Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jameh Mosque

The Jameh Mosque of Isfahan (مسجد جامع اصفهان) is the grand, congregational mosque within Isfahan province and can be seen as a stunning illustration of the evolution of mosque architecture over twelve centuries. The Mosque is the result of continual construction, reconstruction, additions and renovations on the site from around 771 to the end of the 20th century. The origins of this Mosque lie in the 8th century although it is thought to be burnt to the ground leaving only some of the south and north prayer halls intact. It was rebuilt in the 11th century and went through remodeling many times. As a result it has rooms built in different architectural styles and represents a condensed history of the Iranian Architecture. Spanning more than 20,000 square feet, it is one of the oldest mosques still standing in Iran, and it was built in the four-prayer hall architectural style, placing four gates face to face.

Responding to functional needs of the space, political ambition, religious developments, and changes in taste, further additions and modifications took place incorporating elements from the Mongols, Muzzafarids, Timurids and Safavids. Of note is the elaborately carved stucco altar commissioned in 1310 by Mongol ruler Oljaytu, located in a side prayer hall built within the western arcade. Safavid intervention was largely decorative, with the addition of niche-like cells, glazed tilework, and minarets flanking the south prayer hall. The harmony of the brickwork, the tile work added later, as well as the plaster moldings, inscriptions, and other decorations in a setting of glorious simplicity, engulf the beholder in an almost spiritual aura.

The Mosque has 8 entrances, each of them built in a different period and the oldest of them on its northeastern side now blocked. Its current main entrance is located on its southeastern side. All the buildings are set round a fine rectangular central courtyard leading to a prayer hall on each side of it. The main courtyard spans 60 by 70 meters which contains two pools, one of them partially covered by a platform raised on top of four columns which in the past had been used as a lectern.

Construction under the Seljuqs included the addition of two brick domed chambers, for which the Mosque is renowned. Its double-shelled ribbed domes represent an architectural innovation that inspired builders throughout the region. The south dome was built in 1086–87 and was larger than any dome known at its time. Inside the dome has been adored with Mongol-era stalactite mouldings and two minerats. The north dome was constructed a year later as a direct riposte to the earlier south dome, and successfully so, claiming its place as a masterpiece in Persian architecture for its structural clarity and geometric balance. Inside it is filled with massive cursive Quranic inscriptions. Prayer halls were also added in stages under the Seljuqs, giving the Mosque its current four-prayer hall form, a type which subsequently became prevalent in Iran and Central Asia. The prayer hall facing Mecca on the southern side of the Mosque was vaulted with niche-like cells during the 1300s.

The Mosque contains alabaster lighting systems for prayer rooms below ground along with a wooden carved minbar and is built on grounds that used to be a Zoroastrian Fire Temple. In 2012 the Jameh Mosque in Isfahan was approved as a World Heritage site in the 36th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.