naqsh e

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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.

- Faiz Ahmed Faiz

At times, images of the past swell up again, very faintly, in memory
Those contests of heart and sight, things once so near and so far
At times, in the wilderness of longing, caravans come and stop 
With tokens laden to seal all bargains of lovers’ driving
How can there be rest to eye and heart, any lessening of joy and grief?
Each time I see her love springs anew by some fresh contriving  

Naqsh-e Rostam, Fars, Iran

The tomb on right is the burial place of the Persian emperor, Darius the Great (Circa, 522-486 BC)

the large relief on left, depicts the victory of Persian emperor, Shapur I over the Roman emperor, Valerian and the future Roman emperor Philip, at the battle of Edessa (Circa, 241-272)

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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.

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“There is an Armenian cathedral at Julfa across the river [in Esfahan], which resembles a Mohammadan shrine of the XVIIth century. Inside, the walls are covered with oil paintings in the Italian tradition of that date. Attached to it is a museum, but the treasures are of historic rather than artistic interest.”

- Robert Byron in The Road to Oxiana


More of my photos from Iran. (New) Julfa in Esfahan is a curious place that gives you the feeling of being in a village in the city. Now, of course, the city of Esfahan has swallowed the quarter, but when it was established by Shah Abbas I in 1606, it was deliberately put far from the Islamic shrines around the Naqsh-e Jahan Square.

Like Byron I was struck by the interesting mix of Islamic/Persian art and Christian/European motifs. It’s also interesting to experience the religious and ethnic diversity of Iran that you so rarely read about in mainstream media. 

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TBG TRAVELS: ESFAHAN

We arrive at the 300 year old Abbasi hotel bright and early after our journey from Shiraz. The hotel is stunning and steeped in history, adorned with stooping chandeliers, elaborate ceilings and traditional art work on display. These persians sure weren’t minimalists!

After a quick pick-me-up cup of chai, we head straight to Naqsh-e-Jahan square passing by several art shops that double up as the artists’ studios. From miniature paintings, to rug weavers to toureutics workshops, they all corner the magnificent courtyard which looks out onto some of Esfahan’s most beautiful mosques. 

We visit the ancient Ali Qasr palace and walking through the archways of Sheikh Lotfullah mosque, we make a friend, Ali, who shows us around Jolfa, the armenian quarter. Along our stroll we see a beautiful church lit up by the setting sun, dainty bazaar squares with fountains and loads of local hipster smoothie and coffee bars before we head to an artisan restaurant nearby (cleverly named Hermes) for dinner. Ali tells us some incredible stories about his travels, and also gives us an insight into Iranian culture and politics.

The evening isn’t over yet, as we move on for sherbet and dessert up in the mountains of Esfahan. As we witnessed in Shiraz and Tehran, Iran comes to life at night, and families, couples and young people all head high up after sunset for an evening of good food, strong tea and good company until the early hours of the morning. 

It’s our last night in Iran and we reminisce over the rich, unexpected and beautiful memories this country has given us. The generous hospitality, mouth-watering food and magnificent architecture has us yearning to come back for more. 

Esfahan is Art.

- A x

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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.