Thursday, 15 March 2018 14:59

Esfahan- The Pearl of Persia (Part I)

Written by Ali Sadrnia
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Esfahan- The Pearl of Persia (Part I)
Esfahan- The Pearl of Persia (Part I) Esfahan- The Pearl of Persia (Part I)

The 17th century Safavid capital referred to as “Nesf-e-Jahan” (Half the World) by  the Persians, is where today, the climax of Persian architecture can be witnessed in the serene purity of its grandiose mosques and elegant palaces. The ancient city gained political significance under the mighty Saljuqs in 11th and 12th centuries. The superb congregational Mosque of Esfahan dates mainly from this glorious period, having many earlier parts and later additions, earning it the title “the encyclopedia of Persian Mosque”. The great Safavid monarch, Shah Abbas I, moved his capital to Esfahan in 1598, where he lay out a new city center with a vast central square adorned on each side with a remarkable monument, the majestic Imam and Sheikh Lotf-o-LLah Mosque, the reception and gateway palace of Ali-Qapu, and the Qeisarieh Bazaar.

 

The city originated well to the north and east of its present center. We know that a few centuries after the Arab conquest there were in fact two built up areas: one called Djay lay well to the east of the present city limits; the other, further to the west, was Yahoudieh, or the Jewish quarter, inhabited by Jews brought there by tradition by Nebuchadnezzar, in fact more probably by Yazdgerd I. the latter area soon grew large at the expense of the former, and the Saljuq capital was centered in the region now occupied by Friday Mosque, with the Jewish quarter still more or less in the same place. A great square or meydan extended from the Friday Mosque to the Mosque of Ali, and the royal palace of the Saljuqs stood to the east of this square.

Chahar Bagh was to provide the Axis of the new city. Its course was deliberately chosen where there were few if any houses; it ran across country or through gardens, indeed its name is said to derive from the fact that it had to cut through four vineyards to reach the river. The avenue, which continued for three miles across the Zayandeh Rud up to the royal gardens, was lined with ministers’ hoses on each side, separated by open arcades so that the gardens were plainly visible. It was planted with eight rows of planes and poplars, with rose hedges and jasmine bushes between them. The water channels, which ran the whole length of the avenue down to the river, were faced with onyx.

There was another extension of the city of a different kind for which Abbas was responsible. This was not town planning so much as economic development. He wanted to promote trade and industry in the new capital and to this end he decided upon a mass movement of Armenians from the town of Julfa on the Araxes River in Azerbaijan. His methods were high handed: to overcome their natural reluctance to leave home, He cut off the water of their irrigation canals. On other hand he offered them special privileges, including the right to practice Christianity and build their own churches. This being so, it was clearly desirable in the interest of law and order that they should be segregated. The quarter selected lay to the west of Chahar Bagh on the south bank of the Zayandeh Rud; it was called new Jolfa or, later simply Julfa. Towards the end of century we are told it counted 150000 inhabitants. This has remained a flourishing predominantly Christian community, and the largest solid agglomeration of Armenians in Iran.

The Armenians made a valuable contribution to the development and prosperity of the city. They were hard working, law abiding, doog traders, skilled as masons and architects.

Refrence: Sadrnia, Ali, 2012, Special English for Tour Guides, 21-23

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