Naghsh-e Jahan Square (Motif of the world) officially known as Imam Square, situated at the center of Isfahan city, Iran. It is an important historical site and one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. The square is surrounded by buildings from the Safavid era.
Maidan – The Royal Square
The Maidan was where the Shah and the people met. Built as a two story row of shops, flanked by impressive architecture, and eventually leading up to the northern end, where the Imperial Bazaar was situated, the square was a busy arena of entertainment and business, exchanged between people from all corners of the world. As Isfahan was a vital stop along the Silk Road, goods from all the civilized countries of the world, spanning from Portugal in the West, to the Middle Kingdom in the East, found its ways to the hands of gifted merchants, who knew how to make the best profits out of them.
The Royal Square was also admired by Europeans who visited Isfahan during Shah Abbas’ reign. Pietro Della Valle conceded that it outshone the Piazza Navona in his native Rome.
During the day, much of the square was occupied by the tents and stalls of tradesmen, who paid a weekly rental to the government. There were also entertainers and actors. For the hungry, there were readily available cooked foods or slices of melon, while cups of water were handed out for free by water-carriers paid for by the shop-keepers. At the entrance to the Imperial Bazaar, there were coffee-houses, where people could relax over a cup of fresh coffee and a water-pipe.
Naghsh-e Jahan Square view from Ali Qapu edifice
The Imam Mosque is situated on the south side of this square. On the west side, you can find Ali Qapu Palace. Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque is situated on the eastern side of this square and the northern side opens into the Isfahan Grand Bazaar. Today, Namaaz-e Jom’eh (the Muslim Friday prayer) is held in this square in front of the Imam Mosque.
It was Shah Abbas the Great who made Isfahan his capital and then decreed that the square should be extended to its present size, and lovely buildings set around it. The length of this great square, which is actually rectangular, is 500 meters from north to south, and its width about 150 meters from east to west. It was laid out and beautified in the reign of Shah Abbas the Great, at the beginning of the seventeenth century.
From that time until sixty years ago the square presented a very different aspect from the square today. The whole area of the square within the limits of the water channels round it was quite level, while to the north and south stood two goal posts for the game of polo. Those two goal posts are still in position but replanning with large pool in the center, and lower beds round has transformed the square and given it a completely new look. Most of the buildings round are two-storied and the alcoves simply decorated.
Situated on the eastern side of Naghsh-e Jahan Square, Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque was constructed between 1602 to 1619 A.D. in Shah Abbas (I)’s era.
Sunset in Naghsh-e Jahan Square
Naghsh-e Jahan Square’s architect was Mohammadreza Isfahani. He solved the problem of the difference between the direction of Kaaba and gateway of the building by devising a connecting vestibule between the entrance and the enclosure.
The diameter of the inner dome is 12m laid on walls with the thickness of 170cm. One of the unique characteristics of the mosque is the peacock at the center of its dome. If you stand at the entrance gate of the inner hall and look at the center of the dome, a peacock whose tail is the sun rays came in from the hole in the ceiling could be seen. The mosque was named after Sheikh Lotfallah, a religious leader from what is now Lebanon who was invited to Isfahan and was paid special attention by the Safavid king.
Ali Qapu (pronounced, ah-lee gah-pooh) is in effect but a pavilion that marks the entrance to the vast royal residential quarter of the Safavid Isfahan which stretched from the Maidan Naqsh-e-Jahan to the Chahar Bagh Boulevard. The name is made of two elements: “Ali”, Arabic for exalted, and “Qapu” Turkic for a portal or royal threshold. The compound stands for “Exalted Porte”. This name was chosen by the Safavids to rival the Ottomans’ celebrated name for their court: Bab-i Ali, or the “Sublime Porte”). The building, another wonderful Safavid edifice, was built by decree of Shah Abbas the Great in the early seventeenth century.
It was here that the great monarch used to entertain noble visitors, and foreign ambassadors. Shah Abbas, here for the first time celebrated the Nowruz (New Year’s Day) of 1006 AH / 1597 A.D. A large and massive rectangular structure, the Ali Qapu is 48 meters high and has six floors, fronted with a wide terrace whose ceiling is inlaid and supported by wooden columns.
Ali Qapu is rich in naturalistic wall paintings by Reza Abbassi, the court painter of Shah Abbas I, and his pupils. There are floral, animal, and bird motifs. The highly ornamented doors and windows of the palace have almost all been pillaged at times of social anarchy. Only one window on the third floor has escaped the ravages of time.
Ali Qapu was repaired and restored substantially during the reign of Shah Sultan Hussein, the last Safavid ruler, but fell into a dreadful state of dilapidation again during the short reign of invading Afghans. Under the Qajar Nasir al-Din shah’s reign (1848-96), the Safavid cornices and floral tiles above the portal were replaced by tiles bearing inscriptions.
Shah Abbas II was enthusiastic about the embellishment and perfection of Ali Qapu. His chief contribution was given to the magnificent hall, constructed on the third floor. The 18 columns of the hall are covered with mirrors and its ceiling is decorated with great paintings.
The chancellery was stationed on the first floor.
On the sixth floor, the royal reception and banquets were held. The largest rooms are found on this floor. The stucco decoration of the banquet hall abounds in the motif of various vessels and cups. The sixth floor was popularly called (the music room) as it was here that various ensembles performed music and sang songs. From the upper galleries, the Safavid ruler watched polo games, maneuvers and horse-racing below in the Naqsh-e-Jahan square.
The Ali Qapu has multiple connotations, but generally connotes entrance or supreme gate to the complex of palaces and public buildings of the Safavid Government.
The Ali Qapu building was founded in several stages, beginning from a building with a single gate, with entrance to the government building complex, and gradually developed, ending in the existing shape. The period of the development, with intervals, lasted approximately seventy years.
First Stage: The initial building acting as an entrance to the complex was in cubical shape and in two stories, with dimensions measuring 20 x 19 meter and 13 meters high.
Second Stage: Foundation of the upper hall, built on the entrance vestibule, with cubical shape, over the initial cubic shape structure with the same height in two visible stories.
Third Stage: Foundation of the fifth story, the music amphitheater or music hall, built on the lower hall, using the central room for sky light, and thus the vertical extension being emphasized.
Fourth Stage: Foundation of the eastern verandah or pavilion advancing towards the square, supported by the tower shaped building. By foundation of this verandah, the entrance vestibule was extended along the main gate and passage to the market, perpendicular to the eastern flank of the building.
Fifth Stage: Foundation of the wooden ceiling of the verandah, supported by 18 wooden columns, and contemporaneous with the erection of the ceiling, an additional stairway of the southern flank was founded and was called the Kingly Stairway.
Sixth Stage: During this stage, a water tower was built in the northern flank for the provision of water for the copper pool of the columned verandah. Plaster decorations in reception story and music hall.
The room on the sixth floor is also decorated with plasterwork, representing pots and vessels and one is famous as the music and sound room. It is certainly well worth visiting for the cut out decorations round the room, which represent a considerable artistic feat.
These cut out shapes were not placed there to act as cupboards: the stuccowork is most delicate and falls to pieces at the highest touch. So we conclude that it was placed in position in these rooms for ornament and decoration. The rooms were used for private parties and for the King’s musicians, and these hollow places in the walls retained the echoes and produced the sounds of the singing and musical instruments clearly in all parts.
The decoration of the large room on the third floor which opens out on the large pillared hall, and which was used by Shah Abbas for entertaining his official guests is the most interesting.
Fortunately, the ceilings, on which birds are depicted in their natural colors, have remained without interference in their original state from Safavid times, and these are the best roofs in the building.
Imam Mosque is a mosque standing in south side of Naghsh-e-Jahan square. Built during the Safavid period, an excellent example of Islamic Architecture in Persia (Iran). This mosque has been constructed during the Safavid period, in 1611 with seven-color mosaic tiles and valuable inscriptions. The portal of the mosque measuring 27 meters high, crowned with two minarets being 42 meters in height, frames the front of the mosque which opens into Naqsh-e Jahan square.
On top of the entrance, among the stalactites and above the turquoise lattice window, there is a frame of seven-color mosaic tile shaped like a vase with two peacocks on both sides which is an example of mosaic tile. The inscription above the entrance being made of white mosaic tile on the ultramarine background is written in Sol’s script by Alireza Abbasi.
The wooden door of the mosque, covered with layers of gold and silver, is ornamented with some poems written in Nasta’liq script. The overall entrance hall proves the mastery of the designer of the building. The master architect has designed two passageways being different in length on both sides of the hall to assimilate the axis of the mosque to the direction of qiblah which has an angle of 45 degrees, to cover the change of direction without losing the proportions.
The Mosque is surrounded by four ivans and arcades. All the walls are ornamented with seven-color mosaic tile. The ivan of the mosque is the one which is toward kiblah measuring 33 meters high and has two minarets being 48 meters high. Behind this ivan is space which is roofed with the most enormous dome of the city being 52 meters high. The dome consists of two covers. The outer cover is 12 meters away from the inner one. There are two schools for religious education at the southwest and southeast of the mosque. The southwest school has an inscription from the Safavid period. There is also an indicator stone, inserted in the inscription, the shape of which is a right-angled triangle. This stone shows the mid-day of all the days of the year scientifically in a simple way.
The mosque has two halls in the east and west part of its interior. The eastern hall is bigger but its walls are covered with plaster without any ornamentation while the walls and ceiling of the western hall are covered with seven-color mosaic tiles. The mihrab of this hall has an inscription written by the master artist, Mohammad Reza Emami