Better known as the Masjed-e Jame, it is the oldest Friday mosque in Iran. This congregational mosque or the Shah Mosque is sited in regions of Persia then and cannot be overlooked because of its vibrant coat. A coat that bleeds seven colours. This mosque is a distinctive feature of the Meidan Emam.
The emam is the royal square of Eshahan built by Shah Abis-1 with the idea of creating a paradise on earth. The Friday Mosque is not the only mosque in the square, the Sheikh Lotfollah mosque that was purposed solely for the royal family is positioned on the north wing of the royal square.
This Great mosque is an architectural timeline that dates back to 700 C.E. Several Turkish dynasties, prominently the Seljuk and Safavid dynasties, contributed extensively towards the Friday mosque’s expansion. An axis runs from the royal square’s north to south, and each of its four sides is embellished by a monument; this can be observed by studying the plan of the royal square.
Each monument holds contrasting purposes but is united by the regular alignment of the arcades. The square demonstrates a coexistence of different powers that follow a strict hierarchy where religion is august. The linear design is broken by the Friday Mosque as it angled to face towards Mekkah. Diverged at 45° from the royal square.
Embodied with stucco then later tile, the artistry is marvellous. The flowers and vines replicate the garden of Eden and life. The deep blue of the precious lapis lazuli signifies purity and represents the river and the sky. The divergence of axes required a transitional zone between the secular and spiritual worlds.
From the royal square, this forking is invisible as the façade of the Friday Mosque faces the maidan. It is set back behind a small area surrounded by stone benches. A low wall that guides the faithful to side passages, secures the access into the principal courtyard of the Friday Mosque.
Before the angled corridors, each for men and women, the public must pass by the ablutions area; a mosque is a place of public hygiene. These corridors are richly ornamented with mosaics and cleverly cut for shadows and lights, a space of self-reflection and preparation before one prays.
Masjed-e Jame introduced the four-iwan (Chahar Ayvan) courtyard plan. Over time this design is later adopted in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other prominent Islamic centres. An iwan is a portal, a passageway into the mosque. It is a rectangular hall, vaulted and walled on three sides. Now, an iwan is a key element of aesthetics in mosque design and planning.
The majestic dome on the Friday mosque is the first double-shell ribbed dome structure in the Islamic empire that made possibilities for more complex dome constructions in the future. These elements hallmark the Friday Mosque, a prototype for mosque design, layout, and construction.
Above the iwan on the west, is an astronomical tower to observe the lunar cycle and check the hour for prayer, five times a day. Beside the main prayer hall, that’s capped by the large turquoise dome, are two hypo-styled prayer halls built with stone on each side of these smaller rooms, two courtyards etched with niches spaced at regular intervals. These are the madrasas where the mullahs are taught.
None of the paths to the courtyards is closed, there are no doors shut. The rear of the Friday mosque reveals its construction. An opus of brick that stands mnemonic of the desert and the sand of its origins. In the ablutions, the brickwork is apparent but glazed masonry work unveils sophisticated geometry.
The architecture of the Friday mosque wields its volume and orientation to multiply thermal effects and protect the mosque against heat. The central pool is a source of life and was used to calculate the mosque’s dimensions. Adopted from the city of Kufa, the qu’fuck calligraphy font of Allah in classical Arabic is written with glazed bricks and printed onto the minarets and domes.
Civilian architecture turned religious; the Friday Mosque is famous for its distinctive Islamic architectural style. The royal square aimed to rope politics, royalty, and religion harmoniously wherein Islam held supremity. A gaze at this elegant mosque proves why it’s a world heritage under UNESCO.
Even now, in the 21st century, the Friday mosque emanates rich culture and history that’s over 1000 years old. The façade decorated with signs announces the symbolism of the built forms the organic unity of architecture, decorations, and writing.
The Friday mosque holds evidence that though times change, a well-built site can attract admirers. Tourists and locals gather at Isfahan to breathe and walk the spaces that have participated in prime eras. Hearing the echoes of the bazaar and prayers from the minaret all mix in this little city, reminding visitors of its purpose.