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Safavid Carpet

Safavids ( Part 3)

In 1603 Shah Abbas marched to Tabriz and took it from Ottoman garrison. Intermittent clashes with the Ottomans continued until 1605, when the Ottomans suffered a crushing defeat at Sufiyan near Tabriz. Earlier, the battle of Van had led to brilliant victories led by Allahverdi Khan, but the shah himself demonstrated his exceptional talent as a commander at Sufiyan. By 1607 Iran had gained all the territory which it had owned at the time of the 1555 treaty of Amasya.

For one reason or another, attempts at peace negotiations did not succeed; sporadic skirmishes were followed by a lull until, in 1623, taking advantage of the Ottomans’ internal conflict in Baghdad province, Abbas invaded the region and took the city of Baghdad. Meanwhile, Qandahar had been retaken from the Moguls in 1622, and the island of Hormuz from the Portuguese with English help. By the time of Abbas’s death in 1629 Persia had once again reached the borders that had been established by Shah Ismail at the peak of his reign.

Shah Abbas encouraged domestic and international trade directly as well as through the construction of extensive infrastructures such as roads and caravansaries. Carpet weaving, which had begun to develop into a major industry under Tahmasp I, received a further boost under Shah Abbas, so that the art of Persian carpet weaving reached a peak during the Safavid period. As part of his policy of economic development the Shah transferred thousands of industrious Armenians from the northern city of Jolfa to the southern suburb of his new capital of Isfahan, which thenceforth was called New Jolfa of Isfahan.

Merchants from various European and Asian countries came to the Persian capital in pursuit of profitable trade. Although he displayed outward signs of piety, for example by his pilgrimage to Mashhad and other Shiite holy places, Abbas did not have the bigotry of his grandfather. His intolerance of Sunnism maybe at least partly attributed to his hostility towards the Ottomans (and the Uzbeks), but on the whole, he displayed a tolerant attitude towards his non-Muslim subjects, and was keen to establish political and trade links with European countries as potential allies against the Ottomans. Not many results were achieved by the missions he sent to or received from Europe, however, partly because of distances of place and time and partly as a consequence of the quarrels which often broke out among members of these missions.

Later he recovered the island of Hormuz in 1622 from the Portuguese fortifications off the strait of Hormuz were also captured, the name of the place being changed from Gameron to Bandar Abbas, which became the main Iranian port on the Persian Gulf. He had already expelled the Portuguese from Bahrain.

The change of capital from Qazvin to Isfahan enabled the shah to apply some of his energies to the conversion of his seat of government into a great world city. Isfahan was an ancient city and had flourished as a Seljuk capital when under Malekshah the great Congregational Mosque (Masjed-e Jame) had been repaired and considerably extended. To this day it is probably the greatest single monument in that city, situated as it is in the heart of the old city and dating from more than twelve hundred years ago. Rather than demolishing and rebuilding the old city as was hitherto normal in Iranian history, the shah built a new city beside it, which through the Chahar Bagh parkway extended to the river, Zayandeh Rud, with the Armenian district being built on the left bank of the river.

Much of Shah Abbas’s Isfahan has been destroyed by the Afghan invasion and devastation of the early eighteen century. Fortunately, Naqsh-e-Jahan square, the great central piazza, has survived intact as a tribute to the architectural genius of the period and a symbol of the city built by Shah Abbas. To the south it is situated the majestic Masjed-e Shah or Royal mosque, sometimes known in the West as the Blue mosque, indicating the dominant color of its exquisitely decorated tiles and dome. The palace of Aliqapu, the Exalted Porte, is located on the Piazza’s west side, facing the small but beautiful Mosque of Sheykh Lotfollah. In the north, opposite the Royal Mosque but at some distance away, is the entrance to the main bazaar.

It was not just architecture but other visual arts which flourished under Shah Abbas and some of his descendants, more even than they had under his grandfather Tahmasp I. Reza Abbasi perfected the art of manuscript illustration while Sadegh Beg Afshar, director of the royal library, introduced a new realism in his paintings which set the scene for the increasing realism of later periods. Apart from traditional manuscript illustration, large numbers of single-page paintings were also made under Shah Abbas, a genre which had little precedent in the earlier periods. Other arts related to manuscript production, such as calligraphy and ‘tazhib’, also flourished, reaching their peak in the art of Mir Emad Hassani, the great calligrapher of the reign of Shah Abbas II.

The fall of Isfahan

Mirveis, the rebellious Afghan leader, had died and his son Mahmud had replaced him as the Ghalazeh chief in 1717. Next year Mahmud attacked and captured Kerman, but had to retreat to quell the rebellion that had broken out in his absence in Qandahar. Amidst a Baluchi rebellion he captured Kerman once again and marched to Yazd, which he did not take, and went straight to Isfahan. A force of thousands of men, vastly superios in numbers to that of Mahmud, was sent out of the capital to meet him but was defeated and the city was put under siege.

The Shah’s appeal to the governor of Georgia, who might well have saved the situation, fell on deaf ears, in retaliation for his earlier refusal to grant him permission to surpass the Lezgis rebellion. Famine and plague finally brought the capital to heel. Mahmoud triumphantly entered the city, the Shah abdicated and Afghan chief claimed the crown of Persia. These events were typical of Iranian history: the fall of a weak, unjust and incompetent arbitrary state, this time as a result of the revolt of some of its own people, while as a nineteenth-century Iranian chief minister observed-hardly any of its subjects were prepared to defend it.

Meanwhile, chaos in Iran offered a golden opportunity for intervention by Russia and the Ottomans, both of which wished to extend their realms in the south and east. The forces of Peter and the Great of Russia entered Darband in August 1722. They would have joined forces with the Georgians and conquered the whole of the Caucasus had it not been for an Ottoman ultimatum. Still, the Russians captured Baku and occupied parts of Gilan and Mazandaran. A little later the Ottomans also occupied extensive parts of Iran in the west and north-west.

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