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Isfahan (اصفهان)

The city of Isfahan is located in center of Iran, 414 kilometers south of the capital city of Tehran and along the Zayandeh-Rud, which originates in the Zagros Mountains flowing inland as the largest river of the central Iranian Plateau. The city is the third oldest in Iran, settled by a Jewish colony between 2,500 and 2,700 years ago. Isfahan served as the capital of the Safavid Dynasty from 1598 to 1722, during which the city reached its glory under the rule of Shah Abbas the Great. The city was historically a grand center for trade among nations, as well as serving as a political center for an extended period of time, leaving the modern city with a tradition of diverse art, customs, and religion, and also impressive architectural and historical sites.

Modern Isfahan has taken on an industrial side with the second largest number of industrial workers in the country and ranks second nationwide also, only to Tehran, in terms of value added when all categories of industry are grouped together. Perhaps the most important of the Isfahan industries is the Steel Mill Company established in the mid-1960s in cooperation with the Soviet Union. A wide variety of traditional arts and crafts, most notably carpet weaving, also form an important part of the local economy.

Historically, during the Sassanian Dynasty, Isfahan was overseen by the "Espoohrans," members of seven noble Iranian families who resided in the city which served as a military center. After the coming of Islam, the city was ruled by Arabs, like much of Iran, and in the 1Oth century, the Abbasid Caliph Mansour selected it as the provincial capital until its capture and subsequent decline at the hand of the Mongols in the 13th century.

Isfahan rose to prominence again when Shah Abbas chose the city as his capital in 1598 and developed it as a showpiece for the dignitaries of Europe. During this time, Isfahan was dubbed Nesf-i Jahan, or "half the world," as contemporaries thought that to see this bustling and modern city was to see half of the entire world. It is said that at its pinnacle in the 16th and 17th centuries, Isfahan possessed 163 mosques, 48 religious schools, 1,801 shops, and 263 public baths, along with a population of some 600,000. Even to the present day, Isfahan remains artistically and architecturally one of the most interesting and beautiful cities in the world.

One Iranian scholar (Brian Spooner) asserts that Isfahan may reasonably claim to have been the most important city on the Iranian Plateau. Most would agree, certainly from an architectural point of view. The greatest collection of historical buildings in Iran is in Isfahan. Among these are such monuments as the Imperial Mosque, the mosque of Shaikh Lotfallah, the Ali Qapu Gateway and Royal Administrative Center, and the monumental entrance to the covered bazaar. All these are located on the Imperial Square built as the centerpiece for a new imperial city, adjacent to the ancient city, by Shah Abbas. Further, and still existent additions of Shah Abbas, are the remnants of extensive gardens and pavilions highlighted by the palace known as Chehel Sotun, or "Forty Columns," and the Chahar Bagh, or "Four Gardens," which is a broad, 55-meter-wide avenue intended as a place of promenade. The latter, full of trees, flowers, and fountains extended for nearly a kilometer down to the river and across a grand bridge, the Allah Verdi Khan, to the new town of Julfa. Julfa, or New Julfa as it came to be called, was founded by a large community of Armenians who were transplanted from Julfa in Azarbayjan by Shah Abbas for their craft and artistic skills. They enjoyed royal protection and themselves built a notable cathedral and several churches which are still standing and worthy of visiting.

Other significant historical sites in Isfahan are the Congregational Mosque which is an architectural archive, having been erected over many centuries and thus consisting of a variety of architectural types and styles, and the religious school of the Mother of the Shah which dates back to 1714. Overall, it is fair to say that Isfahan is one of Iran's most historical, attractive, and charming cities, which accounts for its UNESCO designation as a World Heritage Site.

 Refrence(s):

Lorentz, H. John. 2007. Historical Dictionary of Iran: Isfahan. Lanham, Maryland, Toronto, Plymouth, UK. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Second Edition. Pp. 138-140

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