For everyone going to Iran, Esfahan is a certain stop, and it’s one of the places that you will remember for a long time. The Persians called it “Nesf-e-Jahan”, meaning “Half World”. From 1592 to 1722, Esfahan was the Capital of Persia.
The city covered with beautiful hand-painted tiling and the magnificent public square.
Esfahan is one of the Iran’s top tourist destination for good reason. Its profusion of tree-lined boulevards, Persian gardens and important Islamic buildings gives it a visual appeal unmatched by any other Iranian city, and the many artisans working here underpin its reputation as a living museum of traditional culture. Walking through the historic bazaar, over the picturesque bridges and across the Unesco-listed central square are sure to be highlights of a holiday.
This elegant mosque, with its iconic blue-tiled mosaics and its perfect proportions, forms a visually stunning monument at the head of Esfahan's main square. Unblemished since its construction 400 years ago, it stands as a monument to the vision of Shah Abbas I and the accomplishments of the Safavid dynasty. The mosque's crowning dome was completed in 1629, the last year of the reign of Shah Abbas.
The Jameh complex is a veritable museum of Islamic architecture while still functioning as a busy place of worship. Showcasing the best that nine centuries of artistic and religious endeavour has achieved, from the geometric elegance of the Seljuks to the more florid refinements of the Safavid era, a visit repays time spent examining the details – a finely carved column, delicate mosaics, perfect brickwork. Covering more than 20,000 sq metres, this is the biggest mosque in Iran.
Hemmed on four sides by architectural gems and embracing the formal fountains and gardens at its centre, this wondrous space is a spectacle in its own right. It was laid out in 1602 under the reign of the Safavid ruler, Shah Abbas the Great, to signal the importance of Esfahan as a capital of a powerful empire. Cross the square on a clear winter's day and it's a hard heart that isn't entranced by its beauty.
Built as a pleasure pavilion and reception hall, using the Achaemenid-inspired talar (columnar porch) style, this beautifully proportioned palace is entered via an elegant terrace that perfectly bridges the transition between the Persian love of gardens and interior splendour. The 20 slender, ribbed wooden pillars of the palace rise to a superb wooden ceiling with crossbeams and exquisite inlay work. Chehel Sotun means ‘40 pillars’ – the number reflected in the long pool in front of the palace.
One of Iran’s most historic and fascinating bazaars, this sprawling covered market links Naqsh-e Jahan (Imam) Sq with the Masjed-e Jameh. At its busiest in the mornings, the bazaar’s arched passageways are topped by a series of small perforated domes, each spilling shafts of light onto the commerce below. While the oldest parts of the bazaar (those around the mosque) are more than a thousand years old, most of what can be seen today was built during Shah Abbas’ ambitious expansions of the early 1600s. Nazhvan Cultural & Recreational Resort This huge park on the outskirts of Esfahan encompasses a large complex of attractions that makes a pleasant contrast to Esfahan's intense city experience. The park includes the Birds Garden (IR180,000), the Esfahan Aquarium (IR500,000), a Sea Shell Museum (IR150,000), a Reptile House (IR150,000) and a Butterfly Collection (IR80,000). Each attraction is charged separately and there is no combined ticket.
Punctuating the middle of the arcades that hem Esfahan's largest square, this study in harmonious understatement complements the overwhelming richness of the larger mosque, Masjed-e Shah, at the head of the square. Built between 1602 and 1619 during the reign of Shah Abbas I, it was dedicated to the ruler’s father-in-law, Sheikh Lotfollah, a revered Lebanese scholar of Islam who was invited to Esfahan to oversee the king’s mosque (now the Masjed-e Shah) and theological school.
Built at the very end of the 16th century as a residence for Shah Abbas I, this six-storey palace also served as a monumental gateway to the royal palaces that lay in the parklands beyond (Ali Qapu means ‘Gate of Ali’). Named after Abbas’ hero, the Imam Ali, it was built to make an impression, and at six storeys and 38m tall, with its impressive elevated terrace featuring 18 slender columns, it dominates one side of Naqsh-e Jahan (Imam) Sq.
There are few better ways to spend an afternoon than strolling along the Zayandeh River, crossing back and forth on the river's 11 bridges – or even meandering along the often empty riverbed itself. Such a stroll is especially pleasant at sunset and in the early evening when most of the bridges, five of which date back to the Safavid era, are brilliantly lit.
Arguably the finest of Esfahan’s bridges, with traces of the original paintings and tiles that decorated its double arcade still visible, Pol-e Khaju was built by Shah Abbas II in about 1650, but a bridge is believed to have crossed the waters here since the time of Tamerlane. The bridge is as much a meeting place as a bearer of traffic and at nighttime Esfahanis gather under the arches to sing: those with the most convincing voices (or indeed songs) attract sizeable crowds.