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Naqsh-e Jahan Square - Isfahan, Iran

When Shah Abbas I of the Safavid dynasty moved the capital of Persia to Isfahan in 1598, he decided to completely rebuild the city & poured almost all of the country’s artistic & architectural wealth into it, making it the pinnacle of Safavid Persian art & architecture. This led to the Persian proverb, “Esfahan nesf-e jahan - Isfahan is half the world.” The square became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

The square was built between 1598-1629. By building it, Shah Abbas managed to gather the main three components of power in Persia in one place making them easier to control: the power of the clergy represented by the Shah Mosque, the power of the merchants represented by the bazaar, & the power of the monarchy & the Shah himself represented by the Ali Qapu Palace where he lived.

The city has retained much of its former glory with its many beautiful mosques, palaces, bridges, gardens, parks, boulevards, bath houses, minarets, bazaars, & the churches & cathedrals in the historic Armenian quarter.

The Shah Mosque built between 1611-1629 is situated on the south side of the square (1,2,3,4,5,6), the Sheikh Lofollah Mosque built between 1603-1619 on the east side (1,2,3,4,5,6), the Ali Qapu Palace built in 1597 on the west (1), & the Keisaria Gate at the north opens up to the Grand Bazaar.

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Imam (Shah) Mosque in Isfahan, Iran

Built during the Safavid period, it is an excellent example of Islamic architecture of Iran, and regarded as one of the masterpieces of Persian Architecture. The Shah Mosque of Esfahan is one of the everlasting masterpieces of architecture in Iran. It is registered, along with the Naghsh-i Jahan Square, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its construction began in 1611, and its splendor is mainly due to the beauty of its seven-colour mosaic tiles and calligraphic inscriptions. The mosque is one of the treasures featured on Around the World in 80 Treasures presented by the architecture historian Dan Cruickshank.

Iranians playing in the first ever snow in 30 years at the ruins of Naghsh-e-Rostam. (Picture by Newsha Tavakolian for National Geographic Magazine)

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Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque - Isfahan, Iran

Located on the eastern side of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, the mosque was built between 1603-1619 during the Safavid dynasty. It was built for the Lebanese Shia cleric Sheikh Lotfollah who was invited to Iran by the Safavid rulers. Sheikh Lotfollah’s salary came directly from the Shah.

The purpose of the mosque was for it to be a private mosque for the royal court, unlike the Shah Mosque which was larger & meant for the public. It was only centuries later when the mosque was open to the public that ordinary citizens & also westerners could have access to it & could admire the beautiful architecture. The mosque is an architectural masterpiece of Persian-Islamic architecture.

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Shah Mosque - Isfahan, Iran

Located on the south site of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, it was built between 1611-1629 during the Safavid dynasty. The mosque was intended by Shah Abbas I to be the crown jewel in the Naqsh-e Jahan Square & replaced the much older Jameh Mosque in conducting the Friday prayers. The polychrome tiles in the dome which is the largest in the city were intended to give the spectator a sense of heavenly transcendence.

The mosque is listed along with the square as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s depicted on the reverse of the Iranian 20,000 rial banknote. The name of the mosque was changed by the government following the revolution in 1979 to Imam Mosque. It is regarded as one of the masterpieces of Persian-Islamic architecture.