den Linden in Berlin, or Rotten Row in London, look one half as miserable as does the ruined avenue of Shah Abbas. It is in itself an epitome of modern Iran.”
Towards the upper end of the avenue on its eastern side stands the medresseh (college) which Shah Hosain built in 1710. It still has a few students, but is very much out of repair; Lord Curzon spoke of it in 1888 as “one of the stateliest ruins that he saw in Persia.” South of this college the avenue is altogether without trees, and the gardens on both sides have been turned into barley fields. Among the other notable buildings of Isfahān must be reckoned its five bridges, all fine structures, and one of them, the bridge of Allah Verdi Kahn, 388 yds. in length with a paved roadway of 30 ft. in breadth, is one of the stateliest bridges in the world, and has suffered little by the march of decay.
Another striking feature of Isfahān is the line of covered bazaars, which extends for nearly 3 m. and divides the city from south to north. The confluence of people in these bazaars is certainly very great, and gives an exaggerated idea of the populousness of the city, the truth being that while the inhabitants congregate for business in the bazaars, the rest of the city is comparatively deserted. When surveyed from a commanding height within the city, or in the immediate environs, the enormous extent of mingled garden and building, about 30 m. in circuit, gives an impression of populousness and busy life, but a closer scrutiny reveals that the whole scene is nothing more than a gigantic sham. With the exception of the bazaars and a few parishes there is really no continuous inhabited area. Whole streets, whole quarters of the city have fallen into utter ruin and are absolutely deserted, and the traveller who is bent on visiting some of the remarkable sites in the northern part of the city or in the western suburbs, such as the minarets dating from the 12th century, the remains of the famous castle of Tabarrak built by the Buyid Rukn addaula (d. 976), the ruins of the old fire temple, the shaking minarets of Guladān, &c., has to pass through miles of crumbling mud walls and roofless houses. It is believed indeed that not a twentieth part of the area of the old city is at present peopled, and the million or 600,000 inhabitants of Chardin’s time (middle of the 17th century) have now dwindled to about 85,000. The Armenian suburb of Julfa, at any rate, which contained a population of 30,000 souls in the 17th century, has now only 4000, and the Christian churches, which numbered thirteen and were maintained with splendour, are now reduced to half a dozen edifices with bare walls and empty benches. Much improvement has recently taken place in the education of the young and also in their religious teaching, the wealthy Armenians of India and Java having liberally contributed to the national schools, and the Church Missionary Society of London having a church, schools and hospitals there since 1869.
The people of Isfahān have a very poor reputation in Persia either for courage or morals. They are regarded as a clever but at the same time dissolute and disorderly community, whose government requires a strong hand. The lutis (hooligans) of Isfahān are proverbial as the most turbulent and rowdy set of vagabonds in Persia. The priesthood of Isfahān are much respected for their learning and high character, and the merchants are a very respectable class. The commerce of Isfahān has greatly fallen off from its former flourishing condition, and it is doubtful whether the trade of former days can ever be restored. (A. H.-S.)
History.—The natural advantages of Isfahān—a genial climate, a fertile soil and abundance of water for irrigation—must have always made it a place of importance. In the most ancient cuneiform documents, referring to a period between 3000 and 2000 B.C., the province of Anshan, which certainly included Isfahān, was the limit of the geographical knowledge of the Babylonians, typifying the extreme east, as Syria (or Martu-ki) typified the west. The two provinces of Anshan and Subarta, by which we must understand the country from Isfahān to Shuster, were ruled in those remote ages by the same king, who undoubtedly belonged to the great Turanian family; and from this first notice of Anshan down to the 7th century B.C. the region seems to have remained, more or less, dependent on the paramount power of Susa. With regard to the eastern frontier of Anshan, however, ethnic changes were probably in extensive operation during this interval of twenty centuries. The western Iranians, for instance, after separating from their eastern brethren on the Oxus, as early perhaps as 3000 B.C., must have followed the line of the Elburz mountains, and then bifurcating into two branches must have scattered, westward into Media and southward towards Persia. The first substantial settlement of the southern branch would seem then to have been at Isfahān, where Jem, the eponym of the Persian race, is said to have founded a famous castle, the remains of which were visible as late as the 10th century A.D. This castle is known in the Zoroastrian writings as Jem-gird, but its proper name was Sarū or Sarūk (given in the Bundahish as Sruwa or Srobak), and it was especially famous in early Mahommedan history as the building where the ancient records and tables of the Persians were discovered which proved of so much use to Albumazar and his contemporaries. A valuable tradition, proceeding from quite a different source, has also been preserved to the effect that Jem, who invented the original Persian character, “dwelt in Assan, a district of Shuster” (see Flügel’s Fihrist, p. 12, l. 21), which exactly accords with the Assyrian notices of Assan or Anshan classed as a dependency of Elymais. Now, it is well known that native legend represented the Persian race to have been held in bondage for a thousand years, after the reign of Jem, by the foreign usurper Zohāk or Bīverasp, a period which may well represent the duration of Elymaean supremacy over the Aryans of Anshan. At the commencement of the 7th century B.C. Persia and Ansan are still found in the annals of Sennacherib amongst the tributaries of Elymais, confederated against Assyria; but shortly afterwards the great Susian monarchy, which had lasted for full 2000 years, crumbled away under continued pressure from the west, and the Aryans of Anshan recovered their independence, founding for the first time a national dynasty, and establishing their seat of government at Gabae on the site of the modern city of Isfahān.
The royal city of Gabae was known as a foundation of the Achaemenidae as late as the time of Strabo, and the inscriptions show that Achaemenes and his successors did actually rule at Anshan until the great Cyrus set out on his career of western victory. Whether the Kābi or Kāvi of tradition, the blacksmith of Isfahān, who is said to have headed the revolt against Zohāk, took his name from the town of Gabae may be open to question; but it is at any rate remarkable that the national standard of the Persian race, named after the blacksmith, and supposed to have been first unfurled at this epoch, retained the title of Darafsh-a Kavāni (the banner of Kāvi) to the time of the Arab conquest, and that the men of Isfahān were, moreover, throughout this long period, always especially charged with its protection. The provincial name of Anshan or Assan seems to have been disused in the country after the age of Cyrus, and to have been replaced by that of Gabene or Gabiane, which alone appears in the Greek accounts of the wars of Alexander and his successors, and in the geographical descriptions of Strabo. Gabae or Gāvi became gradually corrupted to Jaī during the Sassanian period, and it was thus by the latter name that the old city of Isfahān was generally known at the time of the Arab invasion. Subsequently the title of Jaī became replaced by Sheheristān or Medīneh, “the city” par excellence, while a suburb which had been founded in the immediate vicinity, and which took the name of Yahudīeh, or the “Jews’ town,” from its original Jewish inhabitants, gradually rose into notice and superseded the old capital.
Sheheristān and Yahudīeh are thus in the early ages of Islam described as independent cities, the former being the eastern and the latter the western division of the capital, each surrounded by a separate wall; but about the middle of the 10th century the famous Buyid king, known as the Rukn-addaula (al-Dowleh), united the two suburbs and many of the adjoining villages in one general enclosure which was about 10 m. in circumference. The city, which had now resumed its old name of Isfahān, continued to flourish till the time of Timur (A.D. 1387), when in common with so many other cities of the empire it suffered grievously at the hands of the Tatar invaders. Timur indeed is said to have erected a Kelleh Minār or “skull tower” of 70,000 heads at the gate of the city, as a warning to deter other communities from resisting his arms. The place, however, owing to its natural advantages, gradually recovered from the effects of this terrible visitation, and when the Safavid dynasty, who succeeded to power in the 16th century, transferred their place of residence to it from Kazvin, it rose rapidly in populousness and wealth. It was under Shah Abbas the first, the most illustrious sovereign of this house, that Isfahān attained its greatest prosperity.This monarch adopted every possible expedient, by stimulating
- The name of Yahudīeh or “Jews’ town” is derived by the early Arab geographers from a colony of Jews who are said to have migrated from Babylonia to Isfahān shortly after Nebuchadrezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem, but this is pure fable. The Jewish settlement really dates from the 3rd century A.D. as is shown by a notice in the Armenian history of Moses of Chorene, lib. iii. cap. 35. The name Isfahān has been generally compared with the Aspadana of Ptolemy in the extreme north of Persis, and the identification is probably correct. At any rate the title is of great antiquity being found in the Bundahish, and being derived in all likelihood from the family name of the race of Feridūn, the Athviyān of romance, who were entitled Aspiyān in Pahlavi, according to the phonetic rules of that language.