Ispahan, Or Isfahan (anc. Aspadana), a city of Persia, of which it was formerly the capital, in the province of Irak-Ajemi, 210 m. S. of Teheran, in lat. 32° 39'N, Ion. 51° 44' E.; pop. probably not more than 60, 000. It stands in the midst of a broad plain watered by the river Zeinderud, which rises in the hill districts W. of the city, and flows eastward, finally disappearing in the desert. For miles around the city stretch groves, orchards, corn fields, vineyards, and shady avenues, interspersed with the ruins of deserted towns and palaces. On approaching the city from the south, travellers cross the river by three beautiful and massive bridges, which lead into spacious gardens watered by canals, and surrounded by numerous pleasure houses. A broad shaded avenue leads from one of these bridges to the great bazaar of Shah Abbas, an enormous length of building vaulted above to exclude heat but admit air and light. Hundreds of unoccupied shops line the sides of this once crowded mart of commerce, after traversing which for nearly two miles the traveller enters the great square of Ispahan, the magnificent Maidan Shah, an oblong open space of upward of 40 acres.
In the centre of two sides of this square are superb mosques, and in the centre of the other sides are great gates leading to the bazaars and to the royal mosque. Around the rest of the square are stately edifices of uniform architecture, once used as apartments for the nobility and officers of the Persian court, but now ruinous and desolate. In the S. part of the city is an extensive pleasure ground, called the Tcha-har Bagh, consisting of eight gardens or "paradises," watered by canals, basins, and fountains, adorned with palaces, and enclosed by lofty walls. The most sumptuous of these palaces is the Tchehel Situn, or "Forty Columns." The columns from which the name is derived are in the principal hall, and are inlaid with mirrors so as to resemble pillars of glass. The walls and roof are decorated with the same fragile material, interspersed with flowers of gold. Behind this hall are many fine apartments, one of which is embellished with large paintings by native artists, representing the achievements of Nadir Shah and other Persian conquerors. The college of Hussein, a brilliantly colored tile-covered structure, the shah's mosque, and the three-storied Ali gate, which is the highest edifice in the city, are among the finest buildings.
Ispahan was formerly distinguished for the excellence of its manufactures, which consisted of all kinds of woven fabrics, from the most costly gold brocade to the most ordinary calico or coarse cotton; of gold and silver trinkets, paper, pen cases, ornamental book covers, firearms, swords, glass, and earthenware. These goods were sent to nearly all parts of Asia, Ispahan being a central emporium on the great line of traffic between Afghanistan, India, and China on the east, and Turkey, Egypt, and the Mediterranean on the west. The trade of the city, however, has greatly diminished, and its manufactures are now comparatively inconsiderable. The wine of Ispahan is thought not much inferior to that of Shiraz. The inhabitants are generally educated, so that almost every one can read and write, and even the shopkeepers and artisans are familiar with the works of the principal Persian poets. The merchants, who form a distinct class, are shrewd and enterprising. - On the S. side of the Zeinderud, which at Ispahan is said to resemble the Seine at Paris in magnitude, is the Armenian suburb of Julfa. This place was founded about 1603 by Shah Abbas, who transported to it all the inhabitants of the Armenian town of Julfa on the Araxes, and gave them full toleration for their religion, and valuable privileges as merchants.
This colony prospered for more than a century, and once contained 30,000 people and 24 churches. It has now greatly decayed, and has not more than 3,000 inhabitants, and the Armenians are forbidden any of the outward observances of their faith. - Ispahan is mentioned by historians as early as the 3d century. By the caliphs of Bagdad it was made the capital of their Persian provinces. Tamerlane captured it in 1387, massacred 70,000 of the inhabitants, and nearly ruined the city. It recovered at the beginning of the 17th century, and was the favorite abode of the monarchs of the Sufi dynasty. It was visited in 1673 by the French traveller Chardin, who resided there four years, and who describes it as a great city 24 m. in circuit, with 160 mosques, 48 colleges, 1,800 caravansaries, 273 public baths, and a population of 600,000. Other authors state the population at upward of 1,000,000. There are said to have been 1,400 villages in the vicinity of the city at the height of its prosperity. But in 1722 it was taken by the Afghans after a siege of eight months, and its buildings were defaced and people massacred in frightful numbers. This catastrophe nearly destroyed the city.
The seat of government was removed first to Shi-raz, and afterward to Teheran. Although the traveller rides for miles through deserted streets, ruined buildings, and silent squares, Ispahan is still the most stately and beautiful city of Persia; but the traces of its original splendor are fast disappearing.
Court of the Grand Mosque, Ispahan.