HASHT BEHESHT (KAKHE HASHT BEHESHT)
The royal palace of Hasht Behesht, dominating the superb Bagh-e Bolbol ("Garden of Nightingale"), dates from 1660 and is the most remarkable construction of Shah Soleiman Safavid. Its style is akin to that of the palaces of Shah Abbas If, but here the familiar techniques have their greatest impact. At the height of its glory, the palace ranked among the world's most remarkable buildings and was described in exalted terms by most European visitors. The palace was greatly refashioned under Fathali Shah Qajar in the 19th century. Since then, the present name of the palace, standing for "Eight Paradises". was given to the site. Some authorities maintain that the palace was originally called Hesht-e Behesht, meaning "The Anteroom of Paradise". perhaps named so for a stunning sumptuousness rivaled only by that of the heavenly world. More whimsical accounts ascribe the derivation of the name to the time, when the palace was inhabited by Zel ai-Sultan, Fathall Shah's Son. He is said to have kept in this palace eight favorite concubines, whose beauty could have only been compared with that of angels of paradise.
Despite its modest size (it occupies about 700 sq. m and rises 14 m high), the palace has a rather complicated plan in which radial symmetry is deployed. It is basically a chahar taq, the architectural form practiced at least since the Sasanid period, but the Safavid structure reveals considerable development compared to its Sasanid predecessors. While inSide, one has the feeling of coming into a labyrinth of interlinked rectangular and octagonal rooms 1, Occupying the four corners of the building on two levels and interrupted by open porches 2, on three sides, each different from the others in shape and decoration. The center of the edifice rises two stories and is surmounted by a dome with a skylight at the apex 3, The feeling of a maze is enhanced by a hidden staircase 4, leading to the upper flour (todayit is inaccessible due to its location in the administrative section).
The palace used to have many safety precautions. The rooms on the upper floor were guarded by eunuchs, who constantly paced along the corridors that connected the rooms. In addition to this, each room was locked by double frame doors.
All the rooms also had either a finely worked fireplace or a small water basin, which regulated the temperature in cold and hot seasons respectively.
In its heyday, the palace featured the most exquisite decorations: gilded mosaics and mirror-work, calligraphic friezes and brocade panels, marble slabs and stucco moldings. But it is for its garden setting and the plaster ceilings cut into a variety of forms (similar to those in the Music Chamber of Ali Qapu) that the edifice is especially noted.
Today little remains of the palace's renowned splendor. Most of its original embellishments were mutilated during the rule of Zel al-Sultan, who re-decorated the palace to his own taste. He had entire surfaces notched so that the plaster decorations, which appealed more to his taste than did the exquisite murals of Safavid kings, would stick to the walls. Today the original adornments are being recovered from under the plaster layer and are being carefully restored. The surviving decorations are concentrated on the upper floor of the palace (currently closed because of ongoing renovation work; they, however, can be observed from outside).
Preserved in the central hall is a remarkable ceiling with pendentives adorned with mirrors. Among the palace's beauties, one may observe fine marble pools over which water used to flow and try to imagine how beautiful a setting this would have been under the Safavids, Hasht Behesht is quite literally a perfect garden pavilion as it brings to perfection the iconography of a traditional Iranian garden. The pavilion is fully exposed to the nature and in a sense, even draws it inside through the four porches to the basin of water and the fountain, its spiritual center.
Today the garden has been converted into a city park and eventually lost many of its original features.
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