In terms of historical monuments and tourism attractions, Isfahan is one of the major cities of Iran. This city is called "half of the world" by its people as they believe it has the beauties of one half of a whole world in itself. It is a city with architectural wonders in which the azure blue color is predominantly used. This city is a lively city as the famous river of Zayandehroud flows through it. The river watering gardens and fields with its numerous tributaries along its 360 km course moves from west to east through the city, and divides off Julfa and some other suburbs from the main part of the city, although most of the main attractions are to the north of the river. The city of Isfahan has many monuments such as its world famous Naghsh-e Jahan Square recorded as world heritage by UNESCO.
The history of Isfahan dates back to ancient times. During the Achaemenid Empire (648–330 BCE), Isfahan was an ethnically and religiously diverse and tolerant city. Isfahan was once one of the largest cities in the world, ranked among places like Athens or Rome and grander than London, Paris and Istanbul. Elegant bridges crossed its modest river, hundreds of domes and minarets punctuated the skyline and polo players dashed across the world's largest square. Isfahan flourished from the early 11th to the 18th century, and particularly during the Safavid dynasty in the 16th & 17th century when it became the capital of the old Persia for the second time.
Isfahan first thrived under the Seljuq Turks (11th–12th century) and then under the Persian Ṣafavid dynasty (16th–18th century). In addition to being an
important regional and provincial capital (of Eṣfahān province), the city is one of the most important architectural centres in the Islamic world. In 1979, Isfahan’s Maydān-e Emām (Persian: “Imam’s Square”) was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Even today, the city retains much of its past glory. Many visitors believe Isfahan is the most beautiful city in Iran and one of the most beautiful in the world. It features numerous tree-lined boulevards and flower gardens, miles of beautiful parks along the Zayandeh Rood river; 1300 year-old covered bazaars, bridges, palaces, mosques, and minarets.
The Jameh Mosque of Isfahan, built nearly 1300 years ago, is one of the oldest mosques still standing in Iran, and is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Geographically located on the southern part of Zayanderud River, Jolfa is the Armenian quarter of Isfahan. During Safavid Dynasty, Shah Abbas ordered 150000 Armenians to move to an Armenian quarter called Jolfa. This district was established in 1606. The Armenians experienced a prosperous residence in that area because the king believed that their awareness of the silk trade was useful for Iran. Jolfa is still the largest ethnic Armenian quarter of the world.
There are many churches, cathedrals and museums in this district which can make your visit as beautiful and unforgettable as possible. The most famous tourist attraction of Jolfa is Vank Cathedral. This cathedral makes a scenic center for Jolfa area. Those who are keen on being drowned in history could take the joy of visiting the Museum of Khachatur Kesaratsi. Many different historical objects are kept in this museum and made it a proper choice for history lovers.
Chehel Sotoun Palace built as a reception hall by Shah Abbas 1 (1657 A.D.) behind the Ali Qapu Palace continues the old Talar or columnar porch. At its simplest, it is only a roof-high porch constituting the facade. When attached to a royal building, it provides a huge outdoor reception hall and is susceptible to lavish embellishments, which have included mirror-plated columns, panels and stalactites, and polychrome mosaic ceilings.
The name means “The Forty Columns”, although there are actually 20. A reflecting pool is provided to see the other 20. A more mundane explanation is that 40 were once used synonymously with many in Persian, and still is in some quarters. Walls of Chehel Sotoun were covered with frescoes and paintings depicting specific historical scenes.
Khaju Bridge is a bridge which has been described as the finest in the province. It was built by the Persian Safavid king, Shah Abbas II around 1650, on the foundations of an older bridge. Serving as both a bridge and a dam (or a weir), it links the Khaju quarter on the north bank with the Zoroastrian quarter across the Zayandeh River. Although architecturally functioning as a bridge and a weir, it also served a primary function as a building and a place for public meetings.
This structure was originally decorated with artistic tilework and paintings and served as a teahouse. In the center of the structure, a pavilion exists inside which Shah Abbas would have once sat, admiring the view. Today, remnants of a stone seat are all that is left of the king’s chair. This bridge is one of the finest examples of Persian architecture at the height of Safavid cultural influence in Iran. In words of Upham Pope and Jean Chardin, Khaju Bridge is “the culminating monument of Persian bridge architecture and one of the most interesting bridges extant…where the whole has rhythm and dignity and combines in the happiest consistency, utility, beauty, and recreation.”
Imam Mosque, begun in 1612, and, despite Shah Abbas’ impatience, under construction until 1638, represents the culmination of a thousand years of mosque building in Iran. The half domed arch of the outer portal on the square understood as an aspect of the square rather than of the mosque is the most thrilling example of human artifice that could be imagined. Its height amounts to 30 in., the flanking minarets are 40 m. tall with the sanctuary minarets higher still and the sanctuary double-shell dome soaring not less than 54 in.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque on the eastern side of the square is datable to the first years of the seventeenth century and was built by Shah Abbas in honor of the great Lebanese Sheikh, who was a sort of Islamic Billy Graham of his time. The enormous dome is supported by walls 170 cm. thick, and its solidity is transmuted into lightness one would even say fragility by two features of the utmost tact and daring: a huge aperture and several high windows to trap the maximum amount of natural light, and steadily-decreasing concentric ellipses of midnight blue with delicate white arabesques vanishing to all or nothing in the center of the dome.
The mihrab is decorated with mosaic tiles and stalactites, all of the highest artistic value, and the name of the architect, Mohammad Reza, is given in two tablets installed inside it. This is pure architecture, flawless and serene, and still as perfect as on the day of dedication more than three hundred years ago. No one in a receptive or contemplative mood can enter without a shock of the sense of being received into a Presence, for all its elegance, and finish it has no weakness the scale is too ample, the patterns too strong.
Nazhvan Forest Park is an old garden in the heart of Isfahan. Surrounded by farmlands, gardens and the charming Zayanderud River, the climate in the Nazhvan region is mild compared to Isfahan due to the green areas, goingiran.
Most of the water streams of Isfahan originate from the verdant and lush Nazhvan area located on Zayanderud riverside. On the other hand, this park is known as filtration lungs of Isfahan city. Industrial parks are mainly located on the western part of the city and Nazhvan purifies the wind when it blows towards Isfahan. Nazhvan Forest Park covers a vast area with various tourist attractions, and could be a refreshing opportunity to take a breath after exploring Isfahan city for tourists travelling to Iran to enjoy the natural beauties and fresh air. On western side of the park, one can visit a zoo and birds garden with an attractive landscape, but the most outstanding parts to visit are Isfahan Aquarium, Reptiles Garden, Butterflies Garden and the Dolphinarium. Special pathways for walking, jogging and cycling, chairlift facility, sport clubs and boating must not be missed while visiting Nazhvan Forest Park.
Sofeh and its surrounding hills have been converted to a beautiful park which covers at least 100 hectares. A wonderful panoramic view of metropolitan city of Isfahan can be seen from the Sofeh Mountain especially at night. Sofeh Mountain is the closest slope for a large number of Isfahan’s citizens who practice mountain climbing every early morning, even before sun rises.
In addition to its historical roots, Isfahan is also one of the major educational, cultural, industrial and agricultural centers of Iran. The people of Isfahan are well known for their intellect, adherence to religious values, tenacity, and their high impact within the realm of Iranian art, culture and politics. Different religious minorities, including Christians, Zoroastrians, and Jews have enjoyed a peaceful co-existence with the Muslim population for centuries.