Discover Meidan Emam, Iran – Middle East Monitor
Iran, historically known as Persia, is home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world, dating back to the fourth millennium BCE, when the ancient Elamite kingdom was formed. The Middle Eastern country was also the seat of the Persian Empire, the world’s first superpower founded around 550 BC by Cyrus the Great who united Mesopotamia, the Nile Valley in Egypt and the Indus Valley in India under his reign. He was the first monarch to acquire the Persian royal title “Shah”.
The Islamization of Iran began with the Arab and Muslim conquest of the Sassanid Empire, the last Persian imperial dynasty, in the 7th century AD. The region quickly became a major center of Islamic culture, scholarship, and learning during the Islamic Golden Age. It was not until the 15th century that the Safavid dynasty ruled Iran and converted the country to Shiism, marking a turning point in Iranian history and laying the groundwork for history and modern Iranian identity.
In 1598, the 5th Safavid Shah Abbas the Great moved the capital of Persia from Qazvin to the more central city of Isfahan, making it the center of the Safavid Empire. During his reign he built numerous palaces, mosques, gardens and monuments in the city which has since become an icon of architectural achievement and remains a prominent example of Perso-Islamic architecture.
The magnificence and beauty of the city is best reflected in the centuries-old Persian saying “Isfahan nesfe Jahan”, which means “Isfahan is half the world”. The highlight of the city’s architectural beauty is Meidan Emam, a public square in the heart of the historic city and one of the largest squares in the world. Built by Shah Abbas I at the start of the 17th century, the UNESCO-listed site is bordered on all sides by several architectural masterpieces from the Safavid era which continue to dominate its perimeter today.
On the south side of the square is the Royal Mosque, the gem of Isfahan’s transformation by Shah Abbas I. The Shah Mosque is defined by seven-color mosaic tiles, calligraphic inscriptions and four towering iwans, walkways Imposing Persians decorated with calligraphy bands and geometric patterns. The mosque would replace the much older Jameh Mosque, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for the conduct of Friday congregation prayers.
On the eastern side of the square is a smaller, but huge, place of worship. Noted for having no minarets, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque was designed as a private mosque in the royal court. Apart from its magnificent entrance, the most important feature of the mosque is its striking dome, covered with colorful tiles as is customary for Persian domes.
Opposite the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is the Ali Qapu Palace, a royal residence of the Safavid emperors and the place where they would receive and entertain nobles and ambassadors. Originally designed as a vast entrance gate to the grand palace, Ali Qapu is made up of the Arabic word “Ali”, which means exalted, and the Turkish word “Qapu”, which means portal. The Safavids chose the name of the palace to compete with the Ottoman “Bab-i Ali”, or “Sublime Porte”, used in reference to the palace of the Grand Vizier.
The magnificent 17th-century portico of Qaisariya, on the north side of the square, leads to the vaulted Isfahan Bazaar, 2 km long. The market is one of the oldest and largest bazaars in the Middle East, dotted with dozens of small shops selling Persian handicrafts, souvenirs and handicrafts.
Also known as Naqsh-e Jahan Square, meaning “Image of the world”, the royal square of Isfahan presents a symbolic center of Persian socio-cultural life during the Safavid dynasty with the imperial residence overlooking the market square and the royal mosque. Today, locals and tourists alike gather around the vast fountain in the center of the square. Many opt for relaxing walks or picnics on the lawn surrounding the water, while others prefer to ride a horse-drawn carriage in the awe-inspiring surroundings of these remarkable historical monuments.