Si-o-se-pol, along with the other Safavid bridges of Esfahan, were built as a means of crossing the wide watercourse of the Zayanderud River. In the 400 odd years since the bridges were built the river has dried up – an upriver dam is to blame – and now the Safavid Bridges of Esfahan cross nothing more than a dustbowl.
But that doesn’t mean Si-o-se-pol and its kindred structures are redundant. In fact, providing a means of crossing the river is only one of their many uses.
Who were the Safavids?
The Safavids were the most powerful dynasty to rule Iran in modern times. Their reign lasted from 1501 to 1722 (with a brief resurgence between 1729 and 1736), and at their peak they controlled all of Iran, the Caucasus (Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia), Iraq, Kuwait, and Bahrain, and parts of Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan.
Chief amongst the Safavid’s many accomplishments was the establishment of Shia Islam as the state religion.
In 1598 Shah Abbas I declared Esfahan the capital of the Safavid Empire – partly because of its proximity to a reliable water source: the Zayanderud River.
Along with supplying precious water, the river also provided the Shah plenty of opportunities for grand displays of architectural and engineering finery.
Two of the greatest bridges, Si-o-se-pol and Khaju Bridge, doubled as weirs, with sluice gates incorporated into the structure to control the passage of the river.
Channels on the side of the river diverted water to agricultural areas, or to the private gardens of the Shah, as required.
Si-o-se-pol, which means Bridge of 33 Spans – also called the Allahverdi Khan Bridge – was built between 1599 and 1602.
Coming in at just shy of 300 metres in length, it is the longest bridge crossing of the Zayanderud River.
Apart from providing the residents of Esfahan a means of crossing the river without getting their shoes muddy, Si-o-se-pol also offered itself up as a monumental promenade, fit for grand processions and casual evening strolls alike. The bridge was also used as a venue for public meetings, and as a viewing platform during regattas and other aquatic entertainments.
The plethora of archways that line the bridge are perfect niches in which to sit and chat with friends. There was even once a tea house in the bridge, though it is now closed.
The Khaju Bridge, built by Shah Abbas II in 1650, is 133 metres long, with 23 arches, and connects the Khaju quarter with the Zoroastrian quarter of the city. A pavilion was incorporated into the middle of the Khaju Bridge, within which the Shah could relax and gaze out at the river.
In total there are five Safavid bridges crossing the Zayanderud River, including Pol-e-Ju’i, seen in the photo below, which was designed for the exclusive use of the Shah’s harem.
Read more on Esfahan in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.
Isfahan is connected to the national highway network of Iran. Buses to Tehran (5-6 hours) and Yazd (4-5 hours) are frequent.