Naqsh-e Jahan Square was laid out in 1602 CE under the reign of Shah Abbas I (1588 – 1699 CE), the fifth ruler of the Safavid in a vast garden with the same name.
At 160 meters wide and 560 meters long, Naqsh-e Jahan is one of the largest historic squares in the world surrounded by several prominent buildings. Ali Qapu Palace on the west side, The Shah Mosque on the south, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque on the eastern side, and Qeysarieh Grand Bazaar Gate at the north augments the glory of the square.
Two hundred identical shops are open to the square on one side and to a bazaar behind that has surrounded the square. These shops generally sell local handicrafts and artworks. As Isfahan was a key spot along the Silk Road, goods from all the civilized nations of the world found their ways to the hands of expert merchants who knew how to make the best profits out of them.
Naqsh-e Jahan Square was the Safavid’s capital of culture, economy, religion, social power, government, and politics.
The Square was an arena for public ceremonies, festivities like Nowruz and military maneuvers besides sports like polo, the favorite sport of Safavid kings.
Gates of polo still remain in the two sides of the square. In the mid-seventeenth century, famous French travel writer Jean Chardin cherished Isfahan as, “the grandest and the most beautiful town in the whole of the east.”
To nicely sense the magnificence of Square, you should visit it in the late afternoon when the blue-tiled minarets and domes are lit up by the sunset rays, and local families have populated the square.
This grand palace is located on the western side of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, opposite to Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque. The name Ali Qapu is derived from Persian Ali (meaning great) and Azerbaijani Qapu (meaning gate). At the time of Shah Abbas I, this palace was built mainly to entertain noble visitors and foreign ambassadors.
The forty-eight meters building consists of six floors is rich in naturalistic wall paintings by Reza Abbasi, famous Safavid painter, and his pupils. The ground floor consists of two halls for administrative affairs. The two spiral staircases in the corners of building continue to the sixth floor.
Its impressive elevated terrace featuring 18 slender wood pillars was built at the time of Shah Abbas II that provides a dominating and breathtaking perspective over the Square. A marble pool located in the middle of the terrace has its symmetry on the ceiling. The sixth floor is the most majestic place of Ali Qapu. The music hall is the largest room of the palace and its stunning stucco decoration having not only aesthetic value but also acoustic. The terrace was a great place for giving banquets to special guests while impressing them with live music performances.
The construction of this masterpiece of Persian architecture began in 1611 by order of Shah Abbas I and completed in 1629, at the last year of his reign. Although the portal was built to face the square, the mosque is oriented towards Mecca. This rotation took place through an angled corridor through which visitors encounter the main portal without realizing the change in the orientation.
The Mosque is surrounded with four iwans that is a rectangular hall surrounded by walls on three sides with one end entirely open. The main idea of iwan dates back to ancient Iran and hence the Shah Mosque holds a combination of the Persian and Islamic identity. The Mosque consists of the main yard, four iwans, a dome, a shabestan, two portal, two 48 meters minarets, and two religious schools.
The double-shelled 53 meters high dome with 14 meters spanning between the two layers is the most beautiful part of the mosque. The in-between span causes a loud echo when one makes a sound standing at the center of the dome. This habit has become an enjoyable activity for some of visitors. Seven-color tiles ornament the tomb with an inscription in Thuluth calligraphy. Inscriptions of Shah Mosque were mostly taken place by Alireza Abbasi, Mohammad Reza Emami, and Abdol-Baghi Tabrizi the best calligraphers of the country.
Suggested by Sheikh Bahayi two Madrasas (religious school) were erected in two sides of the Mosque in the time of Shah Suleiman I the eighth Safavid king.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
Standing on the eastern side of Naghshe Jahan, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is the gem of the square with its mesmerizing cream color dome changed to pink in the sunset. The mosque was completed in 1619 and Shah Abbas I dedicated it to his father-in-law, Sheikh Lotfollah who was a Lebanese Shia scholar.
The function of minarets in Islam is to invite people to Namaz (prayer). However, as Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque was a private royal mosque, devised for the ladies of Safavid harem, it had neither a minaret nor a courtyard. Consequently, its size was smaller than Shah Mosque that was built for the public.
Similar to Shah Mosque, the main entrance of the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is not in the direction of Qibla. Therefore, a twisting hallway (Pashneh) connects it to another entrance opens to the prayers’ chamber in Qibla direction.
Although this Mosque is much smaller than the Shah Mosque and has no iwans and yards, its intricate arabesque-patterned exterior and interior decorations and the finest construction materials are superior to the Shah Mosque. The portal contains detailed muqarnas that is stalactite-type stone carving used to decorate doorways.
The golden mosaics inside the dome mirror an extraordinary beauty. The peacock at the center of the tomb is a feature of this mosque and sunrays create a golden tail changed in the size and direction based on the sun position for the peacock.
Names of the twelve Shia Imams are stated around the Mihrab, and the surrounding inscription contains the names of Sheikh Lotfollah, Mohammad Reza Isfahani the architect, and Baqer Bana the calligrapher.
Qeysarieh Bazaar was the most notable market in the Safavid era connected to the Atiq or Old Square that was the center of Isfahan during the reign of Seljuk dynasty. Built in 1620 CE, Qeysariyeh Gate is the entrance of Bazar located in the north of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square. The tiled symbol of Isfahan is seen above the portal that is similar to Sagittarius with human head, a body of tiger and dragon tail. Paintings on the portal drawn by Reza Abbasi show the hunting scene of Shah Abbas I on the left, his war with Uzbeks in the middle, and figures of European guests on the right.
Naqsh-e Jahan Square was globally registered in 1979.