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ISFAHAN (older form Ispahan)

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Originally appearing in Volume V14, Page 870 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ISFAHAN (older form Ispahan), the name of a Persian province and town. The province is situated in the centre of the country, and bounded S. by Fars, E. by Yezd, N. by Kashan, Natanz and Irak, and W. by the Bakhtiari district and Arabistan. It pays a yearly revenue of about £100,000, and its population exceeds 5oo,000. It is divided into twenty-five districts, its capital, the town of Isfahan, forming one of them. These twenty-five districts, some very small and consisting of only a little township and a few hamlets, are Isfahan, Jai, Barkhar, Kahab, Kararaj, Baraan, Rudasht, Marbin, Lenjan, Kerven, Rar, Kiar, Mizdej, Ganduman, Somairam, Jarkuyeh, Ardistan, Kuhpayeh. Na.jafahad,Komisheh,Chadugan,Varzek,Tokhmaklu, Gurji, Chinarud. Most of these districts are very fertile, and produce great quantities of wheat, barley, rice, cotton, tobacco and opium. Lenjan, west of the city of Isfahan, is the greatest rice-producing district; the finest cotton comes from Jarkuyeh; the best opium and tobacco from the villages in the vicinity of the city. The town of Isfahan or Ispahan, formerly the capital of Persia, now the capital of the province, is situated on the Zayendeh river in 32° 39' N. and 51° 40' E.' at an elevation of 5370 it. 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 (73,6J4, including 5883 Jews, in 1882). The town is divided into thirty-seven malaallehs (parishes) and has 210 mosques and colleges (many half ruined), 84 caravanserais, 15o 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 Isfahan river was originally Zendeh (Pahlavi zendek) rud, " the great river "; it was then modernized into Zindeh-rud, " the living river," and is now called Zayendeh rud, " the life-giving river." Its principal source is the Jananeh rud which rises on the eastern slope of the Zardeh Kuh about 90 to 100 M. W. of Isfahan. After receiving the Khursang river from Feridan on the north and the Zarin rud from Chaharmahal on the south it is called Zendeh rud. It then waters the Lenjan and Marbin districts, passes Isfahan as Zayendeh-rud and 70 M. farther E. ends in the Gavkhani depression. From its entrance into Lenjan to its end 1o5 canals are led off from it for purposes of irrigation and 14 bridges cross it (5 at Isfahan). Its volume of water at Isfahan during the spring season has been estimated at 6o,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 Situn, " 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 Amin ed-Dowleh (or Addaula) for Fath Ali Shah, the Imaret i Ashref built by Ashref Khan, the Afghan usurper, the Talar Tavileh, Guldasteh, Sarpushideh, &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 Saadetabad 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 Kajar died there in 1834. Close to it was the Aineh Khaneh, " hall of mirrors " and other elegant buildings in the Ilazar jerib (l000 acre) garden. All these palaces and buildings on both sides of the river were surrounded by extensive gardens, traversed by avenues of tall r 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 187o on the south bank of the river near, and in Julia 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.trees, principally planes, and intersected by paved canals of running water with tanks and fountains. Since Fath All 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 Situn and Hasht Behesht, were demolished and their timber, bricks, stone, &c., sold to local builders. The gardens are wildernesses. The garden of the Chehel Situn palace opens out through the Ala Kapu (" highest gate, sublime porte ") to the Maidan-i-Shah, which is one of the most imposing piazzas in the world, a parallelogram of 56o 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'Armenie, 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 Ala Kapu, 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 Nekkareh-Khaneh, or drumhouse, where is blared forth the appalling music saluting the rising and setting sun, said to have been instituted by Jamshid many thousand years ago. West of the Chehel Sitars 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 Chahar 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 Isfahan, 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,' 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-twn 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 Isfahan 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 Elysees in Paris, the Unter 2 This pavilion was the Persian telegraph office of Isfahan for nearly forty years and was demolished in 1903. 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 Isfahan 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 Isfahan 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 in-habitants 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 Guladan, &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 Isfahan 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 Isfahan are proverbial as the most turbulent and rowdy set of vagabonds in Persia. The priesthood of Isfahan are much respected for their learning and high character, and the merchants are a very respectable class. The commerce of Isfahan 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 Isfahan—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 Isfahan, 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 Isfahan 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 reg;on 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 Isfahan, where Jan, the eponym of the Persian race, is said to have founded a famous castle, the remains of which were visible as late as the loth century A.D. This castle is known in the Zorcastrian writings as Jem-gird, but its proper name was Sara or Sabak (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 con-temporaries. 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 Flugel's Fihrist, p. 12, 1. 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 Zohak or Biverasp, 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 Isfahan. 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 Kabi or Kavi of tradition, the blacksmith of Isfahan, who is said to have headed the revolt against Zohak, 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 Kavani (the banner of Kavi) to the time of the Arab conquest, and that the men of Isfahan 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 Gavi became gradually corrupted to Jai during the Sassanian period, and it was thus by the latter name that the old city of Isfahan was generally known at the time of the Arab invasion. Subsequently the title of Jai became replaced by Sheheristan or Medineh, " the city " par excellence, while a suburb which had been founded in the immediate vicinity, and which took the name of Yahudieh, or the " Jews' town," from its original Jewish inhabitants, gradually rose into notice and superseded the old capital.' Sheheristatt and Yahudieh 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 loth 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 ro m. in circumference. The city, which had now resumed its old name of Isfahan, 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 Minar 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 Isfahan attained its greatest prosperity. This monarch adopted every possible expedient, by stimulating ' The name of Yahudieh or " Jews' town " is derived by the early Arab geographers from a colony of Jews who are said to have migrated from Babylonia to Isfahan 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 Isfahan 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 Feridan, the Ath'iyan of romance, who were entitled Aspiyan in Pahlavi, according to the phonetic rules of that language. commerce, encouraging arts and manufactures, and introducing luxurious habits, to attract visitors to his favourite capital. He built several magnificent palaces in the richest style of Oriental decoration, planted gardens and avenues, and distributed amongst them the waters of the Zendeh-rud in an endless series of reservoirs, fountains and cascades. The baths, the mosques, the colleges, the bazaars and the caravanserais of the city received an equal share of his attention, and European artificers and merchants were largely encouraged to settle in his capital. Ambassadors visited his court from many of the first states of Europe, and factories were permanently established for the merchants of England, France, Holland, the Hanseatic towns, Spain, Portugal and Moscow. The celebrated traveller Chardin, who passed a great portion of his life at Isfahan in the latter half of the 17th century, has left a detailed and most interesting account of the statistics of the city at that period. He himself estimated the population at 600,000, though in popular belief the number exceeded a million. There were 1500 flourishing villages in the immediate neighbourhood; the enceinte of the city and suburbs was reckoned at 24 m., while the niud walls surrounding the city itself, probably nearly following the lines of the Buyid en-closure, measured 20,000 paces. In the interior were counted 162 mosques, 48 public colleges, 1802 caravanserais, 273 baths and 12 cemeteries. The adjoining suburb of Julfa was also a most flourishing place. Originally founded by Shah Abbas the Great, who trans-ported to this locality 3400 Armenian families from the town of Julfa on the Arras, the colony increased rapidly under his fostering care, both in wealth and in numbers, the Christian population being estimated in 1685 at 30,000 souls. The first blow to the prosperity of modern Isfahan was given by the Afghan invasion at the beginning of the 18th century, since which date, although continuing for some time to be the nominal head of the empire, the city has gradually dwindled in importance, and now only ranks as a second or third rate provincial capital. When the Kajar dynasty indeed mounted the throne of Persia at the end of the 18th century the seat of government was at once transferred to Teheran, with a view to the support of the royal tribe, whose chief seat was in the neighbouring province of Mazenderan; and, although it has often been proposed, from considerations of state policy in reference to Russia, to re-establish the court at Isfahan, which is the true centre of Persia, the scheme has never commanded much attention. At the same time the government of Isfahan, owing to the wealth of the surrounding districts, has always been much sougkt after. Early in the 19th century the post was often conferred upon some powerful minister of the court, but in later times it has been usually the apanage of a favourite son or brother of the reigning sovereign.' Fath Ali Shah, who had a particular affection for Isfahan, died here in 1834, and it became a time-honoured custom for the monarch on the throne to seek relief from the heat of Teheran by forming a summer camp at the rich pastures of Ganduman, on the skirts of Zardeh-Kuh, to the west of Isfahan, for the exercise of his troops and the health and amusement of his courtiers, but in recent years the practice has been discontinued. (H. C. R.)
End of Article: ISFAHAN (older form Ispahan)

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