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Bridges of Isfahan

Isfahan grew up next to the Zayandeh Rud, which feeds the oasis where people had first settled in prehistoric times. To carry the line of the Chahar Bagh across the river, Shah ‘Abbas built the Bridge of Thirty-Three Arches or Allahverdi Khan Bridge. Almost 300 metres long, this rests on a continuous stone platform to counter the risk of its supports being undermined by the current, which can be violent during the spring thaw. The parts of the piers in contact with the water are built of stone,- everything above is of fired brick. The thirty-three arches are, like all others of their time, of the four-centered Persian form. The bridge is 13.5 metres wide, and consists of a central roadway for carts and caravans, flanked by covered passages whose ^lender arcades provide welcome shade for pedestrians when the sun was at its most intense.

The Allahverdi Khan Bridge, from Pascal Coste, Les Monuments modernes de la Perse, 1867 . Here we are looking towards the centre of the city, to the Madrasa Mader-i-Shah with its swelling dome and twin minarets.

The Allahverdi Khan Bridge, from Pascal Coste, Les Monuments modernes de la Perse, 1867 . Here we are looking towards the centre of the city, to the Madrasa Mader-i-Shah with its swelling dome and twin minarets.

Aerial view of the Allahverdi Khan Bridge or Bridge of Thirty Three Arches, built by Shah Abbas I to carry the line of the new Chahar Bagh across the river to the palace known as Hezer Jerib.

Aerial view of the Allahverdi Khan Bridge or Bridge of Thirty Three Arches, built by Shah Abbas I to carry the line of the new Chahar Bagh across the river to the palace known as Hezer Jerib.

Some 1,500 metres downstream from the Allahverdi Khan Bridge, another great work was created around 1650, in the reign of Shah ‘Abbas II: the Khwaju Bridge. This stands on the line of the Maidan, and performs a dual function: it regulates the course of the river, by means of floodgates that can block its eighteen arcades to create a dam, and it provides a river crossing with flanking covered passageways for pedestrians, as on the Allahverdi Khan Bridge. To help the bridge resist the pressure of the water when the floodgates are closed, the engineer provided wider sections at the two ends of the roadway, and a massive pair of semi-octagonal structures in the centre on specially substantial foundations. The base on which the bridge stands has locks at this point. A vaulted passage that runs along the base below the roadway gives access to the floodgates. Technology and hydraulic engineering here came together to produce a work with the crucial purpose of providing water for a constantly growing population and for an ever-increasing number of pools and fountains in the city.

The Khwaju Bridge, from Pascal Coste,  Les Monuments modernes de la Perse (1867) . The central feature, set on a wider footing, helped the bridge to resist the pressure of the water.

The Khwaju Bridge, from Pascal Coste, Les Monuments modernes de la Perse (1867) . The central feature, set on a wider footing, helped the bridge to resist the pressure of the water.

Aerial view of the Khwaju Bridge on the Zayandeh Rud, built by Shah Abbas II to supply Isfahan with water.

Aerial view of the Khwaju Bridge on the Zayandeh Rud, built by Shah Abbas II to supply Isfahan with water.

 

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About the Author
Henri Stierlin is a Swiss journalist and writer of popular works on art and architectural history. Stierlin studied Classics with Law at the Universities of Lausanne and Zurich. He achieved Bachelor of Arts (Law) whilst at Lausanne in 1954. He also studied Theory of Art History, at Grenoble University in 1977-1978, writing a dissertation on the Symbolic Nature of the Persian Mosque. He was a columnist in art-history, and editor at the Swiss newspaper Tribune de Geneve from 1955 to 1962, and a radio journalist at Radio Suisse in 1957 (cultural programs.) In 1963 he became general editor of the Swiss magazine Radio-TV and architectural editor of the journal Werk-Œuvre in 1972. He was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour in 2004.
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