Isfahan historically also rendered in English as Ispahan, Sepahan, Esfahan or Hispahan, is the capital of Isfahan Province in Iran, located about 340 kilometres (211 miles) south of Tehran. It has a population of 1,908,609 and is Iran’s third largest city after Tehran and Mashhad. The Greater Isfahan Region had a population of 3,793,101 in the 2011 Census, the third most populous metropolitan area in Iran after Tehran and Mashhad. The cities of Zarrinshahr, Fooladshahr and Najafabad, Se-deh, Shahinshahr, Mobarakeh, Falavarjan and Charmahin all constitute the metropolitan city of Isfahan. Isfahan is located on the main north–south and east–west routes crossing Iran, and was once one of the largest cities in the world. It flourished from 1050 to 1722, particularly in the 16th century under the Safavid dynasty, when it became the capital of Persia for the second time in its history.
Even today, the city retains much of its past glory. It is famous for its Islamic architecture, with many beautiful boulevards, covered bridges, palaces, mosques, and minarets. This led to the Persian proverb “Esfahān nesf-e jahān ast” (Isfahan is half of the world). The Naghsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan is one of the largest city squares in the world and an outstanding example of Iranian and Islamic architecture. It has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The city also has a wide variety of historic monuments and is known for the paintings and history. The history of Isfahan can be traced back to the Palaeolithic period. In recent discoveries, archaeologists have found artifacts dating back to the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages.
The city emerged gradually over the course of the Elamite civilization (2700–1600 BCE) under the name of Aspandana also spelt Ispandana. During the Median dynasty, this commercial entrepôt began to show signs of a more sedentary urbanism, steadily growing into a noteworthy regional center that benefited from the exceptionally fertile soil on the banks of the Zayendehrud River. Once Cyrus the Great (reg. 559–529 BCE) unified Persian and Median lands into the Achaemenid Empire (648–330 BCE), the religiously and ethnically diverse city of Isfahan became an early example of the king’s fabled religious tolerance. The Parthians (250 BCE – 226 CE) continued this tradition after the fall of the Achaemenids, fostering the Hellenistic dimension within Iranian culture and political organization introduced by Alexander the Great’s invading armies. Under the Parthians, Arsacid governors administered a large province from Isfahan, and the city’s urban development accelerated to accommodate the needs of a capital city.
The next empire to rule Persia, the Sassanids (226 – 652 CE), presided over massive changes in their realm, instituting sweeping agricultural reform and reviving Iranian culture and the Zoroastrian religion. The city was then called by the name Spahān in Middle Persian. The city was governed by “Espoohrans” or the members of seven noble Iranian families who had important royal positions, and served as the residence of these noble families as well. Extant foundations of some Sassanid-era bridges in Isfahan suggest that the kings were also fond of ambitious urban planning projects. While Isfahan’s political importance declined during the period, many Sassanian princes would study statecraft in the city, and its military role developed rapidly.
Its strategic location at the intersection of the ancient roads to Susa and Persepolis made it an ideal candidate to house a standing army, ready to march against Constantinople at any moment. One etymological theory argues that the name ‘Aspahan’ derives from the Pahlavi for ‘place of the army’. In 1598 Shah Abbas the Great moved his capital from Qazvin to the more central and Persian Isfahan, called Ispahān in early New Persian, so that it wouldn’t be threatened by his arch rival, the Ottomans. This new importance ushered in a golden age for the city, with architecture, prestige, and Persian culture flourishing.
From Abbas’ time and on, the city was also settled by thousands of deportees from the Caucasus (Most notably Georgians) which Abbas and his predecessors had settled en masse in Persia’s heartland. At the end of the 16th century the city is said to have at least 250,000 Georgian inhabitants.
During the time of Abbas and on Isfahan was very famous in Europe, and many European travellers made an account of their visit to the city, such as Jean Chardin. This all lasted until it was sacked by Afghan invaders in 1722 during the Safavids heavy decline. The capital subsequently moved several times until settling in Tehran in 1775.
In the 20th century the city was resettled by a very large number of people from southern Iran, firstly during the population migrations in the early century, and again in the 1980s following the Iran-Iraq war. Today Isfahan, the third largest city in Iran, produces fine carpets, textiles, steel, and handicrafts. Isfahan also has nuclear experimental reactors as well as facilities for producing nuclear fuel (UCF). Isfahan has one of the largest steel-producing facilities in the entire region, as well as facilities for producing special alloys. The city has an international airport and is in the final stages of constructing its first Metro line.
Over 2000 companies work in the area using Isfahan’s economic, cultural, and social potentials. Isfahan contains a major oil refinery and a large air force base. HESA, Iran’s most advanced aircraft manufacturing plant (where the IR.AN-140 aircraft is made), is located nearby. Isfahan is also becoming an attraction for international investments, like investments in Isfahan City Center which is the largest shopping mall in Iran and the largest shopping mall with a museum in the world and has the largest indoor amusement park in the middle-east. Isfahan hosted the International Physics Olympiad in 2007.
The city is located in the lush plain of the Zayanderud River, at the foothills of the Zagros mountain range. The nearest mountain is Mount Soffeh (Kuh-e Soffeh) which is situated just south of Isfahan. No geological obstacles exist within 90 kilometers (56 miles) north of Isfahan, allowing cool northern winds to blow from this direction. Situated at 1,590 metres (5,217 ft) above sea level on the eastern side of the Zagros Mountains, Isfahan has an arid climate (Köppen BSk). Despite its altitude, Isfahan remains very hot during the summer with maximum typically around 36 °C (97 °F). However, with low humidity and moderate temperatures at night, the climate can be very pleasant. During the winter, days are mild while nights can be very cold. Snow has occurred at least once every winter except 1986/1987 and 1989/1990.
The Zayande River starts in the Zagros Mountains, flows from west to east through the heart of Isfahan, and dries up in the Gavkhooni wetland.
The bridges over the river include some of the finest architecture in Isfahan. The oldest bridge is the Shahrestan bridge or “Pol-e Shahrestan”, whose foundations was built by the Sasanian Empire (3rd-7th century Sassanid era) and has been repaired during the Seljuk period. Further upstream is the “Pol-e Khaju”, which was built by Shah Abbas II in 1650. It is 123 meters long with 24 arches, and also serves as a sluice gate.
The next bridge is the “Pol-e Chubi”. It was originally built as an aqueduct to supply the palace gardens on the north bank of the river. Further upstream again is the Si-o-Seh Pol or bridge of 33 arches. Built during the rule of Shah Abbas the Great, it linked Isfahan with the Armenian suburb of Jolfa. It is by far the longest bridge in Isfahan at 295 m (967.85 ft).
Setareh Hotel (Sadaf)
Ali Qapu Hotel
Hasht Behesht Hotel
Esfahan Tourist Hotel
Amir Kabir Hotel
Some of the major Isfahan Tourist Attractions that you can visit during your tour include:
Imam Square: it is also known as the Naghsh-e Jahan Square. You can site this place at the heart of the city. This historical site has been counted as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Several historical buildings surround this Imam Square. Near the square you can find some shopping stops and entertainment venues.
The Ali Qapu Palace: This grand palace was built during the early seventeenth century on the order of Shah Abbas the Great. You can site this palace at the western side of the Naghsh-e Jahan Square. This majestic building is forty-eight meters in height and is of seven floors. The palace has a great historical importance and testifies the rich cultural heritage of the building. The architectural brilliance of the building will leave you mesmerized.
Si-o-Se-Pol Bridge: This internationally famous bridge consists of thirty three arches. The bridge stretches for 298 meters in length. The interesting thing about this bridge is that it is not only in use as the bridge but also as the dam. Also known as the Allahverdi Khan Bridge, this bridge was constructed during 1599 and 1602.
Grand Bazaar: This is one of the largest markets in the country. This ancient bazaar dates way back to the 1300 years. The main gateway of the bazaar is exquisitely decorated. Inside the bazaar, you can find domes and other architectural brilliance. From here, you can buy various souvenirs fro your loved ones.
Other than these, there are several other Tourist Attractions in Isfahan. Other major sites include Meydan Square, Shahshashan Square, Talar Ashraf, Chehel Sotoun, Shah Mosque, Friday Mosque, Esfahan Jame and Various other places of interest.