Friday Mosque (masjed-e-Jomeh), one of the most venerable and magnificent of all the buildings in Isfahan. Compared to the great Safavid mosques, this one is very sober; its dome is of undecorated brick, and the vaulted halls around the central courtyard have also been left plain. But it is this austerity which is part of its beauty and which allows one to appreciate all the more the elegance and finesse of the tile work decoration of the courtyard and Eivan.
by brum d
From an architectural point of view, the mosque is extremely complex, both because of its size (it has 476 separate domes), and because of the number of different periods of construction it has known. Excavations carried out in 1977 have brought to light the remains of a very early mosque at this site which dates back to the eighth century (according to the Arab historian Abu Nuaim the mosque was founded in 771-772). Rebuilt around 841, it was, in the tenth century a hypostyle mosque with portfcos surrounding the central courtyard. Inscriptions dated to the 11th and early l2th centuries, and which correspond to the oldest sections of the present mosque, have shed some light on the various changes which occurred during the Seljuq period. A large dome was first built in front of the Mehrab by the vizier Nizam al-Mulk between 1072 and 1092 (the same dome in place today), and a second one, known as the Gonbad-e Khaki, was added in 1088 at the northern end of the complex, opposite the mehrab, by Taj at-MuIk, Nizam sworn enemy. It is
often said that the Gonbad-e Khaki was built by Taj al-Mulk in an attempt to outdo Nizam al-Mulk construction, but its exact function remains unclear (it has been suggested that it was a ceremonial chamber of some sore or an observatory). An inscription on a door in the northeast facade mentions the reconstruction of the mosque after a fire in 1121 which spared only the few sections described above. The complex that one visits today is therefore in large part a mosaic from different periods, the result of all the renovations and modifications carried out since the fire: a l4th century Mehrab; a winter hall which is probably Timurid; minarets built by the Black Sheep'; and interior decoration of the Safavid period. The entrance to the mosque is through the southeast door which gives out onto one of the streets of the bazaar (the position of the Gonbad-e Khaki in the north of the mosque prevents one from entering from that direction although it would be more usual to do so). This door, of Seljuq date, is very simply decorated with turquoise tile work A corridor leads directly to the central courtyard; on the right,is an entrance to a madresseh.
The courtyard is a classical one with four Eivan and a marble fountain in the centre. The facades of double arcades which join the Eivan are entirely decorated with mosaic tile work, mostly from the l5th century. The south Eivan, Handed by two minarets, is the most richly decorated, the blue and turquoise shades which dominate the exterior contrasting with the ochre's on the inside of the dome. The latter is an exquisite piece of work for the harmony of its colours and forms:
the entire surface of the ceiling is covered in large cells (the stalactites used by the Safavids had not yet been developed at this period) decorated with very simple, dotted geometric motifs. Although this ceiling is Timurid (l5th century) the inscriptions on the outside, as well as the white and blue tiles of the arch are somewhat later (l6th and l7th ccnturies).
Behind the Eivan is the Mehrab hall built under Malek Shah by Nizam al-Mulk, one of the few sections of the old mosque to have survived the fire in 1121. This huge chamber, beautifully proportioned, is covered with a brick dome. The mehrab is not original but was added in the l6th or l7th century.
The north Eivan, built during the Seljuq period, has scen very little change since Safavid times and is characterized by its rather discreet decoration. It leads on to the Gonbade Khaki, the domed chamber built by Taj al-Mulk in 1088. Despite its small size (10 metres [33 feet] wide and 20 meters [66 feet] high) and its sobriety, this room is nevertheless one of the most perfect and most elegant examples of the transition from a square plan to a circular one in Persian architecture. The solution chosen here was to use a succession of arches ever decreasing in size,ending up with a circle of sixteen arches on which the dome is set. There is no tilework decoration and the star patterns inside the dome are created by the brick alone.
The west Eivan, recognizable by the small tower at its top and which is used for calling the faithful to prayer, is also a Seljuq construction. It was largely redecorated during the Safavid period but the Eivan has retained the original shape of the stalactites. To the right of the Eivan are the Mehrab chamber of sultan Uljaitu Khodbendeh and the winter mosque (these rooms are usually kept locked ask one of the guardians to open them for you). This famous Mehrab, built in 1310 and remarkably well preserved, was made for the Mongol sultan Uljaitu Khodbendeh,whose tomb is at Solnieh. The floral motifs and the exquisite calligraphy in carved stucco of the mehrab are unusually fine. The inlaid Mimbar (l4th century) to the right of the Mehrab is another work of great quality.
A door at the back leads to the winter mosque, a large bare low ceilinged room with intersecting arches that run down from the ceiling to the floor as thick pillars. The lighting, which today is artificial, used to be limited to the glow that filtered through the translucid alabaster windows in the ceiling This winter hall is thought to have been built during the transformations carried out around 1447.
Mention must also be made of the remarkable vaulted rooms all around the central courtyard which are built entirely of brick and date from the l2th-l4th centuries. Here again, there is no decoration other than that of the brick itself, but the result is never monotonous, and it is said that no two vaults in the entire mosque have exactly the same design.
Just to the north of the mosque is the tomb of Baba Qasim (aramgah-e Baba Qasim), built in memory of a Persian theologian by one of his students, in 1340. Restored in the l7th century, it has an attractive stalactite gateway decorated in blue and white tiles. Next to the mausoleum stands the Madresseh-ye- Emami, also built in honor of Baba Qasim. Here again, the use of glazed tiles is relatively limited and the colour of the natural brick plays an important role in the decoration.
To the west of the Friday Mosque is the imdmzddeh Darb-e Emam. This monument, finished in 1453, was built over the tombs of two descendants of Imams, Ibrahim Datha and Zain al-Abedin. It is unusual in having two domes, but its fame is mainly due to the quality of the tile work on the main Eivan, considered a worthy rival of the Blue Mosque in Tabriz. The lifework on the exterior of the domes, also very fine, is later than that of the eivan. The dome over the main chamber was restored during the reign of Shah Abbas (1642-1666) and the one
over the Eivan was added as part of modifications carried out (1670 -1671) during the reign of Shah Suleiman.
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