Masjid Choubin: The wooden mosque of Khorasan
“Now I shall take you to a mosque, the kind of which, I believe, you’ve never seen,” said Fayizeh, my Iranian friend. November, 2015. She and I had hit the streets of Neyshabur, in Iran’s Khorasan province early in the morning. “Really?” I asked, “And what’s that?” She told me locally it’s called Masjid Choubin. Choubin, I knew, meant wooden. “And that’s why it’s special?” I continued, “Because it’s made of wood?” Fayizeh confirmed.
There is no other mosque in the world quite like it. But soon I was to discover that the small Masjid Choubin, wooden mosque, in terms of exquisite beauty offers much more than the material with which it is made of.
Location of Masjid Choubin
Neyshabur is a fabled city, and therefore a few words must be said about the place where this unique Masjid Choubin is located. The second emperor of the Sasanid Empire Shapur founded the city. He ruled between 240 and 270 CE. Since then the city has walked through much laughter, tears and flames. In the early 10th century Neyshabur became the capital of Tahirid dynasty. It went through major reforms during the rule of Abdullah Tahir in 830. Later Tughril of the famous Seljuk Dynasty made Neyshabur the capital of his empire in 1037.
In course of several centuries the city became a major cultural, commercial, and intellectual centre not only in the Islamic world, but the world at large. Along with cities such as Merv, Herat and Balkh, Neyshabur became one of the four great cities of Greater Khorasan. It was one of the greatest cities in medieval times. Neyshabur reached the height of its prosperity under the Samanids in the 10th century. The city lost its glory in the 1220s, destroyed by the Mongols.
The wooden village
Neyshabur’s mornings, Baghdad’s evenings and Cairo’s nights, the saying goes, make a man’s life complete. By that count I have so far been able to do just a third of it, and I am ready to vouch that Neyshabur’s dazzling sky is truly matchless. And so is its golden afternoon. We reached the site, even as the sun drew to the horizon painting the Binalud mountains with a golden hue. Soon I learnt it was not only the mosque, but a whole village that was made of wood, including houses, shops, bakeries, restaurants and even a small museum. Fayizeh informs me that this is the only village totally made of timber, that the edifices are designed to withstand earthquakes up to 8 on the Richter scale.
Timber for Masjid Choubin
Masjid Choubin certainly is unique in its appearance. It has two beautiful minarets, 13 metres high, each with a turret on top. The floor of the Aiwan (the main hall) is spread over 200 Sq metres. The Wooden Mosque was built over two years, using 40 tons of timber from pine, mulberry, walnut, pear, cherry, ash and white poplar trees. Interestingly there are no pillars inside the mosque to support the roof or the minarets. One of the major challenges before Iranian engineer Hamid Mojtahedi, who designed and constructed the whole village, was to make the mosque termite resistant.
There was not a soul in the mosque, when we entered the prayer hall. There was complete silence, not eerie, but a silence of absolute peace. It was a strange feeling, standing with Fayizeh in the adjacent garden as the evening approached with a riot of colours on the western horizon.
(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)