The province of Esfahan (also spelled Isfahan) lies on the Zayandeh River, almost in the heart of Iran. This city, once the capital of Iran, is now only the administrative headquarters of the province. It lies about halfway between Tehran and Shiraz, at about 400km south of Tehran.
Esfahan has been designated as a world heritage by UNESCO. It has some of the oldest architecture in the world that dates back to the 10th century. The cool blue tiles of Esfahan's Islamic buildings, and the city's majestic bridges, contrast perfectly with the hot, dry countryside around it. Esfahan is a sight you won't forget. Not only is the architecture superb and the climate pleasant, but there's a fairly relaxed atmosphere here. It's a city for walking, getting lost in the bazaar, dozing in beautiful gardens and meeting people.
The famous half-rhyme Esfahan nesf-é jahan (Esfahan is half the world) was coined by the French poet Renier in the 16th century. He believed that half the beauties of all the world is to be found in Esfahan, so overwhelmed was he by his experiences of the city. There's so much to see in Esfahan that the visitor will have to ration his time and concentrate on must-sees such as the Shah Square, one of the largest town squares in the world. Taking tea in one of the teahouses under the bridges is also an essential part of the Esfahan experience.
Of all the cities in Iran, Esfahan is perhaps the richest in historical and architectural wealth. In 640 AD it was conquered by the Muslims. During the Islamic era, it has endured battles and dreadful setbacks and it has seen prosperous times.
The city's golden age began in 1598 when Shah Abbas the Great made it his capital and rebuilt it into one of the largest and most beautiful cities of the 17th century. In the centre of the city he created the immense Meydan-e Shah (Royal Square) as well as the noted Masjed-e Shah (Royal Mosque), which was not finished until after his death, and the Masjed-e Sheykh Lotfollah (Lotfollah Mosque). The Safavid Kings ruled nearly 150 years and this city was their capital. Schools, mosques, and magnificent buildings were built, while science, architecture, handicrafts, decorative arts, calligraphy and miniature paintings flourished. Esfahan was given the title of half of the world and It's reputation soon spread throughout the civilized world.
Fortunately, most of Esfahan's former glory survives or is being restored. New parks, roads, colleges and factories (including a massive steel mill) have also been built in recent years.