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Islamic Architecture


Naghshi Jahan square (“Design of the World”) or famous meidan is 512 x 159 meters which covered eight hectares might be the largest piazzas in the world. The meidan represents an early example of a multi-functional space. It was the most impressive feature of the new city for foreign travelers, who admired it for its huge size and architectural homogeneity. There is a stone channel ran around the perimeter of the square at a short distance from the arcade and separated the space for walking from the central area, which was originally unpaved and covered with gravel. The covered walkway and outer arcades served as a bazaar. The great central space housed the stall of merchants, craftsmen, barbered, and entertainers, but could be cleared for military parades. The meidan is also described as a great square and it is one of the UNESCO world heritage. The plan is presenting the view toward the entrance to the Royal Bazzar on the north side. On the west side is the Governmental palace of Ali Qapu, and across the square on the east is the Mosque of Sheikh Lutfullah. Occupying most of the south side is the huge complex of the Royal Mosque. Due to the strict north-south orientation of square, each of the two mosques fronting on it had be tilted on its axis so that its quibla would face toward Mecca. Shah Mosque renamed to Imam Mosque after the Iran’s revolution in 1979 is located on the south side of the Maidan has many similarities with the Sheikh Lutfullah mosque. The building was endowed with agricultural and commercial properties in and around the city. Both the building and its generous endowment were another aspect of Abbas’s plan to shift the city’s commercial and religious center away from the area near the Friday mosque. “Shah Mosque is a paradigm of the ‘Persian style’.” It’s entirely governed by the characteristic Persian formula of the court with four iwans. The prayer hall is surprisingly bright, lit both from the main iwan and the large arches in the side of drum. The dome has two separated by an unlit void about 10 meters high. There are some similarities between dome of the Shah Mosque and Taj Mahal. The mosque was completed around 1628, and around that year famous Taj Mahal in Agra was begun. The Sheikh Lutfullah mosque was originally called the Mosque of the Pontiff (Masjid-i sadr) and was entrusted to the theologian Sheikh Lutfullah, whose daughter Shah Abbas has married. It changed the name to Sheikh Lutfullah mosque after his death in 1623. “It is also known as the Lady’s or Women’s Mosque as the ladies of the court could worship there in private”. The first of the two structures to be built on the main square was the Mosque of Sheikh Lutfullah, which was reserved as a court sanctuary and thus lacked a central courtyard and minarets, and it only has a low dome. However, it does not have a courtyard, but its unified internal space, with a dense atmosphere of meditative tranquility. Entering to the square was slightly off axis though the main pishtaq which made the quibla issue. So, the architect overcomes this issue by corridors and oblique walls. The pishtaq was separated from the prayer hall by an oblique wall, thus forcing visitors to turn ninety degrees down as L-shaped corridor leading to a gateway in front of a domed mihrab.

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The mosque building is rested on a square frame which is turning to octagonal in the upper part and become a circular dome at the top Sheikh Lutfullah Mosque comprised a single domed room 19 meters on a side surrounded by service area and resting on another room of almost the same dimensions, covered with low vaults resting on four octagonal piers. The dome, which has a modest pointed-arch profile, is covered with an unusual design of ocher-colored arabesques and its center is displaced 6.5 meters to the right of the entrance axis. To reach the prayer hall, one must pass through the portal iwan; with impressive tile. Through there is a dark corridor around the two sides of the sanctuary, entry is opposite the mihrab. The visual and psychological impact on entering the vast, glowing room is stunning. It has a perfect balanced interior. The dome is decorated with a sunburst at the apex; from it descend tier of logical decoration, which get larger with the curve of the dome. The decoration is filled with flower motifs which play against the monochrome ground. The drum has sixteen arched panels broken with windows. They are fitted with double ceramic grilled in arabesque pattern. The drum is supported by sixteen kite-shaped shields.

Corridor to the prayer hall Mohammadreza Husayn Hattstein, Markus, Islamic Art and Architecture, France, Peter, 2000 (Page 65)

resting on four great squinches alternating with arched panels.They are all springing from the floor, outlined by light blue cable moldings, and framed by wonderful inscription bands in white on a dark blue ground. The structure system is a tripartite arrangement of square base which has an octagonal zone of transition. “The thickness of the wall where the windows are located is one meter and seventy centimeter. In the main parts this thickness change to two meters.� The entire mosque is a centrally planned domed space, which is typical of commemorative mausoleums, not mosques, but this building does not house a tomb. Inscriptions call it a mosque, but it lacks the typical courtyard, iwans, and minarets. However, it does have the essential mihrab niche and is oriented toward Mecca.

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Calligraphy and windows Alireza Abbasi Ansari, Ali. Isfahan, art and architecture. Tehran, Alborz press. 2001. (page112)

The entire mosque is a centrally planned domed space, which is typical of commemorative mausoleums, not mosques, but this building does not house a tomb. Inscriptions call it a mosque, but it lacks the typical courtyard, iwans, and minarets. However, it does have the essential mihrab niche and is oriented toward Mecca. At the entrance to the building, decorated in extraordinary mosaic inlay, is domained by eight pointed arches accentuated by spiral half-column in brilliant turquoise. Lower panel contain green arabesques, white medallions on a deep blue background, and yellow motifs. Perfectly rendered white calligraphy in the thuluth style is also set against a deep blue background. The dome is a triumph of balance, and if the design seems familiar, this is due to inspiration that this decoration gave to carpet patterns, which the multitude of medallion motifs. The dome is decorated with bands of almond shapes that spiral in towards the middle diminishing in size.Between the squinches holding up the dome are eight large kufic squares containing each an entire Surah from the Quran.

Corridor to the prayer hall Mohammadreza Husayn Hattstein, Markus, Islamic Art and Architecture, France, Peter, 2000 (Page 65)


Moaraq on the entry Mohammadreza Husayn Photo taken by Author

“Calligraphy is the most highly regarded and most fundamental element of Islamic art. It is significant that the Qur’an, the book of God's revelations to the Prophet Muhammad, was transmitted in Arabic, and that inherent within the Arabic script is the potential for developing a variety of ornamental forms.” However most of the calligraphy works have legible inscriptions, not all the Muslims are able to read them. Each alphabetic is legible by itself but the overall is getting to complex and hard to read. Inscriptions outline the chronology of building and name the participants: the major foundation inscription on the portal dates the beginning of construction to 1012and names the calligrapher: Alireza Abbasi: who later worked on the Shah Mosque, a second inscription at the base of the interior of the dome gives a date for the decoration 1025-1616; and a third inscription on the mihrab names the architect, Mohammadreza son of the master Husayn, the builder from Isfahan, and gives the date of completion 1028-1618. At various points in Persian mosque, one is struck by the presence of monumental inscriptions. These may be in kufic, thuluth or naskhi script, and they served different functions. They included quotations from the Quran: significant passages from the suras appear on borders and in friezes, notably on iwans and inside the sanctuary, so that the mosque becomes an open book. Other inscriptions are more lapidary, using graphic symbols for the sacred names of the Shiite trinity.

Al-Fatiha Surah 1 / Quran

kufic squares containing an entire Surah Ansari, Ali. Isfahan, art and architecture. Tehran, Alborz press. 2001. (page112)

Multicolored tile veneer sheathes the exterior in a pattern which resembles prayer rugs applied to a vertical surface. Muqarnas faced with intricate mosaic work are suspended over the entrance arch. The interior is often recommended as the most perfectly balanced space in Persian architecture. Filtered light entering through windows in the drum of the dome flickers across the mosaic-lined walls and dome. Eight pointed arches on the walls, outlined in turquoise, bring just enough geometric discipline to this numinous, coloristic space to keep worshipers from entirely losing their earthly bearings. Painted tiles were too fragile for the exterior of the domes and so never used for this purpose. Instead of that, narrow enameled bricks 5-8 centimeters thick were combined with molded and glazed terracotta elements to form vast arabesques. There is a Peacock pattern under the dome which the tail of the peacock get enhances with sun light in certain time during a day. The peacock has been design in a way that it gives you time wise information only from the sunlight. At noon the tail of the peacock get disappear to tell you know it is time for noon pray. Sheikh Lutfullah mosque has been studied as a great example of the parametric design these days. Parametric design implies the use of parameters to define a form. Use of Relation has an important role in it. Some places like the entrance or the dome is showing the use of parameters clearly. Dome of Sheikh Lutfullah has some similarities with London’s Gherkin Tower by Norman Foster which is an example of parametric design. Both buildings have diamond patterns which get bigger gradually. They both follow a system and parameters to get the pattern. Both have a reactor point which is on the highest point of building. The diamond shape used in the Gherkin tower is structurally supported as well as pattern or exterior look however in Sheikh Lutfullah Mosque it is only a pattern. But both are valuable because of mathematical logic. Also, to the great architecture of this building, the conscious use of color, mosaic, and other decorative elements makes this mosque unique among the others in that time period.

Moaraq on the hallway Mohammedreza Husayn Photo taken with author

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Islamic Architecture