The Meydane Square has a north-south orientation, but is slightly inclined to the west. The blue tiled entrance gate of the Shah Mosque with two side towers, is at the southern end of the square. The Masjed-e Shah (Shah Mosque) stands behind the square. You walk through a tiled passage with vaulted ceilings to get to the courtyard in front of the mosque. All facades of the square are covered with blue faience tiles. With this technique, clay tiles are covered with a white glaze, which is then melted. With this method (Haft Rangi), the colors blue, yellow and green can be applied. There are three archways on the square and the main facade of the mosque, which in turn is decorated with two towers.
Why is the mosque situated not directly on Meydane Square and why with an angle to it? The whole square is subject to a strict system, only the mosque deviates from it. Unlike churches that are only symbolically oriented towards Jerusalem (east), mosques stand exactly in the direction of Mecca. As a result, mosques in many Islamic countries do not adhere to the city plan.
The Shah Mosque of Isfahan was started by the Safavid king Abbas I and was completed in 1630. The Shiite mosque has been officially called Masjed-e Imam since the Iranian revolution. The turquoise dome rises 50 m into the sky, the two flanking minarets are each 40 m high. The plant motifs of the tiles are supposed to remind of paradise, the place that is waiting for all believers. The Shah Mosque was designed by architect Ali Akbar Esfahani, the calligraphy by Ali Reza.
The Shah Mosque is also a museum for which an entry fee is required. Opening times 9 - 11:30 and 13 - 16:30. The inner courtyard is protected in summer from the heat by an awning.
The central square and the most famous sight of Isfahan is the Meydane Naqshe Jahan. The huge square was created between 1598 and 1629. At Meydane Naqshe Jahan there are two mosques, a palace, the university and the Bazaar of Isfahan. Shah Abbas I had built a rectangular square with uniform arcades, behind which different buildings stand. The only structure that protrudes into the square is the Ali Qapu Palace. The name Meydane Naqshe Jahan means "image of the world", since the Iranian Revolution the square is called Meydane Imam. The great square is designed like a garden, with lawns, trees and a large pool in the middle. In the evening, the locals spread out their carpets and have a public picnic. There are shops in the arcades where you can buy souvenirs and other small items.
The Khak-e Ali Qapu (The High Gate) belongs to the palace of Shah Abbas I of Persia and was completed in 1629. Behind the gate are the gardens and the palace of the king. This porch of the palace protrudes into the square and offers a wonderful view of the hustle and bustle on the Meydan. In the past, sports competitions were held on the square and the Shah used the Khak-e Ali Qapu as grandstand. Anyone can experience what was formerly reserved only for the Shah of Persia and his court. The veranda with the high wooden roof is one of the attractions of the square.
There is a tower behind the roof terrace, which the Shah used as a representative ballroom. The throne room and smaller rooms for receptions were also located in here. The walls are decorated with flowers and animal representations. The ceilings is very special, with many open cavities that ensure good acoustics.
The Lotfollah Mosque is located on Meydane Naqshe Jahan, to the opposite of the Royal Palace. Because it is connected underground to the Ali Qapu Palace, it is believed that it was designed as a private mosque for the Shah. The Lotfollah Mosque is relatively small but very beautiful. The architect Ali Reza Abbasi has built a masterpiece. The entrance is in a recess of the square facade and stands out clearly from the earthy tones of the arcades thanks to its brilliant blue. The interior under the large dome was covered with blue and yellow tile patterns.
The Grand Bazaar is one of the top attractions in Isfahan. The several kilometers long corridors are covered by beautiful domes. The Grand Bazaar begins at Qeysariey Gate, which is at the northern end of Meydane Naqshe Jahan. The decorations on the gate show hunting and battle scenes. The highlight of the bazaar are the dome halls of the Timche-ye Malekotojar bazaar, which are located between the Qeysariey gate and the Rizwan mosque. There are several mosques at the Grand Bazaar, the Hakim Mosque with a large courtyard made of yellow bricks with yellow and blue wall tiles is worth seeing. The famous Carpet Bazaar of Isfahan can be found in Bazarcheh Noe street, which is located on the left-hand side of the Qeysariey Gate on the second cross street. If you want to visit a historic house in the bazaar district, you can visit the Moshir Almolk House with its richly decorated courtyard (link). The Museum of Islamic Art is right next to it.
If you leave the bazaar to the north, you will pass the Ali Mosque with a 50 m high minaret from the 12th century, which looks like an ornated chimney. The courtyard is made of adobe and the ivans (vaulted niches) are only plastered. The Ali Mosque dates back to the Seljuks and is rather simple. At the end of the bazaar you will enter the huge Imam Ali Square, which is surrounded by rows of arcades like the Meydan-e Naqsh-e Jahan.
The Chehel Sotoon Palace was started by Shah Abbas I but was completed under his successor Abbas II in 1647. The palace is located west of Meydane Naqshe Jahan and is surrounded by a palace garden with a pool and fountain. When you approach the Chehel Sotoon Palace, you first notice the slender wooden pillars of the veranda. Chehel means many and Sotoon is the Persian word for pillar. The name "Palace of many Pillars" refers to the reflection of the 18 pillars in the water.
If you stand on the terrace you will see an Aiwan decorated with mirror mosaics (open hall with barrel vault also called Iwan). From a distance, the impression arises as if you could see through the building. In fact, there is a huge room inside that shows pictures from the glorious history of the Safavid dynasty. One of the murals shows Ismail I's victory over the Ottomans in 1514. In fact, the Ottomans won at the Battle of Chaldiran and the Persian Empire lost Kurdistan and its capital Tabriz to the Turks. Because of the Ottomans, the Safavids moved to Qazvin and later to Isfahan. Other murals show receptions with Sultan Humayun, Vali Mohammad and the barge of Turkestan.
The Chehel Sotoon Palace is also one of the most beautiful sights of Isfahan because of its lavishly decorated vaulted ceilings. The entrance is on Ostandari street.
The Chahar Bag Madrasa was built under Shah Sultan Hossein in 1714 and is also called Madar-e Shah (mother of the Shah) because his mother had built the Koran school. The group of buildings consists of a Koran school (madrasa), a caravanserai and the approximately 200 m long Bazar-e Honar, which is known for its goldsmiths. The caravanserai served as a hostel for traders who could store and care for their pack animals. The closed building complex offered protection against thieves. Today the inner courtyard is a garden with two pools. The main hall (mihrab) of the school is clad with blue and yellow tiles and is flanked by two minarets. The Chahar Bag Madrasa is located on the street of the four gardens (Chahar Bagh), south of the Hasht Behesht Palace. Chahar Bagh Avenue is the most famous boulevard in Isfahan, previously it was the boulevard of the Persian capital with many palaces and gardens. Chahar Bagh Avenue runs through the entire city from north to south and leads to the Si o Se Pol Bridge.
The Hasht Behesht Palace is located on Chahar Bagh Avenue, south of the Chehel Sotoon Palace. The "Palace of the eight paradises" was built in 1669 by Shah Soleiman (Safi II.). The paradise garden refers to the Persian garden art, which took the heavenly paradise as a model. The garden was also called "Nightingale Garden" (Bagh-e Bolbol). The Hasht Behesht Palace is designed in a similar way as the Chehel Sotoon Palace, but is significantly smaller. The building shines with beautiful animal and plant representations made of tiles. Also worth seeing is the ox-eye vault in the middle of the palace, there is a lantern above the dome, which in turn has been decorated with mirror mosaics. This makes the ceiling of the Hasht Behesht Palace one of the most beautiful domes in Isfahan. In front of the palace there is a long water basin with a fountain.
The Jameh Mosque is the Friday mosque of Isfahan. This makes Masjed-e Jameh the religious center of the city. The Abbasids had built a mosque in the 8th century, which was expanded and converted by the subsequent dynasties. It is possible to read the building history of the last 1,300 years from this magnificent mosque. The Jameh Mosque has evolved over time from a pillar mosque to a Four Ivan Mosque. The Arabic-style pillar mosque is still visible in the interior, but the large courtyard is a prime example of Persian architecture.
Excavations have shown that the mosque was built on a fire temple of the Sassanids, which were extinguished by the Islamic expansion around 650. Like the Christians in South America, Muslims preferred to build their mosques on temples of the conquered religions.
The main construction phases of the Jameh mosque is the year 840, when the old mosque was built over with a new mosque. And the year 1088, when the inner courtyard with the 4 ivans was built. With a plot area of around 20,000 m², the Friday Mosque of Isfahan is the largest mosque in Iran.
The Si-o-Se Pol is an arch bridge flanked by arcades, which was built in 1602 over the Zayandeh Rud river. It extends the Chahar Bagh Abbasi to the south. The approximately 350 m long Si-o-Se Pol has 33 arch segments, which gave the bridge its name. However, the bridge was originally named after its builder Pol-e Allahverdi. The bridge was built at the widest part of the river, which rarely carries water. Nevertheless, the Si-o-Se Pol is one of the sights of Isfahan because it is illuminated in the evening like the Khaju Bridge and many people relax here in the cool breeze of the night. The Si-o-Se Pol was the architectural model for the smaller Pol-e Khaju.
Vank Cathedral is in the Jolfa district. Jolfa is a small town on the Iranian border with Azerbaijan. Shah Abbas I had Christian Armenians move from this place to Isfahan in 1603 because he needed their handicraft skills in his capital. He had just conquered Armenia and knew he couldn't hold this country. The Christians were given their own district and a guarantee of religious freedom.
Kelisa-ye Vank was inaugurated in 1663 and is a very special building because Christian and Islamic architecture are mixed together. From the outside, Vank Cathedral looks like a mosque. The yellow brick building is decorated with Persian pointed arches and there is a small Ivan above the entrance. There is a small Armenian pointed roof with a cross above the main entrance. The church tower stands next to the cathedral, in the surrounding wall of the church courtyard. The interior is packed with Christian murals. Gold and blue tones determine the appearance of the dome. The ornament is Christian but the architecture of the Vank Cathedral is Muslim. The combination of Christian and Islamic building traditions makes the Vank Cathedral a unique building not only in Isfahan.
Around 25,000 Armenian Christians live in Jolfa and there are other churches in the district. Also worth seeing is the Bethlehem church, which has been decorated a little more reservedly and therefore looks more harmonious than the Vank cathedral.
There are also many good shops and restaurants in the Jolfa district. A stroll along Hakim Nezami Street is worthwhile. The Si-O-Se Pol metro station is around 1.6 km away.
The Khaju Bridge (Pol-e Khaju) is the most beautiful bridge in Isfahan. It leads south, to the commercial metropolis of Shiras. It was very important to the safari rulers to demonstrate their power and size to the foreign visitor as soon as they entered the city. The bridge over Zayandeh Rud was built in 1650. The Khaju Bridge has a middle lane for commercial traffic and covered arcades for pedestrians on the sides. In the middle there is a tower with decorative arches. The structure also served as a dam to build up a water reserve for the city. The river usually dries up in the summer. In the evening the Khaju Bridge is illuminated and is a popular meeting place for young and old. The bridge is a popular photo motif of Isfahan at night.