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New Light on Shah ʿAbbas and the Construction of Isfahan

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The discovery and recent publication of the third volume of the Afḍal al-tawārīkh (The Most Excellent of Histories) by Fazli Beg Khuzani Isfahani (d. after 1640), with its rich layers of new details on the reign of Shah ʿAbbas I (1587–1629), has made possible a search for fresh information on the shah’s architectural patronage and development of the Safavid capital at Isfahan in the early seventeenth century. Apart from several details not recorded elsewhere, Fazli Beg’s chronicle provides a more continuous account of the development of the city than other contemporary sources, which tend instead to concentrate and group the details of the construction of different buildings into the record of a few specific dates, so that it is not always clear when they were initiated or completed. Fazli Beg gives the impression of a city under constant construction, and of the shah’s restless impatience to propel the work forward. The paper also attempts to address the chronological disparities found in the main sources for the period. 

Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge

I am most grateful to Professor Gülru Necipoğlu for welcoming me as a visiting fellow of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University in early 2014, and for the opportunity this gave me, stimulated by her own interest, to resume my long-neglected study of Safavid Iran. I am also grateful to her and an anonymous reviewer for their careful reading of the text and for offering several suggestions for its improvement. The fortunate coincidence that Dr. Kioumars Ghereghlou was bringing his edition of Fazli Beg’s chronicle to completion during this same period greatly facilitated my research, as did his help with discussing and clarifying the text. Robert McChesney’s assistance and friendship over many years have also materially advanced the realization of my research, quite apart from his essential pioneering work, which is acknowledged throughout the annotations to this paper.

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