Esfahan, Museum City of Iran
Esfahan is the capital of Esfahan Province in Iran, located about 400 kms south of Tehran. Esfahan is Iran's third largest city after Tehran and Mashhad and it has a population of 1,959,171. Esfahan province had a population of 4,879,312 in the 2012 Census.
Esfahan is located on the main north-south and east-west routes crossing Iran, and was once one of the largest cities in the world. It flourished from 1050 to 1722, particularly in the 16th century under the Safavid dynasty, when it became the capital of Persia for the second time in its history. Even today, the city retains much of its past glory. It is famous for its Islamic architecture, with many beautiful boulevards, covered bridges, palaces, mosque and is, and minarets. This led to the Persian proverb "Esfahān nesf-e jahān" (Esfahan is half of the world).
Esfahan is the symbol of peaceful coexistence of followers of divine religions and Muslims, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians live together peacefully in this city.
Esfahan has been the cultural capital of Islamic world in 2006 and is nominated for the tourism capital of Islamic world in 2017.
Esfahan province enjoys over 20000 cultural, historical and tourist attractions.
The Naghsh-e Jahan or Imam Square in Esfahan is one of the largest city squares in the world and an outstanding example of Iranian and Islamic architecture. Naqsh-e Jahan is designated by UNESCO as a universal heritage site. The city also has a wide variety of historic monuments and is known for the paintings and history.
In 1598, Shah Abbas the Great moved his capital from Qazvin to Esfahan, called Ispahān in early New Persian, so that it wouldn't be threatened by his arch rival, the Ottomans. This new importance ushered in a golden age for the city, with architecture, prestige, and Persian culture flourishing. During the time of Shah Abbas, Esfahan was very famous in Europe, and many European travelers made an account of their visit to the city, such as Jean Chardin. This all lasted until it was sacked by Afghan invaders in 1722 during the Safavid's heavy decline. The capital subsequently moved several times until settling in Tehran in 1775.
Today Esfahan, the third largest city in Iran, produces fine carpets, textiles, steel, and handicrafts. Esfahan also has nuclear experimental reactors as well as facilities for producing nuclear fuel (UCF). Esfahan has one of the largest steel-producing facilities in the entire region, as well as facilities for producing special alloys. The city has an international airport and is in the final stages of constructing its first metro line. Esfahan has hosted many international events during recent years.
Historical Bridges, Symbol of Architecture and Nature Linkage
The Zayandeh Rood River starts in the Zagros Mountains, flows from west to east through the heart of Esfahan, and dries up in the Kavir desert.
The bridges over the river include some of the nicest architecture in Esfahan. The oldest bridge is the "Pol-e Shahrestan," which was probably built in the 12th century during the Seljuk period. Further upstream is the "Pol-e Khaju," which was built by Shah Abbas II in 1650. It is 123 meters long with 24 arches, and it also serves as a sluice gate.
The next bridge is the "Pol-e Jubi." It was originally built as an aqueduct to supply the palace gardens on the north bank of the river. Further upstream again is the Si-o-Se Pol or bridge of 33 arches. Built during the rule of Shah Abbas the Great, it linked Esfahan with the Armenian suburb of Jolfa. It is by far the longest bridge in Esfahan at 295 meters.
Historical Sites and Tourist Attractions
Naqsh-e Jahan Square: The Most brilliant Jewel on the Ring of Architecture of the Safavid Epoch
Naqsh-e Jahan Square is the most spectacular, most magnificent sight of Esfahan. A huge arena of more than 80,000 sq. m – 510 m long and 163 m wide – it is the second largest historical square in the world. On four sides of this square about four centuries ago, four monumental structures built on each side respectively: Ali Qapu Palace as an administrative center, Qeisarieh Bazaar as the center of economy, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque as a political-religious center and Jame Abbasi Mosque (Imam Mosque) as a leading mosque and as a center of the volition of the public. Naqsh-e Jahan is designated by UNESCO as a universal heritage site.
Abbasi Jam-e- Mosque: A Vast Origin of the Islamic Architecture Clad by a Turquoise Glaze
The Imam Mosque dominates the southern side of Naqsh-e-Jahan Square and is, indeed the most focal point of it. It is the largest and the most magnificent monument of the Safavid reign and is a splendid example of the extravagant architecture that constituted the glory of Esfahan at that time. It is registered, along with the Naghsh-e Jahan Square, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The work on this majestic structure was begun in 1611. An important laborsaving innovation employed in the Imam mosque was the vast usage of polychrome tiles in place of mosaic tile work. In the portal, tessellated faience is applied, but the rest of the surfaces are clothed with polychrome tiles. Except for some sparse use of marbles from Ardestan, all the surfaces of the mosque are covered with tiles. All in all, there is no other mosque in the city decorated with such a magnificent blanket of tiles as the Imam mosque. The mosque occupies a total area of 12,264 sq. m.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque: The Jewel of Architecture and Tile Work of Safavid Epoch
The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is the most magnificent Iranian religious structure. The mosque was built during the reign of Shah Abbas I and named after a famous Shiite preacher of those days. Throughout the Safavid reign, the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque served as a private chapel for the shah and his harem. The mosque construction started in 1602. The total area of the mosque is 1,324 sq. m. The layout of the mosque has a very non- Iranian character: it has neither a four- eivan courtyard, nor a minaret. Their absence can be explained by the fact that the mosque was not created as a place of public worship, but was intended exclusively for the shah and his harem. What makes it the peerless gem of the Iranian architecture is its decoration of incredible richness. The exuberant tile mosaic, turquoise cable-shaped moldings and magnificent inscriptions lend plenty of drama to this greatest of architectural achievement.
Ali Qapu Palace
The royal palace of Ali Qapu dominates the western side of Naqsh-e Jahan Square. The palace was founded in 1597, during the 11th year of shah Abbas’s reign, to serve as his place of residence. On its completion, the building soared to the height of 38 m, thus being the first Iranian skyscraper. In its final form (just as we see it today), the palace occupies the total area of 1,476 sq. m. One of the delicate specifications of the palace is that, it gives a different view on its various facades. In a simpler word, on the eastern view, it is a two- storey building, on the western view, a five- storey edifice, and while climbing through the particular stairway for the public meetings, one finds it as a seven-storey palace. Ali is an Arabic term which means high and Qapu is a Turkish term, which means gate. Thus, it denotes sublime portal altogether. Today the entrance to Ali Qapu emphasizes the overall magnificence of the structure. Ali Qapu is rich in naturalistic wall paintings by Reza Abbassi, the court painter of Shah Abbas I, and his pupils. There are floral, animal, and bird motifs.
This portal, as the main entrance to the Great Bazaar, was built in 1619.The main entrance of Qeisarieh Bazaar is across the portal of the Jam-e-Abbasi Mosque. This majestic gateway is ornamented with tiles and exquisite mural paintings. The Bazaar covers a considerable large area and at each of its corners, in addition to the shops, there are workshops, public-drinking places, caravansaries, mosques, bathhouses, oil pressings houses, and theological schools. There are so many supplies of precious textiles and objects of high value from all over the empire that scarcely can one find such valuable things in other parts of the world.
Chehel Sotun Palace: The Most Brilliant Chandelier at the Hall of the Safavid Architecture Era
Chehel Sotun Garden (Palace of Forty Columns) covers an area of 67,000 sq. m. The palace occupies about 2,125 sq. m. and is fronted by a pool measuring 110 by 16 m. Chehel Sotun was conceived by Shah Abbas the Great as a small pleasure pavilion. This now constitutes the Throne Hall of the building and several flanking rooms. The elegant porch, superb mirror hall and renowned mural paintings were added to the pavilion during the reign of Shah Abbas II. The name of Chehel Sotun (Palace of Forty Columns) was given to the building because of the multiple pillars of its elegant porch. However by chance the twenty columns of the porch reflected in the pool in front of the building presented a clear sight of forty columns, and many believe that this is the explanation for the name of the palace.
Atiq Jam-e- Mosque: The Encyclopedia on Islamic Art and Architecture
Jam-e Mosque (Friday Mosque, Congregational Mosque) is historically the most important and architecturally the most remarkable structure in the city. It requires a lengthy visit, but this visit will provide the tourist not only with the aesthetic delight at seeing its artistic splendors but also with an insight into the entire history of an Iranian mosque. In its present state, Jam-e Mosque is the conglomeration of numerous distinct structures dating from the 11th to the 18th centuries. What makes Jam-e- Mosque exceptional is that it is the only large mosque in Iran that has kept intact the architectural and decorative treatments of different historical periods. It is also registered as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Sio-Se-Pol Bridge (33-sluice Bridge)
The historical bridge of Si-o-Se-Pol, which dates back to 1591~1597, is 295 meters long and 14.7 meters wide. It is the largest hydraulic structure over Zayandeh Rood River and all over Iran. This bridge has two cloistered lobbies on the upper deck; each one is about 80 centimeters wide to protect passers-by from the direct sunlight or probable rainfall. Another outstanding point is that on both sides there are a number of false arches, about 206, and one out of five is completely open or has a small portal. If a pedestrian moves on foot or by horse with a steady speed, every ten to four seconds, respectively, s/he is able to have a visional or mental relationship with the landscapes on both sides during the movement. Aesthetically, the afore-mentioned case is only an architectural aspect, but structurally they function as a reducer of the wind force on the side walls and play the role of the leeward. If you stand at the northwestern side of Si-o-Se-Pol and look at the golden bridge, the pale green river, the hump-shaped top of the Soffeh mountain in violet and gray, and a turquoise sky background, you will be lost for a couple of seconds in admiration of the patron, designer and builders.
Some historians believe that Khaju derived from the word Khajeh (“a courtier” or a “noble”), and thus the bridge is named after a neighboring district, inhabited by the court elite. However, in various periods it was also known as the Hasan Abad, Baba Roknoddin, etc. It is a magnificent structure, measuring 132 m long and 12 m wide and a total number of 21 sluices, which span the river. The original construction probably took place during the reign of Timurid sovereign in the 15th century. It consists of two decks; the upper deck functions as a passageway, while the lower deck constituted the recreational area. It is the only bridge over the river decorated by polychrome tiles on the upper external and internal arches, filled with many floral and geometric designs. On the eastern façade, there are two stone lions on the both sides. Inside the mouth of each, a carved face of a warrior protrudes. At present, they function as two safeguard elements for the historical monuments, but their function were originally the tombstones of warriors who ware martyred on battlefields. We find the Khaju Bridge as a unique sample of man’s achievement.
Chahar Bagh (Four Gardens) Avenue
Reportedly the world's first boulevard, Chahar bagh Avenue was one of the earliest creations of Shah Abbas I in Esfahan. It was founded as soon as Esfahan was chosen as the capital city and was finally completed in 1600. Chaha Bagh Avenue is 5 km long and 47 m wide. The name of the boulevard is derived from square orchards that originally bordered on the street. Also, four rows of tall plane trees were planted along both of its sides.
Esfahan Aviary: A Tiny Paradise for Birds
Seemingly inspired by the similar venue in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, the twined city of Esfahan, the aviary was founded in 1996. It occupies more than 50,000 sq. m. of which about 40,000 sq. m. is sheltered by a net. The total population of birds exceeds 3,000, comprising 127 different species. Local, migratory, and exotic birds are preserved in the aviary; each ensured the most favorable living conditions. There are glass cages for parrots, budgerigars, cockatoos, etc.; steel cages for birds of prey; specially-designed green areas for peacocks, pea fowls, red pheasants, etc.; and a pool more than 2,000 sq. m. for aquatic birds, such as swans, flamingoes, pelicans, etc.
Amongst the spectacular sites in Esfahan, the Flower Garden is a different one. It was established in 1997 by the Municipal Office of Public Parks and Rest Areas on the northern bank of the river with an area of 5.5 hectares. It consists of several distinctive sections. A two-story pavilion stands at the entrance. It houses a ticket office and a shop, selling flower seeds and herbs, while its upper floor displays an exhibition of slides and films about the regional flora. There are sections allocated to coniferous trees; various rose, iris, and daisy species; and medicinal herbs. A pool, a water cascade, an artificial rock garden, a greenhouse, an open-air amphitheater, and a children’s playground complete the area. Furthermore, in this complex, there is a traditional teahouse.
Esfahan, Center of Handicrafts
Esfahan is the city of Iranian handicrafts and traditional arts. It enjoys over 200 fields of handicrafts 102 of which have received UNESCO Seal of Excellence. Carpet weaving, metal engraving, miniature painting, inlaid work, tile work, brocade, calico, marquetry and enameling are among the most important forms of art in Esfahan.
Traditional, National and Local Foods on an Esfahani Table
One of the most delicious Esfahani foods which can be used either as a main dish or complement is ‘Khoresht-e-Mast’. To give foreigners a quick Idea of what it is, we can call it a hot, sticky pudding. It is a tart food which is made only in Esfahan and served mostly at festivals and in some of the local restaurants. It is made from; meat, yogurt, saffron and sugar topped with barberries almonds or pistachio slices. To make it, at first the meat (preferably the meat from the neck of the mutton), and two glasses of water are boiled and mashed well to give a homogeneous porridge consistency with high viscosity, then it is heated again and yogurt is added and mixed well. Thereafter, it is served in dishes and decorated with barberries, pistachios or almond slices after it has cooled.
Beryan is a very rich and delicious local food of Esfahan which is quite oily, so it should be served with less oil for foreigners. For making Beryan, we should boil mutton with onions and spices until tender, and then grind it with other spices, mint and a bit of salt. Sometimes a little saffron is also added at this stage. Then it is spread on some oval shaped metal plate long handles and grilled with cinnamon. Loafs of bread (Sangak or Tafton) are heated over a tray, and then the content of plate is turned back onto the bread. Some nuts, barberries and spices are added for decoration, and then it is served with raw onions, mint, basil and doogh (diluted yogurt) as a soft drink.
Ash-e-Reshteh: A National Iranian Soup
Ash-e-Reshteh (noodle soup) is a very delicious soup which could be served as a main dish or an appetizer. To make this soup, the needed ingredients are: vermicelli, lentils, beans, flour, grilled onions, mint, whey, green leafy and spices.
Gaz (Nougat), Sweet Delicacy as Special Souvenir of Esfahan
A kind of unique candy since ancient time is produced now in two different packages of polythene or flour, with various shapes, sizes and ingredients of nuts such as: pistachios, almonds or a mixture of them in Esfahan.
Caramelized and Crystallized Sugar: The Other Traditional Candies of Esfahan
People of Esfahan sometimes drink tea with a caramelized sugar called; Poulaki. It has a better taste than sugar and is less harmful to teeth. Poulaki is a thin, round-shaped candy.
UNESCO Designated World Heritage Sites of Esfahan Province
Naghsh-e Jahan Square- 1979 (Esfahan)
Chehel Sotoun Palace - 2011(Esfahan)
Fin Garden - 2011(Kashan)
Jame Atiq Mosque - 2012 (Esfahan)
UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Esfahan Province
Traditional skills of carpet weaving – 2010 (Kashan)
Qalishuyan rituals of Mashhad-e Ardehal - 2012 (Kashan)
Sister Cities of Esfahan
Xi'an, Shaanxi, China
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kuwait City, Kuwait
Saint Petersburg, Russia