Isfahan, is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Iran and was once one of the largest cities in the world. It is a perfect example of Persian architecture with its covered bridges, palaces, mosques, and tree-lined boulevards. It was in the reign of the Safavids that Persians called it “Nesf-e-Jahan” which means “Half the World” because of its wealth and grandeur. In its heyday about 400 years ago, Isfahan was larger than London and more cosmopolitan than Paris. Sadly, it has been left to a slow decline after the capital was moved to Tehran. We stayed at the Abbasi Hotel here in Isfahan which was built as a caranvaserai about 300 years ago. It has been meticulously restored over the years and has a beautiful central courtyard and was one of the nicer hotels we stayed at on this trip.
Our first visit in Isfahan was to Chehel Sotun Palace or the Palace of Forty Columns. The palace actually only has 20 columns reflected in the pool creating the image of 40 columns. Also in Iranian, 40 means many and the original intention was to describe that the palace had many columns. The main function of this beautiful palace was to receive royal guests and hold religious ceremonies and royal festivals. There are many frescoes and paintings here depicting scenes from battles as well as scenes from festivities and celebrations of love and life.
Chehel Sotun Palace
The main hall at Chehel Sotun used for receiving guests and festivities.
The windows atop are for the harem to observe the festivities in the main reception hall.
Next stop was Naghsh-e Jahan Square where we had lunch and spent the rest of our day. Naghsh-e Jahan Square is the second largest square in the world after Tiananmen Square in Beijing and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The square is surrounded by buildings from the Safavid era which was one of the most significant ruling dynasties of Persia and is often considered the beginning of modern Persian history. On the south side of the square is the Imam Mosque, on the west, the Ali Qapu Palace, on the north is the Grand Bazaar, and on the east is the Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque.
Naghsh-e Jahan Square
Lunch at Naghsh-e Jahan Traditional Restaurant or Sofrekhaneh Sonata.
Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque on the east side of Naghsh-e Jahan Square is often considered to be the most beautiful mosque in Iran. It was designed to be a private mosque for the royal family and hence the lack of minarets. A tunnel was supposedly found that linked the mosque to the Ali Qapu Palace across the square.
Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque
Notice the lack of minarets
Entering Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque
Under the dome of Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque
Across from Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque is Ali Qapu Palace. It is seven floors high and is originally designed as a vast portal. The name Ali Qapu means “Imperial Gate” as this palace was right at the entrance to the Safavid palaces. The highlight here is on the 6th floor which was called the Music Hall. There are deep circular niches in the walls for acoustic effects when music was performed.
Ali Qapu Palace
The Music Hall at Ali Qapu Palace
Ali Qapu Palace at dusk
View of Ali Qapu Palace from Imam Mosque
The last monument at Naghsh-e Jahan Square we visited was Imam Mosque before we wandered around shopping in the bazaar. Imam Mosque, also known as Shah Mosque, is famous for its seven-colored mosaic tiles and calligraphic inscriptions.
Imam Mosque with the two goal posts in front that were used when polo was played in this square back in the day.
Inside Imam Mosque
The Bazaar of Isfahan dates back to the 17th century and is a vaulted street linking the old town with the new.
Miniature painting on camel bone
We started the next day with our visit to Jame Mosque of Isfahan which is one of the oldest mosques still standing in Iran. It was built in the four-iwan style where four vaulted rectangular halls with 3 sides of walls and the 4th side open have the open sides facing each other. Also the dome here is the first double-shell ribbed dome structure built. Jame Mosque of Isfahan became a prototype for many later mosque designs.
Jame Mosque of Isfahan sits amongst the shops of the neighborhood bazaar.
Jame Mosque of Isfahan
Central courtyard at Jame Mosque of Isfahan
We continue onto the Jolfa Neighborhood, the Armenian Quarter here in Isfahan, where we had a light lunch at Arca restaurant before paying a visit to Vank Cathedral nearby. Vank Cathedral or the Church of the Saintly Sisters is a 17th century church with a blue and gold central dome depicting the Biblical story of the creation of the world and man’s explusion from the Garden of Eden. It was one of the first churches built in the Jolfa Armenian District in 1606.
Beautiful frescos at Vank Cathedral
Last but not least to our visit in Isfahan were the beautiful covered bridges. Si-o Se Pol or the Bridge of 33 Arches is nearly 1,000 feet long and 45 feet wide and is built on pontoons. And not far away down the river is Pol-e Khaju or Khaju Bridge. It originally served as a beautiful teahouse with ornate tiles and paintings in addition to being the connection from the Zoroastrian quarters to the north banks. The upper level of the bridge was used for horse carts and pedestrians while the lower level was mostly used for pedestrians and rest areas. Nowadays, locals still like to picnic or just hang out in one of the many alcoves at the bridge.
Si-o Se Pol
Under Si-o Se Pol
Locals hanging out at Si-o Se Pol
Lower level of Khaju Bridge
A beautiful end to our last day in Isfahan, my favorite city in Iran. We head to Kashan tomorrow. Stayed tuned!
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