Shah Mosque dome and minarets
A morning IranAir flight brought us down from Tehran
). There were indeed wonders to behold in this city. The principal destination was the Maidan
, or Naqsh-e-Jahan Square
(called Shah Square then). The central structure is the imposing Shah Mosque
(now known as the Imam Mosque
). The mosque was begun in 1611 during the reign of Shah Abbas I
(1571-1629), who rebuilt Esfahan
as his capital. It was simply stunning with its mosaic tile ornamentation and the elegant blue tiled dome was especially memorable. The mosque is considered to represent the high point of Persian architecture in the period of the Safavid Dynasty
Postcard showing detail of Shah Mosque dome mosaics
Most of the famous historic structures in the city date to this period. Especially characteristic of this style is the central courtyard with a fountain or pool bounded by four iwans
(rectangular vaulted halls) decorated with elaborate geometric designs. The principal iwan, topped with two minarets, leads to the main prayer hall under the dome. The mosque complex is at the head of the spacious Maidan
. Flanking it are Ali Qapu gateway to one side and Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque to the other, both
also dating to the time of Shah Abbas. Next to the Maidan is the historic Grand Bazaar.
Esfahan was also the place to learn about the other fine arts of the Safavid period.
Madrasah at Shah Mosque
The Persian Miniature art form, small delicate, paintings depicting literary figures, musicians and the court, reached a high point in Esfahan contemporary with the construction of the great buildings. A walk though a Persian formal garden in Esfahan revealed architectural influences in the traditional geometric setting with pools and fountains artfuly set among the plantings and trees.
We also visited an unusual sight, in stark contrast with the surroundings and beauty of the square and garden, an underground mill powered by a camel. The camel was blindfolded and walked around a circular track to power the millstone. I'm not sure now what product was being milled there, but such mills were used to grind wheat and grain for flour or olive oil. (I don't know how often, or if ever, the unfortunate camel was let out of the dark space.)
At dinner that evening, our guide brought a guest, an American woman.
Iwan portal and minaret
Apparently she had met her husband while visiting Esfahan, they had married, and she had settled there. (She wore Western attire when visiting us. I don't know where this was her usual custom or not. Her Iranian husband did not put in an appearance.) Somehow the guide knew her and invited her to dinner as she had been out of contact with Americans for a while and wanted to meet the visitors. She was from New Jersey and was a bit disappointed that most of the group was from California. One fellow traveler was from New York City and the two found some common ground. I've wondered what became of her. Did she return to the USA? Did she stay in Esfahan? If she remained in Iran, what happened to her and her husband during the Revolution? Unknowables that add to the mystique of that distant time and place.