Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Isfahan, Iran – photo essay and tourist information
Naqsh-e Jahan Square
Naqsh-e Jahan Square (also known as Imam Square and formerly named Shah Square) was constructed between 1598 and 1629, when Shah Abbas moved the capital of his Persian Empire to the central city of Isfahan. This move prompted one of the greatest construction project in history, best displayed by the UNESCO listed magnificent central square.
The square embodies Shah Abbas’ attempts to centralise the former disparate power structures of the state: the clergy (Masjed-e Shah), the merchants (Imperial Bazaar), and the monarchy itself (Ali Qapu Palace). In its golden era much of the square was occupied by the tents and stalls of tradesmen, who paid rent to the government. Entertainers and actors performed for the masses, food was prepared and games took place on the huge expanse.
The square itself is surrounded by four of the city’s most important buildings all linked by a series of two-storey arcade. To the north, the entrance to the Imperial Bazaar, the Portia of Qeyssariyeh (1602-19), to the south, Imam Khomeini Mosque (1612-30), to the east, the Lotfollah Mosque (1602-18) and to the west, the pavilion of Ali Qapu (15th century).
Widely considered to be the finest example of Islamic architecture in the whole of Iran, Imam Khomeini Mosque (formerly Shah Mosque) was built under the direction of Shah Abbas and is famed for its use of seven-colour mosaic tiles and elegant calligraphic inscriptions. It has the largest dome in the city and is noticeable slightly off angle to the square, due to the fact that the square, unlike most structures of importance in Iran, does not face Mecca, so when entering the Mosque one makes a slight turn to the right to correct for this. The design of the four-iwan style, typified by a square, central courtyard, surrounded by 4 imposing facades is the defining feature of this impressive place of worship.
Originally constructed as a private mosque for the royal court, it wasn’t for many centuries that foreign visitors were able to gaze upon the wonderful tile-work of the Lotfollah Mosque. In comparison to the Imam Khomeini Mosque, the structure is simpler, consisting of a flatter dome resting on a single, square chamber but the devil is in the detail as both the interior and exterior decoration is of the highest quality.
Ali Qapu Palace
Initially designed as a vast entrance to the royal residential quarter of the Safavid era, the Ali Qapu Palace is forty-eight metres high and is made up of seven floors. It was originally commissioned by Shah Abbas I as a place to entertain noble visitors and foreign ambassadors and is rich in naturalistic wall paintings of animals, floral and bird motifs. Important rooms include the chancellery on the first floor and the largest rooms, found on the sixth floor, housing the royal reception, music and banquet halls. The large upper gallery was used by the Safavid Shahs to watch Chowgan (polo), horse racing and other events held in the square below.
The Imperial Bazaar
The impressive Portia of Qeyssariyeh, which marks the most significant entrance to the Bazaar of Isfahan, dominates the northern side of Naqsh-e Jahan Square. The Bazaar comprises of a covered two kilometre street lined with a wonderful array of Iranian handicrafts and links the square to the old town in the north-east. The present day structure dates back to the Safavid era but there still remain parts which were constructed during the Seljuq era, over a thousand years ago.
written by: Jon