Iran, historically known as Persia, is home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world, dating back to the fourth millennium BC when the ancient Elamite Kingdom was formed. The Middle Eastern country was also the seat of the Persian Empire, the world’s first superpower founded around 550 BC. AD by Cyrus the Great who united Mesopotamia, the Nile Valley in Egypt and the Indus Valley in India under his rule. He was the first monarch to acquire the Persian royal title of “Shah”.
The Islamization of Iran began with the Arab and Muslim conquest of the Sasanian Empire, the last Persian imperial dynasty, in the 7th century AD. The region quickly became a major center of Islamic culture, scholarship and learning during the Islamic Golden Age. It was not until the 15th century that the Safavid dynasty ruled Iran and converted the country to Shiism, marking a turning point in the history of Iran and laying the foundations of Iranian history and identity. modern.
In 1598, the 5th Safavid Shah Abbas the Great moved the capital of Persia from Qazvin to the more central city of Isfahan, making it the center of the Safavid Empire. During his reign he built many palaces, mosques, gardens and monuments in the city which has since become an icon of architectural achievement and remains an outstanding example of Perso-Islamic architecture.
The magnificence and beauty of the city is best reflected in the age-old Persian saying “Isfahan nesfe Jahan”, which means “Isfahan is half of the world”. The highlight of the city’s architectural beauty is Meidan Emam, a public square in the heart of the historic city and one of the largest city squares in the world. Built by Shah Abbas I in the early 17th century, the UNESCO-listed site is bordered on all sides by several Safavid-era architectural masterpieces that continue to dominate its perimeter today.
On the south side of the square is the Royal Mosque, the crown jewel of Isfahan’s transformation by Shah Abbas I. The Shah Mosque is defined by seven-color mosaic tiles, calligraphic inscriptions and four towering iwans , imposing Persian gates decorated with bands of calligraphy and geometric patterns. The mosque would replace the much older Jameh Mosque, also designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for the conduct of congregational Friday prayers.
On the east side of the square is a smaller, albeit huge, place of worship. Renowned for having no minarets, the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque was designed as a private mosque for the royal court. Besides its magnificent entrance, the mosque’s most prominent feature is its impressive dome, covered in colorful tiles, as is customary for Persian domes.
Opposite the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is the Ali Qapu Palace, a royal residence of the Safavid emperors and the place where they received and entertained nobles and ambassadors. Originally designed as a vast entrance gate to the grand palace, Ali Qapu is composed of the Arabic word “Ali”, which means exalted, and the Turkish word “Qapu”, which means portal. The Safavids chose the name of the palace to rival the Ottoman ‘Bab-i Ali’, or ‘Sublime Porte’, used in reference to the palace of the Grand Vizier.
The magnificent 17th century portico of Qaisariya on the north side of the square leads to the 2 km long vaulted Bazaar of Isfahan. The market is one of the oldest and largest bazaars in the Middle East, dotted with dozens of small shops selling Persian handicrafts, souvenirs and handicrafts.
Also known as Naqsh-e Jahan Square, meaning “picture of the world”, the Royal Square of Isfahan presents a symbolic center of Persian socio-cultural life during the Safavid dynasty with the Imperial Residence overlooking the Market Square and the royal mosque. Today, locals and tourists alike gather around the vast fountain in the center of the square. Many opt for relaxing walks or picnics on the lawn surrounding the water, while others prefer to ride a horse-drawn carriage in the awe-inspiring surroundings of these remarkable historical monuments.