Isfahan (historically called as Sepahan) is an ancient city and still is one of the central cities of Iran. It used to be the capital of Persia in 1598-1722. Historians have found evidence that proves there has been life in Isfahan since Paleolithic period.
The city became prosperous after Arabs invaded Iran and captured Isfahan in 642. Once again in the mid-11th century, Turkish conqueror invaded the region and chose Isfahan as the capital of his reign. This expanded the size and population of the city more than before.
So Isfahan has been the capital of Iran during two eras, and has experienced very prosperous times especially during Safavid era. This city can be counted as the symbol of Islamic architecture. Isfahan is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities of Iran and even the world. Many of historical sites of Isfahan have been listed as the UNESCO world heritages. Isfahan is called Nesf-e Jahan or “half the world” among Iranians. Without any doubts, it is one of the first tourism destinations of Iran and the world.
It is the capital of Isfahan province and the third most populated city of Iran after Tehran and Mashhad. It is expanded in an area of 493.8 Km2.
Isfahan is located on the Plain of Zayanderud River. There is no geographical obstacle from the north, so there is always cool wind in the city. Isfahan has a moderate climate with regular seasons. Day temperature during summer is around 35 °C, but due the cool wind, and low humidity, the climate stays pleasant. During the winter, nights are cold.
Zayandeh Rud is considered as the main element of prosperity in Isfahan. This river starts from Zagros Mountains in the neighbor province. It streams 400kms, and ends its way to a seasonal lake, called Gavkhooni. There are evidences that show Neanderthals have been living in caves near this river, so human life alongside this river goes back to 40.000 years ago.
In 17th century, an Iranian scholar designed a system of canals to bring Zayandeh Rud water to Isfahan. This gave life to people and grew the population of a city located in the middle of a desert.
In Safavid era several bridges were built on this river, which are architectural masterpieces.
This river connects two sides of Isfahan. Currently an vast park surrounds the river.
Ali Qapu Palace was built after Isfahan was selected as the capital of Iran by command of Shah Abbas the first in early 17th century, then completed by next rulers especially Shah Abbas the second. This monument is situated on the west side of Naqsh-e Jahan.
Shah Abbas named the palace as Ali Qapu meaning “Gate of Ali”, because of his respect for Imam Ali, the first Shia Imam.
This building with the height of almost 38 meters is popular for the highest monument of the 16th-century. The monument built in 4 floors but later during the reign of Shah Abbas II, two more floors with a music-hall on the top was constructed to expand the palace. Two sets of staircases connect the floors to the top. They are so narrow that only one person can climb the stairs.
This palace had five entrance gates, the gate of Ali Qapu has been the most important gate since it opens in front of Naqsh-e-Jahan and it is considered as the symbol of imperial power in the era of Shah Abbas the Great. This monument has a beautiful panorama view to Naqsh-e Jahan.
Si-o-se-pol or AllahVerdi Khan Bridge was built across Zayandeh Rud, in 1599-1602, in Safavid era during the reign of Shah Abbas I. Allah Verdi Khan; the chancellor of Shah Abbas has financed and supervised the construction of this bridge. Si-o Se Pol is the longest bridge built on Zayandeh Rud and still standing after 400 years. This 298m-long-bridge is made of stones and bricks, and functions as a dam too.
Khaju Bridge is one of the oldest bridges of Isfahan. The construction was started around the year 1650 by the command of Shah Abbas II. The monument is constructed out of stones and bricks in two floors. The bridge is 110 meters long and 20 meters wide. According to the historical records, the first aim of constructing this bridge has been making a connection between some districts of Isfahan and Shiraz road. The upper floor has been used for passage of horse riders and the lower floor as a pedestrian zone.
This is the oldest bridge in the east side of Isfahan. It is believed that its brick structure dates back to 12thcentury and pillars are remained from an earlier Sassanid Bridge.
Naqsh-e-Jahan square (currently called as Imam Square) is another historical attraction of the Safavid era. This rectangular square is located in the center of Isfahan and it is listed as one of the oldest squares of the world and recorded as one of the UNESCO’s world heritage sites. This square is surrounded by several Safavid era heritages of Isfahan, such as Ali Qapu, Sheykh Lotfollah Mosque, Imam Mosque and the Grand Bazaar.
The length of this square is equal to 512 meters and its width is 163 meters. Inside the square area, there exists a water pool which increases the joy of walking by around or the carriage rides.
Vank cathedral, means “monastery” in Armenian language, was built between 1648 and 1655. This church includes a bell-tower, a printing press and a museum with historical objects belonged to Armenians of Isfahan.
This church is the most well-known cathedral located in the Christians’ area. The interior part of the church is richly decorated and ornamented. The amazing decoration of interior space, are a mixture of Islamic and Christian style. The paintings on the inner walls and ceilings depict different Biblical stories like the universe creation, Adam and Eve creation, the story of Adam’s falling from heaven to earth and other stories.
Chehel Sotoun means “forty pillars”. This palace is a survivor of different palaces built in Safavid era. This location was built by Shah Abbas II for entertainment and greetings. The name Chehel Sotoun is inspired by the reflected image of 20 wooden pillars of the palace entrance pavilion in the water of a pool in front of the palace. The architecture of this monument is inspired by different historical areas of Iran.
The palace has many paintings on ceramics, which illustrate historical scenes including battle of Chalderan against the Ottoman Empire, the battle of Safavid King, Shah Ismail, with the King of Uzbek. The roof of the palace is made of a kind of Plantain wood with an amazing decoration. Outside the building, some pictures of European figures are used very interestingly.
Atashgah is one of the many great archaeological wonders of Isfahan, which is located on a hill about 8 kilometers far from city center. This construction is located on the top of a hill and dates back to Sassanid times.
There is a tower-like circle building on top of the mountain. It has been at least 20 meters long. It is said that this tower was a military tower to warn approaching enemies or a fire house to keep the sacred fire lit.
The construction dates back to before 6th century. There are some remaining of several rooms and buildings and staircases that are at the risk of erosion due to rain and visitors’ touches. Remaining walls of the buildings are made of baked bricks. Some historians have compared the tower building with the Chahak fire temple located in Qom.
Isfahan Great Bazaar is one of the historic marketplaces with a series of small domes at the top of bazaar’s arched passageways. It is a link between Naqsh-e-Jahan Square to Jame Mosque. It was built in the time of Shah Abbas I, in the early 1600s.
Great Bazaar has a dozen of entrances. Qeysarieh is the main entrance at the northern end of Naqsh-e Jahan Square, decorated with beautiful tiles picturing the battle of Shah Abbas with the Uzbeks. The oldest parts of Bazaar date back to a thousand years earlier, but the most of remained part which is seen and used today date back to Shah Abbas era.
The Jameh mosque is the congregational mosque of Isfahan. A congregational mosque is the most important mosque of a city, which religious ceremonies like Friday prayers are held in. It is one of the oldest mosques of Iran still standing. It has four face to face gates. The building is the result of several constructions, reconstructions, repairs, renovations and additions from 771 till the end of previous century. The mosque is originally built in 8th century, but burnt and rebuilt in 11th century. Because of this, the construction has many styles of architecture. This mosque is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage since 2012. In the time of Sassanid, the religious customs were held in this place. The mosque has a main courtyard, with a fountain designed to imitate the Kaaba at Mecca. There are two-floor porches constructed in the late 15th century.
The room of Sultan Uljaitu, also known as Muhammad Khodabandeh, is one of the mosque’s greatest treasures which was built in 14th century and is next to the west iwan. Winter Hall (Beit al Sheta) was built in 1448 in the time of Timurid. At the moment, this hall is closed for restoration.
Hasht Behesht meaning "Eight Paradises" is the most luxuriously decorated palace in Isfahan built in Safavid era. During the time of Safavid, there have been 40 mansions in Isfahan, and Hasht Behesht is the only one that still remains.
Hasht Behesht is built in the center of Nightingales Garden (Bagh-e Bolbol). The special connection between interior and exterior spaces is very interesting and unique. Most travellers of the time have confirmed that the building was one of the greatest and most magnificent and gorgeous constructions of the world in comparison with European palaces.
Hasht Behesht is built in two floors, two meters above the ground level. It has huge wooden pillars. The building is octagonal, and has 4 facets, all similar and at the same time each one has its own specifications. You cannot recognize which one is the main front side of the building. In the first floor, in the middle of the hall, there is a stone pond which is called “pearl pond”.
Monar jonban is a monument in Isfahan which is famous for its shaking minarets. There are some shaking Minarets in Iran, but the most distinguished one is located in Isfahan. When one of the minarets shakes, the other one starts shaking, and then the whole building shakes. The form of minarets shows that they were added to iwan at the end of Safavid times. It has always been a question for scientists why minarets shake. The answer is unclear yet.
Below is the list of historical and natural sites of Isfahan. We list them merely for your knowledge. Surfing Persia selects the most important and outstanding ones and manages to cover them in its itinerary. However, if there is a site which you insist on visiting but not included in your tour, please let us know. We will consider adding this item to your tour or replacing it with another site included in your itinerary.