A Former Capital’s Visual and Architectural Legacy
With the finest concentration of Islamic monuments in the country, Isfahan is probably the most beautiful of Iranian cities. Shah Abbas the Great moved his capital here in 1598 and rebuilt an already thriving trade center as a showcase for the wealthy Safavid dynasty; even today, many of the city’s mosques, palaces, bazaars, bridges, wide avenues, and public parks reflect the glory days of his thirty-year supervision – one of the world’s great experiments in city planning.
The symbolic center of the Safavid dynasty and its Persian Empire was the immense Maidan-e-Imam (Imam Square, formerly known as Royal Square, and traditionally as Maidan-e-Naghsh-e-Jahan, the Square of the World’s Image), one of the largest and most stunning public spaces in the world. Colorful tiled mosques and other 17th-century buildings – considered by the shah to be his masterpieces – form a glorious perimeter. Nearby, the complex and magnificent Friday Mosque (Masjed-e Jomeh) was built over a period lasting from the 11th to the 18th centuries (which included a period of Mogul influence on Persian architecture brought on by Genghis Khan’s son, Olgedi, who lived here as a shah). Considered one of the world’s greatest mosques, it has 476 domes.
Today’s visitors can get a somewhat less lavish taste of the welcome granted to guests of the Safavid court by staying in the Abbasi Hotel, created in the shell of a 16th-century caravansary.