Esfahan, chosen and designed capital under Shah Abbas I, was reconstituted with so many new mosques, palaces, bridges, avenues and parks that even European travelers wrote rapturously of its beauties. Chardin, a dependable observer according to Arthur Upham Pope, reports that in 1666 Esfahan had 162 mosques, 48 madrasas (schools), 182 caravansaries and 173 baths. The great maydan (square) at Esfahan, scene of maneuvers, processions, games, and especially polo, is surrounded by two-storied arcades which focus on the recessed portal of the Masjid-e Imam (Imam mosque, formerly called the Shah Mosque). At the north end of the square, opposite the mosque, is the royal caravanserai and bazaar, at the middle of the west side is the palace of Ali Qapu - the seat of government - and facing it, across the square, is the private oratory of Shah Abbas, the Mosque of Shaykh Lutf Allah. Except for intersections near the entrance to the bazaar on the west and east and an insignificant modern street in the southwest corner, the square is closed by four high walls painted in creamy white with blue outlining the repeated arches. One architectural feature interrupts the uniformity of each side.
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