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Jameh Masjid Isfahan (Isfahan Mosque)

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The Masjid-e-Jāmeh Isfahān (مسجد جامع اصفهان), also known as the Friday Mosque (مسجد جمعه) or the Masjid Jameh Atiq (مسجد جامع عتیق), is the grand, congregational mosque (Jāmeh) of Isfahān city, within Isfahān Province, Iran. The mosque is the result of continual construction, reconstruction, additions and renovations on the site from around 771 to the end of the 20th century.

Overview

This is one of the oldest mosques still standing in Iran, and it was built in the four-iwan architectural style, placing four gates face to face. The mosque’s core structure dates primarily from the 11th century when the Seljuk Turks established Isfahan as their capital. Ablution fountain can be seen in the foreground. Under the reign of Malik Shah I (ruled 1072-1092) and his immediate successors, the mosque grew to its current four-iwan design. The mosque has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2012.

History

circa 771 CE

Pre-Umayyad and Umayyad Eras
Built during the Umayyad dynasty, it is rumored in Isfahan that one of the pillars of this Mosque were personally built by the Caliph in Damascus. Prior to it becoming a Mosque, it is said to have been a house of worship for Zoroastrians. Responding to functional needs of the space, political ambition, religious developments, and changes in taste, over the centuries additions and modifications took place incorporating elements from the Mongols, Muzzafarids, Timurids and Safavids.

circa 1050-1180 CE

Early Seljuk Era
In the 11th and 12th centuRIES CE, Masjid Jame' of Isfahan witnessed the greates changes ever in its interior and exterior bodies. The most important development in the Islamic architecture of Iran took place in this period of time. Actually, the design shifted from shabistani columned spaces to mosques with four iwans (that were exclusively Iranian) occured during this time period, stating in the 11th century.

circa 1050-1180 CE

Later Seljuk Era
Following the construction of Nizam al-Mulk dome in the south and Taj al-Mulk dome in the north, as well as four iwans upn the main sahn axis of Masjid Jame' of Isfahan, its previous architecture lost its simple shabistani form and turned tn to the four-iwan-style. Even since the four-iwan-style mosque building became one of the predominant architectural feature of the moden mosque building. During this period some minor changes also took place in Masjid Jame' Isfahan which largely manifested themselves in alterations in the subsance and color of the internal surfaces as well as facades around the building. But the four-iwan-style as well as the glory of elements installed in the Seljuk era will always be the highlight and sole characteristics of this time.

circa 1050-1180 CE

Ilkhanid Era

circa 1370-1600 CE

Timurid Era
During Timurid rule in Isfahan, Masjid Jame' of Isfahan still kept its social and historical importance. Rulers of this political era started expanding worshipping spaces as well as decorating mosque facades. In the south western wing, a shabistan was built that was principally the continuation of the shabistan parallel to the Qiblah wall westwards. The new part was outside the west mud brick wall of the third century mosque. For this reason, in order t link it with existing shabistans, its mud brick wall at the relecant spot was totally removed and instead columns and false arches were built having the same thiness as the wall in order to make possible easy access between the old and the new shabistans. Furthermore, the new columns row was adjusted with the axis of the former columns so that the desired uniform space was created and the lines of worshippers could not be disrupted. The Timurid shabistan has simple surfaces without any ornaments including its columns and tagh o cheshmeh coverings even its mihrab.

After the costruction of the shabistan, entrance to the Masjid Jame' of Isfahan shifted westwards. The corridor in the north wing of the shabistan, behind the south wall of the Mozaffari Mosalla and ending in the west walkway gate makes access to the courtyard possible. Portal of the west walkway gate has been reconstructed and decorated in 999 Hj. (1590 CE) during Safavid rule.

Decorating the facade of the mosque sahn. The inner courtyard facade of the intial Abbasid mosque was quite simple but in Al-e Buyed era a row of Tagh-o-cheshmeh was annexed to it leading resulting in a newer facade that consisted of a single tiered false arch with brick work decorations. Around the middle of the 14th century wich was during the reign of the Ilkhanid era, the inner cubicles of the sahn became two tiered and were elevated about 1.5 meters above the roof edge following an architectural order.

In the end of the second tier false arches, where arches belonging to the previous period can still be seen. Such architectural changes in the mosque facade were restored in the time of Tamerlane's successors and were covered with tiles and bricks (maqti). This decorative work still remains and has kept its authenticity.

Architecture

circa 771 CE

Qibla Iwan
The qibla iwan on the southern side of the mosque was vaulted with muqarnas during the 13th century. The qibla iwan is the only one flanked by two cylindrical minarets. Iwans were also added in stages under the Seljuqs, giving the mosque its current four-iwan form, a type which subsequently became prevalent in Iran and the rest of the Islamic world. Safavid intervention was largely decorative, with the addition of muqarnas, glazed tilework, and minarets flanking the south Qibla iwan.

circa 771 CE

Öljaitü Mosque
Of the most note is the elaborately carved stucco mihrab commissioned in 1310 by Mongol ruler Öljaitü, located in a side prayer hall built within the western arcade. This part of a building is named Öljaitü Mosque. The exquisite stucco mihrab is adorned with dense Quranic inscriptions and floral designs.

circa 1086–87 CE

Dome-chamber of Nizam ul-Mulk
This domed interior was reserved for the use of the ruler and gives access to the main mihrab of the mosque.

The first phase of its construction began in the time of Malek Shah during which by the order of his vizir Nizan ul-Mulk, a domed hall was built in southern shabestan of the mosque, behind the southern ayvan known as the Soffe Saheb, in a confined area (Maqsura) upon a square shaped surface.

The dome chamber is 14.30 meters wide, 14.60 meters long and 26.97 meters high. The dedicatory inscription on the base of the dome is in simple Kufic script, embosed on brick. It contains the name of Malik Shah Seljuq as well as the founder of the building, Khajah Nizam ul-Mulk, but without citing the date of its construction.

Based on her investigations about the inscription as well as Malek Shah's titles and designations and their comparison with eleven other available writings dated and in the name of this king, Shila Belair estimates the dome construction to be between the Arabic months of Jamadi-al Sani 479 LAH and Zi hajjeh 480 LAH coinciding with September 1086 and March 1088 CE respectively (Inscriptions, 160-163).

circa 1088 CE

Soffe Darvish
Located in the northern part of the mosque, behind the northern Ayvān, it was constructed in the year 1088 CE (481 Hj.). This construction was most probably the last phase of fundamental alterations performed during the Seljuqs era. Nothing remains out of its main façade after 1934 CE (1313 Hj.) and at present as far as a depth of 3.5 meters from Sahn edge is considered as contemporary reconstruction. The northernmost end of the Ayvān has taken the place of the original mud brick wall of the mosque. In its real form, the Shah neshin located at the end of Ayvān was connected to two relatively wide peripheral areas and from its mid section it probably reached a ceremonial corridor starting from Taj al-Mulk dome which after passing through the northern Iwan ended in Sahn of the mosque.

circa 771 CE

The cupolas and piers that form the hypostyle area between the iwans are undated and varied in style, endlessly modified with repairs, reconstructions and additions. Dome soffits (undersides) are crafted in varied geometric designs (inspect) and often include an oculus, a circular opening to the sky. Vaults, sometimes ribbed, offer lighting and ventilation to an otherwise dark space.

circa 771 CE

Central Courtyard
Linking the four iwans at the center is a large courtyard open to the air, which provides a tranquil space from the hustle and bustle of the city. Brick piers and columns support the roofing system and allow prayer halls to extend away from this central courtyard on each side. The roof of the mosque is a panoply of unusual but charming domes crowning its hypostyle interior.

circa 771 CE

Seljuk Domes
Construction under the Seljuqs included the addition of two brick domed chambers, for which the mosque is renowned. The south dome was built to house the mihrab in 1086–87 by Nizam al-Mulk, the famous vizier of Malik Shah, and was larger than any dome known at its time. The north dome was constructed a year later by Nizam al-Mulk's rival Taj al-Mulk. The function of this domed chamber is uncertain. Although it was situated along the north-south axis, it was located outside the boundaries of the mosque.

circa 771 CE

The mosque’s core structure dates primarily from the 11th century when the Seljuk Turks established Isfahan as their capital. Positioned at the center of the old city, the mosque shares walls with other buildings abutting its perimeter.

circa 771 CE

The main entrance lies in the Grand Bazaar of Isfahan, towards the southwest wing of the mosque. Due to its immense size and its numerous entrances (all except this one are inaccessible now), it formed a pedestrian hub, connecting the arterial network of paths crisscrossing the city. Far from being an insular sacred monument, the mosque facilitated public mobility and commercial activity thus transcending its principal function as a place for prayer alone.

Gallery

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References

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