Tinco Lycklama had at least two good reasons for spending a fortnight at Isfahan. For one, it was considered the most beautiful city of Persia. And, secondly, its golden age coincides with the Dutch one. The Dutch East India Company was Persia’s most important commercial partner in the 17th century.
Isfahan has occupied a significant position throughout Persia’s history, strategically located on major trading routes. Under Abbas the Great (1571-1629) and the Safavid dynasty, Isfahan became once again the capital of Persia. A few Dutch travellers such as Herbert de Jager, Jan Struys and Cornelis de Bruijn left us some unique accounts about how Persia and Isfahan looked like in those days. Tinco is the first Dutchman to pick up again with this 17th century tradition, and he retraces the old capital in their footsteps.
It took Tinco just six days to travel the 450 kilometers that separate Tehran from Isfahan. He was in a hurry! That is a pity, because there were many interesting things to see on his way south. He left Tehran on October 2, and reached the Shi’a holy city of Qom on the 4th. He spent the night there but his visit was only summarily. On October 6th, he passes by Kashan and tells us that, regretfully, the lack of time prevented him from exploring the town in detail. Kashan’s past dates from pre-historic times, at least 7,000 years ago.
Tinco thus arrived in haste at Isfahan. But, here, he would take his time. Over the next two weeks, we will explore some of Tinco’s observations and connect them with some background on the relations between the Dutch and the Persians in the 17th century. And more!
Interestingly, we can identify the place where Tinco stayed during his time in Isfahan. It is the caravanserai of Mader-e Shah, and sections of it subsist today. The Madar-e Shah (Mother of the Shah) complex housed a famous madrasa (islamic religious school). The caravanserai (an inn for travellers) was built against it and adopted the same architectural style. We have included some images here, including a drawing by French architect Pascal Coste of 1841, and, closer to Tinco’s stay, a photo from 1858 by Luigi Pesce, showing how the madrasa really looked like back then.
The caravanserai was ideally located for Tinco’s visits. It was adjacent to the huge Naqsh-e Jahan, the royal square on the edge of the city’s cavernous bazar. From there, it was just a few steps to the royal palace – the fabulous Chehel Sotoon.
After a week in the saddle, Tinco was happy to enjoy the luxuries offered by this bustling, elegant old capital.