Isfahan’s selection as the capital of Persia’s Safavid Empire (1501–1736) at the turn of the seventeenth century set off multiple phases of growth in the city. This included the development of Shah Abbas II’s (r. 1642–66) palatial complex of Sa’ādat-ābād, which encouraged Isfahan’s engagement with the nearby river Zāyandehrud. This article expands the discourse examining the river beyond the domain of nature by exploring the Zāyandehrud as a designed environment and a site of architectural imagination and action. As shown in this study, the river and the complex interconnections between natural and cultural systems played a central role in shaping the scheme of this royal complex. While a lack of visual and archaeological evidence has kept rivers and lakes on the sidelines in most studies of premodern Islamic water architecture, this article provides a new perspective on the roles of such bodies of water through a close reading of Safavid poetry, contemporary prose, spatial analysis, and architectural reconstructions.

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