A visit to Iran, or indeed the Middle East would be absolutely pointless without spending at least a few days in Isfahan. Located in central Iran and in the Isfahan Province, the city’s history and glamour shine like pearls throughout Iranian history. No wonder the city is referred to as “The Pearl of the Middle East” by foreigners and “Isfahan, Nesf-e Jahan” – which means “Isfahan, Half of the World” by Iranians. There countless monuments, buildings, sights and even registered UNESCO World Heritage Sites scattered all over this remarkable city. You can find samples of Iranian art, architecture and cultural heritage dating back hundreds or even thousands of years in Isfahan.
There are so many splendid tourist attractions located all over this historical city that an endless list of attractions can be composed. The city’s history, its past rulers and the fact that Isfahan has been selected as the capital city of Persia have resulted in a magnificent and rather unique collection of various forms of Iranian-Islamic art & architecture. Some of the most significant of these wonders and a brief description of each are listed below:
Possibly the grandest and most magnificent tourist attraction in Isfahan that annually attracts thousands of national and foreign tourists is the Naghsh-e Jahan Square which means “The Image of the Universe” in Persian (Farsi). This vast urban square which measure approximately 560 m long and 160 m wide was constructed between 1598 and 1629. It is also referred to as “Shah (king) Square” or “Imam Square” by the local population. This square complex is comprised of a number of world-famous architectural masterpieces all of which are situated all around or very close to the square and within walking distance of it. The best time of day to visit “Shah Square” is close to sunset when the low glowing orange light of the sun creates an amazing skyline featuring the various domes depicted all around the square.
As you look around the “Naghsh-e Jahan Square”, it’s easy to spot a high 6-storey structure with its rather unique terrace in appearance with its 18 wooden columns overlooking the main square. The “Ali Qapu Palace” is a royal palace that was constructed under the rule of the Safavid kings in the late 16th century & served many purposes at that time. Make sure you pay the awestrucking “Music Hall” on the 6th floor of this palace a visit.
Also located around the “Naghsh-e Jahan” square are two magnificent mosques named “Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfollah” & “Masjed-e Shah – or Masjed-e Imam”. The “Sheikh Lotfollah” mosque can be considered as a jewel in the collection of Iranian architecture that was also built during the Safavid Dynasty. It’s construction commenced in 1603 in honor of the clergy named “Sheikh Lotfollah” and ended in 1619 – over 16 years! It is situated directly across from the Ali Qapu Palace and is connected to it via an underground tunnel that was used by the royal family – who preferred not to be seen in public – to access the mosque.
The Shah (or Imam) mosque which also goes by the name of “Masjed-e Jame-e Abbasi” is significant due to its size and decorations. The mosque is situated on the south side of the “Naghsh-e Jahan Square”. The interior of the structure displays the most magnificent tile work that can be found anywhere.
The “Chehel Sotoon” – often pronounced as “Chel Sotoon” – palace is also a grand attraction to visit. It was constructed during the Safavid Era and by the order of Shah (King) Abbas 2nd. The name refers to the 20 slender columns that are reflected in the water in the vast pool in front of the palace to create the visual illusion of 40 (Chehel in Persian) columns.