Isfahan is one of Iran’s most famous tourist destinations. A key historical site in Isfahan is Naqsh-e Jahan Square, a large complex with attractive architecture comprising various sections. The Shah mosque is an interesting building within this historical complex, located on the southern side of the square.
Introduction to Shah Mosque
The Shah Mosque, also known as the Abbasid Jame Mosque, Sultani Mosque, and recently Imam Mosque, is one of the mosques in Naqsh-e Jahan Square, built during the Safavid era. This mosque is considered an important piece of Islamic architecture in Iran and is among the most famous attractions in Isfahan. The Shah Mosque, a timeless masterpiece of architecture from the 11th century Hijri, was registered as a national monument of Iran on December 15, 1931, with registration number 107.
Where is Shah Mosque?
The Shah Mosque is located on the southern side of Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan, within the Safavid governmental area. It is situated near significant Safavid-era buildings like the Ali Qapu and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque.
The main entrance of the mosque is on the southern side of the square, with other entrances around the building for easier and quicker access for local residents. Access to the building is easy from Estanadari Street and the perpendicular alleys (Saadi Passage and behind the kitchen) leading to the square, and from Hafez and Sepah streets after entering the northern side of the square, either on foot or by carriage. For accessing Naqsh-e Jahan Square, you can use public transportation or personal vehicles. The nearest metro and bus stations are Imam Hossein Square, from where the remaining distance to the square can be covered on foot or by taxi. There are several public parking lots on the streets leading to the square for those with personal vehicles.
History of Shah Mosque
The Shah Mosque is considered the most important mosque of the Safavid era in Isfahan, both for its grandeur and extensive decorations. Construction of the mosque began in 1020 Hijri lunar year, the fourth year of Shah Abbas I’s reign, to beautify the square. In 1025 Hijri lunar year, while other parts of the mosque were still under construction, the exquisite entrance with inlaid tilework was completed.
This mosque is a valuable example of Iranian tilework and carving art from the 11th century. Dates recorded in the mosque, including 1077 (the last year of Shah Abbas II’s reign), 1078 (the first year of Shah Suleiman’s reign), and 1095, indicate that the mosque’s decorations and additions were completed during the reigns of Shah Abbas I’s successors.
In famous Safavid-era historical books like “Alam Aray-e Abbasi” and “Waqa’i al-Sinin wa al-Awam,” the mosque is referred to as “Abbasid Jame Mosque” and “New Abbasid Jame Mosque.” The entrance inscription, in Thuluth script by “Ali Reza Abbasi” and dated 1025, indicates that Shah Abbas built this mosque from his personal funds and dedicated its merits to the soul of his great-grandfather, Shah Tahmasb.
Below this inscription, another one by Mohammad Reza Emami honors the mosque’s architect and engineer, Master Ali Akbar Isfahani, and the construction supervisor, Moheb Ali Bikallah. The mosque’s inscriptions are the work of famous Safavid-era calligraphers, including Ali Reza Abbasi, Abdul Baqi Tabrizi, Mohammad Reza Emami, and Mohammad Saleh Emami.
Architecture of Shah Mosque
The architecture of Jame Mosques, as the primary element of the city, holds a special place in post-Islamic architecture and urban planning. The role of Jame Mosques in shaping other urban elements like markets, streets, etc., and the special attention of Islamic rulers to the construction of the city’s Jame Mosque in each era, have always made the Jame Mosque a notable urban symbol. The Abbasid Jame Mosque is important for this reason.
An angle has been created between the mosque’s entrance axis, facing Naqsh-e Jahan Square, and the mosque’s axis, facing the qibla (direction of prayer), which the architect has skillfully addressed. Naqsh-e Jahan Square faces roughly south, but the mosque faces southwest. The architect has rotated the mosque’s southern porch behind the vestibule so that the mosque’s courtyard is visible from the vestibule, but one cannot directly enter it; instead, access is through one of two corridors surrounding the porch. Behind the longer corridor are the ablution facilities and water dispensers.
Visitors enter the mosque’s courtyard through the entrance gateway and vestibule, transitioning through a series of spaces and corridors, aligning themselves towards the qibla. The mosque’s main door, the Shah Door, is located on the southern side of the square under the magnificent muqarnas of its entrance, adorned with silver and gold. This door features Nastaliq script poems that mention the year of its completion and installation.
The Shah Mosque is a four-iwan (porch) mosque, and its courtyard has regular hexagonal proportions. In the southeast and southwest corners of the mosque’s courtyard are two schools named Naseri and Soleimani, the former repaired by Naser al-Din Shah and the latter by Shah Suleiman. In the mosque’s southwest school, a plain stone indicator is installed, which shows the true noon of Isfahan in all four seasons, reportedly calculated by the famous scholar, jurist, and mathematician of Shah Abbas’s era, Sheikh Bahai. The top surface of this indicator is a right-angled triangle. The hypotenuse of the triangle is oriented towards the side determining noon, one side adjacent to the right angle is attached to the wall, and the other side represents the mosque’s qibla.
The mosque’s large dome is of the double-shell discontinuous type, and its inner shell is a “Sabooi” dome. As the dome’s span is nearly 20 meters, it’s considered one of the most important double-shell domes. The dome’s architect is Master Faridun Naeini.
An interesting feature of this mosque is the sound reflection at the center of its large southern dome. The height of this enormous dome from the ground is 52 meters, and the height of its internal minarets is 48 meters, while the height of the entrance minarets in Naqsh-e Jahan Square is 42 meters.
Large single-piece marble stones and precious stone water dispensers are other valuable features of the Shah Mosque, particularly the precious stone water dispenser in the western prayer hall’s dome, dated 1095 Hijri.
The mosque’s highest-quality tilework is on its entrance, completely covered with seven-color and inlaid tiles. The main entrance arch is framed with three rows of decorative light blue spirals and encompasses from within marble-carved vases. The half-dome frames are decorated with stars and grapevine tendrils rising from the vases. The magnificent frames, like rugs embracing the entrance, are adorned with marble. The rest of the mosque is decorated with lower-quality seven-color tiles. In the upper chamber above the mosque’s entrance, there’s an inlaid tile frame with an animal motif (two green peacocks facing each other), a symbol of eternity in Iranian traditions. In other tile frames, sparrows and floral branches are juxtaposed, reminiscent of paradise and its lush, eternal gardens. The words “Allah,” “Muhammad,” and “Ali” are adorned in Kufic script on the entrance’s construction.
In the Shah Mosque of Isfahan, several edicts from the era of Shah Abbas I are carved and installed on stone tablets. Although every part of this historical building is valuable and important, some parts are more prominent, like its pulpit, made entirely of sumac stone. This pulpit has fourteen steps, with the fourteenth step wider than the others, serving as the preacher’s seat. This pulpit is mostly used during the cold winter season.
Also, in the upper part of the mihrab (prayer niche), a small cupboard is embedded in the wall, measuring three meters in length and two meters in width. The cupboard is made of aloeswood and adorned with gold blades and golden rings.
The mosque’s minarets are also masterpieces of Safavid-era architecture. Each of the two minarets flanking the dome is 48 meters tall. Each of the other two minarets at the mosque’s entrance is 42 meters tall. The Islamic motifs on these two minarets are in a Chinese checkerboard pattern on a turquoise background. The positioning of the minarets allows them to face each other from the Qeysarieh.
Visiting Hours and Tickets for Shah Mosque
You can visit the Shah Mosque every day except Fridays, mourning days, and days of spiritual retreat. The visiting hours for Shah Mosque in the first half of the year are from 9 AM to 12 PM and 2 PM to 5 PM, and in the second half of the year, from 9 AM to 1 PM and 1 PM to 4 PM. In 2022, the ticket price for domestic tourists is 10 cents and for foreign tourists 1 US dollar.
In conclusion, The Shah Mosque in Isfahan stands as a magnificent example of Islamic architecture and Persian culture. Its intricate tile work, grand domes, and towering minarets not only show the artistic skills of the artisans but also the deep religious significance of the structure. This mosque, more than just a place of worship, is a symbol of the rich history and heritage of Iran. It invites both the faithful and visitors from around the world to experience its beauty and tranquility. The Shah Mosque is not only a jewel in the crown of Isfahan but also a witness to the magnificence of Iranian art and architecture.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is Shah Mosque located?
Shah mosque is located on the southern side of Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan, within the Safavid governmental area.
What is the historical period of Shah Mosque?
Shah mosque is a remnant of the Safavid era, with its construction beginning in 1020 Hijri lunar year by order of Shah Abbas I.
What are the other names for Shah Mosque?
Shah mosque is also known as Abbasid Jamia Mosque, Sultan Mosque, and Shah Mosque.
When can you visit Shah Mosque?
You can visit Shah Mosque every day except Fridays, mourning days, and days of seclusion. The visiting hours for Shah Mosque in the first half of the year are from 9 AM to 12 PM and 2 PM to 5 PM, and in the second half of the year, from 9 AM to 1 PM and 1 PM to 4 PM.