill) have also been built in recent years.
Chehel Sotun or Forty Pillars was built by Shah Abbas II as a hall of audience for official functions. It contains a garden covering an area of 26 acres. Today, the building stands among ancient trees in a large portion of the original garden. The immense verandah of the palace sits by a huge pool which reflects the numerous columns. The upper part of the large audience hall is covered with paintings showing such scenes as Shah Abbas feasting and Shah Ismail and Shah Tahmasp entertaining Homayoun the King of India. On the walls of the other rooms there are miniatures, portraits and works of eminent master artists of the period.
Imam Mosque was also built in the reign of Shah Abbas. The tiles and architecture of this mosque are amazingly superb. Its minarets are 48 meters high. On the eastern side stands the low domed Masjid-e-Sheikh Lotfollah.
This mosque was dedicated to the saintly uncle of Shah Abbas and was used as the King’s private worship place during his life.
The Madrasseh Chahar-bagh, a theological school was constructed by Scholar’s chambers society and it is the pride of the last Safavid King, a devoted Muslim ruler. He owned part of the north side of this building.
Ali Qapoo Palace is situated to the west of Naqsh-e-Jahan Square. This building belongs to the Safavid period. It was used for the reception of the ambassadors and envoys from other countries. Ali Qapoo is a six story building with numerous rooms. The plasterwork and paintings are extremely impressive.
Hasht Behesht Palace Is a palace built the the 16th century during the reign of the Shah Soleiman II. It is located near the Chahar Bagh Avenue and opposite the present Sheikh Bahai Avenue. Painted ceilings, tile works and murals make this Palace worth the visit.
The Pol Khaju bridge was built by the order of Shah Abbas II at the entrance of the Esfahan-Shiraz road. Its storied recesses, galleries and arcades, the splendid tile-work, the arches of the upper booths and lower spans, and particularly the alcoves located in the center are the important features of this bridge.