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Esfahan Congregational Mosque (Jame Mosque)

This precious jewel survives from ancient times and reveals 14 centuries of Iranian architectural achievement. It began in the 3rd or 4th century as a fire temple and was converted to a mosque during the Arab Abbasid Caliphate reign.

The total area of the mosque, 23,000 square meters, makes it the biggest old congregational mosque in Iran. According to historical studies, the early mosque was built in 773 and expanded later. The initial construction follows the same rectangular plan with columned praying hall surrounding the court yard as well as other mosques of that ear. During the Buyid dynasty, a new prayer hall was constructed around the courtyard and this changed the appearance of the mosque.

The mosque’s main entrance is a portal facing towards sunrise and on either side beats the economic heart of the city in the form of the old bazaar.

Passing through the corridor, located to the right is the Hakim Iwan, which is decorated with beautiful brick stalactites. It invites visitor to enjoy the collection of architectural works.

In this small praying hall, circular pillars are decorated with moulded bricks and are reminders of the Buyid era, where plaster art completes the brick works. Opposite to this praying hall, there is another built in Muzaffarid era (14th century) where circular columns are decorated with moulded cross-like symbols on brick. This specific kind of cross-like figure has been seen on pottery remains from 3000 BCE. This symbol is a simplification of the sun shining and revolving. At the top of columns, brick vaults with different and unique geometric designs can be seen. It is as if each vault is the masterpiece of the creator and that each design has a secret reason for inviting you to enjoy the heavens above and creatures below.

Jame mosque was partly damaged by Iraqi fighter-bombers in 1985 during the eight-years of the Iran-Iraq war. The ceilings which collapsed were renovated promptly by the Cultural Heritage Organization.

From the Muzaffarid (14th century) prayer hall we enter another prayer hall in the West, although most of these columns are square, on the northern side are round columns with beautiful brick relief decoration with cross-shaped designs. This prayer hall dates back to the successors of Malikshah the Seljuk (12th century). On the same route heading westward is the main dome of the mosque called the Nezam ol-Molk dome, this is a brick dome built on a foundation in the form of twin and quadruplet columns. The dome chamber is lower than those in the littoral prayer halls. The walls are 14.5 meters in length and the typical oval-shaped brick dome on the top is 34 meters high. The square-shaped plan of the main dome chamber is 17 meters high and is converted to an octagonal plan by squinches in the corners and then smaller squinches convert it to a hexadecimal plan on which the dome is founded. The inscription on the dome indicates the date of construction was 1081, making it contemporary with the ruling period of Malikshah the Seljuk and was built by Khajeh Nezam ol-Molk. The actual period of construction was from 1072 to 1092. The prayer niche in the dome chamber is decorated with tile work of the Safavid era (17th Century) overlaying the original Seljuk prayer niche which is still visible and distinct.

To the west of Nezam ol-Molk dome, there are two prayer halls, the first is Seljuk (12th century) and the second, Safavid (late 16th century). The Safavid prayer hall has two architectural aspects. Nearly two third of the space is columned and the second part has high arches with a big opening from which some ceiling skylights supply the light to the prayer hall in an architectural style reminiscent of the Muzaffarid era (14th century). Leaving the Southern section, we take a step towards the courtyard of the mosque with its four Iwans. In the centre of the courtyard is a roofed rectangular pool. This pool was constructed in 1577 and its roof was a suitable place for making speeches to Hajj pilgrims as they trained for the Hajj ritual ceremony.

The quadruple Iwans of the mosque are set in centre of each side of the courtyard. Each Iwan bears a name, has a unique history, and has different adornments of stalactites and tiles.

The Southern portal is called Saheb (named after Saheb Ibn Abbad, the minister of Moayed od-Doleh and Fakhr od-Doleh the Deylamid). The foundation of the Saheb Iwan dates back to the 12th century when the Jame mosque took on an Iranian style (namely four Iwans facing in all four directions). The Iwan and two minarets annexed to it were renovated in the Hassan Beg the Turkman era (1474). Other inscriptions in this Iwan indicate restorations implemented in 1531 and 1663. In addition to that, there is a stone water basin across from this Iwan dating back 1690. The tile decorations of the Saheb Iwan consist of different styles representative of the eras of their construction.

The northern Iwan opposite the Saheb is called the Dervish (mystic) Iwan and has superb brickwork with cross-shaped design as well as plasterwork and stalactite (pendentive) decoration. The plaster carved inscription indicates a date of 1686.

The Iwan on the eastern side is known as the Shagerd (meaning Student or pupil) and the Western is called the Ostad (Master) Iwan, both are the same size but have different decorations.

The Shagerd Iwan (1681) is adorned with tile work decorations and contains delicate and beautiful hanging adornment showing its Seljuk features perfectly.

The Ostad Iwan consists of large and exquisite pendentives with geometrical tile work and the inscription inside the tile indicates 1700. In the Northern part of the Ostad Iwan, a wooden door leads the visitor to the prayer hall of Oljaitu the Mongol with its splendid plasterwork prayer niche.

This niche was built in 1310 by order of Mohammad Savi (Oljaitu Iranian minister) and is the only example in Iran of this type of plasterwork with an harmonious amalgamation of arabesque, geometrical and floral design alongside some holy verses of Koran.

There are two wooden pulpits made of plane tree flanking the niche, one belonging to 14th century and the other 17th century.

After the Oljaitu prayer hall, a low-rise door leads the visitor into the Beyt Ol-Shataa (winter pray hall). This winter-summer combination of prayer halls is dated 1447. Its tent shape and double layered ceiling along with the robust walls of mud brick, insulate in both summer and winter affording comfort for those at prayer.

There are some beautiful prayer halls in the northern section of the mosque. The northeastern prayer hall is the most beautiful of those belonging to Seljuk era. Its diverse and delicate vaults are based on high-rise brick square profile columns. There are two other prayer halls in the north part and known to be constructed during the Mongolian period.

In the far North of the prayer hall, there exists the Taj ol-Molk dome. This unique dome is an egg shaped structure so is called Khagi. The dome chamber is measures 11.8 metres by 12.1 metres along each side and is 22 metres high. The date inscribed on the neck of the dome indicates 1088 and was constructed at the commands of Tarkan Khatun, (the queen of Malikshah) of Taj ol-Molk the distinguished rival of Nezam ol-Molk.

The design of the dome space consists of many delicate and different high relief patterns using small fragments of brick with different geometric shapes, (namely triangle, square, rectangular, lozenge, hexagon, and octagons). These marvellous patterns unconsciously remind the visitor of inlaid art and requiring tenderness and delicacy.

The Muzaffarid (14th century) theological school is located on the northeast side of the Shagerd Iwan and includes some rare examples of faience mosaic of this period. The tile inscription written in Thulth reveals the date 1366. This space is also known as the Omar Iwan in deference to Omar Ibn Abd ol-Aziz Ajli. The prayer niche was built in 1376.

In the time of Afghan domination over Esfahan and by the order of Ashraf the Afghan, a tile inscription was installed including salutations addressed to Abu Bekr, Omar, Ottoman and Ali who were the Rashidun Caliphs. The congregational mosque has 11 gates, one of the oldest of these has a brick inscription dated 1121 suggestive of a conflagration done by Esmaeili sect, in which the library and some praying halls were set on fire and destroyed.

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