Isfahan is located in central Iran, and was once one of the largest cities in the world. The city’s location at the crossroads of the north-south and east-west routes of Iran helped it to flourish from 1050 to 1722 CE, reaching its peak in the 16th century CE under the Safavid dynasty. Much of the old city is still visible, and it is known for the Persian-Islamic architecture.
Settlement at Isfahan can be documented to the Paleolithic period, with material evidence extending through the Mesolitic, Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages. Urbanism is evident during the Median dynasty, when the city began to grow into an important regional center and to profit from its famously rich soil. Isfahan became part of the Achaemenid Empire when Cyrus the Great unified the Persian and Median empires in the 6th century BCE. At the time, Isfahan was known for being both religiously and ethnically diverse, and showcased the famed tolerance of Cyrus the Great. The city reverted to Sassanid control, and the archaeological record shows that the Sassanid rulers undertook ambitious building projects, including roads and military barracks.
The golden age of Isfahan began in 1598 under the Safavid ruler Shah Abbas I, who rebuilt the city and made it the capital city. At this time, thousands of migrants moved to Isfahan from the Caucasus. Isfahan was sacked by Afghan invaders in 1722 and began to decline.
The main square of Isfahan, Naghsh-e Jahan Square is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is one of the largest city squares in the world. It was built in 1629 and measures 160m by 560m. Surrounding the square are well preserved Safavid buildings. The Shah Mosque on the south side, the Ali Qapu palace on the west and the Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque on the eastern side. The gates at the northern end of the square open onto the Isfahan Grand Bazaar. The Shah Mosque, or Imam Mosque was renamed after the 1979 Islamic revolution, but was originally built during the Safavid period (ca. 1611 CE). It is a masterpiece of Iranian/Persian architecture, and is covered in seven different colored mosaic tiles and calligraphic inscriptions. Built in the four-iwan style, the mosque features a large courtyard façade and towering gateways on all sides, which are seen as more important that the mosque building itself. The mosque also represents a renaissance in dome construction, which revived original persian techniques such as the use of squinches and stalactites.