Masjid Jameh: Architectural pioneer of Iran

Mosques Contributor
Masjid Jameh
© Ulf Huebner |

I have seen four really grand medieval-era mosques in my life. The Shahi Masjid of Lahore, the J’ama Masjid in Delhi, the Sultan Ahmet Camii in Istanbul, aka the Blue Mosque and the Masjid Jameh in Isfahan. Incidentally I have seen yet another Blue Mosque, in Tabriz. Each of these are impressive shrines, with their own colours and flavours. However, if I have to pick the one with impressed me the most, it would be a tough call. I have to decide between the Sultan Ahmet Mosque and Isfahan’s Masjid Jameh. Here I shall try and briefly recall my visit to the last one.

Oldest preserved edifice of its type

Masjid Jameh ’s is the grand congregational mosque of Isfahan, the capital of the Persian empire for a long period. This immense architectural arrangement is unique by many counts. Inscribing it as World Heritage Site, the UNESCO notes it to be a ‘stunning illustration of the evolution of mosque architecture over twelve centuries…’. It is unique in being the oldest preserved edifice of its type in Iran and has been. Over a thousand years it is an inspiration for great architects designing mosques across Central Asia.

It is unique in being the first mosque to adopt the Sassanid period’s four-courtyard-layout spread over 20,000 Sq. Mt. The mosque is unique are the decorative details of its domes. They represent stylistic developments of Islamic art over a millennium.

Masijid Jameh, an inspiration for other mosques

Masjid Jameh’s main edifice was constructed in the 11th century. That time the Seljuk Turks established Isfahan as the capital of their vast empire. Since then various additions and alterations have been made as part of the shrine’s maintenance and beautification, during various reigns: the Timurid, Safavid, and Qajar rule. An even mosque with a single inner courtyard actually existed on the current location. Under the reign of Malik Shah I (1072-1092) and his immediate successors, the mosque grew to its current four-aiwan design, which worked as an inspiration for numerous mosques built in the Islamic world in centuries to follow. Fat books have been written on Masjid Jameh. Researchers from all over the world have examined and marvelled at it, inch by inch. Therefore, I can go on and on for pages with information and architectural data.

Blue beauty

However, for me the real beauty and grandeur of the mosque is totally experiential. I have not the power to transfer that feeling to words. No amount of data can really express the grandness of this shrine. Unless you stand face to face with the Firouz-blue aiwan. An aiwan is a vaulted space that opens on one side to a courtyard. The aiwan is flanked by two Firouz-blue minarets, which mark it as the one with the Qiblah, the wall marking the direction of Holy Mecca. You will not experience in your existence the awe it inspires. Indeed, it is so vast, and at the same time it is decked with such intricate architectural beauty in every nook and corner, that let alone my amateurish efforts, even professional photographers, to my mind, have failed to reproduce an iota of that experience. Seeing, really is the only way of believing it!


(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)

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