Date of Award

May 2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Architecture

First Advisor

Manu Sobti

Keywords

Architecture History, Cultural Landscape, Isfahan, Safavid, Urban History, Zayandehrud River

Abstract

Along with London, Rome, Paris, Istanbul, St. Petersburg, Beijing and other celebrated cities that dotted the landscape of early modern world, 17th-century Isfahān has been acknowledged for its impressive urbanity. As such, numerous books and articles have attempted to unravel its rich history. However, scholarship on 17th-century Isfahān has often framed the city within the narrative of grand architectural projects that were inspired by one man’s political ambitions, and realized by powerful individuals. Because of this explicit focus on human agency, the architectural narrative of Isfahān has often overlooked the significance of the city’s distinct natural setting, and its effect on the form, direction, and nature of urban development.

In this dissertation, I look at the urban landscape of Isfahān in light of the intertwined agency of man and nature. I argue that given the topographical conditions and dry and harsh climate of the Persian Plateau, 17th-century Isfahān developed in a way that reflected its essential and multi-dimensional relationship with the nearby Zāyandihrūd River. Indeed, as the major source of water, it was the river and the network of hydraulic infrastructures associated with it that facilitated the fabrication of the verdant suburbs of Isfahān and instigated its unprecedented southward development during this period. This southward physical development, in turn, inspired further integration of the city and the river: Physical interventions created new platforms for social engagement with the river around which old rituals were revived and new ones were invented, thereby causing the river to become further intertwined with the royal and public life of the city. Consequently, I maintain that the significance of the river far surpassed its status as a mere source of water. In effect, the river and its associated infrastructures offered new sites of royal display, public leisure, and social interaction for the cosmopolitan public of the city.

This highly fabricated and closely managed landscape of new developments in 17th-century Isfahān was more than a sponsored architectural project intended to symbolize the political and ideological aim of its patron. Neither should these developments be considered the natural response to environmental conditions of the area. Rather, what came to architectural fruition in 17th-century Isfahān was inspired by the cultural conception of the water and verdure in the mind of the public and new elites of the city, who prompted a physical and cultural dialogue with the Zāyandihrūd River.

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