Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chehel Sotoun

Built in 1647, Chehel Sotoun (چهل ستون) is a pavilion in the middle of a garden covering 67,000 Sq. meters at the far end of a long rectangle shaped pool, in Isfahan, Iran, built by Shah Abbas II to be used for the Shah's entertainment and receptions. In this palace, Shah Abbas II and his successors would receive dignitaries and ambassadors, either on the terrace or in one of the stately reception halls. Shah Abbas II built Chehel Sotoun inside a vast royal park round an earlier building erected by Shah Abbas I. The Chehel Sotoun palace is one of the sixteen Safavid palaces in Isfahan, four of which are left.  

The name, "Forty Columns," was inspired by the twenty slender wooden columns supporting the entrance pavilion, which, when reflected in the waters of the fountain, are said to appear to be forty. Each column is made of a plain tree with a thin layer of colored board fitted on the skin. The layer was formerly covered with colored pieces of glass and mirror. The wooden pillars support an elegant terrace with a light wooden ceiling of wide fretwork louvers. The terrace is only a few steps high and opens the pavilion onto the gardens and an elegant pool. The ceiling still keeps its beams, covering, painted wood louvers, and carefully lay-work-rosettes and suns, stars, stylized fruit and foliage.  

According to some studies, the possibility of the existence of another pool on the western side of the palace (which was filled due to the changes that took place during the Qajar era) was explored. In 2006 such a pool was in fact discovered and unearthed. Archeological studies show that the discovered pool which was found on the west side of the palace is much bigger than the one found previously on the east side. Studies also revealed that during the Safavid period, water was transferred from this pool to the eastern one and then through canals it was directed to Naqsh’e Jahan Square. 

As with Ali Qapu, the palace contains many frescoes and paintings on ceramic. The upper part of the inside walls are decorated with six wall paintings, which represent Safavid court life and military exploits. The area beneath these frescos is covered with smaller paintings, closely similar to Persian miniatures. The paintings portray the parties held by Shah Abbas II, reception of Mohammad Vali Khan, the king of Turkistan, the war between Shah Ismail the first and the Ottoman forces in Chaldoran, and the reception party in honor of Homayoun, the king of India. A more recent painting portrays Nader Shah's victory against the Indian Army at Karnal in 1747. There are also traditional miniatures celebrating the joy of life and love. The whole room is covered by a series of Safavid objects including carpets, armor, porcelain and coins. The Chehel Sotoun has been badly damaged during different eras, especially while the Afghan invasion when the paintings were covered with a thick coat of whitewash. All the walls used to be decorated with large mirrors and colored pieces of glass and beautiful paintings. Many parts of the building including the vaulted ceiling and the throne room have been largely restored to their original design. 

The palace is now a museum of Safavid paintings and ceramics, which attracts millions of domestic and foreign visitors. In 2005 safe guarding plans were to be implemented to include the installation of early fire prevention systems.


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