Afghans in Esfahan

At the end of the Safavid reign, the country and its capital were torn apart by courtiers, who plundered the state treasury with the Shah's silent consent. The resulting pressure was placed on the common people who had to pay increased taxes. A series of rebellions swept through Iran. In 1710, Mir Oveis revolted against the Safavid governor of Qandahar and managed to expel him from the city. Mir Oveis was succeeded by his son Mahmud. For several years, Mahmud and his followers sacked the territories of Sistan and south Khorasan. After a series of successful raids, they advanced to Esfahan and besieged the city. When it became clear that Mahmud


Picture from Chahar Bagh

Chahar Bagh Avenue

The world's first boulevard, Chahar Bagh Avenue was one of the earliest creations of Shah Abbas I in Esfahan. It was started as soon as Esfahan was chosen the capital city and was finally completed in 1598. It started at the magnificent palace of Jahan Nama, which occupied the site of the city's present municipality until 1890, and stretched as far as the foot of the Sof-feh Mountain. The splendid Allahverdi Khan Bridge (ppl27-128) connected the street at the point where it was interrupted by the Zayandeh-Rud. The name of the street (Persian: "Four Gardens") is derived from the four vineyards that originally bordered on the street. Also, four rows of tall plane trees were planted along both of the avenue's sides. During the reign of Shah Abbas I and his Safavid successors, Chahar Bagh Avenue (particularly at its lower section) was a promenade for the royal family and court. It was enclosed by wooden fretted walls of medium height, broken at even intervals by gates. Most of the gates were topped with pavilions and led to shady orchards that stretched along the street. At the center of the avenue was a canal, and water dropped in little cascades from its wide tiers. Now and again, this water was collected in large basins, some of which also had fountains. In summer months, these tanks were often filled with the cut heads of roses, which floated on the water filling the air with their fragrance. On both sides of the canal, wide sidewalks for pedestrians and horsemen were laid out, and flowerbeds enhanced the beauty of the street. As attested to by all the visitors to Safavid Esfahan, in its hey-


the travelogue of Corneille Lebrun shows Lower during the reign of Shah Sultan Hossein Safavid.

day Chahar Bagh Avenue was one of the world's most magnificent streets. During the Safavid period, Chahar Bagh Avenue was reserved on Wednesdays for women. They strolled, picnicked, and went shopping here unveiled, while eunuchs prevented men from entering the street. All the shopkeepers and servants on those days were also women.

After the Safavid rule, another Chahar Bagh Street was laid out by the Qajar governors, while the trees of the original Chahar Bagh were cut down. Some of these trees were sold for wood. Although they were soon replanted, the street never regained its original splendor. Today, it is an ordinary street, defaced by low buildings that are characteristic of the modern shopping streets in Iranian towns. However, one set of buildings from the Safavid period has survived here. They are grouped round the Chahar Bagh Madreseh (ppll4-116).

Chahar Bagh Avenue is 5 km (3 mile) long and 47 m (154 ft) wide. It is divided into three sections: 1) Upper Chahar Bagh, from Azadi Square (formerly the Shiraz Gate) to the Allahverdi Khan Bridge; 2) Chahar Bagh-e Abbasi, from the Allahverdi Khan Bridge to Imam Hossein Square (formerly the Dowlat Gate); 3) and Lower Chahar Bagh, from Imam Hossein Square to Shohada Square.

was marching on the capital, Shah Sultan Hossein sent envoys with the offer of a considerable sum of money in exchange for the withdrawal of Mahmud's troops to Afghanistan. Mahmud paid little notice to this plea. In 1722, a pitched battle was fought in Golnabad, in which 25,000 Afghans routed a Persian army of twice their number. In the meantime, Peter the Great of Russia, who had long contemplated establishing a trade route to India, invaded the north of Iran, while the Ottomans took advantage of the disintegration of the Safavid realm and invaded from the west. During the six-month siege of Esfahan, Mahmud attempted to force an entry into the city several times, but never succeeded. However, due to the treachery of a general, Vali of Arabia, he finally established a bridgehead on the northern bank of the river. He set up strong-posts, thus


Jane Dieulafoy

The portrait of Zel al-Sultan was enclosed in the travel book of Madame Jane Dieulafoy.

making it very difficult to bring supplies into the town. Famine began. However, Mahmud had insufficient men to conduct the siege, and soon he made a peace offer. The Shah decided to reject it.

Only when the palace itself began to go hungry, did Sultan Hossein take desperate action. He sent an envoy to Mahmud with the offer of 100,000 gold coins, the provinces of Khorasan and Kerman, and the hand of his daughter in marriage, if he would put an end to the siege. However, this time Mahmud haughtily declined the offer. The Shah had no other option but surrender of the city. Sultan Hossein and the princes, with the exception of Tahmasb II who was safely out of reach, were imprisoned. With this, the shortlived Afghan rule had begun. Mahmud's position, however, was far from secure. He had to counterattack the Russians in the north, the Ottomans in the west, the troops of Tahmasb II, who had been by then proclaimed a king, and the revolts of the people, who despised the Afghans as barbarians. Mahmud resorted to inhuman brutality, bordering upon insanity. In this highly neurotic state, he took the decision to exterminate the former royal family. On 7 February 1725, all the princes, including three decrepit uncles of Shah Sultan Hossein, were killed by Mahmud himself and two of his guards. Only Sultan Hossein and his two small children were spared. After this gruesome massacre, Mahmud's mind broke down completely. Mahmud's cousin, Ashraf, entered Esfahan and took power into his hands. Meanwhile, Tahmasb Qoli emerged in Khorasan, destined, as Nader Shah, to The gol-o-bolbol pattern is repeated be the last great Asiatic praCt,CaUy every Qajar ┬░bjeCt conqueror. The decisive battle between the troops of Nader Qoli and those of Ashraf took place in November 1729 at Murchehkhort near Esfahan. Ashraf was forced to abandon the capital. His last act there had been to murder the harmless Sultan Hossein.

Tahmasb II and then his infant son, Abbas III, had nominal power, but it was Nader and after hi, Karim Khan Zand who actually ruled. When Nader was himself crowned king, he transferred the capital to Mashhad, and Esfahan became once again, and has remained ever since, a provincial city.

Qajar Period and Zel al-Sultan in Esfahan

During the Zand dynasty, Shiraz was made the capital city, while Esfahan was largely neglected. Under the Qajar rulers, the capital was transferred to Tehran, and one of the worst periods in the history of Esfahan began. The situation was aggravated when Zel al-Sultan, Naser od-Din Shah's eldest son, was appointed governor of the city. The great extravagances of his court had to be compensated for by local revenue. When people proved unwilling to pay the increased taxes, Zel al-Sultan found a way out in selling

Photos From Kashan Iran RoseGol Bolbol Art

Zel al-Sultan is infamous for changing exquisite Safavid murals for tawdry gol-o-bolbol - a distinctive rose and a nightingale pattern that was called in Iranian art history after him.

Safavid lands, artifacts, and even the trees from the boulevards to the people. At least indifferent to - if not hateful of everything Safavid - Zel al-Sultan encouraged the demolishing of most Safavid places. In those places that he spared, he changed the interior decorations.

The period of Zel al-Sultan's governing was the first in the history of Esfahan that witnessed mass migration, particularly to Tehran. The economy declined, and very little construction was carried out. Most of the public buildings were created at the orders of rich merchants, such as Malek al-Tojjar, or persons of consequence, like Hajj Mohammad Hossein Sadr Esfahani.

During the Pahlavi rule, the city and its principal monuments were to a certain extent restored. This process continues during the modern period.


Esfahan Period in Art

The "Esfahan period" covers a span of about 125 years from 1598, when Shah Abbas the Great transferred the Iranian capital to Esfahan, to the city's conquest in 1722 by the Afghans. Without doubt, it is the highest point of Esfahan's long, rich history of art.

Architecture and art developed in Esfahan on three main levels: the refined, the monumental, and the utilitarian. The fine arts, particularly painting and the whole arts of the book, were commissioned primarily for private use and were produced mainly for privileged connoisseurs. Great monumental structures -like most of the famed architecture of Esfahan - were designed to convey the glories of the state, the power of the monarch, and the strength of the faith. Bazaars and caravanserais, along with pottery, carpets, and textiles, were creat ed with the purpose of economic advantage.

Regretfully, there is a disquieting quality about much of Iranian art in this period. Cheaper materials and techniques were employed, and quality and subtlety were often markedly diminished. The artifacts of this period work effectively at a distance but often disappoint when seen close up. However, although technically unsound, the Safavid objects astonish one with the opulence of forms and the diversity of designs.

Miniature Miniature in Iran went through a long and complicated course of development, reaching its culmination mainly during the Mongol and Timurid periods. From a historical viewpoint, the most important development in Iranian miniature has been the adoption of Chinese designs and coloring, subsequently blended with the idiosyncratic cultural concepts of Iranian artists.

The most important function of miniatures was the illustration of manuscripts. Miniatures pictured the literary plot, making it more enjoyable and easier to understand. Iran's great wealth of inspiring literature caused the emergence of many schools of miniature painting, each school having its own unique style. Esfahan was the seat of the last great i


Reza Abbasi

Although Reza Abbasi is an Iranian painter of paramount importance, very little is known about his life. Son of Ali Asghar Kashi, he was born in Kashan but soon left his hometown to work in the court of Shah Abbas I in Esfahan. He died in 1634, having left an amazing legacy that included not only numerous miniatures used in the illumination of Safavid manuscripts, but also great frescos on the walls of the most important Safavid palaces such as A!i Qapu {pp78-81). Reza Abbasi preferred naturalistic subjects and portraiture to the illustrative themes that had dominat-

This unique page exhibits ed Persian the work of two most miniature in famous masters of Safavid r court - painter Reza Abbasi me TOregOing and calligrapher Mir Emad. years.

Rubaiyat Omar Khayyam

Although his work is somewhat stylized, the exquisite delicacy of the details infuses his paintings with an almost impressionistic quality. Reza Abbasi was also a master of line drawing, a form of art not popular in the Islamic world before the end of the

Everything Reza Abasi

Portrait of Reza Abbasi is painted by his most famous apprentice, Moin Mosavvar.

16th century. Reza Abbasi's works were quite successfully imitated by his students, among which Shafi, Reza's son, and Moin Mosavvar were most talented. Shafi's pictures, showing exhuberant birds and flowers, caused him to become one of the chief textile designers for Shah Abbas II, while Moin Mosavvar was responsible for some of the finest illustrated manuscripts in the 17th century.

Safavid Paintings

The most magnificent examples of Safavid paintings can be seen in the murals of Chehel Sotun and Ali Qapu. The paintings depict life at the royal court, its nobles, battles and banquets.


Palace Ali Qapu Isfahan IranAlireza Abbasi

Mir Emad and Alireza Abbasi

Emad al-Molk Qazvini Hasa-ni (1554-1615), titled Mir Emad, is a great master of Nastaliq in the history of Iranian calligraphy. He is credited with writing some of the most valuable Safa-vid manuscripts. He was also a

A richly illuminated page exhibits Mir Emad's remarkable Nastaliq calligraphy.

poet, and some of his poems were cited in the works of his contemporaries. Mir Emad's descendants, including his son, daughter, and grandsons were also talented calligraphers. Alireza Abbasi (1558-1628) was a great master of Naskh, Tholth, and Nastaliq, as well as a gifted painter. He was the official cal-ligrapher of Shah Abbas's court and was favored with the choicest of public commissions.

Alireza designed the inscriptions in the mosques of Sheikh Lotfollah (pp 104-106), Maqsud Beik (pi06), and Royal (pp98-103). The story goes that Shah Abbas, a connoisseur and an avid patron of calligraphy, enjoyed Alire-za's handwrit-

A Timurid manuscript of Makhzan al-Esrar by Nezami was copied in Esfahan by Alireza Abbasi.

ing to the extent that often assisted him by holding a lamp while the master was working. A lifelong rivalry existed between the two calligraphers. Mir Emad was apparently less of a fighter than Alireza. In 1615, he was accused of being Sunnite and executed, perhaps at the suggestion of Alireza, who wanted to have the monarch's affections solely for himself. Mir Emad is reportedly buried in the

Mir Emad's calligraphy in the Mir Maqsud Beik Mosque in

Tekiyeh is the only sample of his Esfahan writing on the building's walls.

school of Persian miniature painting, at its height in the early 17th century under the patronage of Shah Abbas I. The purity of color, elegance of poses, emphasis on details, and vigor of the individual figure are the main characteristics of this style. Bright sky, the beauty of flowers, and human beings dressed in splendid garments create the general atmosphere of Safavid paintings. Another feature of Safavid painting is an interest in depicting the minor events of daily life. During the Safavid period, precious manuscripts somewhat declined in number, supplanted in part by a proliferation of single-page drawings that appealed to a less sophisticated audience. Artists serving royalty no longer made their living based on the royal patronage alone. Some sold their works to minor patrons and even to merchants, who earned the pages to the bazaars of India and Turkey. Signed work became the rule, rather than the exception it had been in earlier times. This may be because the connoisseurs of the previous epochs had not needed a signature in order to identify the artist; they could easily distinguish the hand of a certain master merely by his artistic individuality.

The leading master of the Esfahan school was Reza Abbasi, and many painters of the Esfahan school imitated his style.

Calligraphy While in the West calligraphy is considered mainly penmanship, in the East it is one of the most important fine arts. Calligraphers were an essential requirement for any self-respecting court, and very often princes and nobles practiced calligraphy themselves. Moreover, prohibition against figurative art in mosques, and an emphasis put on literacy and knowledge by Islamic leaders imparted further importance to the written word in the Islamic world.

Broadly speaking, there were two distinct scripts in the early centuries of Islam: cursive

Iranian calligrapher's simplest set scrj t and script For ot tools includes a reed pen (<qalam), r J r an ink-pot, and a pen-box. everyday purposes a cursive

Kufic Architecture


script was employed, while Kufic script was used for religious and official functions. Kufic went out of general use about the 11 th century, though it continued to be used in the decoration of mon umental religious buildings. About 1000 AD, a new script - Naskh - was established. This has remained the most popular script in the Arab world. The other main styles were Tholth, Reyhan, Mohaqqaq, Towqi, and Reqa. The Arabic script was adopted in Iran soon after the Muslim conquest, and was enhanced and developed by the Persians soon after. In the 13th century, the Iranian scribes invented Taliq, and in the next century, Mir Ali Tabrizi, the most famous callig-rapher of the Timurid period, created

Mir Ali Tabrizi

Reqa script

Liq Script

Mohaqqaq script

Towqi script

Taliq script

Tholth script

Mohaqqaq Calligraphy

Naskh script

Calligrapher Mir Ali Sultan Tabrizi
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