Iran : Spectacular Imam Mosque, Isfahan – 16 Cents For UNESCO’s Finest

Imam Mosque, Esfahan, Iran

Imam Mosque is just one of the highlights of Imam Square, in the city of Isfahan, Iran. I’ll be sure to tell you all about it soon. But first, it’s time for a little deviation. No visit to Iran is complete without experiencing a whirlpool of thoughts regarding politics, life, religion, and questions of just what the fuck is going on in the world today. This maelstrom of confusion is an inescapable part of being a Western tourist in Iran.

Why does our media present Iran as a ridiculously one dimensional rat hovel of terrorist training camps filled exclusively with people that have a hatred of all things Western? What is the motivation behind this biased view? You have to wonder.

Is the media responsible for why so many people in the west more readily and automatically equate Iran with terrorism, rather than UNESCO world heritage sites such as Imam Mosque? Why are there sanctions in place against Iran? It’s the Iranian Uranium enrichment program,dummy! I hear you say. And let’s not forget Iran’s intention to use this uranium for weapons of mass destruction! Is this accurate, or even believable?

Keep in mind, the sanctions have been in place for 33 years now, since 1979. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what the real reasons for why these suffocating and poverty creating sanctions have existed for so long. And, why authentic Coca-cola (or Pepsi, if you swing that way) is still manufactured and sold in Iran.

click to see an interactive map showing the location of this article


Whilst you’re at it, American readers in particular – decide whether you think it’s a good idea that your government indirectly but substantially contributes to the daily suffering of the warm and welcoming people of Iran. The Iranians genuinely express nothing but love for the people of America.

The exclusively rich and powerful politicians of this world have a lot to answer for. There are a lot of stressful issues effecting the people of Iran. The citizens here are dealing with problems that almost no other nation faces, with their chin up, and their arms wide open. I commend them. There are certainly domestic political issues, that is a given.

But, as one taxi driver said to me:

“the USA and British governments do not want us to live”.


Imam Mosque - You Need to Look Up
Imam Mosque – possibly the worlds best location to just lay back and stare in wonder.
Four hundred year old mosaic ceiling - main dome of Imam Mosque, Iran.
Four hundred year old mosaic ceiling – beneath the main dome of Imam Mosque, Iran.
Imam Mosque - stunning architecture
From any angle, Imam Mosque in Isfahan is simply superb.
Imam Mosque - Facade of the Entrance Arcade
For 16 cents, you too can enter the Imam Mosque through the arcade – a masterpiece of Persian architecture and design.
Imam Square - Deservedly UNESCO
Imam Square in Isfahan is one of the worlds greatest public spaces. This view is from the Ali Qapu palace balcony, looking towards the Imam Mosque.

In any case, this ranting – but necessary – article is illustrated with photos of one of the jewels of Iran – Imam Mosque. The Imam Mosque, sitting on the South side of Naghsh-i Jahan Square in the beautiful city of Isfahan, was constructed 400 years ago. Both Imam square and Imam Mosque are deservedly UNESCO world heritage sites. It’s one of the few places I have visited in this world where I produced a spontaneous and audible “wow” upon entry. Absolutely mind-blowing-ly incredible.

Imam Mosque – A Show Piece of Persian Architecture in Iran

Imam Mosque is a large and complex structure, elaborately decorated with rambling and detailed seven-colour mosaic tile patterns. The main dome is the largest in the city of Isfahan, and reaches a height of 52 meters (171 ft). Standing on the floor directly under the dome, the acoustics are perfect. This leads to a jovial atmosphere, quite unexpected inside a religious monument.

Fits of laughter from visitors were a regular occurrence as the slightest whisper echoes and amplifies beneath the domed area. It encourages tom-foolery, and it’s quite a trip to hear the sound bouncing around. A shiny and worn stone square marks the spot of the best acoustics –  and I’m certain that four hundred years of visitors have stood and did the same thing I did. Beat-box, of course.


Imam Mosque, Esfahan
Photo of the occasional tourist at Imam Mosque in Iran.
Imam Mosque, Esfhan.
Imam Mosque, Isfahan, Iran.
Ceramic mosaic detail - Imam Mosque.
Ceramic mosaic detail – Imam Mosque.
Four hundred years later, the courtyard view is unchanged.
Four hundred years later, the courtyard view is unchanged.
Meanwhile, back outside in Imam Square, the locals stroll.
Meanwhile, back outside in Imam Square, the locals stroll.
OK, for sixteen cents, I can afford to pop back inside for another look at Imam Mosque.
OK, for sixteen cents, I can afford to pop back inside for another look at Imam Mosque.
Imam Mosque after dark.
Imam Mosque after dark.


Imam Mosque, Imam Square, Isfahan, Iran – What You Need to Know.

Imam Mosque is located in one of the most popular cities in Iran – Isfahan. The enormous Naqsh-e Jahan Square, commonly known as Imam Square, is in the center of the city of Isfahan. The Imam Square is particularly busy on weekends, which in Iran is Thursday and Friday. Entrance to the Mosque is 5000 rial, or about sixteen cents (yes, I know, it’s ridiculous).

Around the 400 year old Imam Square, there are other sites to see including the Ali Qapu palace, the Shah Mosque, and the entrance to the Isfahan Grand Bazaar. The bazaar is free to enter, the others will set you back about sixteen US cents each.

Sixteen US cents.

In Isfahan, I stayed at an apartment that was such a great deal, within a short walk of Imam Mosque (indeed, it felt like I could touch the dome from my third floor window). But, I’m keeping it to myself…. for now.


PS, thinking of visiting Iran? Good new2 – in 2014, this started happening.

BTW, I would love to send you the next dispatch, posted from some-where random around this planet (and you'll soon find out why YOMADIC email followers are my favourite followers):

42 thoughts on “Iran : Spectacular Imam Mosque, Isfahan – 16 Cents For UNESCO’s Finest

  1. You take fantastic pictures man. I was just comparing my own pics of the Imam Mosque to yours and mine are pathetic lol

    1. Cheers Noelle..yep, it’s food for thought. I’m not sure that any of us has answers, but it doesn’t hurt to think about it now and then.

  2. I only hope you go to the pre-Islamic sites as well so that we can also enjoy the greatness of pre-Islamic Iran. Fantastic pictures though. I too have visited Esfahan.. In Esfahan (if it is still available for public) go inside the “Menar-jomben” (spelling is distorted)… it is a little architectural feat in which you can go inside on the top and shake and it shakes the other side. Hard to explain..

    1. Thanks for the tip Sassan… I have left Esfehan now, and yes, I am currently exploring various pre-Islamic sites in central Iran. More on that soon. To be honest, it’s the pre-Islamic, ancient sites that I really love to see. Even though structures such as Imam Mosque are simply incredible, I like the *really* old stuff!

  3. I love your pictures and your thoughtful commentary. I lean on the liberal side of American politics and won’t for a minute argue that we always behave well towards other countries or people – look at Libya right now. But I take some exception to the taxi driver saying it’s the U.S. and British governments that don’t want them to live. Our governments don’t want us to die and that’ the fear of a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Iranian leaders. Why doesn’t he ask why Iran’s government won’t take the steps they need to to change the situation and help its citizens “live”?

    I know this is all complicated and nuanced and also that both sides’ politicians are motivated by a lot of things having more to do with their own welfare than that of their citizens. But it just seems a bit of a victim’s mindset to me to look outward and blame instead of inward and fix.

    I’ll get down off my soap box now but am just not one who can stomach blaming others for what you’ve brought on yourself – whether implicitly or complicitly. Harrumph!

    1. Thanks Kay for expressing your opinion, and for the compliments. The people of Iran certainly have been victimised by the US government, it’s just sad it’s effecting innocent people at a personal, day-to-day level. Wouldn’t it be great if Iran were allowed the same freedoms that the US has – nuclear power plants example – without US citizens living in fear. There is an awful lot of fear in the US these days, I wonder why that is?

      1. Nate – Not only do I love your photography, but like me, you are one of those few Americans who see a humanitarian solution to this politically driven problem. Kudos to you, my man!

        Kay… I think you are taking this a little to simplistically. American politics, law, banking and the senate floor is controlled by the Jewish caucuses. It is sad that Islam today cannot come to a compromise with the Jews (problem – Israel-Palestine). If you leave it to people on street to decide, a majority would overwhelming support taking sanctions off. But its the law-makers and politicians controlled by a pro-Israeli lobby that makes the decisions for all of us.

        Imagine this – “The US is akin to an upstart 19-year old (barely a 500-yr post-Columbian history) with all the hi-tech gadgets trying to preach to a 70-yr old man (a 6000+year old civilization of Iran) and rebuke him on his behavior.”

        Kay (and others like you) – Please don’t get me wrong, but your opinion is but a small snapshot in an otherwise huge span of time. My 70-yr old man is still wiser despite him not having the latest street-smarts and high technology (which to some is a sorry excuse for civilization). He has been around a much longer time and chances are that he will SHOW MUCH MORE RESTRAIN before using a nuclear warhead (… remember who pressed the Nagasaki and Hiroshima trigger??).

        1. Hey SD, small correction – I am Australian – but really, I am more and more considering myself a citizen of the world, with no fixed address. That small aside, I really appreciated your honesty, and we see eye-to-eye on this issue. Hopefully you’ll stick around, I would love more of your input. Nate.

          1. Brother Nate… Thank you! We need more people like you… a true citizen of the world armed in his hands with a camera:-) We are all the same people and the only thing that separates us are various cultures we proudly call our own. I was born in India and moved to the US couple decades back. In India, I have witnessed a (more or less) seamless homogeneity between Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists over a 1000 years. It pains me how people put these religious differences above the cultural unity, architecture, food and common festivals that bind all of us together as humans. I congratulate you on traveling to an unjustly vilified nation like Iran and try to connect to the common people. I hope you can continue to travel this way.

            Its a minor quibble, but being a hardcore Gandhian, I really hope the Australian government and people will someday openly apologize for the gruesome treatment of the Aboriginal people in the past. I feel European Americans, Argentinians, Indians (treatment of untouchables) and others will set examples as well. While I am being a bit idealistic, I hope you will not find this offensive and not hold it against me.


            1. Brother SD, truly, we are all the same. Peace and unity is what it’s all about my man. As for the Aboriginal’s of Australia, they have truly been treated horrifically, and continue to be treated pretty shamefully by the Australian government and people.

              However, during February 2008, then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued the following statement in Federal Parliament (this is an abstract). Also, I don’t hold anything against you – like me, your heart is in the right place. So, here’s the relevant text:

              We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
              We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.
              For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
              To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
              And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
              We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

              1. Thank you so much for patiently explaining. I did not know these facts and it does make me believe again that as a civilization, we are making small steps in the right direction. (PS: Rabbit Proof Fence is one of my favorite movies:-)

                Getting back on subject, I saw your other reply to my comment that these are all taken using an X-Pro1. Fantastic! I am getting the X-E1 but still on the fence whether I should get rid of my 5DMarkII and 17-40mm. Don’t want to keep both… I guess I will see how the X-E1 turns out.

                What do you think – 5DmarkII or X-Pro1/X-E1 (same sensor)?

                1. SD – I’ve never owned a Canon. The 5dmII is an incredible camera – maybe it will come down to lens choice, and size? They’re two different cameras, both are amazing!

  4. Nice Pics, although me and you having a total different taste of vacations, I am more into laying on the beach and enjoying my cocktail :-) but like your photographs and weblog, too.

    I just wanted to remind you the term “Islamic architecture” does not represent this architectures. Because of followings.

    1. This type of architecture called Persian architecture and not Islamic.

    Persian architecture had a continuous progress up to now.

    Initially we used to apply many columns in our palaces such as what you see in Persepolis (Shiraz) where 2500 years ago we used many columns and even a forest of columns, but soon we recognized we do not need so many columns and got the technology of making domes like Ctesiphon which was developed much before Islamist attacks to Iran. After that we are using Dom and it has no links to Islam the religion and philosophy which was based of Saudi arabia.

    Islam has no instruction for making buildings, architecture, its just an religion. We Iranian we get mad that western medias always put our achievement as an Islamic achievements and not simply Iranians or Persians.

    Recently, in Louver museum they made a section as Islamic arts and they put all Iranians arts, architectures and achievements as Islam arts. Some thing totally ridiculous, because I said Islam has no arts and has no instruction for making arts, buildings, and all other things.

    I recently saw in Museum of V&A (UK) they put an Persian carpet as Islamic carpet (still it is on their website and face book page) and when we comment and email them that Isalm has no carpet. and no instruction for weaving carpets, this is Persian carpet. They say we don’t care whatever it is its beautiful and … Isn’t it stupid If I call your furniture as Christian furniture or Jewish window, catholic t-shirt or jewish camera?

    I will be thankful, at least you keep in mind that many of this buildings were made by Persian architectures and all those patterns are developed by Persian mathematician, most of them were atheist like Khayyam, Bahaei and so on. There were many Armenian (christian), Zoroastrian and Jewish in Iran which contributed to Iranian’s culture a lot and talking about Islamic achievements does not make sense.

    As a reference please have a look to following pictures and see continuity of Persian architectures which started 3000 years ago and much before Islam.

    1. The continuity of Iranian architecture:
    a 19th century building in Tabriz and the Tachara of Darius, Persepolis (520 BC)

    2. The continuity of Iranian architecture #4: chromaticity

    Colors have always been an essential part of Iranian architecture. What has remained today of the color of Achaemenid architecture* is diverse and cheerful. This preference for cheerful colors even carried over to the architecture of the Islamic period.

    (Photo: Throne Hall or the 100-Columns-Hall of Persepolis, 500 BC; Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, Shiraz, 1876-1888)

    *In the publication, “Proceedings of the 7th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, 12-16 April 2010, the British Museum and UCL, London” we described our methodology of the reconstruction of the colors of Persepolis.

    3. The continuity of Iranian architecture #9: The Dome

    The construction of domes in Iran goes back to the Parthian period (174 BC – 224 AD). Parthians created the first domes over a square hall. Their technic was perfected by the Sasanians (224 -642) who built the first large scale domes. The Sasanian dome construction carried over to the Islamic period.

    Pics show the similarity and further development of the construction throughout centuries.

    4. The continuity of Iranian architecture #8(A): Ornaments (cont’d)

    Ornaments are a vast subject which will be expanded from time to time by subparts. The collection shown here is #8(A) in our series — more beautiful examples of the usage of “ornaments” in Iranian architecture from the ancient era to medieval (post Arab-Muslim invasion) and on to modern.

    Pics: Details of the “Tree of Life” relief and a column capital from the Sassanid monument at Taq-e Bostan and details of the Northeast Iwan of the Shah mosque in Isfahan (1612-38)

    and I can give you several more example of colors, bridges, Iwans, patterns and gardens and …

    So, as conclusion, the current governments of Iran trying to change our identity and westerns media and many of my friends just call ISLAMATIC (a word that you can not find in dictionary) peoples and every thing comes from Iran they call Islamic, islamic carpet, Islamic architecture, islamic arts and so on, while all of these stuff made and improved during several thousand years and has no link to the religion called Islam and made by peoples probably did not practiced Islam. We as Iranian people have no media, no money to stand up for our achievements against Iranian government, and all of those rich museums paid by rich Arabs and oil money to make history for Islam.

    The only thing we can do currently is commenting here and any other website when we saw they refer to a fake term called Islamic (art, architecture, …) and ask please refer to our achievements as Persian (Persian Carpet, Persian food, Persian architecture and also Persian cat :D ).

    1. Thanks Abtin, for such an informative comment. I have altered my article, to replace “Islamic” with “Persian”, where appropriate. I totally understand the need to do this. Your comment is exactly the type of comment I wish for on Yomadic – an education for me, as well as my readers. By the way, I also love beach holidays, in fact, I think I’m overdue for one now ;)

      PS, good luck with getting your message spread.

        1. Don’t mention it Abtin. I appreciate the education. If you see any problems in my future Iran posts, feel free to provide corrections.

        1. You know your comments are disabled on your Persepolis thread? I hope you had a chance to also visit the tomb of Cyrus the Great in Pasargad..

          1. haha thanks Sassan – the Persepolis post is the most popular one yet, by number of views. And I was thinking “that’s strange, so many views, and no comments”. I have re-enabled the comments, please, leave a note there and make me feel special ;).

    2. I am sorry my friend… As an architect and as a prof of architectural history at an Ivy League school, I can tell you that your assessment is mostly incorrect. The Imam Mosque, like its near contemporary, the Taj Mahal all fall under Islamic architecture. What you maybe referring to as Persian architecture (pre-700 A.D.) like Persepolis is obviously not Islamic. Here some more info for you – The Alhambra built around the 14-15th century in southern Spain is also ISLAMIC architecture.

      Strongly suggest you read some architectural history before venting. Maybe its not true, but it almost reads like you suffer from islamophobia.

      1. The plot thickens… ;)

        Thanks for the further info, I am getting an education in two area’s I have an immense interest in – architecture, and Iran.

    3. “The only thing we can do currently is commenting here and any other website when we saw they refer to a fake term called Islamic (art, architecture, …) and ask please refer to our achievements as Persian (Persian Carpet, Persian food, Persian architecture and also Persian cat :D ).”

      Actually… this comment is quite quite quite ridiculous and I hope Nate recognizes how ridiculous it is because the whole Naghsh-i Jahan Square (1) is recognized as a broad movement in architecture called Islamic art (2) was in large part designed not only by a Muslim but actually by AN ARAB-IRANIAN

      Shaykh Baha’ al-Din (also spelled Baha’uddin) Muhammad ibn Husayn al-‘Amili was born in Baalbek, Lebanon in 1532. He lived in Jabal Amel in a village called Jebah. As a child, he came to Iran with his father and completed his studies in Isfahan. Having intended to travel to Mecca in 1570, he visited many Islamic countries including Iraq, Syria and Egypt and after spending four years there, he returned to Iran.

      He was one of the earliest astronomers in the Islamic world to suggest the possibility of the Earth’s movement prior to the spread of the Copernican theory. He is considered one of the main co-founders of Isfahan School of Islamic Philosophy. In later years he became one of the teachers of Mulla Sadra.

      Because certain Iranians have anti-Arab, anti-Azari… and anti-everybody in general sentiments doesn’t mean that the achievements of non-Persian Iranians should be erased. I hope that the author of this article can revert his edits.

    1. Thanks Soroush – can you expand on your comment a little? What is the English definition of “Shah” and “Imam”, and when did the mosque become referred to as the Imam Mosque? Are you living in Iran? What do most people refer to the mosque as? I’m happy to make changes, but would require a bit more info first to make sure I am doing the right thing.

      1. Basically, many things were renamed after the revolution. Some of the new names caught on but the majority are still called by their historical names unofficially. This goes for even street names, people still use their historical names rather than the new ones, this isn’t a problem because there isn’t a single person who wouldn’t know what you’re talking about.

          1. It’s original name was “Meydan e Shah”, I think the Shah Abbas Safavi who made this square. By imam they mean khomeini, but khomeini did not make this square. This square was made several hundred years ago.

  5. Your commentary, pictures and insights are an absolute joy to read.I find myself overwhelmed with emotions.I can’t even explain why i find myself in tears reading this (maybe my heart goes out to the innocent citizens) and I would have never considered traveling to a place like Iran but your experience and insights have convinced me otherwise…since ur site was brought to my attention by a good friend, I can’t stop reading it! Keep up the great work and I am commited to creating awareness about your blog.Love your work!!!

    1. Wow. Thanks Jas. I really appreciate you sharing my work. I’m trying to spread the good word about this planet, and if nobody is reading it, their isn’t too much of a point. I’m glad you find pleasure in reading my words.

      Iran is an unbelievable place – I would say it is now my number one recommendation for tourists, of any nation I have ever visited. I understand your tears, although I haven’t reached that point yet, I just have this feeling it’s going to happen sooner or later….

  6. Great travelog Nate!
    I’m an Iranian American living in the US. Thank you for the great coverage. Unfortunately Iran is the most misrepresented country in the world mostly because of the Iranian regime that does not represent the glorious people of Iran in no way, shape or form.
    Regarding the architecture, it is very easily verifiable that the Persian architecture was preserved and enhanced by the Persians even after Islam but has remained distinctively Iranian.

  7. I commend you for writting this article. It all boils down to the fact that iranian politics suck…. But so do american politics , and spanish (country where I live), and _______ (fill the blanck) politics too. The world is just ruled by the wrong people. In every country, regardless of the cultural differences, you will find the same: hard working people, that feel the suffering and the joy of caring for their most loved ones. Let’s hold to what unites us, instead of continuously stressing about what makes us different. Peace, keep the good work coming mate….


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