A waiter is carrying a huge tray of ice cream and chilled faludeh (sweet starch noodles in rose water) to a group of friends sitting on low stone walls – the ice cream shop doesn't have seating facilities but the Naqshe Jahan Square offers enough of them. Extended families are sitting on carpet-patterned plastic sheets on the lawn, while their children are playing around, and in between you can see young couples discreetly flirting.
It is Thursday evening and thus weekend in Islamic countries. The sun is low enough not to burn anymore, and it is the perfect time for a visit to Isfahan's largest and most famous square. The Naqshe Jahan Square was designed by the Safavid dynasty in the 17th century and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979. Its official name is Meidan-e Shah, but everyone still says Naqshe Jahan, meaning „Image of the World“. To Isfahanis, it seems forgivable if you don't see the the world itself.
Officially, the square is designated as a World Heritage site because it is „an urban phenomenon which is an exception in Iran“, namely a large square in a culture where urban buildings are normally densely packed. A rather unconvincing reason, we think, to protect a place because it is untypical, but what the heck – the square is absolutely beautiful. And it is surrounded by a number of monumental buildings which are all worth a visit for themselves:
The gigantic Imam Mosque (1612-30) on the Southern end, with very intricate tilework all over its various buildings and domes, inside and out. The much smaller, but very delicate and intimate Lutfollah Mosque (1602-18) on its Eastern side. And the pompous multi-story Timurid Palace of Ali Qapu (15th century) which was enlarged by the Safavids and which is most famous for its interestingly decorated „music room“ on the top floor. An impressive entrance gate to the bazaar dominates the Northern end of the square.
No visit to Iran would make sense without a visit to Isfahan and the Naqshe Jahan Square. For atmosphere Thursday evening is hard to beat, for taking pictures you are better off early in the morning when the Square is not so crowded and the sun is not so bright.
A visit to all three buildings around the Square (Imam Mosque, Lotfolloh Mosque and Ali Qapu Palace) will cost you 400 000 Rial (around 11 Euro). When we visited in May 2015, the Ali Qapu Palace was under restoration, otherwise you would have a great photo opportunity from the roof terrace.