Naqsh-e Jahan Square, known as Imam Square, formerly known as Shah Square, is a square situated at the center of Isfahan city, Iran. Constructed between 1598 and 1629, it is now an important historical site, and one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. It is 160 meters wide by 508 meters long (an area of 89,600 sq m). The square is surrounded by buildings from the Safavid era.
The Shah Mosque is situated on the south side of this square. On the west side is the Ali Qapu Palace. Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque is situated on the eastern side of this square and the northern side opens into the Isfahan Grand Bazaar. Today, Namaaz-e Jom'eh (the Muslim Friday prayer) is held in the Shah Mosque. The square is depicted on the reverse of the Iranian 20,000 rials banknote.
In 1598, when Shah Abbas decided to move the capital of his Persian empire from the north-western city of Qazvin to the central city of Isfahan, he initiated what would become one of the greatest programmes in Persian history; the complete remaking of the city. By choosing the central city of Isfahan, fertilized by the Zāyande roud ("The life-giving river"), lying as an oasis of intense cultivation in the midst of a vast area of arid landscape, he both distanced his capital from any future assaults by the Ottomans and the Uzbeks, and at the same time gained more control over the Persian Gulf, which had recently become an important trading route for the Dutch and British East India Companies.
Maidan - The Royal Square
The Maidan was where the Shah and the people met. Built as a two story row of shops, flanked by impressive architecture, and eventually leading up to the northern end, where the Imperial Bazaar was situated, the square was a busy arena of entertainment and business, exchanged between people from all corners of the world. As Isfahan was a vital stop along the Silk Road, goods from all the civilized countries of the world, spanning from Portugal in the West, to the Middle Kingdom in the East, found its ways to the hands of gifted merchants, who knew how to make the best profits out of them.
Masjed-e Shah - The Pinnacle of Safavid Architecture
The Crown Jewel in the Naghs-e Jahan Square was the Masjed-e Shah, which would replace the much older Jameh Mosque in conducting the Friday prayers. To achieve this, the Shah Mosque was constructed not only with vision of grandeur, having the largest dome in the city, but Shaykh Bahai also planned the construction of a religious school and a winter-mosque clamped at either side of it.
The Lotfollah Mosque - The Private Room of the Shah's Harem
Of the four monuments that dominated the perimeter of the Naqsh-e Jahan square, the Lotfollah Mosque, opposite the palace, was the first to be built. The purpose of this mosque was for it to be a private mosque of the royal court, unlike the Shah mosque|Masjed-e Shah, which was meant for the public. For this reason, the mosque does not have any minarets and is of a smaller size. Indeed, few Westerners at the time of the Safavids even paid any attention to this mosque, and they certainly did not have access to it.
Ali Qapu Palace
Ali Qapu (pronounced, ah-lee gah-pooh) is in effect but a pavilion that marks the entrance to the vast royal residential quarter of the Safavid Isfahan which stretched from the Maidan Naqsh-i-Jahan to the Chahar Bagh Boulevard. The name is made of two elements: "Ali", Arabic for exalted, and "Qapu" Turkic for portal or royal threshold. The compound stands for "Exalted Porte". This name was chosen by the Safavids to rival the Ottomans' celebrated name for their court : Bab-i Ali, or the "Sublime Porte"). It was here that the great monarch used to entertain noble visitors, and foreign ambassadors.
The Imperial Bazaar
The Bazaar of Isfahan is a historical market and one of the oldest and largest bazaars of the Middle East. Although the present structure dates back to the Safavid era, parts of it are more than a thousand years old, dating back to the Seljuq dynasty. It is a vaulted, two kilometer street linking the old city with the new.