|Isfahan home to the world’s longest vaulted bazaar street||
Many researchers believe the bazaar of Isfahan is one of the most important manifestations of Iranian civilization, as several bazaars have been built in different eras. The first account of a bazaar in Isfahan appears in the writings of Hamzeh Isfahani, who wrote that the bazaar of the city, which is near Yahoudiyeh, had quarters for businessmen, craftsmen and workers in 750 AD.
Later, Moqaddesi, a famous tenth-century historian, described its long street with roofed and non-roofed quarters.
More precise information about this bazaar is available in the texts of Nasser Khosrow, the famous Persian poet, which were written during his travels in Iran and Arabic countries. He illustrates one segment of the bazaar, which hosts more than 200 moneylenders.
The poet explains that there are 50 caravanserais only in this part of the bazaar, named Kutaraz. This shows the vastness of the market and trade transactions in Isfahan in the 12th century.
Earlier, Isfahan Bazaar consisted of two parts, namely the old section, which revolved around the old square close to the Friday Mosque and the new section, which started from Naqsh-e Jahan Square and extended till the old section.
In the 11th century, after selecting Isfahan as the capital of Seljuk Dynasty, the old square became the center of the city. It had a castle, a drum house, the royal residence and shops selling silk, brocade, precious stones, ivory and other goods.
There were some peripheral markets along the main streets radiating from the old square. The 1.5-km-long shopping street is still the main street in the bazaar--the longest vaulted bazaar street in the world.
After Shah Abbas selected Isfahan as the seat of power, a new bazaar was designed between the old bazaar and the square. Shah Abbas redeveloped the city extensively and ordered the construction of a number of new bazaars, including those surrounding the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, both the Hassanabad and mosque bazaars to the southeast and the large bazaar to the north where the old bazaar was located.
As a result, it contains a representative selection of Islamic architecture over the last 500 years. It has about 5 km of shopping streets, some with brick arches, some with poplar beams, over a hundred caravanserais and innumerable covered halls and connecting wings.
As mentioned, Naqsh-e Jahan is surrounded by a layer of shops. Behind these shops there are several parts of the bazaar, like caravanserais and peripheral markets for different businesses. Based on non-documented stories, after the construction of the new Friday Mosque, called the Shah mosque and located in the square, Shah Abbas attempted to encourage people to participate in Friday prayer in the Shah mosque, instead of the Grand Mosque.
However, most people refused to participate in Friday prayers in the Shah Mosque, and for a while Friday prayers were conducted at two places in Isfahan--in the Shah Mosque and in the Grand Mosque.
When people did not accept the new square as a city center, Shah Abbas decided to donate all the shops around the new square to people under the regulations of endowment. As a result, nobody was obliged to pay to buy these shops.
Gradually Naqsh-e Jahan Square replaced the old square as the main city center for gatherings, shopping and participation in Friday prayer.
The old square became a wood and vegetable market, but the high-class retail businesses established themselves as they could expect a good turnover from courtiers, soldiers and visitors from the nearby Chaharbagh Street. The area to the east of the main axis, the royal residence and its extension, the fabric painters’ bazaar, became the most sought-after site.
By counting the number of schools, mosques and baths in the bazaar, we can understand to what extent the bazaar acted as the center of Isfahan. The bazaar also had cisterns, warehouses and stables.
The most important difference between the old and the new bazaars is the organic growth of the old section in a linear form and the radial growth of the new bazaar. The old bazaar was developed to meet the needs of people for goods in residential quarters.
Unfortunately, in recent years, the economic role of the main bazaar has declined. The main reason for this phenomenon is the import of goods from Western countries and establishment of shopping centers outside the bazaar, which have made it possible for people to get all necessary goods in all parts of the city without going to the bazaar.
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