Heading to Naqsh-e Jahan square we reach our destination today. The area is known to everyone as its name is on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. In a corner of the square, a beautiful dome stands firm and glows. This dome belongs to Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, which invites us into it. We get closer and step into this building …
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is a historical and famous mosque in Isfahan that is considered as a masterpiece of architecture. Many believe that the building is not merely a mosque like others, its architecture has artfully created a space in which even the followers of other religions can see its divine and mystical light.
Sheikh Lotfollah mosque is a different mosque
1.A mosque without minarets
At first glance, lacking a minaret next to the dome attracts attentions, while in all mosques the minaret is an integral part of the architecture. Before Islam, minarets were built in the cities for navigation and the presence of minarets indicated the existence of a city. After the arrival of Islam, the minaret became the sign of mosques and was used to say the Adan and invite people to prayer.
Sheikh Lotfollah mosque was used by king and courtiers, and no minarets were erected to prevent a public usage. Even in the writings of tourists whom visited Isfahan during the Safavid era, there is little talk of this mosque, and this may be due to two reasons:
A. The mosque of the neighboring Sheikh Lotfollah, Imam mosque, has received more attention because of its greatness and grandeur.
B. Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque was a private courtyard and no one was allowed to enter it.
2. The absence of a courtyard
As we said, this mosque has no minarets, but its another difference with other mosques is the absence of a courtyard entrance and it is possible to enter through the stairs. The absence of a courtyard or entrance courtyard seems to be due to the symmetry of Naqsh-e Jahan square as this mosque is located across from Ali Qapu palace.
3. A hidden passage
According to some historians there used to be an underground passage that connected
Ali Qapu palace to Sheikh Lotfollah mosque. Actually it was used by king or courtiers when they wanted to visit Sheikh Lotfollah or say their prayers there.
4. The direction of Qibla
The building is rotated about 45 degrees based on the northern-southern axis in order to its praying hall be exactly in the direction of Qibla.
The architecture of mosques are such that when people enter the praying hall, they are directly toward the direction of Qibla, but the entrance of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque opens to the east side of the square and if they build the mosque in the same direction, they face difficulties in navigating Qibla. To solve this problem, a corridor has been built that extends to the left from the entrance of the mosque then turns to the right. This means that the structure of the mosque is in the east, and from the outside it is seen that the wall is north-south, but in the inner side of the mosque there is a Mihrab or a niche exactly towards the direction of Qibla.
Interestingly, the outside of the mosque does not show any tilt and angle, and the short dome of the mosque does not show the opposite direction or angle due to its circularity, but as we enter, we notice the apron turning toward the exterior because after passing through the dark entrance we enter to a long corridor attached to it then reach the main space and the area below the dome.
The history of Sheikh Lotfollah mosque
Construction in Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque began during the 16th century under the command of Shah Abas the 1st to commemorate Sheikh Lotfollah and continued about 18 years. The mosque was later known as Mullah Fathullah, and then became known as Sadr Mosque, Mujtahid al-Imam al-Sadr, or Sadr al-Alma, but today it is known as its original name.
The architecture of Sheikh Lotfollah mosque
Sheikh Lotfollah mosque is a masterpiece of architecture and art which was built during the 16th century. In this mosque you can see different charming colors such as blue, café ole, green and white.
The entrance door of the mosque is made of unified planes, which are about four hundred years old. The entrance has some outstanding decorations that in terms of elegance except in Imam or Shah mosque, there is no other example. Moreover there are some inscriptions which were written the most famous calligraphist of the time, Alireza Abasi.
Passing through the front door, we reach the vestibule, which guides us to the corridor that leads to the praying hall. This 28-meter corridor looks amazing in seven-colored tiles with the dominant blue and green colors.
After a few steps, to the right there are some openings that overlooks the praying hall encouraging us to continue the route. Passing through this window and before reaching the hallway , there is a door on the left that leads to the winter praying hall. It is a small room for prayers during the cold seasons of the year, It has short ceiling with a very simple decoration.
By passing about 14 meters from the entrance, the corridor turns 90 degrees to the right. In addition to solve the problem of Qibla, this corridor also gradually separates the worshipers from the urban space and prepare them to enter to the praying hall. This corridor makes the eye accustomed to low light, because if one suddenly directed from the outer space to the dark space, he or she will not understand its beauty and even they may have some accidents.
The praying hall
In spite of the surface of the square, the floor of the mosque is a bit higher. Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque has a rectangular plan, which then turns into an octagon in the upper part, and eventually joining the round dome at the top. This transformation of the square plan into a circular dome is derived from the Sassanid architecture that is displayed in this building. The heaviness and the pressure of the dome have made it to have strong and thick walls that are durable. In the windows, the diameter of the wall is one meter and seventy centimeters, and in the main part reaches more than two meters. All the inner walls are decorated with astonishing tile workings.
The Mihrab or the niche of this mosque is a masterpiece as it is decorated with lots of astonishing tiles and stalactites or Muqarnases including some arabesque and floral designs. In addition there are some inscriptions about the verses of Quran, the quotes of the prophet Muhammad and also an inscription about the architecture of the building which says:
“The act of a poor, humble man needs the mercy of God.”
Hossein Bana Isfahani
The dome of Sheikh Lotfollah mosque is one of the most circular dome in the world which is actually a double-shelved dome and with the diameters of about 12 meters and the height of 32 meters. Also it is one of the most beautiful domes in the world with various decorations. The external decorations are tile workings in arabesque and floral designs and some inscriptions of the verses of Quran. Moreover it has vibrant colors, during the morning it looks café ole, at noon it seems pink and in the afternoon it is gray. But the amazing internal decorations are eye-catching. There are 32 lozenge-shape ornamentations that become smaller and smaller at the center and also 16 openings are around the dome providing lights. Actually when light passes trough these openings and reflects to the dome, the figure of a peacock completes.
There are stories about this mosque, one is that when it was constructed architectures asked clergymen with extraordinary power to prevent the building from collapsing.