Naqsh-e Jahan square, literally meaning pattern of the world or known amongst Iranians as Half of the world proves it claim right at the first glance. With horses prancing their way around the square carrying overexcited tourists in their carriages, children soaking their feet in the pools and families flocked into promenade around the perimeter, Naqsh-e Jahan quickly intrigues the pickiest of travelers.
Captured between ochre coloured bricks and turquoise blue tiles, architectural masterpieces are visible at every angle. Let it be a mosque, a palace, a madresah, a bazaar, you name it!
I could easily spend a week in Esfahan and still have unchecked major attractions on my list. The city takes everything to a whole new level, and each sight puts the last one to shame. But if you had only one day to spend in Iran’s cultural capital, the world’s second largest square aka Naqsh-e Jahan has got you covered and once you arrive you ain’t goin’ nowhere!
Home to the finest jewels of the Safavid empire, Shah Abbas knew well how to bedazzle Europeans with his new capital. The finest craftsmen and architect were brought to adorn the surroundings of a square where once polo was played and where currently only a pair of goalposts at either end of the square recall the memory.
What’s there to see:
#1 Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
Named after a Shiite preacher, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is one of the most unusual yet alluring religious structures of Iran. One that was dedicated to Shah Abbas and the women of his Harem only and hidden from public eye for centuries.
The dimly-lit and gloomy passageway creates a huge contracts with the spacious prayer hall where the beam of sunlight flickers through and lends an aura of magic into the room.
With a dome that once open for public admiration, it left its visitors dumbfounded and grasping for words and historians like Robert Byron saying he hadn’t seen a finer example of Persian Islamic architecture.
Sheikh Lotfollah mosque ironically comes with no minarets and no courtyard making it seem very foreign to Persian architecture. Assumptions are made but the strongest one suggests that the reason behind it is probably because it was constructed for private use and no public attendance.
#2 Imam (former Shah) Mosque
With its four majestic ivans and courtyard, Imam Mosque is regarded as the finest example of Persian Islamic architecture and a showcase of all Persian glory. Seven coloured tiles and dinky calligraphic inscriptions are to be seen in every corner and make it easy to vision Safavid splendour and why it’s known as the golden age of Iran history.
The dome of the southern sanctuary is the most remarkable part of the structure and the largest twin-shelled dome of Esfahan. Right under its center is a small yet extraordinary place known as the eco-chamber, from where ones voice would eco seven times in the whole room.
Its easy to spend a good two hours here and take one too many pictures.
#3 Ali-Qapu palace
Built by the decree of Shah Abbas I, Ali-Qapu palace was the largest skyscraper of any capital of its time. It was here that monarchs, ambassadors and nobles would show their respects to the Persian king.
Rich with the paintings of the court’s finest painter, Reza Abbasi, visitors are left lingering over its exquisite details and excellence.
Shah Abbas made sure his residence excelled its much more modest prototype built under the same name in the Ottoman capital, the bitterest rivals of Persians at the time.
A large balcony facing Naqshe-Jahan gave the Shah the most charming vista of the square and the perfect view to watch polo games. Now it’s the most picture perfect spot for visitors to snap their photos.
But above all, it’s the music hall with its marvelous stucco-work with both aesthetic and acoustic values that had us head over heels with excitement.
#4 The Grand Bazaar
The bazaar surrounding Naqsh-e Jahan square is only a small portion of the grand bazaar of Esfahan. Here you can find almost anything Iranian. If you’re looking for souvenirs, handmade carpets and handicrafts this is probably a shopaholics’s heaven.
Tip: Do keep in mind that there are many fake items sold as originals here. If you’re going to spend loads of money on a specific item or buy sweets like the famously known Gaz of Esfahan make sure you do your research first and have an idea of the price. If something is overly cheap, then there’s something wrong with it!
For example if you’re looking for miniature paintings which are a common souvenir of Esfahan, make sure you head over to the Fallahi Art Gallery where you’ll get excellent quality for what you pay with an actual certificate. Your guide or hotel staff could help you out.
Last but not least, don’t get intimidated by the shop owners trying to sell you their stuff. A good product doesn’t need a lot of rambling and begging to be bought. 😉
Where to eat:
There are quite a few restaurants and coffee shops around the square but we thoroughly enjoyed this one: Azadegan Traditional Tea House. The atmosphere is extremely unique and they serve typical Iranian food and drinks with hookah available for those who fancy smoking.
It rather easy to spend a full day here. If you’re tired you can always go back to rest in the afternoon, but do make sure you come back at dark since the lit up square has its own charm. You’ll find this place to be a favourite picnic location amongst locals, so don’t hesitate to grab some snacks and spend the night chilling in the world’s most beautiful square.
I'm Matin, an Iranian Graphic Design graduate and a traveller at heart. I enjoy exploring new places, hunting for artwork, soaking into new cultures and meeting people from all walks of life.