Isfahan’s population size from the Safavid through the Qajar periods, as reported by European travelers and diplomats, remained largely a matter of speculation. A number of Western travelers who visited Isfahan in the 17th century reported that Isfahan was the largest city in Safavid Persia, but its exact population at that time remains unknown. Estimates for the population of Isfahan, given by various travelers, ranged from 200,000 (Herbert [q.v.] in 1627-29; p. 126) to 500,000 inhabitants (Olearius in 1637; p. 553). Jean Chardin (q.v.) maintained that by the late 17th century the population of Isfahan almost equalled that of London, with about 500,000 inhabitants (Blake, p. 38).
There are a number of population estimates by Western travelers and diplomats as well as city officials available for the Qajar period, ranging from 60,000 to 300,000. One of the first official population censuses, conducted in Isfahan in 1870, gave a population size of 76,000 (see sec. 1 with Table 1, below). A more reliable census of Isfahan, which was carried out during the period 1939-41, counted a population of 204,000 for the city. Reliable, modern demographic data on Isfahan’s population have been reported since 1956 in regular 10-year-interval population censuses from 1956 to 1996, showing a rapid five-fold population growth from about 255,000 in 1956 to 1,266,000 in 1996 (see secs. 2 and 3, below).
Isfahan’s population will be divided into three articles:
(2) Isfahan province, 1956-96.
(Heidi Walcher, Habibollah Zanjani)
Originally Published: December 15, 2006
Last Updated: March 30, 2012
This article is available in print.
Vol. XIII, Fasc. 6, pp. 622-635
As to the capital city of Isfahan, the Dutch reported that, based on censuses executed by the government, the population in Isfahan was 550,000 in 1710 (or about 6% of the total estimated national population), 240,000 in 1727 and 50,000 in 1736. These numbers were arrived at by multiplying the number of all counted inhabited houses (which amounted to 8,000 in 1736, 90.000 during Shah Soltan Hosein’s reign and 40.000 during Ashraf’s reign (1727) when he was breaking down many houses to build new walls around a core inner city) by six, the estimated number of the average family size. The substantial drop in the size of the population of Isfahan was due to the collapse of Safavid rule and the siege of Isfahan (1722) when many people died, fled or were killed, and its aftermath of harsh rule by the Afghan invaders and their successor, the liberator of Persia, the later Nadir Shah, which led to more migration. The figure for 1710 or thereabouts seems to be a reasonable estimate. According to the Carmelites, Isfahan had considerably more than 200,000 inhabitants, while the Jesuit Villotte, also a long time resident, estimated it at 400,000. Emerson has suggested, using Chardin’s data on the number of buildings inside and outside the walls of Isfahan (respectively 29,500 and 3,780) and multiplying this by a figure of six persons for an average household, that the population of Isfahan was around 225,000, which seems to be too low, if one accepts these other reported contemporary data. The average population growth rate most likely was not more than 0.5% per year, which was also the case with what is known about the neighboring countries and Persia in the 19th century.