Chehel Sotoun palace of Isfahan is one of the most famous and beautiful historical places of Isfahan; and it’s safe to say that this place easily fascinates all tourists with it’s impressive architecture and design! This Palace has been a meeting place for foreign delegates and ambassadors and a royal center of the Safavid government. The paintings and decorations of the various halls of the Palace show the peak of Safavid art and it’s purpose for impressing foreign ambassadors.
One of the left over examples of royal gardens from the Safavid period in Isfahan city is Chehel Sotoun Palace. In fact, this garden is a small part of the “Jahannama Garden“, which Shah Abbas I built the first core of Chehel Sotoun Palace in by building a pavilion in the middle of it. This historical heritage is one of the most famous and popular sights of Isfahan city; and despite the damages, it still has stunning beauties to offer to tourists and visitors.
The Chehel Sotoun Garden was formed on the outskirts of the city, among other gardens; and you could access to it from other gardens. A collection of these gardens, which were formed along Chaharbagh, formed one of the foundations of Isfahan in the Safavid era; and the role of Chehel Sotoun Garden is unique in this respect. Because it was the connecting link between this foundation and the other urban foundation, “Naghsh-e Jahan“.
This garden is among the 9 Iranian gardens registered in the UNESCO World Heritage List. During Shah Abbas I ‘s reign, they used the mansion as a pavilion for the king’s entertainment and his guests. The main building of the palace that still remains today goes back to the reign of Shah Abbas II. Thus, the mansion became a place for the king to meet with the king’s people and foreign guests.
Fun fact!: The Safavids first built a mansion in Qazvin called the Chehel Sotoun Palace. But after moving the capital to Isfahan, they built a new palace of the same name the city!
The architecture of this palace is a combination of Chinese, Iranian and French architecture. The building consists of a main (large) porch with 38 meters long, 17 meters wide and 14 meters high, which made it face East. The columns of this octagonal porch are from sycamore and pine wood. And the middle four pillars are located on four stone valves.
Chehel Sotoun’s famous pool is in front of the palace which in addition to being beautiful, makes the air soft. On the four sides of the pool there are statues that do not belong to the Chehel Sotoun Mansion. After destruction of the covered palace they moved these statues to the pool of Chehel Sotoun. According to some historians, this mansion suffered a terrible fire in the late Safavid period and parts of it burned.
The porch of Chehel Sotoun consists of two parts. One section is based on an 18 tall wooden pillars; and the other part, which is a little higher, forms the entrance of the hall and in some sources they called it “The mirror hall”.
In general, in the historic Chehel Sotoun Mansion, the combined designs of the walls and ceiling of the hall, which are placed in beautiful forms of Lachak Toranj (corner and medallion), and the main lines of the building divisions, which are a beautiful combination of painting, tiling and other various decorations, make this work one of the best examples of Persian architecture during the Safavid era. At present, the mansion operates as a museum; and it’s central hall displays some works of art from different periods of Iran.
Every place has it’s own story and you can get familiar to this story by visiting and wandering the place. Here is a list of Chehel Sotoun attractions:
The porch of Chehel Sotoun Palace consists of two parts. One is based on 18 wooden pillars and the second part, which is a little higher, forms the entrance of the mirror hall. This part is placed on two columns and all of it is decorated with a wide and elaborate mirror work. In this mirror work you can see small and well-patterned mirrors used in the form of mosaics along with tall and brick mirrors. The ceiling of the hall is made of wooden frames in different geometric shapes. You can see the symmetrical image of the marble pool in the middle of the porch in the ceiling decorations. This symmetry is very similar to the Ali Qapu porch.
This hall is one of the two parts of Chehel Sotoun palace we mentioned before. This part of Chehel Sotoun with mansion 18 wooden and lofty pillars, is famous as “The hall of 18 columns”. The four middle pillars are placed on 4 stone lions. The carvings of these lions are such that you can see two lions showed on one human head. In the past, water used to erupt from the mouths of these four taps and poured into the marble pool of the hall; but now they just exist with no water pouring!
The central hall of the palace, which Safavids used to receive foreign guests and personalities of other countries, now contains paintings that depict the historical events of different periods. This magnificent hall is based on a painted dome with golden and transparent designs; and many consider it as one of the artistic masterpieces of that era.
The paintings in the central hall of the palace, depict the reception of Shah Abbas I and II from the rulers of Turkestan and Homayun Hindi, as well as the war of Shah Ismail I with the Uzbeks. Not all of these paintings belong to Safavid era and some dedicate to the Qajar era. The other two images, one facing the entrance of the hall and the other in front of it, show the battle of Chaldoran during the reign of Shah Ismail I and the battle of Karnal during the reign of Nader Shah Afshar. These two paintings also belong to early Qajar era.
On either side of the columned hall are rooms that they currently use for seasonal exhibitions. These rooms also include paintings, some of which are surely masterpieces of painting. Most of these paintings were hidden under a layer of plaster during the reign of Zal-o-Sultan. But during Iran’s archaeologic excavations experts and specialists restored them professionally.
On both sides of the central hall of the Chehel Sotoun Mansion are paintings of ambassadors and Europeans who were in Isfahan at the time. Two Dutch painters named Angel and Lucar painted these masterpieces. There is also a picture of Shah Abbas I with a special crown and other miniatures in the treasure room and large paintings of Safavid kings in the royal hall.
Spring, and especially May, is the best time to visit Chehel Sotoun Palace; Because in addition to the gentleness of the air, the garden around it has a special freshness. Of course, in Summer evenings, due to the cool weather, this place is a popular destination in Isfahan. If you are planning to take pictures of the palace, you can take good photos from 9 am to 11 am due to the sunlight in front of the palace. Also at night, Chehel Sotoun takes on a different effect with lighting; and we recommend you to visit the place at both day and night for a complete and perfect experience.
Why did they name the palace Chehel (translates as “forty”) Sotoun (translates as “pillar”)? The palace porch has twenty wooden columns that their original decoration was mirror coverings which now there is no reflect of. The reflection of these columns in the pool water has caused one to encounter forty columns upon entering the garden of this palace. For this reason, they named the mansion “Chehel Sotoun Palace“. But in addition to this analysis, the naming of the Chehel Sotoun Palace could have other reasons.
In the past, the number forty was a symbol of plurality for the Iranian people. And some say that it seems that the reason for naming this palace after the number “forty”, is due to the plurality of it’s columns; and the fact that the number of the columns + their reflection in the water is just a coincidence.