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For many years Isfahan, as a big museum-town, has attracted many visitors from all parts of Iran and the world. This city, being a glorious symbol of Iranian art, possesses a lot of significant masterpieces of Islamic architecture and reminders of pre-Islamic period. Beautiful nature and different agreeable gardens have contributed to the glory of this old capital. Time has not distorted its beauty. Isfahan is still as exciting as before. In Islamic period, it was one of the first goals for the Muslim warriors. In Al-e Boyeh era,Isfahan became the center of science and culture, due to the encouragements and supports of Saheb ibn Ebad. Therefore, this city became well-known in the world. After Deylamites and in the Ala-addin Kakuyeh times, Avicenna, the great Iranian scientist, was a prime minister at that time. He established classes in this city and turned it into a Dar-ol Elm (a place for science).
Togrul, the founder of the Seljuks dynasty, contributed to the expansion of Isfahan. He erected many magnificent buildings there. Isfahan reached to its highest point of glory in Seljuks era at the time of Malik Shah and his prime minister Khaje Nezam-ol Mulk. During the Mongol invasion this city was damaged. Many of buildings, palaces, schools and libraries were burnt and Iafahan burnt its glory and magnificence. Later, Mongol rulers became Muslim and reconstructed some parts of Isfahan. Oljayto was one of these rules who erected many marvelous building and masques in Iran. The Pir Bekran tomb, the Ashterjan mosque and the Manar Jonban portico are other buildings of that period. After Alle Muzaffar and during Tamerlane’s times many people were massacred in Isfahan. But his successors, influenced by the wise Iranian prime ministers, erected many other beautiful edifices.
The golden times of Isfahan was in the king Abbas I era. He, after some incompetent princes, sat on the throne and after suppressing internal and foreign enemies, chose Isfahan as his capital. The Safavid dynasty was overthrown by Afghan invasion in 1135 AH again. Isfahan that was the most famous historical city lost its glory. It was only in the Fath Ali Shah period, when Muhammad Khane Sadr (known as Nezam-ol Dovleh) was the prime minister, that buildings in Isfahan were mended and some other buildings were erected. The history of Isfahan with all its up-and-down is beautiful because it is beautiful, as its buildings, Zayandeh Rud River, Chahar Baq, Naqsh-e Jahan, and as its invitation to the feast of color, water, and light.
The Si-o Seh Pol (33 bridges) or Allah Verdi Khan bridge
This bridge is the most famous historical bridge of Isfahan and one of the architectural masterpieces of Iranian bridgework. This bridge was made in the early eleventh century AH by Shah Abbas (I) and under the supervision of the famous commander of the Safavid era, Allah Verdi Khan. This bridge is about 300 opening. The base of this bridge is made of well cut stones and lime mortar. Arches and other parts are made of bricks. In the end of the bridge there are two round towers as high as the arched passages. There are some staircases inside these towers towards the upper and lower floor. The adept architect of this bridge is Ostad Hussein Banna Isfahani known as Aqa Hussein. He is the father of Ostad Muhammad Reza Isfahani the skillful architect of Sheykh Lutfol-lah mosque.
The Ali Qapoo palace is one of the striking and historical buildings of Safavids capital which was erected in the early eleventh century AH by the order of Shah Abbas the Great. Some archaeologists ascribe the original building of Ali Qapoo, which has been a building in one floor has been reconstructed and changed in the Shah Abbas the Great and five other floors have been added to it. Among ornamental art work of this place are the works of the famous artist of the Safavid era, Reza Abbasi. He, along with his assistants, created many drawings and paintings on the walls of this edifice. These decorations are in the form of flora patterns, leaf and branches, birds and animals. These are still seen on the ceilings, arches, corridors, and staircases. The sixth floor was the reception part for formal events and also a place for the banquets of the king and the royalty. The biggest hall of Ali Qapoo is in this floor and its decorations and stucco-works, which are in the shape of different crystal dishes and cups, are on its walls and ceilings.
Ali Qapoo has several meanings, but mainly it means an excellent gate to the complex of palaces.
Establishment of Ali Qapu has been performed during several stages and it took time about 70 years. First stage – Establishment of entrance structure.
Second stage – Upper hall on the entrance vestibule
Third stage – construction of the 5th floor or music hall
Fourth stage – Establishment of eastern veranda
Fifth stage – Establishment of wooden ceiling for veranda on 18 wooden columns and establishment of southern stairways known as “ Peleh-Shahi ” stairways
Sixth stage -Establishment of water source in the northern side for providing water of copper pond fountain. Decorations of Ali Qapoo outside surfaces hold brick facades with combination of tile in back of the sides and vaults, but inside surfaces hold the most beautiful types of plaster-working and painting.
Ali Qapoo building at the first class was used as the special entrance of the king to the government and court and then for entertaining from guests and ambassadors, audience ceremonies, resting and recreation and particularly listening to the music, watching various national and religious ceremonies particularly Polo-stick from its columned veranda.
This floor is famous as the sound and the music room. The main purpose of the creators of these stucco-works, in addition to the ornamental uses, was preventing the reflection of the sound of the musical instruments of the players using these hollow stucco-works. In this way, the sound remained natural and not distorted yet. These rooms have also been called Sofreh Khaneh, Sharab Khaneh, and Chini Khaneh. The Ali Qapoo palace enjoyed a special respect in the Safavid era and was admired by all visitors. For the first time, Shah Abbas the Great held the New year celebration in this palace. After him, other Safavid kings held their celebrations and receptions of foreign ambassadors in this palace.
It is the biggest church in Isfahan. This glorious church was built in AD 1605. It was expanded fifty years later in AD 1655. This church has a huge dome and high arches and walls which, despite their simplicity, enjoy unique splendor.
Masjid-e Imam (Jame-e Abbasi)
In the far southern part of the historical square of Naqsh-e Jahan sits a glorious mosque which is one of the most marvelous masterpieces of architectural art of the Safavid era. The building of the Masjid-e Imam, also called Masjid-e Shah, began in 1020 AH in the king Abbas period, and, in 1025, when the foundation of other parts were still unfinished, the excellent portal of the mosque with its beautiful tile-works finished. The decorations of the mosque continued after the death of king Abbas I (1038) AH.
The inscription on the portal is written by Alireza Abbasi the famous calligrapher of that period in Thulth style. The architect of this beautiful mosque is Ostad Ali Akbar Isfahani. The building of the mosque, being 12264 meter square at its base, is in four-portico design and consists of a central courtyard with four porticos in four sides, some arcades (Ravaq), several rooms on the both sides of the porticoes, the room below the dome, (Gonbad Khane), the prayer hall, many other decorations with tile-works, and some beautiful and priceless inscriptions by great calligraphers such as Ali Reza Abbasi, Abd-ol Baqi Tabrizi, Muhammad Reza Emami and Muhammad Saleh Emami. The frontage of the mosque has a pentagonal design with an octagonal pool in the center.
On the sides of it, are two high minarets with tile-works ornamentations. These minarets are 42 meters high and 2.8 meters wide and have spiral stairs.
There are three doors in the center of the frontage and on the both sides of them there are two chambers. These doors are decorated with colorful ornamental tiles and with figures of flowers and birds, as well as vaulted decorations ornamented with painted tiles.
The massive and high dome, of the mosque which covers a room of 22.5 by 22.5 meter is the most important and beautiful part of the mosque. All walls of this mosque are covered with polychromatic tiles and there is an inscription in the inner surface of the dome on a blue background. This inscription is written by Abd-ol Baqi Tabrizi in the Thulth style. In the southern part of the room beneath the dome lies the tiled prayer niche of the mosque with an inscription written by Muhammad Saleh Isfahani. Beside this, there is a marble pulpit with 14 stairs which are exquisitely hewn. There are eight openings on the dome which illuminate the room.
Masjid-e Jame-the Friday mosque
This mosque is also known as Jame-e Atiq or Masjid-e Jome (the Friday mosque). The original building of this mosque dates from the second century AH and is a perfect specimen of four-portico mosques.
The whole mosque is a big museum of Islamic architectural styles of Iran. It shows the process of development in the Islamic period. Between 465 to 485 AH, in the Seljuks era and in the time of Khaje Nezam-ol Mulk, a doom room was built in place of some parts of the southern side of the old prayer hall.
In the north of the mosque another doom room was erected by Taj-ol Mulk in 481 AH. the present mosque is 22000 meter square at its base. It has four porticos and consists of a central courtyard with its pool and buildings, the porticos, and northern and southern doom rooms, several prayers halls, schools, portals, beautiful decorations, which have been added in recent centuries.
The Oljayto Mihrab-Oljayto prayer niche
On the north of the western portico-Safeyeh Ostad (the Ostad platform)-there is a small prayer hall which have various brick arches and possesses the most beautiful stucco prayer niches of the Friday mosque of Isfahan. This prayer niche, according to its inscription, has been built in the ruling days of Sultan Muhammad Khoda Bande-Oljayto-and by the command of his Iranian minister Muhammad Savi in 710 AH.
This Mihrab, considering its stucco-works and Kufic handwritings, is one of the masterpieces of the Islamic architecture and one of the most beautiful prayer niches inIran. It is 3.5 by 5.5 meter and 19.2 meter square. This prayer niche is highly innovation the decorations. It has a combination of extremely exquisite floral and geometric figures along with seven different handwritings in seven different and distinct spaces.
Shykh Lutf-ollah mosque
Shykh Lutf-ollah mosque sits in the east side of Imam square-Naqsh-e Jahan-opposite to the Ali Qapoo edifice. This building, was one of the masterpieces of architectural art of the Safavid era, was erected from 1011 to 1028 AH by Shah Abbas (I). The architect of this magnificent building is Ostad (the title meaning a master) Muhammad Reza, the son of Ostad Hossein, the famous architect ofIsfahan. This everlasting masterpiece was built during 17 years by this adept architect. It is one of the glorious architectural works because of its unique architecture and decorations. The inscriptions of the mosque were written by Alireza Abbasi, the famous and popular calligrapher of the Safavid era, and on the best tiles. The mosque has a simple and small but a very elaborate design. It consists of a prayer hall, a dome, a corridor, three entrances and many beautiful tile decorations. Shekh Lutf-Ollah mosque, unlike other mosques, lacks courtyard, portico and minaret. Its dome is not so high so that it can be a suitable ceiling of the small prayer hall bellow. But it is still high enough to stand out beside the big Naqsh-e Jahan square.
Monar Junban (The Shaking Minaret)
This minaret is on the way from Isfahan to Najaf Abad, 6 kilometers west ofIsfahanin the Karladan village. In the center of this portico lies the tomb of one Gnostic of eighth century AH called Amo Abad-ollah Karladani. The date on the tombstone shows the date of 716 AH.
The interesting point about this building is that with shaking one minaret, the other one
would move, and more interestingly, this movement is felt in the whole building.
The Friday mosque of Naein
This mosque is one of the oldest mosques ofIranwhich dates from the fourth century AH, the ruling period of Omar ibn Abd-ol Aziz. This mosque is quite important because of its unique style of architecture and stucco-works.
The mosque design is a composition of colonnad prayer halls and a central courtyard. The central courtyard is rather small and rectangular. The arched doors of the prayer halls and the northern arcade lead to this yard. The mosque consists of a rectangular courtyard with colonnad halls on three corners and an arcade in the northern side.
The Narenj Qale (Castle) of Naein
The original building of this castle dates from the pre-Islamic period. It has been reconstructed and used in the Islamic era. The remnants of this castle (now some ruins are left) are situated in the center of the historical city ofNaeen.
It seems that this castle had been the Arg-the citadel-of the city. It had been situated at the main intersection of the city and on a slightly higher ground so that it had a sight of the whole city.
This castle had been 26 meters high and it had been surrounded by a wide moat. The materials used in the castle had been 25 by 50 centimeter adobes.
A European tourist has mentioned this castle and commented that: “the local inhabitant call this castle the Gabri-Zoroastrian-castle”.
The Khajo Bridge
The Khajo bridge is one of the beautiful and historical bridges in Iran. This bridge was built in 1060 AH by Shah Abbas (II). The combinational of technical knowledge and art has protected a unique masterpiece. The Khajo bridge has been called as Hassan Abad, Baba Rukn-ad Din, Shahi, and Gabrha (meaning Zoroastrians since it was on the way to the Zoroastrians quarter). This bridge had been called as Pule Shahi-the king bridge-since it was built by Shah Abbas (II) and it had been used in traditional celebrations like Jashne Ab Rizan (water pouring celebration) by the king and the royalty. This bridge is smaller but, on the other hand, more beautiful than Si-o She Pul. It has 21 openings, many arched roofs, and several chambers. Each roof is put on four rectangular piers. In the center of these arcades there is a polygonal pavilion in two floors which has arcades and chambers facing toward the river. This building is called Biglar Beygi and was used as the residual of the king and the royalty.
The Chihil Sutun (forty columns) Palace
The Chihil Sutun garden which is situated in the south of the Sepah street is 67000 meter square at its base. It was built in the period of Shah Abbas I, an edifice in Kolah Farangi Pavilion design was erected in the center of it with some small rooms around it. This garden was expanded at the times of Shah Abbas II and the Tallar-e Ayene (the Mirror Hall), the Eighteen-Column Hall, two big rooms in the north and south of the Mirror Hall, and the porticos on both sides of the present museum, and the big pool in front of the hall were added. All paintings, mirror decorations, and tile works of the walls and the ceilings, and the paintings of the Kingdom Hall of Chihil Sutun (except two famous paintings of Chalduran and Karnal war which were added after Safavid era) are works of Shah Abbas II era.
The main façade of the palace which is in the eastern part: a big portico 38 meters long, A 17 meters wide, and 14 meters high. And, it has 18 columns made of cedar and pine wood. The columns are in polygonal shapes with eight and sixteen sides. The four central columns are on four stone lions and water is pouring in a marble pool from their mouths. In the second portico, that is a little higher than the ground, there are two wooden columns 12 meters high. These columns along with other ones on the big portico make a sum of twenty columns. Each of these columns is made of a plane tree trunk which is covered with a colored wooden layer previously decorated with mirrors and stained glasses. All walls had been decorated with large mirrors, stained glasses and beautiful paintings, and all doors and windows had been decorated with fret-works.
The pool in front of the edifice is 110 by 16 meters. The painted ceilings of the twenty-column portico and the mirror decorations of the hall are among the most interesting type of ceilings in Iranian architecture.
Other decorations of this palace are the wall paintings of the interior walls of the palace.
The Wall-Paintings of the Chihil Sutun Palace
The subjects of the paintings in the Kingdom Hall, which are made in the west of the hall, from right to left, are:
The banquet of king Abbas and receiving Vali Muhammad Khan the king of Armenia, the battle of king Esmaeel with Ottoman army in Chalduran (added after Safavid period), the party held by king Abbas II to receive Nadar Khan-the king of Turkmenistan.
There are some paintings of European people and ambassadors in Safavid era on the both sides of the central hall of the Chihil Sutun. These paintings were made by two Dutch painters called Anjel and Lokar.
Atashgah (the fire-temple)
The oldest building among the ancient buildings of Isfahan is the reminiscent of a castle or fire place which lies in Marbin-Mehrbin or Mehrin-and is known as Atashgah (fire-temple). The reminiscent of this building is on the way from Isfahan to Najaf Abad and near manar Jonban on an ochre red hill. Most Muslim historians and geographer of the first century AH such as Hamzeh Isfahani, Ibn-e Khordad Beh, Masoudi, Ibn-e Hoqel, Hamd-ollah Mostovfi, mentioned this fire temple. Archeological excavations have revealed that it dates from pre-Sassanid period. Some even believe it to be made in Elamite era. Because at that time the fire temples were not made on top of the hills for the sake of convenience. Therefore, this fire temple is a symbol of civilizations older than that of Sassanids and other dynasties before it. Masoudi, the great Muslim historian, has mentioned that this castle had been used by Mithraicism followers.
This historical village sits 70 kilometers away from the road from Kashan to Natanz and in the northeast of Karkas mount on the bank of Barzrud river. Concerning traditional architecture, Abyaneh is a relic and is a site of precious works from Achaemenid to Qajar period.
Harpak fire-temple, central mosque, reticular wooden windows, local costumes, … are some of beautiful sights of Abyaneh.
Houses of this beautiful village are built on the southern slope of the mount and on a bed of sedimentary stones. Houses are made of red soil and with step architecture.
The favorable climate of this village in the summer days, its beautiful gardens, blue and bright sky which, at night, is full of stars, maximizes the beauty and attractiveness of this ancient village.
Friday mosque of Ardestan
This mosque is one of the oldest mosques known as four-portico designs of Seljuk era. It has undergone some changes since then. The inscriptions inside the dome and on the southern portico show the date of 553 and 555 A.H. The founder of this mosque, which one of the most beautiful stucco-work inscriptions is placed there, was Abotaher Hossein.