Whether the ancient Persian, and contemporary Iranian, city of Isfahan deserves the moniker of “half the world” is a matter of perspective given the other great centers of civilization during the period of Isfahan’s centrality to Eurasian existence. Clearly, though, its importance during the long period from the 11th through the 19th Centuries argues for its glorification. The capital of ancient Persia during key periods in the region’s history, including during the Seljuq and Safavid dynasties, and a major crossroads along the enormously important Silk Road trade route – the path of that influential route having been altered by Safavid Dynasty ruler Shah Abbas I to emphasize that city’s importance – Isfahan was in fact one of the world largest and most advanced metropolises. During Abbas I’s reign, which ran from 1588 to 1629, the Persian monarch invested heavily in Isfahan’s development, including the construction of mosques, palaces, and centers of learning, and in the development of commercial activities commensurate with the city’s location along major trade routes. It was during this period of time that residents of Isfahan described their city as “half the world.”
Isfahan continues to be one of modern-day Iran’s largest cities (its third largest, actually, behind the nation’s current capital, Teheran, and Mashhad), and retains much of the ancient architecture of those earlier periods in Persian history. The palaces and mosques built during the era of Isfahan’s greatest prominence, including the Alee Ghapou and Chehel Sotoon Palaces, as well as the ancient bazaars that continue to operate today, speak to that city’s continued importance to Iranian culture.