Isfahan, the city
With astoundingly beautiful buildings, abundant green open spaces and gardens and a riverside setting, Isfahan is perhaps one of the loveliest cities of the Oriental world. Moreover, it is a gentle, manageable place where visitors are welcomed. Whether wandering in company or individually there is no hassle, only courteous salutations and, sometimes, polite if eager questioning.
Situated in the heart of Persia, Isfahan was always an important city and has buildings from most of the main periods of Islamic architecture. The Jame Mosque is perhaps the greatest monument of the Seljuk rulers of the eleventh century, and was magnificently augmented by the Mongol Ilkhanid dynasty at the turn of the thirteenth.
But it was under the Safavids that the city became a world-class metropolis. The Safavids of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries welded the disparate peoples and customs of the Persian Empire into a culturally homogeneous unit instilled with a common notion of Iranian nationhood, and who turned the country into a bastion of Shi’ism, thus laying the foundations of the modern state of Iran. Safavid Persia was outward looking, had many contacts with the West and and the capital was truly cosmopolitan.
Shah Abbas (ruled 1587–1629) chose Isfahan as the capital, instigated its enlargement with the creation of a new town laid it out on a monumental scale and sponsored several of its finest buildings. Its infrastructure included pools and fountains, the meidan, one of the largest piazzas in the world, broad processional avenues and bridges over the Zayande Rud River which combine utilitarian functions with pleasure-seeking ones. The Imam Mosque, Lotfallah Mosque and the later interdependent complex of madrasa, khan and bazaar built by Shah Sultan Husain are among the finest public buildings of the time.