The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is truly a remarkable gem among Iran’s mosques. Its breathtaking decorations and outstanding architecture make it a sight to behold. You can find this mosque in Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan, and while you’re there, you can also explore other attractions like the Imam Mosque, Ali Qapu Palace, and Qeysarie Gate. The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, known for its lovely chickpea-colored dome, was skillfully constructed by Mohammad Reza Isfahani and stands as a rare masterpiece of tile work and architectural beauty.
The use of beautiful colors and natural light has made this mosque famous and popular among both domestic and foreign tourists; no matter how much we talk about the wonders of this mosque, until you see it up close, you will not understand its beauty. Before traveling to “Half of the World” and visiting Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, you can gain more information about this eye-catching monument by reading this article.
The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan
The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, a stunning example of Safavid-era art, is situated in Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Isfahan, and was declared a national monument of Iran on December 6, 1931. Renowned for its impressive architecture, intricate tile work, and exquisite decorations, the mosque is a key attraction in Isfahan, facing the Ali Qapu Palace.
Designed by Master Mohammad Reza Isfahani, a notable Safavid architect, this mosque is celebrated for its unique Isfahani architectural style. It’s even recognized as one of the world’s seven unknown wonders, according to Sputnik news agency.
Unlike typical Iranian mosques, the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque stands out because it doesn’t have a minaret or a four-iwan courtyard, highlighting its distinctiveness. The mosque’s design is skillfully executed with perfect proportions, showing no flaws.
A remarkable feature of this mosque, common in many Isfahan mosques, is the seven-time echo of sound, which adds to its allure. The artistic calligraphy inside, crafted by Ali Reza Abbasi and Baqer Bana from the Shah Abbas era, enhances its beauty.
Interestingly, the design of Tehran’s Azadi Square’s gardens and flower arrangements draws inspiration from the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque. However, architect Hossein Amanat modified the design, using an oval shape for Azadi Square instead of the mosque’s circular dome.
Where is Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque?
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is located in the city of Isfahan and the famous Naqsh-e Jahan Square (Imam Square) and is so famous that you can easily find it.
Visiting hours of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
Daily except during noon prayers, in the first half of the year from 9 AM to 12:30 PM and 2 PM to 5 PM, and in the second half of the year from 9 AM to 11:30 AM and 1 PM to 4:30 PM.
History of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
Isfahan was the capital of the Safavids in 982 AH and was at the peak of construction developments such as Chaharbagh Street, Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Imam Mosque, and so on. It was during this period that Shah Abbas ordered the construction of the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, thus laying the foundation of a new mosque on the ruins of an old mosque that was in this place. Mohammad Reza Isfahani took responsibility for building this mosque, managing to construct an astonishing building in 18 years. Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque was exclusively for Shah Abbas and the royal family, and ordinary people were not allowed to enter. It seems that Shah Abbas worshiped in this mosque every day from its inauguration in 998 AH until the end of his life.
There is no precise information about the fate of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque over time; however, according to historical sources, this mosque found other names such as Molla Fathollah and Sadr during the Safavid era, which was later called Sheikh Lotfollah.
Who was Sheikh Lotfollah?
Sheikh Lotfollah was one of the greatest Shiite scholars who lived in the Jabal Amel region in present-day Lebanon. He came to Iran with some Shiite dignitaries at the invitation of Shah Abbas I.
Sheikh Lotfollah initially went to Mashhad and studied under scholars such as Molla Abdollah Shushtari and eventually was selected to serve at the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza. He later went to Qazvin to teach. Shah Abbas, due to his devotion to him, ordered the construction of the mentioned mosque to honor him, to be a place for teaching, instructing, and holding prayers. Sheikh Lotfollah was in charge of holding Friday prayers in Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque until he fell ill in 1035 AH and passed away in Isfahan.
Architecture of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
The architecture of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, which is in the Isfahani style, displays a corner of the genius of Isfahani architects; especially its dome, which is one of the most beautiful domes in the world.
An interesting point about the mosque is the lack of an entrance shabestan; in fact, in all mosques, you have to go through a series of stairs and then enter an entrance courtyard that takes you to the dome space; what has happened in Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is the absence of this courtyard or entrance shabestan, which was done with the aim of maintaining the principle of symmetry in Naqsh-e Jahan Square. Since this mosque faces Ali Qapu, it was not possible to place courtyard facing Qibla for it.
In the design of the mosque, the golden ratio has been used to establish the proportion of the building’s parts, and the location of the main shabestan in relation to the entrance of the building has been determined by geometric methods.
Entrance of the Mosque
The mosque’s entrance is located at the eastern side of Naqsh-e Jahan Square. This area is beautifully designed, with the eastern side of the square divided using a golden ratio. Both the northern and southern sections, as well as the western wall facing the square, are decorated with colorful seven-color tiles.
Originally, the mosque’s porch was white, as noted by André Godard in his book “Monuments of Iran”. This was because the porch tiles had been moved to the basement a decade earlier due to damage. However, restorers have since worked to bring back its original look. The book “Half the World in the Description of Isfahan” mentions that the mosque, except for the entrance inscription which was too damaged to fix and had to be replaced, is otherwise flawlessly preserved.
The entrance inscription is particularly striking, featuring inlaid tiles that create a continuous pattern across three walls. This inscription, written in white Thuluth script by Ali Reza Abbasi, dates back to the year 1012 AH. The top of the entrance is also beautifully decorated with muqarnas, seven-color tiles, and patterns of flowers and vases. Above the inscription, there’s a stunning muqarnas sunburst against a blue background, surrounded by eye-catching turquoise spiral tiles around the main arch.
Descending four steps through the entrance, you’ll find yourself in a space with walls adorned in yellow marble and matching stone platforms on either side.
The mosque’s double door is crafted from sturdy plane wood and has remarkably lasted over 400 years. Previously, there was an octagonal pool in front of the mosque, but it was removed sometime between 1316 to 1318 AH.
The 28-meter-long entrance hallway of the mosque initially turns left and then right, eventually leading to the main courtyard under the dome. This twist in the hallway creates a sort of circumambulation around the main courtyard. In essence, the hallway, by fostering a sense of spiritual tranquility and separating the bustling urban world outside from the mosque’s interior, prepares you for communion with the divine. Before reaching the second turn, you will see a door on your left leading to the winter prayer hall. This hall has a low ceiling and simple design and was used for prayers during colder seasons. After walking 14 meters down the hallway, you need to turn right where the hallway takes a 90-degree turn.
This hallway is dimly lit, brightened by rays of light streaming through the lattice windows on the right. Initially, you might not see much due to the transition from a well-lit area to this dimmer environment. However, after a few moments, your eyes adjust, and you can appreciate the intricate designs on the walls adorned with seven-colored tiles, predominantly in green and blue. The hallway helps you acclimatize to the low light before entering the semi-dark prayer hall, allowing you to fully appreciate its beauty.
Main Prayer Hall
The main prayer hall of the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is the pinnacle of splendor and beauty, leaving you in awe of its art and spirituality. The hall is square-shaped, measuring 19 meters on each side. As it ascends, it transforms into an octagon, and upon reaching the dome’s base, it becomes circular. This architectural transformation from square to circle is a significant feature of the mosque, a legacy from the Sassanian era. When you look up at the hall’s ceiling, you’ll see eight arches supporting the dome, adorned with striking muqarnas decorated with turquoise spirals at their edges.
Throughout this hall, you’ll find exquisite decorations from geometric patterns to floral and peacock motifs, displayed in seven-colored tiles at lower parts and inlaid tiles higher up. Among these decorations are calligraphic inscriptions in Nastaliq and Kufic scripts, completing the hall’s breathtaking beauty.
Why Doesn’t the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque Have a Minaret?
One striking feature of the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque at first glance is its lack of a minaret, setting it apart from other Islamic mosques where minarets are a crucial architectural element.
Originally, minarets were used pre-Islam for navigation and signified the presence of a city. After Islam, they symbolized the existence of a mosque and served as a place for the call to prayer. Since the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque was built exclusively for the worship of Shah Abbas and his family and not for public use, there was no need for a minaret. Consequently, this magnificent and beautiful mosque received less attention from tourists and remained relatively unknown compared to other attractions in Isfahan.
The Safavid-era architectural designs, especially in Isfahan, are fascinating. A prime example is the absence of a minaret in the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, effectively differentiating the royal family from the general public.
The Dome of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque’s dome is a 32-meter-high masterpiece with a unique double-shell structure. Unlike taller mosque domes, its more modest height of 12 meters in diameter inside and 22 meters outside posed a construction challenge, solved by reinforcing the surrounding walls for support.
This dome is supported by eight arches and features 16 lattice windows, placed 170 centimeters apart. These windows, decorated with arabesque patterns, allow light to filter through, creating a serene, spiritual ambiance inside the mosque. Sunlight streaming through these windows illuminates the interior, enhancing its beauty.
Inscriptions from the Surahs of Nasr and Jumu’ah, among others, are interspersed between the windows, and two inscriptions by Reza Abbasi at the base of the dome display stunning floral motifs and blue tiles, a highlight of Iranian tilework.
The interior of the dome showcases a unique design of diamond shapes that resemble a peacock’s feathers. This effect is heightened by sunlight, creating an illusion of movement. Despite the general prohibition of animal imagery in mosques, this light-based design is an ingenious exception. The arrangement of these diamond shapes gives an impression of increased height.
The beauty of the dome is further enhanced by the inlaid tiles inside, which are particularly striking in the sunlight. The dome’s height is perfect for this effect; a higher dome would not capture the sunlight in the same way.
Externally, the dome changes color throughout the day, appearing pink at dawn, cream at noon, and brick-red at sunset. Its design, resembling an eight-pointed star, slopes gracefully. The exterior is adorned with inlaid tiles on a chickpea-colored background, with Quranic verses in Thuluth script on a lapis lazuli background at its base. The highest point of the dome features an eight-pointed star, and the body is decorated with intricate arabesque lines.
The Underground Hallway of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
Historical evidence suggests that an underground hallway beneath Naqsh-e Jahan Square connected Ali Qapu Palace and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque. This mosque was used by women, and they would travel through this passage. It is said that Sheikh Lotfollah taught religious matters to Safavid women in this mosque.
Today, due to a large pool constructed in Naqsh-e Jahan Square, two sections of this hallway are no longer connected. Experts believe that this passageway can be restored if the pool is removed.
Lighting in Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
The lighting mechanism in Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque clearly shows that Mohammad Reza, the architect from Isfahan, had a profound understanding of light and its complexities, making this mosque’s lighting different from others. He placed two lattice windows under the dome, offset from each other, causing the light to break twice before entering the mosque. This break softens the light’s intensity, creating a spiritual atmosphere. This soft light harmonizes with the dome’s shape, curved lines of the patterns, and the gentle blue colors of the structure.
Interestingly, the Quranic verses on the mosque’s exterior walls align perfectly with the angles of sunlight, revealing one verse at a time throughout the day as the sun moves, illuminating different verses.
Tilework of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
The tilework in Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, a masterpiece from the Safavid era, is truly stunning. Every part of the mosque, from the outside to the corridors, prayer hall, and altar, showcases incredible tile designs that amaze everyone who sees them. These tiles, particularly beautiful when light shines on them, make the mosque look breathtaking.
At the entrance, the upper parts are decorated with remarkable seven-color tiles, displaying floral and vase patterns. There’s a large, eye-catching inscription in the middle of the entrance, made of lapis lazuli tiles with elegant white calligraphy by Alireza Abbasi. The corridor leading into the mosque continues this theme with more seven-color tiles, mainly in shades of blue and green. The prayer hall is a riot of color, covered in these beautiful tiles. Its turquoise spiral tiles add to its beauty, making it a fantastic spot for photos. The altar, with its detailed tilework and muqarnas designs, attracts everyone’s attention.
The mosque’s dome, both inside and outside, is also covered with these exquisite tiles. The way light interacts with the colors inside the dome sets it apart from other mosques in the city. The dome has a unique chickpea color from the Safavid era, and it changes colors throughout the day. Along the lower part of the dome, there are Quranic verses written in white on a lapis lazuli background.
To wrap up, the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan is more than just a building; it’s a masterpiece of beauty and history. Every inch, from its color-changing dome to the detailed tiles, tells a story of skill and art from long ago. It’s a place that not only shows the rich culture of Iran but also makes you feel peaceful and amazed. Whether you love history, art, or just beautiful places, this mosque is a must-see spot. It’s a true treasure of Isfahan, inviting everyone to step in and experience its magic.