Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
868
ISFAHĀN


Gurji, Chinarūd. Most of these districts are very fertile, and produce great quantities of wheat, barley, rice, cotton, tobacco and opium. Lenjān, west of the city of Isfahān, is the greatest rice-producing district; the finest cotton comes from Jarkūyeh; the best opium and tobacco from the villages in the vicinity of the city.

The town of Isfahān or Ispahān, formerly the capital of Persia, now the capital of the province, is situated on the Zāyendeh river in 32° 39′ N. and 51° 40′ E.[1] at an elevation of 5370 ft. Its population, excluding that of the Armenian colony of Julfa on the right or south bank of the river (about 4000), is estimated at 100,000 (73,654, including 5883 Jews, in 1882). The town is divided into thirty-seven mahallehs (parishes) and has 210 mosques and colleges (many half ruined), 84 caravanserais, 150 public baths and 68 flour mills. The water supply is principally from open canals led off from the river and from several streams and canals which come down from the hills in the north-west. The name of the Isfahān river was originally Zendeh (Pahlavi zendek) rūd, “the great river”; it was then modernized into Zindeh-rūd, “the living river,” and is now called Zayendeh rūd, “the life-giving river.” Its principal source is the Janāneh rūd which rises on the eastern slope of the Zardeh Kuh about 90 to 100 m. W. of Isfahān. After receiving the Khursang river from Feridan on the north and the Zarīn rūd from Chaharmahal on the south it is called Zendeh rūd. It then waters the Lenjan and Marbin districts, passes Isfahān as Zayendeh-rūd and 70 m. farther E. ends in the Gavkhani depression. From its entrance into Lenjan to its end 105 canals are led off from it for purposes of irrigation and 14 bridges cross it (5 at Isfahān). Its volume of water at Isfahān during the spring season has been estimated at 60,000 cub. ft. per second; in autumn the quantity is reduced to one-third, but nearly all of it being then used for feeding the irrigation canals very little is left for the river bed. The town covers about 20 sq. m., but many parts of it are in ruins. The old city walls—a ruined mud curtain—are about 5 m. in circumference.

Of the many fine public buildings constructed by the Sefavis and during the reign of the present dynasty very little remains. There are still standing in fairly good repair the two palaces named respectively Chehel Sitūn, “the forty pillars,” and Hasht Behesht, “the eight paradises,” the former constructed by Shah Abbas I. (1587–1629), the latter by Shah Soliman in 1670, and restored and renovated by Fath Ali Shah (1797–1834). They are ornamented with gilding and mirrors in every possible variety of Arabesque decoration, and large and brilliant pictures, representing scenes of Persian history, cover the walls of their principal apartments and have been ascribed in many instances to Italian and Dutch artists who are known to have been in the service of the Sefavis. Attached to these palaces were many other buildings such as the Imaretino built by Amīn ed-Dowleh (or Addaula) for Fath Ali Shah, the Imaret i Ashref built by Ashref Khan, the Afghan usurper, the Talār Tavīleh, Guldasteh, Sarpushīdeh, &c., erected in the early part of the 19th century by wealthy courtiers for the convenience of the sovereign and often occupied as residences of European ministers travelling between Bushire and Teheran and by other distinguished travellers. Perhaps the most agreeable residence of all was the Haft Dast, “the seven courts,” in the beautiful garden of Saādetabad on the southern bank of the river, and 2 or 3 m. from the centre of the city. This palace was built by Shah Abbas II. (1642–1667), and Fath Ali Shad Kajār died there in 1834. Close to it was the Aineh Khaneh, “hall of mirrors” and other elegant buildings in the Hazar jerib (1000 acre) garden. All these palaces and buildings on both sides of the river were surrounded by extensive gardens, traversed by avenues of tall trees, principally planes, and intersected by paved canals of running water with tanks and fountains. Since Fath Ali Shah’s death, palaces and gardens have been neglected. In 1902 an official was sent from Teheran to inspect the crown buildings, to report on their condition, and repair and renovate some, &c. The result was that all the above-mentioned buildings, excepting the Chehel Sitūn and Hasht Behesht, were demolished and their timber, bricks, stone, &c., sold to local builders. The gardens are wildernesses. The garden of the Chehel Sitūn palace opens out through the Alā Kapū (“highest gate, sublime porte”) to the Maidān–i-Shah, which is one of the most imposing piazzas in the world, a parallelogram of 560 yds. (N.-S.) by 174 yds. (E.-W.) surrounded by brick buildings divided into two storeys of recessed arches, or arcades, one above the other. In front of these arcades grow a few stunted planes and poplars. On the south side of the maidan is the famous Masjed i Shah (the shah’s mosque) erected by Shah Abbas I. in 1612–1613. It is covered with glazed tiles of great brilliancy and richly decorated with gold and silver ornaments and cost over £175,000. It is in good repair, and plans of it were published by C. Texier (L’Arménie, la Perse, &c., vol. i. pls. 70-72) and P. Coste (Monuments de la Perse). On the eastern side of the maidan stands the Masjed i Lutf Ullah with beautiful enamelled tiles and in good repair. Opposite to it on the western side of the maidan is the Alā Kapū, a lofty building in the form of an archway overlooking the maidan and crowned in the fore part by an immense open throne-room supported by wooden columns, while the hinder part is elevated three storeys higher. On the north side of the maidan is the entrance gate to the main bazaar surmounted by the Nekkāreh-Khaneh, or drumhouse, where is blared forth the appalling music saluting the rising and setting sun, said to have been instituted by Jamshīd many thousand years ago. West of the Chehel Sitūn palace and conducting N.-S. from the centre of the city to the great bridge of Allah Verdi Khan is the great avenue nearly a mile in length called Chahār Bagh, “the four gardens,” recalling the fact that it was originally occupied by four vineyards which Shah Abbas I. rented at £360 a year and converted into a splendid approach to his capital.

It was thus described by Lord Curzon of Kedleston in 1880: “Of all the sights of Isfahān, this in its present state is the most pathetic in the utter and pitiless decay of its beauty. Let me indicate what it was and what it is. At the upper extremity a two-storeyed pavilion,[2] connected by a corridor with the Seraglio of the palace, so as to enable the ladies of the harem to gaze unobserved upon the merry scene below, looked out upon the centre of the avenue. Water, conducted in stone channels, ran down the centre, falling in miniature cascades from terrace to terrace, and was occasionally collected in great square or octagonal basins where cross roads cut the avenue. On either side of the central channel was a row of oriental planes and a paved pathway for pedestrians. Then occurred a succession of open parterres, usually planted or sown. Next on either side was a second row of planes, between which and the flanking walls was a raised causeway for horsemen. The total breadth is now fifty-two yards. At intervals corresponding with the successive terraces and basins, arched doorways with recessed open chambers overhead conducted through these walls into the various royal or noble gardens that stretched on either side, and were known as the Gardens of the Throne, of the Nightingale, of Vines, of Mulberries, Dervishes, &c. Some of these pavilions were places of public resort and were used as coffee-houses, where when the business of the day was over, the good burghers of Isfahān assembled to sip that beverage and inhale their kalians the while; as Fryer puts it: ‘Night drawing on, all the pride of Spahaun was met in the Chaurbaug and the Grandees were Airing themselves, prancing about with their numerous Trains, striving to outvie each other in Pomp and Generosity.’ At the bottom, quays lined the banks of the river, and were bordered with the mansions of the nobility.”

Such was the Chahar Bagh in the plenitude of its fame. But now what a tragical contrast! The channels are empty, their stone borders crumbled and shattered, the terraces are broken down, the parterres are unsightly bare patches, the trees, all lopped and pollarded, have been chipped and hollowed out or cut down for fuel by the soldiery of the Zil, the side pavilions are abandoned and tumbling to pieces and the gardens are wildernesses. Two centuries

of decay could never make the Champs Élysées in Paris, the Unter

  1. These figures are approximate for the centre of the town north of the river. The result of astronomical observations taken by the German expedition for observing the transit of Venus in 1874 and by Sir O. St John in 1870 on the south bank of the river near, and in Julfa respectively was 51° 40′ 3.45″ E., 32° 37′ 30″ N. The stone slab commemorating the work of the expedition and placed on the spot where the observations were taken has been carried off and now serves as a door plinth of an Armenian house.
  2. This pavilion was the Persian telegraph office of Isfahān for nearly forty years and was demolished in 1903.