After Persia was conquered by Muslims in the 8th century, Yemenite immigrants inhabited the small village of Tabriz and developed it into a thriving city. Tabriz continued to flourish under the Muslim Abbasid caliphate. According to legend, after a devastating earthquake in 791 C.E., the wife of the caliph, Zubaidah, rebuilt and beautified the city to such an extent that she was considered its second founder. Tabriz is famous as an important stop on the Silk Road.
Following the Mongol invasion of Persia, Tabriz became one of the most important cities in Persia, even serving as capital for a short period. The Mongols favored the city due to its grasslands, which were similar to their indigenous Asian steppe. Tabriz served as capital and administrative center of the Il Khanate during the 14th century. During this time, the city was renovated with new walls, public buildings, educational centers, and caravan stations for traders travelling along the Silk Road. When Marco Polo visited Tabriz in 1275, he described it as:
“A large and very noble city belonging to the province of Irak, which contains many other cities and fortified places, this is the most eminent and most populous. The inhabitants support themselves principally by commerce and manufacture, which the latter consist of various kinds of silk.”
Shortly after Marco Polo’s visit, Tabriz was sacked by the conqueror Timur Leng, nearly a century after it was chosen as capital. Timur’s conquest of the city did not crush its importance. Tabriz served as capital of Azerbaijani states from 1375 until 1501, when it was incorporated into the Safavid empire. Tabriz also continued to remain an important economic center, due mainly to its location on the Silk Road.
Tabriz is also known for its Jewish community, which dates to ancient Persia. Though Jews thrived under Mongol rule, by the 16th century their conditions had seriously deteriorated. A Jewish community still exists in Tabriz today, but their conditions have not greatly improved.
A sixteenth century map of Tabriz by artist Matrakci Nasuh.