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Little is known of Esfahan’s ancient history, but the Ateshkadeh-ye Esfahan (Esfahan Fire Temple) and pillars of the Shahrestan Bridge, both from the Sassanid period, attest to its longevity. The Buyid period saw an explosion of construction and by the late 10th century the walled city of Esfahan was home to dozens of mosques and hundreds of wealthy homes. In 1047 the Seljuks made Esfahan their capital and during the next 180 years it was adorned with the magnificently geometric Seljuk style of architecture, several prominent parts of which remain.

The Mongols put an end to that, and it wasn’t until the glorious reign of the Safavid Shah Abbas I (also revered as Shah Abbas the Great), which began in 1587, that Esfahan was again Iran’s premier city. After moving the capital from Qazvin to Esfahan, Abbas set about transforming it into a city worthy of an empire at its peak. His legacy is the incomparable Imam Sq and artistic advances – particularly in carpet weaving – that were celebrated and envied as far away as Europe. Subsequent Safavid rulers also contributed to Esfahan’s skyline, but little more than a century after Abbas’ death the dynasty was finished and the capital transferred first to Shiraz and later Tehran.