Safavid, Isfahan, Early Modern Iran, Architectural History, Urban History, Shah 'Abbas, Iconography, Performative Kingship


Naqsh-i Jahan Square lies at the heart of the Safavid Empire's capital city of Isfahan, and it is a remarkable unified artistic statement that renders legible Shah 'Abbas' imperial ideology in the urban landscape. It is also a complex made up of many different buildings with theater iconography: the caravanserai, coffeehouse, maydan, and palace. Though there is much existing scholarship analyzing these buildings separately, this paper proposes a new holistic conception of these stage spaces as linked and hierarchal. The stages embody the Shah's goal of centralization by facilitating ease of movement to promote urban consolidation and they invite the Safavid subject to become an actor in the imperial project through their in-the-round design, while containing dissent through the visual supremacy and exclusivity of the palace stage. Taken as a whole, the square's translated name, 'Image of the World' holds true, and this paper demonstrates how Shah 'Abbas' tiered theater spaces cast Naqsh-i Jahan Square as both a microcosm and a macrocosm of the Safavid Empire.