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Ardabil was probably founded in the 5th century AD. It became (10th century) the capital of Azarbaijan, but was soon superseded by Tabriz. In 1220 AD it was destroyed by the Mongols. Ardabil is best known as the birthplace of the eminent religious leader Sheik Safi od-Din (1251-1334) from whom the Safavid dynasty was descended. Sheikh Safi was the founder of a sufi order and monastery in Ardabil, the prime mover of Iranian culture during the 15-16th century and the center of the theocratic community of Dervish Brotherhood. Dervishes, after coming together under the same organizational structure, managed to attract and retain the attention of large masses in the towns and in the country. Ismail, a descendent of Sheikh Safi and who was later crowned as the Shah of Persia in Tabriz (1501), was himself a member of this order. The main objectives of Dervish Brotherhood were the elimination of the then rampant anarchy and the reorganization of a new state that could respond to the demands of the urban and the rural disinherited of Iran and satisfy the peoples thirst for justice. Shiism began to spread through mosques, monasteries and Dervish centers, and very soon conquered the masses. Shah Ismail created an immense empire: he succeeded in subjecting the many principalities that had formed after the fall of Timurid state. In 1510 he defeated the Khan and conquered Baghdad. The decision to uphold Shiism might be interpreted as an extreme endeavor to prevent the Iranian nation from becoming absorbed by the west (Ottomans) and the east (Uzbeks). The town was occupied by the Turks in 1725 and the Russians in 1828. Its proficient library was taken to St. Petersburg by the Russians.

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