Naqshe Jahan in Isfahan is one of the most famous highlights of Iran, a place like no other, that charms all visitors. Among the several wonders and UNESCO world heritages of the square is Aali Qapu Palace, one of Isfahan’s most significant architectural and historical sites, and was once the royal palace of the Safavid King Shah Abbas.
This unique 6-floor palace was built on several stages over about 70 years. It has a beautiful balcony overlooking the whole square, and exquisite exterior and interior design and decoration. Used as a reception palace where foreign diplomats would meet the Persian king, Aali Qapu is also famous for the unique architecture of its “Music Room”.
A Brief History of Aali Qapu Palace in Isfahan
Aali Qapu Palace is located on the western side of Naqshe Jahan Square, facing Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque. When deciding to move its capital from Qazvin to Isfahan in 1597, the Safavid King Shah Abbas also started to build Naqshe Jahan to make it one of the most important and beautiful squares of the empire.
Aali Qapu Palace was built on an existing building, dating from the Turco-Mongol Empire of the Timurids (1370-1507). Instead of destroying it, the architect Ali Akbar Isfahani rather decided to reconstruct it and make additions to the building so it could become the king’s new palace. Competing with the constructions made in the neighboring Ottoman Empire at the time, Shah Abbas ordered to build a palace with great height, so much so that Ai Qapu became the first tallest building in Persia.
The name of the palace reflects the building’s grandeur as it translates to the “Great Gate”. “Ali” indeed means “great” or “excellent” in Persian, while “Qapu” comes from Azerbaijani and means “gate”. Furthermore, Ali refers to the first Shia Imam for whom Shah Abbas had a great devotion.
Aali Qapu Palace’s main use was to welcome important visitors and foreign ambassadors who had come to Isfahan to visit the king. The king and his courtiers would hold meetings in Aali Qapu, making it the center of Shah Abbas’s government. In 1597, the Persian New Year (Nowruz) was for the first time celebrated in Aali Qapu Palace.
When not busy with political matters and meetings, the king would enjoy the distractions held for him and his court on the last floor, in the Music Room. There, banquets and celebrations would regularly take place. During the day, the king would also sometimes attend polo games and other ceremonies from the balcony that overlooks the square.
Last but not least of Aali Qapu Palace’s usage: the palace was also considered as the entrance of the royal harem.
Architecture of Aali Qapu in Isfahan
Aali Qapu Palace in Isfahan is a 6-story building with a height of 48 meters. It covers an area of 1.500 square meters. The palace, as we can see it today, is the result of various additions made by other Safavid kings.
The upper floors are accessible by spiral staircases called “Gholam Gardesh”, where only one person at a time can climb. These stairs were added during the reign of Shah Abbas II. The spiral staircase leading the Music Room (or Music Hall) on the last floor contains 94 stairs. This room has incredible decoration that not only has great aesthetic value but also incredible acoustic qualities.
The balcony, another addition of Shah Abbas II, has 18 sycamore pillars supporting its roof. In the middle of the balcony is a copper pool, an architectural element that was completely new at the time.
Both the interior and the exterior of the palace are richly decorated with floral and naturalist paintings, plasterwork in the shape of cups embedded in arches and walls, muqarnas, woodwork known as “gereh-chini” and calligraphy. The paintings were made by Shah Abbas I’s court painter, Reza Abbasi and his pupils.
Access to Aali Qapu Palace in Isfahan
Aali Qapu Palace is located on the western side of Naqshe Jahan. It is facing Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque and is surrounded with Isfahan Bazaar and the Imam Mosque. Naqshe Jahan is located in the city center of Isfahan, and thus, is easily accessible by bus, taxis and even metro (Meydan-e- Emam Hossein and Meydan-e- Enghelab are the nearest stations).
Cost and Suggested Visit Time for Aali Qapu Palace
Aali Qapu Palace is open every day from 9 AM to 5 PM. The entrance fee for foreign visitors is only 1.000.000 rials (about 2 € as per the rate of November 2023).
Nearby Attractions to Aali Qapu Palace in Isfahan
Located on Naqshe Jahan square, Aali Qapu Palace is a must-see for any visitors in Isfahan. From there, it’s easy to visit many other famous landmarks and UNESCO world heritage sites. Aali Qapu Palace is a few meters away from the Shah Mosque, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque and Isfahan Grand Bazaar. It’s about 10 minutes by foot from Chehel Sotoon Palace and Hasht Behehst Palace on the west side.
From Naqshe Jahan, you can access the famous Chaharbagh avenue that leads to Sie-o Se Pol Bridge (about 2 kilometers south). By entering the bazaar, you can also reach the Jomeh Mosque (Unesco) and Imam Ali Square in about 25 minutes’ walk in direction of the north of the city.
Hotels Near Aali Qapu Palace in Isfahan
Given the central location of Naqshe Jahan Square and Aali Qapu Palace, visitors will find plenty of accommodation options nearby, for all budgets. We can recommend you the following hotels near Aali Qapu Palace:
- Ghasr Monshi Hotel
- Abbasi Hotel
- Keryas Hotel
- Isfahan Traditional Hotel
- Parsian Kowsar Hotel
- Aseman Hotel
GET IN TOUCH
Best Iran Hotels
Nearby Restaurants to Aali Qapu Palace
Eating out near Aali Qapu Palace won’t be a problem either as there are plenty of restaurants and cafes nearby. You can try Biryani in one of them, a typical Isfahani meat dish. Here are some of our recommendations nearby:
- Azadegan Tea House and Restaurant
- Emarat Namakdan Cafe
- Meydoon Cafe
- Sogoli Cafe and Restaurant