MAḤĀSEN EṢFAHĀN  (محاسن اصفهان, The beauties of Isfahan, Figure 1), a book extolling Isfahan, written by Mofażżal b. Saʿd Māfarruḵi during the reign of the Saljuq sultan Malekšāh (r. 465-85/1073-92).


All our information on Māfarruḵi comes from his book.  His complete name was Mofażżal b. Saʿd b. Ḥosayn Māfarruḵi Eṣfahāni (Māfarruḵi, p. 76).  The nesba Māfarruḵi derives from the Persian name Māfarruḵ (which may be Māh-farroḵ “blessed moon”; see Māfarruḵi, introduction, p. iii) borne by an ancestor of the family, Māfarruḵ b. Baḵtiār (Māfarruḵi, pp. 8, 92).  The Māfarruḵi family belonged to Isfahan’s old notable class. They claimed to be descended from Āḏaršāpur b. Āḏarmānān (or Āḏarbānān), a Sasanian noble contemporary the king Pērōz, son of Yazdegerd (d. 484 CE; Māfarruḵi, pp. 8, 92; Ṣādeqi, p. 30).  Mofażżal Māfarruḵi also claimed to descend from Abu Moslem Ḵorāsāni, the prominent leader of the ʿAbbasid revolution, who was considered to be a native of Isfahan (Māfarruḵi, p. 25).  The traditionists bearing the nesba Māfarruḵi mentioned by Abu Noʿaym al-Eṣfahāni (I, p. 134) and Samʿāni (IV, p. 387) probably belong to the same family.

In the tenth century, the family of Mofażżal Māfarruḵi was closed to the Buyids, who then ruled in the southern and western parts of Iran. Mofażżal’s grandfather, Abu Moslem Ṭāher, was a companion of the Amir ʿAżod-al-Dawla (Māfarruḵi, pp. 25-26).  The other grandfather, Abu Naṣr Ṭāher b. Ebrāhim b. Sala, was related to a governor of Isfahan and was connected with the local divan of the vizier Ṣāḥeb b. ʿAbbād (Māfarruḵi, pp. 99-100).  Another member of the family provided the historian Meskawayh with a description of the entry of the Deylamites in Isfahan (Meskawayh, I, p. 214; tr., IV, p. 240).

Culturally, the Māfarruḵis belonged to the circles steeped in adab that kept the ruler’s company.  Ideologically, Mofażżal Māfarruḵi was probably a Moʿtazilite, like the vizier Ṣāḥeb b. ʿAbbād.  His affiliation to the Shiʿi doctrine (maḏhab), as stated by Āqā Bozorg Ṭehrāni (al-Ḏari‘a, III, p. 233 and XX, p. 126; cf. Faqih-Imāni, pp. 257-58), is hypothetical.  After the conquest of Isfahan by the Saljuqs in 434/1042, the Māfarruḵis rallied to the new power.  Both Mofażżal and his father were clients of the vizier Neẓām-al-Molk (Durand-Guédy, 2008, p. 72; idem, 2010, p. 132).  Māfarruḵi wrote his Ketāb maḥāsen Eṣfahān at the beginning of the reign of Malekšāh (465-85/1073-92), and almost certainly before 479-80/1086-87, because he does not mention the great works launched by Neẓām-al-Molk in the Friday mosque (Minovi, p. 28; Durand-Guédy, 2008, p. 70).  The date of 421/1030 given by Ḥosayn Āvi, the author of the Persian version (p. 4, copied by Browne, p. 412; Lambton, p. 144) is mistaken (Āvi, p. i; see Ritter).  Ketāb maḥāsen Eṣfahān is implicitly dedicated to Neẓām-al-Molk’s son and governor of Isfahan, Faḵr-al-Molk Abu’l-Fatḥ (Māfarruḵi, p. 117; Āvi, p. iv; Durand-Guédy, 2008, p. 72).


According to Franz Rosenthal (p. 150), “love for one’s city as the incentive to write a work on local history was expressly mentioned for the first time” in this book.

Structure. The book presents itself as an anthology of poetry, anecdotes (ḥekāya), and exercises of style in prose extolling the “beauties of Isfahan.”  There is no clear structure, but behind the apparent jumble of materials, the following themes are dealt with: doxology (Māfarruḵi, pp. 1-4); anecdotes and Hadiths proving Isfahan pre-eminence (pp. 4-16), natural wonders (ʿajāʾeb wa ḡarāʾeb; pp. 16-20), local celebrities, famous scholars and poets (pp. 22-35), anecdotes drawn from pre-Islamic and Islamic history showing the virtues of the people of Isfahan, such as courage, piety, divine protection they enjoy, wealth, etc. (pp.  35-44, and 87-91); curious things (nawāder) about the effeminate (moḵannaṯ), the madmen (majānin), the women of Isfahan (pp. 44-47); description of the Zāyandarud and the castles (e.g., Ḥeṣn Mārbin, known as the fire temple [bayt al-nār]), and gardens in the surroundings of Isfahan (e.g., pp. 48-62); the four seasons (pp. 63-69); description of the city of Isfahan with its monuments (e.g., Sāruya fortress; pp. 81-86, 91-94); the good rulers of Isfahan from the Buyid Moʾayyed-al-Dawla to Malekšāh (pp. 97-106).  The book ends with a eulogy of the raʾis Abu ʿAbdallāh b. Fażl Ṯaqafi (pp. 106-07) and Faḵr-al-Molk Abu’l-Fatḥ Moẓaffar b. Neẓām-al-Molk (pp. 108-23).

Sources. Māfarruḵi has made extensive use of previous works on Isfahan, such as those of Ḥamza Eṣfahāni (d. after 350/961-62) or Abu Noʿaym Eṣfahāni (d. 430/1138; for a list of local histories of Isfahan, see Durand-Guédy, 2008, p. 90).  However, most of the material is original, be it poetry or firsthand account collected by Māfarruḵi.

Style. Māfarruḵi is fond of rare words and uses extensively literary techniques such as exaggeration (eḡrāq) and alliteration (jenās).  His style contrasts sharply with the simplicity of the local histories written by traditionists (e.g. Abu’l-Šayḵ and Abu Noʿaym).  It looks closer to Abu Ḥayyān Tawḥidi’s Aḵlāq al-wazirayn and Azdi’s Ḥekāya Abi’l-Qāsem.  Māfarruḵi probably wanted to demonstrate his own literary virtuosity; beyond that, he proved to those who doubted it the excellence of inhabitants of Isfahan in the Arabic language.

Significance and aims.  Maḥāsen Eṣfahān is a source that can be read and used in various ways: (1) As an anthology of Arabic poetry produced in Isfahan in the first centuries of Islam, it contains fifty-five qaṣidas and fragments (qeṭʿa) from thirty different poets, many of them not Muslim (Āḏarnuš, p. 197).  (2) As source for historical geography on Isfahan, it contains description of monuments destroyed or rebuilt in later period, such as the Jurjir Mosque built by Ṣāḥeb b. ʿAbbād (pp. 85-86), the Friday Mosque (pp. 84-85; tr. in Godard, pp. 216-20), the gardens and the pavilions built outside the walls (pp. 52-62).  It also contains some traces of the local dialect (Browne, p. 673; Tafażżoli), as well as lively description of some feasts, customs, and culinary practices (e.g., gušt-e qorma) and of some particular classes of the local society (esp., the notables) at the time of Māfarruḵi.  (3) As an historical source, it contains first-hand accounts on Isfahan under the Buyids (e.g., anecdotes on the vizier Ṣāḥeb b. ʿAbbād; data on the fiscal revenue of the province), the Kākuyids (praise of ʿAlāʾ-al-Dawla b. Došmanziār, who built a defensive wall around the city; p. 81), the Ghaznavid period (description of the massacre which took place during Masʿud of Ghazna’s occupation of Isfahan in 421/1030) and the Great Saljuqs (measures to restore the economy taken by Ṭoḡrel Beg; justice of Alp Arslān against the bad governors; prosperity of the city under Malekšāh; fiscal policy of Neẓām-al-Molk; see Durand-Guédy, 2010, pp. 110-11, 119-20, 127).  (4) As a testimony on the reign of Malekšāh in Isfahan.  The series of anecdotes on the divine punishment of various unjust rulers (from Nemrod to the Dolafids) may be read as a proof of the anxiety of the landowners faced with a brutal policy in tax matters (Paul, pp. 122-28).  At another level, the whole book may be read as a vademecum aimed at the new Khorasani elite who controlled Isfahan, and first and foremost the family of Neẓām-al-Molk (interestingly, the Moʿtazilite Buyid vizier Ṣāḥeb b. ʿAbbād is  a model).  By extolling Isfahan, Māfarruḵi wanted also certainly to prevent the possible transfer of the Saljuq capital to Baghdad (Durand-Guédy, 2008, pp. 73-74).

Persian adaptation of the book.  Maḥāsen Eṣfahān was translated into Persian in 729/1338-39 by Ḥosayn b. Moḥammad b. Abi’l-Reżā Āvi.  Āvi, probably a Shiʿi, dedicated it to the vizier Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Moḥammad, the son of the vizier Rašid-al-Din Fażlallāh (Āvi, tr. of Maḥāsen, p. 146).  This translation is very free, even by the standards of the time.  On the one hand, Āvi has completely reorganized the material of the original text into eight parts (ḏekr) entitled as follows: “Abridged description of Isfahan” (pp.8-14); “Description of Isfahan, its surroundings, and its pleasure-grounds” (pp. 15-34); “On Gāvḵāni, its particularities, and the rare things in the surroundings of Isfahan” (pp. 35-46); “On the beauties inside and outside the city …” (pp. 47-65); [Celebrities of Isfahan] (pp. 66-78); “Description of Isfahan and qualities of its inhabitants …” (pp. 79-98); “Description of the seasons …” (pp. 99-114); “Description of the moṣallā, the roads, and the remarkable men of Isfahan …” (pp. 115-35).  The book ends with a conclusion presented as a sequel (ḏayl, pp. 135-46).  On the other hand, Āvi has updated the text in many places.  New buildings and new persons are mentioned.  Besides, most of the Arabic verses quoted by Māfarruḵi have been replaced by more recent Persian poetry of poets such as Ḵāqāni, especially his Toḥfat al-ʿErāqayn; Saʿdi (e.g., pp. 10-11 13); Saʿd-al-Din Saʿid Heravi (e.g., pp. 29-30, 57); Mojir-al-Din Baylaqāni (e.g., p. 102); and Kamāl-al-Din Esmāʿil (e.g., pp. 103, 107).

Māfarruḵi’s work has been known in the West thanks to Edward G. Browne’s detailed presentation of the text in 1901.



Abu Ḥayyān Tawḥidi, Aḵlāq al-wazirayn: maṯāleb al-wazirayn, ed. Moḥammad Ṭanji, Beirut, 1992.

Abu’l-Šayḵ ʿAbdallāh b. Moḥammad, Ṭabaqāt al-moḥaddeṯin be-Eṣfahān wa’l-wāredin ʿalayhā, ed. ʿAbd-al-Ḡaffār ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq Baluši, 4 vols., Beirut, 1987-92.

Abu Noʿaym Eṣfahāni, Ḏekr aḵbār Eṣbahān, ed. Sven Dedering as Geschichte Isbahans, 2 vols., Leiden, 1931-34; tr. Nurallāh Kasāʾi as Ḏekr-e aḵbār-e Eṣfahān, Tehran, 1998.

Āḏartāš Āḏarnūš, “Adabiyāt-e ʿArab dar Eṣfahān,” Dāʾerat al-maʿāref-e bozorg-e eslāmi IX, Tehran, 2000, pp. 195-98.

Āqā Bozorg Ṭehrāni, al-Ḏariʿa elā taṣānif al-šiʿa, 24 vols. in 27, Najaf, 1936-78.

Ḥosayn b. Moḥammad Āvi, Tarjama-ye maḥāsen-e Eṣfahān, ed. ʿAbbās Eqbāl, Tehran, 1949; reviewed by H. Ritter, Oriens 4, 1951, p. 191.

Abu’l-Moṭahhar Moḥammad b. Aḥmad Azdi, Ḥekāya Abi’l-Qāsem al-Baḡdādi, ed. Adam Mez as Abulḳâsim, ein Bagdâder Sittenbild, Heidelberg, 1902.

Richard Bulliet, “al-Māfarrūkhī,” in EI2 V, 1986, p. 1157.

Edward G. Browne, “Account of a Rare Manuscript History of Isfahán,” JRAS 53, 1901, pp. 411-46, 661-704.

David Durand-Guédy, “The Political Agenda of An Iranian Adīb at the Time of the Great Saljuqs: Māfarrūkhī’s K. Maḥāsin Iṣfahān Put into Context,” Nouvelle Revue des Etudes Iraniennes 1, 2008, pp. 67-105.

Idem, Iranian Elites and Turkish Rulers: A History of Iṣfahān in the Saljūq Period, London and New York, 2010.

Mehdi Faqih-Imāni, Tāriḵ-e tašayyoʿ-e Eṣfahān az daha-ye sevvom-e qarn-e awwal tā pāyān-e qarn-e dahom, Tehran, 1995.

André Godard, “Historique du Masdjid-é Djumʿa d’Iṣfahān,” Athār-é Īrān (Annales du service archéologique de l’Īrān)  1/2, 1936, pp. 213-82.

A. K. S. Lambton, “Persian Biographical Literature,” in Bernard Lewis and Peter Malcolm Holt, eds., Historians of the Middle East, London, 1962 pp. 141-51.

Mofażżal b. Saʿd Māfarruḵi Eṣfahāni, Ketāb maḥāsen Eṣfahān, ed. Sayyed Jalāl-al-Din Ḥosayni Ṭehrāni (from a unicum manuscript dated 735/1135 and kept at the British Museum), Tehran, 1933 (for the medieval adaptation of the text, see Āvi).

Aḥmad b. Moḥammad Meskawayh, Ketāb tajāreb al-omam, ed. and tr. Henry Fredrick Amedroz and David Samuel Margoliouth as The Experiences of the Nations: The Eclipse of the ʿAbbasid Caliphate, Original Chronicles of the Fourth Islamic Century, 7 vols., Oxford, 1920-21.

Mojtabā Minovi, “Note on Mafarrukhi’s ‘The Beauties of Isfahan’,” Bulletin of the American Institute for Persian Art and Archaeology 5, 1937, pp. 27-28.

J. Paul, “Histories of Isfahan,” Iranian Studies 33/1-2, 2000, pp. 117-32.

Franz Rosenthal, A History of Muslim Historiography, 2nd revised ed., Leiden, 1968.

ʿAli Ašraf Ṣādeqi, “Taʾammol-i dar do tāriḵ-e qadim-e Eṣfahān,” Majalla-ye bāstān-šenāsi o tāriḵ 8-9, 1992, pp. 27-45.

ʿAbd-al-Karim Samʿāni, Ketāb al-ansāb, ed. ʿA. ʿAṭā, Beirut, 1998.

Aḥmad Tafażżoli, “Eṭṭelāʿāt-i darbāra-ye lahja-ye pišin-e Eṣfahān,” in Ḥabib Yaḡmāʾi, Iraj Afšār, and Moḥammad Rowšan, eds., Nāma-ye Minovi: mélanges d'études iraniennes offerts à Mojtaba Minovi, Tehran, 1971, pp. 85-103.

(David Durand-Guédy)

Originally Published: April 11, 2016

Last Updated: April 11, 2016

Cite this entry:

David Durand-Guédy, “MAḤĀSEN EṢFAHĀN,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at (accessed on 11 April 2016).