Due to its strategic location, Isfahan was an important military center in ancient Persia and some believe its name derives from the Pahlavi ‘Aspahan’ meaning ‘place of the army.' Later, the city was chosen as the capital of the Safavid (1501-1736) dynasty and became a place where various cultures and nationalities met and merged.
During its golden age in the 17th century, Isfahan was considered bigger than London, more cosmopolitan than Paris, and grander than the fabled Istanbul.
Known as the City of Turquoise Domes for its beautiful mosques, which sparkled like gems along the Silk Road, Isfahan was where Islamic architecture achieved excellence and influenced the design of mosques throughout Asia.
During his reign, Shah Abbas I (1571-1629) built 999 caravanserais throughout the country one of which is said to be the 300-year-old Abbasi Hotel. This traditional lodging with its palatial proportions, unique design and delightful garden is the most famous of hotels in Isfahan and Iran.
Isfahan may be known for its striking boulevards, stunning covered bridges, magnificent palaces, beautiful churches and functioning synagogues but its glory is not limited to its countless historical sites. The river flowing through the heart of the city, like many world capitals, has created a rich cultural hub where one can grasp the true feeling of the Persian way of life.
Like the architecture of the city, Isfahan rugs have world reputation. These rugs with their silk warps and cotton or wool wefts are densely knotted and have designs inspired by the tilework of Isfahan mosques. One of the most precious Persian carpets from this city is the ‘Oneness of Mankind’ by Mohammad Seirafian which adorns the UN Headquarters in New York.
Among the cities of Iran, Isfahan has the most number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and therefore it is not surprising that it carries the nickname “Half of the World.”
This charming city, the third largest in Iran, has a thriving Armenian quarter with a maze of cobblestoned streets and inviting cafes situated around the old churches of Jolfa.
Top things to do
- Naqsh-e Jahan Square along with the Isfahan Bazaar, Lutfollah and Shah (Imam) Mosques and Ali Qapu Palace
- Vank Cathedral
- Jame Mosque
Top foods to try
- Beriani (not to be confused with the Indian Biryani) - Cooked mutton or lamb grilled in special shallow pans in an oven or over a fire served with powdered cinnamon in local bread.
- Khoresht-e mast or yoghurt stew – A sweet pudding made of yogurt, lamb/mutton or chicken, saffron, sugar and orange zest .
- Gaz or Persian nougat - A chewy mix of pistachio, almonds, cardamom and rosewater shaped into square or round little bites of sweetness.