The magic of traditional architecture has a pulsating pulse in the heart of Isfahan. This charismatic city is a collection of historical monuments, each of which has an exciting mystery; and in the heart of it’s geometric angles, beauties are manifesting. Isfahan Chaharbagh School is one of the buildings that shows the Safavid architecture well. This building is one of the last remnants of the Safavid historical period; and also is famous by the names: Soltani school and Madarshah school.
Chaharbagh school was built during the reign of Shah Sultan Hussein Safavid, the last Safavid king; and for this reason another name of this building is “Soltani school”. The purpose of building this place was the need for a center for teaching religious sciences to students. And also the income of several economic centers of that time including Madarshah Caravanserai, the same Abbasi Caravanserai today and Shahi Bazaar. These places were endowed to this school with other land that got destroyed during time. The Caravanserai and bazaar were in the neighborhood of the school and endowed by Sultan Hussein’s mother; So, for this reason, the name of Madarshah (translates as: Mother of the King) is one of the other giving names of this building.
Also, Chaharbagh, another and the most common name of this school, is taken from the famous street of Isfahan, where this building is located. Each corner of this building with a view of four porches, is a spectacular picture of Isfahan’s tourism potential; and, like other Isfahani (means dedicated to Isfahan) structures, shows the combination of traditional architectural intelligence with the creativity of Iranian art.
Many foreign tourists have described this building in their writings and travelogues with words such as magical, attractive and pleasant. Among them are Eugene Flandin, Diolafova, and Kenneth Dogobino, who describe the Chaharbagh school as a masterpiece of Safavid architecture.
As we mentioned before, Shahi bazaar and Madarshah Caravanserai were endowed to Chaharbagh school. This Caravanserai was the most luxurious residence of travelers three centuries ago; and connected to the buildings of Madarshah School on it’s eastern side. This caravanserai is now the most famous and popular hotel of Isfahan, “The Abbasi Hotel“.
The construction of Chaharbagh school began in 1116 AH in Chaharbagh street of Isfahan and completed in 1126 AH. This building is in fact is the last magnificent structure of the Safavid era.
The School had many endowments, including gardens, farms, villages, real estate, shops, caravanserais and had unique and valuable library. Unfortunately during the Afghans attack all of these destroyed. The school library was at the disposal of religious scholars and other scholars of that time with very exquisite and rare books.
After 1979 revolution of Iran and the victory of the Islamic Revolution they changed the name “Chaharbagh” to “Imam Sadegh (AS) Theological School”. But except some of the students of the school, almost no one call it with this name; and the building is famous as “Chaharbagh school”. The school is still dedicated to the education of students of religious sciences. And also it’s rooms, as in the Safavid era, are in use of the residence of students.
Each of the monuments of Isfahan are very well-known for all the people of the world; and most tourists who travel to Iran from all over the world will definitely visit Isfahan during their trip. The special type of architectural style and the combination of science and art in these architectures attracts everyone’s attention.
This school is very popular due to it’s building structure and lush and pleasant environment. But the most important element that attracts the attention of various of visitors, especially foreign tourists, is the tile works, engravings and inscriptions of this historical monument. These features also made Chaharbagh school famous as the Museum of Tile Art of Iran!
Soltani, or Chaharbagh school was built in four porch style of Iranian architecture. It’s exterior includes a magnificent high entrance and 17 two-story brick arches around it. Entrance’s decoration consists of delicate tiles, patterned moqarnas and various calligraphies. The inscription of the entrance is written in white Nasta’liq script on the background of azure tiles; and you can see the date 1112 AH on it. The calligraphist of this inscription was Abdul Rahim Jazayeri. The two openings of the entrance have a decoration of turquoise tiles; and on both sides of it there are two excellent marble platforms with a vase beautifully placed on them.
The interior of the school includes a porch, entrance, courtyard, dome, minaret and rooms. The most beautiful part of the school in terms of tiling is the entrance porch. The porches and rooms of the courtyard face a tree-lined garden through which a stream flows. This creek is one of the branches of Zayandeh rood and it’s name is Farshadi creek.
The courtyard of Chaharbagh School is a perfect example of an introverted and indigenous architecture. The rooms, which are built on two floors and between the porches of the school, are dedicated to the residence of students of religious sciences. Most of these rooms have the same layout. Consisting of a living room at the front, a locker room at the back and a part called Balakhane (upper part of a house/room). In front of all of these rooms there is a beautiful porch.
A summary of the spectacular sections of this school are:
The style and context of the gorgeous architecture of Isfahan is rippling in the ward of this school. The artistic tiles of the school dome create a world of mystery and elegance. They turned the dome into a museum of colorful tiles so that the eyes can be immersed in it’s boundless designs.
The art of tiling in this school is exemplary and also a strong reason to consider this building a masterpiece. For example in Zarrin Bana, there is no space for argument due to the completeness in the beauty of this work! The tile works of Zarrin bana has given an exemplary manifestation to Chaharbagh school as an inexhaustible feature. Undoubtedly, we can consider Zarrin Bana as a masterpiece in terms of gilding and engraving, which shows the skill of Isfahan artists.
The unique charm of this school starts from it’s entrance. The design of artistic and delicate tiles, engravings and Nasta’liq inscription on the blue tiles, catches your eye from the very beginning of the entrance. It is enough to lower your gaze a little so that the greatness of the golden door fascinate you. The marble platforms next to the door convey the pleasant feeling of traditional architecture well; and the brick arches around the entrance show the glory and grandeur of the building from the very beginning.
In addition to these beauties, the marble pulpit of the school, inscriptions and the special room of Shah Sultan Hussein, add to the historical value of Soltani school and make it more spectacular.
In addition to tile work, there are various examples of exquisite Iranian calligraphy in Chaharbagh school. Among these examples we mentioned the inscription at the entrance before; but it doesn’t sum up here and in almost every part of the school you can see various calligraphies.
One of these masterpieces is on two large stone vessels. One of them is in the entrance hall and you can see the other in the courtyard of the school, in front of the south porch. In this collection, they filled these two large stone vessels with water for ablution. For this reason they got the name Sangab. Sangab is a combination of two words: Sang (stone) and Ab (water); giving the meaning of a stone which is always full of water.
This Stone vessel (Sangab) of the entrance hall is made of Persian stone. And we can see the inscription of Salawat on the fourteen infallibles engraved in Thuluth on small plates. According to the inscription, building of the Sangab dates back to the month of Sha’ban in the year 1110 AH by a stonecutter named “Mohammad Taher“. You can see this information written as phrases in the Nasta’liq script in the middle of the inscription.
The second Sangab is in front of the south porch in the schoolyard; and the material of this vessel is also Persian stone. According to the inscription, building this Sangab dates back to 1090 AH. Since the year of construction of Chaharbagh school is between 1116 AH and 1126 AH, it is inferred that this Sangab was later transferred to the schoolyard. Iranian architecture specialists consider these Sangabs as masterpieces of stone carving and calligraphy.
The wooden and latticed windows of Madarshah school give a more lively and dynamic feeling to art in this building. Rows of sycamore trees have planted tranquility in the garden with the beauty of this school. These trees multiply the charm of Soltani school with their stature and their thick and old branches. The clear water atmosphere next to these trees increases the charm of this historical monument even more and makes it’s beauty more impressive.
Visiting Chaharbagh school, also known as Madarshah school, is only possible on Thursdays from 14:00 to 20:00; and on Fridays from 8:00 to 20:00. According to the price list of year 2020, tickets for tourists cost the equivalent of 4$. This price might be different at the time you are visiting the school. Tent covering is mandatory for women in Chaharbagh school; and if you don’t have one, they will give one to you at the entrance. If you enter the mosque as a worshiper, you can visit it for free.