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Sheikh Lotfollah mosque

This mosque is another precious Safavid gem built between 1602 and 1619 upon the order of Shah Abbas the Great. It is found on the eastern side of the square. The mosque was named after Sheikh Lotfollah, a great Shiite clergyman, encouraged to Esfahan from his home in the Lebanon to boost the Shiite cause.

The portal hides a small part of the magnificent and splendid dome of this mosque. The colour of the dome changes throughout the day, being pink at dawn, beige at noon and ochre at dusk. It is as if the sun gives different colours to the arabesque designs as the day progresses. The mosque portal sits back from a row of two-story shops on each side. It is decorated with ceramic tiles making blue floral designs and additional ornaments. The mosque’s main feature is only revealed when one passes through the entrance. There are no minarets and there is no courtyard, this is a place of perfect peace.

At the entrance, one faces a half-dark corridor and it takes some moments for the eyes slowly to accommodate and uncover the beauty and elegance of the blue ceramic tile designs. The visitor follows the corridor through two right turns directly into the dome chamber. As with the Jame mosque, this allows orientation of the prayer niche towards Mecca instead of the north-south axis of the square. Looking upwards the first impression of the dome is that of a peacock displaying its tail, an effect cleverly achieved using round and lozenge shaped designs. A further examination may suggest the appearance of a shining sun. The patterns repeat and repeat getting gradually smaller as the diameter of the dome reduces towards the apex, finally fusing into the central decoration.

The single dome itself is 22 meters in diameter and reaches a height of 32 metres. It is supported by the walls of the dome hall that are 1.6 metres thick. The square plan of the hall is ingeniously converted to an octagonal shape and then squinches round the corners to support the dome. There are 16 latticed windows of two-layered stucco around the base of the dome, decorated with inlaid mosaic allowing subdued light into the dome chamber.

Perhaps the most difficult concept for the visitor to grasp is the shear amount of extraordinary efforts gone into this building. The walls and ceilings are not covered by tiles (a manufacture difficult enough in any event) but by mosaic. Each piece being shaped and fitted individually, the dome hall is 18.8 meters across, imagine the commitment, imagine the expense and the dedication of the chief architect, Mohammad Reza Esfahani, who was pressured by the Shah for a completion date. In the prayer niche, there is a tile inscription from the chief mason "the deed of a poor and humble man seeking God’s Mercy, Mohammad Reza the son of Ostad Hossein Banna Esfahani” and dated 1619. The masterpieces of calligraphy in the mosque are the work of Alireza Abbasi a master of the Safavid era and of Bagher Banna.

 

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