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Naqsh-e Jahan Square of Isfahan

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Naghsh-e Jahan Square, formerly known as Shah Square or Royal Square (and after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 with the official name of Imam Square), is  the central square of Isfahan, which is located in the heart of the historical complex of Naghsh Jahan.

Naqsh-e Jahan Square

History of Naqsh-e Jahan square

Historical monuments on the four sides of Naghsh Jahan Square include Aali Qapu Palace, Shah Mosque (Imam Mosque), Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque and Qeysarieh Gate, which is the main entrance of Isfahan Bazaar. In addition, there are two hundred two-story shops around the square, which are generally the place of Isfahan handicrafts. Before the city of Isfahan was chosen as the capital of Safavid Empire, this garden was also the location of government buildings and the palace of the Timurid and Agh Quyunlu rulers.

The construction of the square in its current form was performed during the reign of Shah Abbas I in 1598. Two architects called Mohammad Reza Isfahani and Ali Akbar Isfahani are known as designers and builders of the square who built it in its current form. The names of these two architects can be seen on the entrances of the buildings around the square. Sheikh Baha'i has also been in charge of designing and supervising the construction of some surrounding structures. The French traveler Jean Chardin who traveled to Isfahan in 1673, called Naghsh-e-Jahan the most beautiful square in the world. During the reign of Shah Abbas the Great and his successors, this square was prepared for polo games, army parades, lighting, and various shows during the days of royal celebrations, and on other days it was a place for people to walk and shop. Two pairs of polo stone goal posts still remain on the sides of the field referred to as the oldest polo goal posts in the world. 

The square was also the site of massive Friday markets. One of the first official ceremonies held in this square was the triumphant return of Imam Gholi Khan from the conquest of Hormoz Island to the capital (Isfahan). Chardin quotes that up to 50,000 lights were lit in the square during the festivities. Detailed description of this square has been given by famous European travelers  such as Chardin, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, Pietro Delavalle, Sanson, Engelbert Kempfer and others who have visited Isfahan since Safavid times, and all of them have praised the beauty of the square. After the victory of the Islamic Revolution, this square is also a place for holding Friday prayers and political gatherings.

 

Iranian Squares
All in all, this special design of a square -characterized as Iranian square- is a link between the bazaar, the government center and the religious places such as mosques. Before Naghsh Jahan square, there used to be an old square at the same place –called Atigh Sq- with almost the same layout. There are similar examples of Iranian squares in Yazd Amirchakhmaq complex, Qazvin's Shah square and in Tabriz in Saheb Abad square. Naqsh-e Jahan was one of the largest squares in the world in 17th century and today it is considered the second largest square in the world after Tiananmen sq. of Beijing.

 

Places to visit at Naqsh-e Jahan Square 

Each of the historical monuments built in this square was a symbol of civil life, urban community and also national solidarity. The Abbasi Grand Mosque or Shah Mosque on the south side of the square served as the largest  social center of Isfahan. This mosque was built for large gatherings of people on various occasions. Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque on the east side of the square was a private religious center for the royal family , and Aali Qapu palace located on the west side of square was the main government building.  

The length of Naghsh Jahan Square is more than 525 meters and its width reaches 160 meters. The square is surrounded by 200 shops that form a fantastic hadicraft market.  

 

Aali Qapu Palace

Aali Qapu Palace in Naghsh Jahan Square of Isfahan is one of the most beautiful examples of Safavid architecture. Aali Qapu building attracts the attention of many domestic and foreign visitors with its outstanding architecture and remarkable decorations by famous Iranian artists. The most important parts of Aali Qapu Palace are the entrance to the palace, luxurious halls, music hall on the top floor and prominent works of art in different parts of the palace. The main foundations of this mansion are built of wood, and this adds to the architectural appeal of this place. 

Aali Qapu Isfahan

 

Aali Qapu Palace is one of the most important historical monuments left from the Safavid era in Isfahan. This sight is located on the west side of Naghsh-e Jahan Square, in front of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque. In the past, the Aali Qapo mansion was also referred to as the "blessed government house" or the "palace of the government". Aali Qapo Palace has an area of 1800 square meters and 6 floors.

The word "Aali Qapu" consists of two parts, Aali and Qapu, which together mean "High Gate". Aali Qapu Palace, with its beautiful wood-based architecture, is one of the largest and most magnificent buildings of its time and was built in the early 17th century. It is a 6-storey building with a height of about 48 meters. In this building, different floors are connected to each other by three narrow stair cases. On the first floor, there are two main halls called "Sadr Khaneh" or "Kashik Khaneh", used for administrative affairs. 

One of the most part of the Aali Qapu Palace is the music hall on the top floor. On the walls and ceiling of this hall, there are beautiful plaster work with delicate cut out decorative compartments that enhanced the acoustic effect reflecting the sound of music in the hall.The music hall has three rooms, two are large and the other is smaller. 

 

Aali Qapu Music hall

 

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque 

Isfahan was chosen as the capital of Iran in 1598. At the same time, Urban development and constructions such as Chaharbagh Street, Naghsh Jahan Square, Imam Mosque, etc. It was during this period that Shah Abbas ordered the construction of Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfollah, and thus the foundation of the new mosque was laid on the ruins of an old mosque located in this place. Architect Mohammad Reza Isfahani took charge of building this mosque, which was able to build an amazing building in 18 years. Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque was reserved only for Shah Abbas and the royal family, and ordinary people were not allowed to enter it. It seems that Shah Abbas used to worship in this mosque every day from the opening of the mosque in 998 AH until the end of his life.

Sheikh Lotfallah was one of the greatest Shi'ite scholars who lived in the Jabal Amel region of present-day Lebanon. He emigrated to Iran with the official invitation of Shah Abbas I along with some other Shi'ite leaders to spread the teachings of Shi'ism as a new sect in Iran.  

The layout of this mosque is unusual because it has neither a minaret nor a courtyard, and because there are steps leading up to the entrance. This was probably because the mosque was never a public mosque and was intended to serve as the worship place for the women of the shah’s harem. The sanctuary or prayer hall is reached via a twisting hallway where the eyes become accustomed to the darkness as subtle shifts of light play across deep blue tilework. This hallway is integral to both the design and function of the mosque because it takes the worshipper from the grand square outside into a prayer hall facing Mecca, on a completely different axis.

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque

The main prayer hall of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque amazes you with its art and spirituality. This sanctuary is a square with sides of 19 meters inside which, the complexity of the mosaics that decorate the walls and the extraordinarily beautiful dome, with its shrinking, yellow motifs, is a masterpiece of art. The shafts of sunlight that filter in through the few high, latticed windows produce a constantly changing interplay of light and shadow that enrich the space and give a tangible quality to empty air. The Mihrab is one of the finest in Iran and has an unusually high niche; a calligraphic montage names the architect and the date 1619 AD. 

 

Isfahan Imam Mosque 

Imam mosque, formerly known as Shah mosque or Abbasi grand mosque is the most important religious place of the Safavid period in the city of Isfahan, which is important both in terms of architectural grandeur and artistic features. Construction of the Abbasi Grand Mosque, which is located on the south side of Naghsh Jahan Square begun in 1611 by the order of Shah Abbas I and and lasted for 18 years. Though some fine decoration projects continued even after the king's death.  

  Imam mosque of Isfahan

 

Isfahan Imam Mosque Plan 

The main entrance of this mosque is located on the south side of the square. There are other entrances in the neighborhoods around the building (for faster and easier access to the people of the neighborhood). Behind the entrance starts a corridor that leads visitors to the inner courtyard. It makes an angle of 45 degrees, aimed at aligning the mosque with Mecca while maintaining the integrity of the square. 

The height of the huge dome of Imam Mosque is 52 meters, the height of the southern Iwan minarets is 48 meters and the height of the minarets at its entrance in Naghsh Jahan Square is 42 meters.

Here is the full plan of Imam mosque:

 

 Isfahan Imam Mosque plan

Isfahan Grand Bazaar 

Dating back to more than 400 years ago, Isfahan Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest known markets in the Middle East. This bazaar of Isfahan was built during the Safavid period and expanded during the Qajar period (19th century). According to some historians, it was the grand bazaar that shaped the architecture of Isfahan, but now this historical bazaar is limited to Naghsh-e Jahan Square to the Friday Mosque.
There are shops in this market that continuously offered the same goods from 400 years ago until today. This market, which in the past hosted various businesses such as bookbinding, box making, tailoring, weaving, blacksmithing and shoe making, is now mostly dedicated to selling clothes, sweets and souvenirs. Isfahan Bazaar is the best place to prepare souvenirs of Isfahan because you can find almost all the local foods and handicrafts of Isfahan.

Isfahan Bazaar has many entrances, but the most important entrance is Qeysarieh Gate in the northern side of Naghsh-e Jahan Square; You can easily find this entrance from afar thanks to its magnificent old wooden gate with 400 year old decorations on the top. 

In Qeysarieh Bazaar, there are several mosques, baths, as well as schools (Madrasas).

Qeysaria Gate Bazaar of Isfahan Qeysaria Gate, Isfahan, Iran 

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