Of Isfahan in the mid-seventeenth century, French traveler Jean Chardin wrote, “It is the grandest and the most beautiful town in the whole of the east” and its surrounding countryside “incomparable for its beauty and fertility.” Situated on the central Iranian Plain, at the vertex of trade routes, Chardin found the city a bustling hub of commerce and education as populous as London, with broad tree-edged avenues and lanes as agreeable as those in Paris (though they predated Haussmann’s renovation program by two hundred years). The walls of its mosques were lined with porphyry and marble, the chambers of its palaces filled with mirrors, clocks, and cabinets of the finest craftsmanship, and its coffers with so much fine art that they lay in disintegrating piles. Pietro della Valle called Isfahan the New Rome. Merchants from India, Georgia, and the Ottoman lands chose to build huge palaces with exquisite gardens in Isfahan both for its own entrepreneurial scope, and its position at the strategic center of caravan trade in silk and silver.
Re-posted with permission.