Friday, October 22, 2010

Half the World.

Waaaay back, during the abortive attempts of the Iranian people to be free of the Revolutionary Guard and the Jew-hating messianic dwarf who fronts for them, I said I was going to post something about one of my favorite cities: Esfahan (Isfahan), Iran.

The traditional capital of the Safavid dynasty, Esfahan is an architectural marvel, as well as a center of Persian culture. Indeed, the city is so justly proud of its heritage that it uses the couplet: "Esfahan, nesfeh jahan!" Esfahan, half the world! The following photos should demonstrate why.

Shah Abbas I was the greatest of the Safavids, the Shia dynasty that ruled Iran and the surrounding areas for over 200 years. A perpetual thorn in the eastern side of the Ottomans, the Safavids made life miserable for the Sultans in Constantinople, committing the powerful Ottomans to a draining second front during the peak of the Turkish empire. Abbas triumphed over the Ottomans, and used his wealth to create architectural masterpieces like the Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque (above). He moved his capital to Esfahan in 1598, and naturally, he had to spiff it up to his demanding specifications.

As impressive as it is on the outside, it is the interior of the Lotfallah mosque that truly dazzles.

The dome is simply a marvel.

Shah Abbas was known for genuine tolerance of Christians, once saying he'd prefer the dust off the lowliest Christian's foot to the presence of the kingliest Ottoman. He resettled Armenians liberated from the Turks in Esfahan (which was followed by a steady stream of Armenian immigrants) and permitted them to build the Holy Savior Cathedral.

The Cathedral frescoes are stunning. Note the similarity of certain decorative motifs in both the mosque and the cathedral.

There's even a memorial to the Armenian genocide in the Cathedral courtyard.

Despite the glory of the Lotfallah, Shah Abbas was not finished adorning his new capital. Yet another mosque, even grander, arose: the Shah Mosque.

But that will have to wait for another post.


  1. Hi, Dale!

    Very nice pictures you've shown from Isfahan. What I thought was how obvious the Byzantin influence was on the buildings Shah Abbass I built. And more clearly so, of course, in the Armenian cathedral and its icons.

    As far as I'm concerned, the worse disaster to happen to Persia/Iran was the Arab Muslim invasion and coqnuests in the 600s. Shia Messianism and Islamic theories of the theocratic state has warped and distorted the political development (to name just one item)of the Persian people.

    Sincerely, Sean

  2. The thing is, Sean, Iran's current messianic streak is pretty new, and is in part influenced by Western revolutionary notions imbibed by Khomeini in exile.

    That's not to say that there isn't a deeply embedded notion of the return of the Hidden Imam in Shia theology, but the idea that it is to be exported by a theocratic revolution is entirely new. The Shia clerics have traditionally been quite apolitical.

    As to the disastrous consequences of the fall of Persia, it's important to keep in mind that the Persian forms of Islam have always been more intellectually creative, artistically/culturally minded and--until recent times--disinclined toward grandiose notions of imperial jihad. The Zoroastrian kings could be brutal and aggressive in their own right, coming within a hairsbreadth of extinguishing Eastern Rome in the Seventh Century, and instigating a series of pogroms against Christians in the process.

  3. Hi, Dale!

    Thanks for your comments. Yes, I agree that when various strands of Islam picked up Marxist/Leninist ideas of revolutionary organization, that made for a lethally dangerous combination. Perhaps far more so than the dogmatic atheism of old time Communists. IOW, I believe ISLAMIC theology also plays a role.

    Again, I agree it's correct to say the Sassanian kings of pre Muslim Iran could be brutal and sometimes persecuted Christians. But Muslim rulers of Persia also persecuted Christians at times. As documented by Bat Ye'or in her book THE DECLINE OF EASTERN CHRISTIANIY (I might have gotten the title wrong, speaking from memory).

    I have seen suggestions that one reason why Shia Islam took root in Persia was as means used to assert Persian national identity against Arab dominance.

    Again, you are correct to say the Eastern Roman Empire only narrowly escaped destruction at Persian hands. It took 20 years of war by Heraclius to drive back the Persians.

    But it's my view that the mutual exhaustion these two powers suffered as a result enabled Islam to burst out of the Arabian peninsula. If Eastern Rome and Persia had avoided any major clashes in the early 600's, it's hard to see how the Islamic caliphate would have conquered so rapidly and widely.

    Sincerely, Sean

  4. This city is renowned not only for the abundance of great historical monuments, but also for its Life-Giving River, The Zayandeh-Rood, which has given the city an original beauty and a fertile land. Esfahan is filled with old gardens and some of the best sights in Iran.


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