Dignified, magnificent and impressive. The arches, tilework mosaics and the very round domes are the post Islamic method of building structures in Iran. However, Iranian architecture has a history from at least 5000 BC to the present which significiently inspired the architecture in Insia, Turkey and Tajikistan to Zanzibar: “The supreme Iranian art, in the proper meaning of the word, has always been its architecture. The supremacy of architecture applies to both pre-and post-Islamic periods.” Says Arthur Pope, a pioneering American expert on Iranian art.
Various buildings and complexes including mosques, mausoleums, bazaars, bridges and palaces have survided from the ancient times. Iranians knew how to build tall buildings with vast inner space, and their worship places have always been in harmony with their belief and the surrounding nature. The architecture of mosques in Iran varies region to region, based on the local geometry, materials and styles. They have often very complicated structure, with the vast use of colors, tileworks and great symbolic patherns. Reflecting the light of the sun, domes of the mosques appeared like glittering turquoise gem and could be seen from miles away by travelers following the Silk road through Iran.
There are many modern mosques around the world build in the past decades which are indeed architectural masterpiece. But they might not be considered historically as precious as the ancient mosques in muslim countries. For that matter, Iran has a collection of beautiful mosques which – sadly – alot of people may not even know they exit!
Imam Mosque, Isfahan
Located at the south side of Naghsh-i Jahan Square, Imam Mosque in Isfahan is an excellent example of Iranian Islamic architecture. This everlasting masterpiece is registered, along with the Naghsh-i Jahan Square, as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its construction began in 1611, and its splendor is mainly due to the beauty of its seven-colour mosaic tiles and calligraphic inscriptions. The distinct feature of any mosque is the minaret, and the Imam mosque has four. Inside, the acoustic properties and reflections at the central point under the dome is an amusing interest for many visitors, as the ingenuity of the architects, when creating the dome, enables the Imam to speak with a subdued voice and still be heard clearly by everyone inside the building. The architecture of the mosque is very complicated with various iwans and courtyards. The mosque is depicted on the reverse of the Iranian 20,000 rials banknote.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Isfahan
The purpose of this mosque was for it to be a private mosque of the royal court, that’s why it does not have any minaret. The entry gateway, like those of the Grand Bazaar and the Imam mosque, was a recessed half-moon. Creation of the calligraphy and tiles, which exceed, in both beauty and quality, anything created beforehand in the Islamic world, was overseen by Master calligrapher Ali Reza Abbasi.
Nasir al-Mulk mosque, Shiraz
The mosque was built during the Qājār era, and is still in use under protection by Nasir al Mulk’s Endowment Foundation. The mosque extensively uses colored glass in its facade, and displays other traditional elements such as five concaves in its design. The other title of the mosque is Rose Mosque, due to the pink and rose color tileworks used in the structure.
Grand mosque, Yazd
A fine specimen of the Azari style of Iranian architecture, The grand mosque of Yazd is crowned by a pair of minarets, the highest in Iran, and the portal’s facade is decorated from top to bottom in dazzling tile work, predominantly blue in colour. The mosque is a must visit of the ancient city of Yazd and is depicted on the obverse of the Iranian 200 rials banknote.
Sheikh Safi, Ardebil
Sheikh Safi complex was constructed between the beginning of the 16th century and the end of the 18th century. The mausoleum, a tall, domed circular tower decorated with blue tile and about 17 meters in height. At a right angle to the mosque, there is resting place of Sheikh Safi, an eminent leader of an Islamic Sufi order.
Goharshad mosque, Mashhad
Built by the order of Empress Goharshad, the wife of Shah Rukh of the Timurid Dynasty in 1418 CE, Goharshad mosque is a former free standing mosque in Mashhad. The location is beside the Shrine of Imam Reda, 8th Shiite Imam:
“Its portal continues the Samarkand style of arch within arch, enriched by a succession of bevels and reveals that give it depth and power. The thick, tower-like minarets, merging with the outer corners of the portal screen, extend to the ground and, together with the high foundation revetment of marble, give the ensemble the impression of solidity necessary to support its exuberant color. The entire court facade is faced with enamel brick and mosaic faience of the finest quality.
The full scale of colors includes a dominant cobalt blue and turquoise, white, a transparent green, yellow, saffron, aubergine and mirrorblack – all tones fluctuating through several shades.
This is accomplished by the energy of the faience floral patterns and brick geometrical schemes; by the emphatic rhythm of the arcades, open galleries and deep recesses; and especially by the contrast of the ivans.” Says Arthur Pope in his book Persian Architecture: The Triumph of Form and Color.
And to be continued..