(The Theological Schools)
Chahar Bagh school 19th century drawing of the
school by French architect Pascal Coste
The splendid complex of Chahar Bagh monuments marks the final achievement of the Safavid period in Iranian architecture. Although at the time of its construction the dynasty itself was almost in its death throes, the architectural style developed by Shah Abbas I seems to have been still thriving, The complex consists of a madreseh, the Honar Bazaar, and a caravanserai that has now been refurbished into the luxurious Abbasi Hotel . The madreseh was the principal structure of the complex, built upon the initiative and a: the expense of Shah Sultan Hossein Safavid's 'nother, whence its other popular name Madrese-ye Madar-e Shah ("Seminary of the King's Mother"). The construction was finished in 1706, but the decorative work was completed in 1714. The bazaar and the caravanserai were created to produce revenue for the madreseh.
The complex occupies a vast quadrilateral. Its architect succeeded in re-producing a truly organic ensemble that offered travelers a wide range of amenities. In addition to the sumptuous common rooms and the private apartments of the caravanserai, there were shady gardens, with fountains and benches, where travelers could talk far into the night, or listen to story-tellers and music. The bazaar was the place where supplies for the journey could be purchased. The mosque of the madreseh served pilgrims as a place of prayer. That is why throughout the final years of the Safavid period the complex continuously prospered. It retained its prominent status also during the Qajar rule.
Nowa-days the building houses a theological college called after Imam Jafar Sadeq. It is entered from Chahar Bagh Avenue, through a great entrance portal 1, featuring a splendid vault of ceramic moqrnas decorations.
During the restoration of 1968, most of the tile mosaic was stripped off and substituted by modern faience. The ancient remains have only survived on two inner ledges of the long sides of the door. The magnificent entrance gate, made of wood and faced with silver plates and gilt medallions, is particularly notable. The entrance opens first to a splendid octagonal hallway , with the beautiful The work on its roof, and then to the main courtyard , This courtyard is rectangular, but cut across at each corner to give access to the patios , where the of ficers of the college once lived.
A delightful courtyard is , shaded by tall plane trees perhaps as old as the ma-dreseh itself. They produce the fascinating effect of light and shadow play. A long marbled-edge pool 5, in the center runs across the courtyard. It is filled with the water of one of the Esfahans numerous madi - water canals branching off the Zayandeh-Rud. The court yard is surrounded by two-story chambers 6, that can lodge up to 150 students. The rooms have arched windows at the back of large niches that are sparsely decorated with black. blue. or yellow lines along the ribs. The outer side of the walls is covered with brightly colored mosaics of rosettes and flowers. The cells are designed on a similar plan and each consists of a large room on the ground floor and a smaller room approximately half its size on the upper story. In the northwestern corner, embellished with rich gilt decoration, is the cell 7, that was once owned by Shah Sultan Hossein. The pious monarch often stayed at the college, taking pleasure in the teaching of the clergy and the theological disputes of the students.
In the courtyard of this madreseh, the unhappy monarch was executed by Afghan invaders in 1722. On the south side is the domed sanctuary 8, approached by an imposing eivan 9, topped by two minarets. 10, The minarets are rather squat but very ornamented. They undoubtedly mark the peak of Safavid achievements in this field. The shafts are decorated with the geo-metric designs of white faience on a turquoise background and the overhanging balconies, giving the minarets their characteristic outline. The sanctuary and its gracefully-contoured two-shelled dome are of great richness and are similar to those of all Safavid mosques and especially the Royal Mosque that was built about a century earlier.
The Chahar Bagh Madreseh, however, surpasses its predecessor in delicate workmanship. The tones are brighter, the strip of blue faience bearing the dedicatory inscription in white letters is wider, and there are two small yellow friezes. Extraordinarily rich arabesques, stylized flowers, sumptuous peacock feathers, and blend of varied blue shades are very impressive. The sanctuary contains two fine minbars, one of superb inlaid wood and the other carved out of a single slab of polished marble. The roofed prayer hall 11, to the east from the sanctuary is entered through a magnificent inlaid door and features three minrabs, The north eivan 12, is also very spectacular. Apart from lavish polychrome faience and fine inscriptions, it features a remarkable lattice mosaic window. A richly decorated door on the north side (now closed) leads to the neighboring bazaar. To the east of the north eivan, a stone sundial is installed by the wall. A stone slab casts an everdecreasing shadow of the sun on the ground; upon the sun's ascent to the zenith, the shadow ceases to exist, signalizing the ritual call to noon prayer.
Two large stone vases are found opposite the south eivan and in the vestibule leading to the Court. They are dated 1679 and 1698, respectively. From the out Side, the Chahar Bagh Madreseh has a superb view, either observed from Chahar Bagh Avenue or from Amadegah Street which flanks the building. Also, the blue and gold flowerdecked dome of the structure, set off by two minarets can be photographed from the balconies of the neighboring Abbasi Hotel.