The heart of Iran is Isfahan
Photo feature by Dave Bartruff
Isfahan embodies the greatness of ancient Persia. Located in virtually the middle of Iran, the city was once the capital of the Persian kingdom, a lush green oasis surrounded by vast deserts of sand and salt. It was said that Isfahan nesf-ejehan (Isfahan is half the world).
Isfahan’s Golden Age began in the late seventeenth century under the Safavid dynasty. The city had been an important trading center, but to establish in it as the national capital was no easy task. The first monarchs had to drive out the Mongols, and Shah Abbas the Great (r. 1588 – 1629) was Isfahan’s champion. He expelled the Ottomans and constructed the awe inspiring Imam (Prophet) Mosque, completed in 1638. His successors continued to build magnificent palaces, mosques, and schools. They established a flourishing tradition of support for the decorative arts, notably calligraphy and miniature painting, and Isfahan’s era of glory lasted into the nineteenth century.
Bisected by the Zayandeh River, Isfahan is today the showpiece of a nation slowly beginning to welcome Western visitors. A casual stroll can lead the stranger to diverse and unexpected discoveries. There are parks, historical bridges crossing the river, tea rooms where patrons smoke traditional water pipes, monuments and landmarks adorned by ubiquitous pale blue tiles and a Zoroastrian Tower Of Silence.
A dozen active churches have served the city’s large Armenian community since the seventeenth century.
The heart of the modern city is Imam Khomeini Square. Formerly a royal polo ground, it encompasses twenty acres and is second in size only to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Two magnificent mosques and madrassas (religious schools), a pavilion and a seven story palace plus the grand bazaar border the square, eloquent testimony to the former capital’s eminence in religion, culture, government and trade.