Thursday, December 7, 2023

Ali Qapu

Ali Qapu Palace (کاخ عالی قاپو) or the Grand Ali Qapu is an imperial palace in Isfahan province. It is located on the western side of the Naghsh’e Jahan Square, opposite to Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque. The palace served as the official residence of Persian Emperors of the Safavid dynasty. Ali Qapu is regarded as the best example of Safavid architecture. The building was built by decree of Shah Abbas I in the early seventeenth century. It was here that he used to entertain noble visitors, and foreign ambassadors. Shah Abbas, here for the first time, celebrated the Norooz of 1006 AH / 1597 C.E. From the upper galleries, the Safavid ruler watched polo, army maneuvers and horse-racing in the Naghsh’e Jahan Square.

The name Ali Qapu, from Persian Ali (meaning "imperial" or "great"), and Azerbaijani Qāpū (meaning "gate"), was given to this place as it was right at the entrance to the Safavid palaces which stretched from the Naghsh’e Jahan Square to the Chahar Bagh Boulevard. Ali Qapu's building was founded in several stages and the period of the development, with intervals, lasted approximately seventy years and completed in 1597.

From the entrance of Ali Qapu Palace to the highest part of the music hall, the building has been decorated with the art of Iranian artists. Ali Qapu is rich in naturalistic wall paintings by Reza Abbasi, the court painter of Shah Abbas I, and his pupils. There are floral, animal, and bird motifs in his works. Gilding can also be seen on the walls, arches, and ceilings of Ali Qapu Palace.  The highly ornamented doors and windows of the palace have almost all been pillaged at times of social anarchy. Only one window on the third floor has escaped the ravages of time. Under the reign of Nasereddin Shah, the Safavid cornices and floral tiles above the portal were replaced by tiles bearing inscriptions.

The Palace is 48 meters high with multiple floors, each accessible by a difficult spiral staircase. The staircase was built in a manner in which it would not be possible to navigate it with a shield, thus exposing intruders. 

The chancellery was stationed on the first floor. On the third floor, 18 columns of the porch and its octagonal marble pool were covered with mirrors and its ceiling was decorated with great paintings. 

On the top floor (Music Hall), where royal reception and banquets were held and various ensembles performed music and sang songs, deep circular niches are found in the walls, having not only aesthetic value, but also acoustic. Due to the lack of symmetry and various stages of construction, from Naghsh’e Jahan Square the structure appears as two stories high, from the back five stories high and from each side three stories high.

The Palace is depicted on the reverse of the Iranian 20,000 rials banknote. 

The Palace is also depicted on the reverse of the Iranian 20 rials 1953 banknote series. 

In 2018 the palace underwent restoration (repair of the balcony’s columns and its floor) while 2022 efforts included cleaning the stair decorations (physically and chemically), strengthening the gypsum and paint layers, and restoring surfaces damaged by memorabilia. In 1979 UNESCO inscribed the Palace and the Square as a World Heritage Site due to its cultural and historical importance.

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