When you arrive in Isfahan and begin to explore the city, the main highlight is the Imam Khomeini Square formerly known as Naqsh-e-Jahan Square or Shah Square. This World Heritage site is inscribed on UNESCO’s List. It was built in the early 17th century by Shah Abbas I to be the main meidan of the city under the Safavid era. With 160 meters width and 508 meters length as well as the breath-taking world heritage sites and handicraft shops around it, Emam Khomeini Square will create a state of awe in every visitor’s eyes when first seen.
Meidan is the Persian word referring to a large open space where the main events of the city occurred, people were informed of the news and so on. It’s been the heart of the city where the most important happenings took place. Royal orders were read to the public, the economy was showcased, religious matters were manifested, etc. Such has been the Imam Khomeini Square when it was ordered to be constructed three km away from the previous bazaar and Jame mosque of the city at the time of Shah Abbas I.
In the beginning, there were no gardens in the middle of the square. Instead, the large flat space was used for the Persian game of polo sometimes. You can see the goalposts at the north and south of the square.
What’s out There at Imam Khomeini Square?
In terms of monuments, there is one high portal in the middle of each side of the square. Each one is an opening to a monument. You will see two religious sites as well as two secular ones. When you visit Esfehan tourist attractions, this square is a must-see!
- Imam Khomeini Mosque, formerly known as Shah Abbas Mosque, is located in the south of the square with blue-color tiles and a huge dome.
- Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is at the Eastern side of the square, which is easily noticeable because of its unique buff-color dome standing alone without any minarets close to it.
- Aliqapoo Palace, the high-rise of the Safavid period, is located at the Western side of the square.
- The entrance to the Qeysarieh bazaar is also clearly seen at the Northern side of the square.
In addition to these monuments, there are hundreds of shops and workshops in which you can find Isfahan’s souvenirs, handicrafts, and specialties. The ambiance is still what’s been planned by Shah Abbas: to showcase the active economy and hard work of the Iranians.
Imam Khomeini Mosque
This fabulous example of Iranians’ architects of the 17th century is part of the royal project of Shah Abbas who wanted a Friday mosque grander than the Jame mosque already existent at the time of construction. The colors lapis lazuli and turquoise are the two most expensive and almost impossible to make for private patrons, but not for the rich Safavid court of that time. The abundance of tile works and richness of the design will take your breath away when you enter the mosque.
The four high eyvans are looking at the central courtyard with a large pool in the middle. Two extra minarets at the entrance of the main eyvan show the visitors where the main domed chamber with the main mehrab of the mosque is. Two symmetric courtyards are the Madrasahs (religious schools) built here to show the emphasis on the importance of education by the government.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
Although this structure isn’t as large as the previous one, the beauty of the inner part of the domed chamber and its motifs as well as inscriptions are astonishing. The fact that there are no minarets or courtyard indicates the main purpose of the construction of this mosque, which is so close to the other one. It was meant to be used by the family members, particularly the female members of Shah. They could walk from the opposite palace, Ali Qapou, to this mosque via an underground corridor crossing the square. So, they couldn’t be seen in the public.
This was the residence and administration office of Shah Abbas I. He received the ambassadors, kings, governors and other dignitaries at this palace. They looked at the flourishing economy of the capital city of Persia from this high portico and could see:
- Caravans and their tents coming from different parts of Asia,
- Military marches of the Persian army,
- Local merchants and their offices,
Shah’s family was living on the top floor of the building where a private and quiet set of rooms had been planned for them with unique acoustic decoration. A few balconies at the back of the buildings are places where they could watch the royal gardens of Esfehan designed and well taken care of by Safavid court.
One important point is the fact that Qeysarieh is a type of bazaar among various Iranian bazaars. So, Emam Square’s bazaar isn’t only limited to what can be seen inside this passageway. As a matter of fact, all the shops around the square are part of the bazaar. You won’t see anything different in Qeysarieh bazaar these days, but it has originally been designed to be a place where small but valuable objects were put to sale.
Behind what’s seen in Emam Square, there are passageways with more shops and workshops. They are all actively doing business and offering various items and particularly varied types of Iranian handicrafts. The end of the Qeysarieh bazaar is connected to the old bazaar, three km away from the square with lots of shops, little serai, timcheh, etc.
Few Notes about exploring Imam Khomeini Square
There’s no doubt everyone likes to see as much as possible on this trip to Iran and particularly to Esfehan and more specifically at this square. According to my experience, the best is to start with the monuments in the morning and come back later in the afternoon for the shops, workshops and other stuff. Just avoid combining the two and do resist the temptation of shopping while visiting sites.
Also, many would like to see Imam Khomeini Square at sunset and in the evening with illumination. This is also giving you yet another spectacular view of the site and you can enjoy bringing your day to an end doing so. There are also a few tea houses and restaurants around the square where you can eat. Keep in mind that in the middle of the day, most of the shops close for siesta and reopen later in the afternoon around 4 pm.
A slow-paced visit to the Imam Khomeini Square of Isfahan during one whole day can be a very nice memory to remember for years. There’s no doubt if you go for such an excursion in this square, you will have a very pleasant time there.