Shah Mosque

Isfahan, Iran | C.1629

Photo Credit: Samar Olfat

The Shah Mosque is regarded as one of the masterpieces of Iranian architecture and has become a such a grand monument for the country of Iran that it is now displayed on their 20,000 Rial banknote. The magnificent mosque is located on the southern end of Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan, Iran and is the grand gem of the meticulously up-kept plaza.

The royal square was built under Shah ‘Abbas who had moved the capital of the Safavid dynasty to Isfahan in 1597. His goal was to center political, religious, economic and cultural activities and the square became a symbol of this goal. Shah ‘Abbas was determined to create a public square, known as a maydan, that housed merchant stalls on the flanking walls, and an exceptionally crafted mosque that would stand the test of time.

Construction began in 1611 under Shah ‘Abbas and was completed in 1630 under Shah Safi. The architecture is skewed at a 45-degree angle to be oriented toward Mecca in order to emulate the direction of the sacred qibla prayer wall believed to have been built by the prophets.

The splendor and elegance of the beloved Mosque is not limited to its architectural form. The precisely crafted seven-color mosaic tiles and calligraphic inscriptions that envelope the walls of the mosque provide seemingly endless details to study and gaze upon. The vast scale of the meticulously detailed iwans – rectangular halls with vaulted ceilings – offer transitional portals that make one feel as if they are being transported from earth into a spiritual dimension.

Upon entering the Mosque visitors will enter a court surrounded by four impressively decorated iwans. The main iwan is the grandest in scale and faces toward Mecca. Behind this main iwan is impressively domed sanctuary that is also fully decorated with tiles, colors and designs that scrawl all the way up to the golden rose patterned ceiling.

The Shah Mosque is a masterpiece of architecture, and the unity between each portion of the mosque leaves one with a lasting impression of importance. The seven-colored tiles continue to sparkle when the sun hits their faces, as people gather for prayer in this spiritual and inspiring mosque.

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