| Isfahan, the Capital of Culture and Civilization |
Who can claim to have seen the most beautiful city of the world without having seen Isfahan?
Isfahan is a touristic and ancient city in central Iran. It is the capital of Isfahan Province and County. In terms of population, Isfahan is Iran’s third largest and most developed city after Tehran and Mashhad and the 171st most populous city in the world.
History of Isfahan
Isfahan’s history is as old as Iran’s history. Building of Isfahan is attributed to Tahmoores, the third king of Pishdadian dynasty. In ancient history, it is introduced as Guey in Upper Pars. Isfahan was located at the intersection of major pathways and it was the royal residence of Achaemenid kings. Strabo, Greek geographer of 2,000 years ago, had mentioned Isfahan as the capital of Iran. Arrival and spread of Islam, as well as deep influence of Islamic culture on the architectural infrastructure of the city and presence of Iranian artists led to one of the most beautiful religious cities in the world in which valuable cultural aspects, including mosques, minarets, and religious schools have been built.
It seems that Espahan (meaning standing army) replaced Guey since Sassanid era. As stated in biographies, Sassanid cavalries settled at lawns surrounding Espahan, especially in the western part of the city towards foothills and the origin of Zayanderud River. Since Esphan was the Sassanid prince domicile, it had advantage over other cities. During Sassanid, sometimes Espahan and sometimes Armenia was the imperial prince domicile, as well it was the residence and area of influence of “Espoohrans” or the members of seven noble Iranian families.
However, the suburb has retained Aspahan name which was the name of government division during Sassanid. When Macedonian Alexander invaded Iran, this city was the center of Gabiois and was known as Gabai or Tabai. In the early Islamic centuries, Islamic sources cited two cities in the current location of Isfahan; a city called Jay in the current location of Jey district and another city in three miles west of Jey, where was home to a significant population of Jews. Arabs conquered Espahan in 64 AD and the city was dominated by Arabs, like other cities until the tenth century AD.
History of Names of Isfahan
From ancient times to present, Isfahan have had different names: Apadana, Asefa-han, Esbahan, Esbhan, Espatna, Espadna, Espahan, Aspedan, Espdaneh, Esphan, Espiner, Esfahan, Esfhan, Esbahan, Esbhan, Espdaneh, Esfahank, Enzan, Basfahan, Partak, Park, Pari, Paritakan, Partikan, Jey, Jewish House, Rashurji, Sepahan, Sepaneh, County, Sefahan, Sefahoon, Gaba, Gabian, Gabieh, Gabi, Guey, Nesfejahan (half of the world), and Judea.
This city also used to have older names without any association with the current name, such as: Gabian, Gabieh, Jey, Gabi, Guey, and Gaba. In Achaemenid Persian inscriptions, Enzan included Isfahan district and before Cyrus, the power center of Achaemenid was in this region, and then after Cyrus, Enzan was changed to Gabian, the name which had also stated by Strabo, then gradually changed to Jay.
Herzfeld wrote: Isfahan was the name of a block of Partikan Province and the name of “Gobi” city which then was changed to “Guey” and arabized to “Jey.”
GeographyIsfahan city, the capital of Isfahan Province, is located at the heart of Iranian plateau with an area of about 250 km2 and at 435 km south of Tehran. Its coordinate is 51° 39’ 40”E and 32° 38’ 30”N. The city is located at 1,570 m above sea level and is limited at north and east by desert and at west and south by Zagros Mountains. Karkas Mountains are located 50 km north of Isfahan and Zard-Kuh Bakhtiari to the south-west of the city. Water streams such as Zayandehrud River, which originates from Zagros Mountains especially Zard-Kuh Bakhtiari, are the reason of the city emergence. Isfahan has been built on a relatively flat plain with a slope of about 2 percent towards northeast.
Isfahan is located in the center of Iranian plateau and is fairly mountainous; its average elevation above sea level is 1,500 meters with mountains extending from northwest to southeast. The large area of Isfahan is bordered by a desert area from north and east and by Zagros Mountains from west and south. Isfahan is Iran’s third largest city after Tehran and Mashhad.
According to the census conducted in 2011, Isfahan had 1,682,194 people. Isfahan has long been the most important urban center of the Iranian plateau. The first European style census of Isfahan was performed on 25 December 1940 in Reza Shah Reign and reported 204,600 habitants.
Religion in Isfahan
Although Islam is the dominant religion of Isfahan at present, Armenians, Jews, and other religious minorities have been living in the city from centuries ago. Isfahan has always been home to different nationalities and religions and among the great cities for immigration of believers of different religions. Julfa, located to the south of Isfahan, is a region with plenty of Armenians. Islam has been gradually and willingly welcome by Isfahanese. With arrival of Islam and its acceptance by Iranians, the followers of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism lived together there. Even after creation of various religions in later centuries, Isfahan was still the living place of several Islamic sects. Thus, there was always a habitat for dozens of religious believers.
Except the ruins of a fire temple in Atashgah (fire place) Mountain, a few explorations in Ashraf Hill, and the County Bridge (belonging to the Sassanid era), nothing has been remained from the pre-Islamic period, among them, the only erected monument is the County Bridge.
Most of the remained monuments belong to all periods of the Islamic era particularly two glorious periods, Seljuk and Safavid, which have great prominence and each possesses its own unique character and style.
Islamic architecture of the Safavid era
Safavid was the era of perfection and flowering of genius in architecture and urbanism in Iran. The most beautiful and glorious architectural works were created in this period by creative and artist architects such as Mohammad Reza and Ali Akbar Esfahani.
In Shah Abbas Safavi Reign, the capital was transferred from Qazwin to Isfahan. Shah Abbas without performing major modifications in the old part of the town added new sections.
Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Dolatkhaneh (Government House), and Chahar Bagh Avenue were built beside city’s old parts. In addition to the strength and beauty, an important characteristic of the architectural style of this period is expression of light.
In the works of this era, radiation of color and light, and attractiveness of surfaces create a sense of dazzling beauty in viewer’s eye and resonance of colors and repeated levels of brilliant tiles transform to a lucid, abstract, and spiritual landscape. Architecture of this period is very versatile in terms of size and performance, and is dynamically present in all aspects of cultural, social, and economic life of people. The most magnificent mosques, the largest squares, the most beautiful streets and bridges, the greatest bazaars, schools, and caravanserais were built in this period and all are in the zenith of artistic perfection, strength, and performance, and some are so glorious, beautiful, and perfect that sometimes one cannot believe they were constructed by man.
Industry and economy
The traditional economy of the province is based on handicrafts such as carpet weaving, silk weaving, toreutics, wood carving, brocade weaving, inlay, filigree, miniature, pottery, enamel, metal working, turquoise, silver making, tile making, ghalamkar, and sequin embroidery which are beautiful hand-work of Isfahan and are prospered in the tourism sector.
Major industries such as Steel Company, Mobarakeh Steel Complex, Refinery, Polyacryl, numerous tile and ceramic factories, and quarries and stone cutting plants are the reasons of industrialization and strong economy of the province. Some other industries include porcelain, ceramic, furniture production, cement production plant, corrugated sheets, automotive industry, military industry, aircraft industry, construction and installation of gas appliances, food industry, dairy products, spinning, weaving and so on.
Tile art has always been one of the main displays of brilliant architecture in different periods, and the historical picture painted on tiles of Gheissarieh portal, designed according to the constellation Sagittarius (November), is known as the symbol of Isfahan. Currently Isfahan is one of the poles of Iran’s tile and ceramic industry.