Iranian or Persian architecture has a history dating back to almost 5000 BCE. With the Islamic conquest of Persia, the last Iranian empire before the Islamic rule (Sasanian Empire) fell in the 7th century. The rooting of Islam in Persia triggered an evolution in the artistic society: Islam led to the blossoming of artistic craft and talent in all layers of society. One’s social class was no longer a hinder to education about art and architecture. Islam led to the innovation of art and became the trigger of creativity. One of the most beautiful manifestations of the beauty of Islamic architecture can be found in the Iranian city of Shiraz: The Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque.
Mirza Hasan Ali Nasir al-Mulk, one of the lords of the Qajar Dynasty, ordered the mosque to be built in 1876 and after twelve years, the mosque was finished in 1888. The two designers of the mosque were Mohammad Hasan-e-Memār and Mohammad Rezā Kāshi-Sāz-e-Širāzi. Their vision while designing the mosque was to create a place of worship that resembles the relationship between heaven and earth and between light and colour. This vision has made the mosque one of the most stunning examples of Islamic art and architecture in the whole world.
Inside The Mosque
Inside, the mosque consists of a colourful, glass-made façade, twelve pillars that represent the Twelve Imams of Twelver Shia Islam, several arcades (succession of arches) and beautiful interior walls and ceilings with many aspects of Islamic architecture.
The first well-known element is the use of geometry on the walls and ceilings, which is very common in Islamic art. Natural elements such as flowers and leaves are turned into geometrical figures. Inside the mosque, this is particularly seen on some of the ceilings, doors and upper parts of the twelve pillars. What is very unique about the geometric shapes in the mosque is how these shapes are made with bricks. Brick, in Iran and many eastern Islamic lands, was a common material for building. By using coloured plaster or stucco revetments on the surfaces, the bricks were not only used as building material on the exterior, but also as decorative material on the interior. By placing the bricks in different patterns, perfect symmetry and contrasts between light and dark is created.
The mosque is also known as the “Pink Mosque” because of the extensive use of glazed, rose-coloured tiles across the exterior and interior of the mosque. Iran is famous for its tileworks, which have been incorporated by many Islamic lands from all over the world. According to locals, the pink tiles were only used during the mid-nineteenth century. The pink flowers on the tiles are decorated with many other hues and Islamic calligraphy also surrounds the coloured tiles. Here one can see the Chinese-like chrysanthemum, peony and lotus motifs that became popular in Iran during the fourteenth century. The floral elements are also present in the rosette groups on the ceilings.
However, not only the colour of the tiles are eye-catching, but also the illuminating colours from the light of the sun. The morning sunlight illuminates the entire mosque in a magical way because of the use of stained glass in the façade of the mosque. The production of coloured glass in West Asia particularly became popular in the 8th century when scholars such as the famous Jābir ibn Hayyān explained numerous ways in order to produce and cut glass into decorative shapes. The use of colours in ceramic was present in the Middle East and in particular Turkey. After Venetian artists adopted the glassmaking techniques and built on the glassmaking techniques from Asia, the Ottoman artists then again built on the expertise of Venice. Thus, different European and Asian influences made glass cutting to what it has become today. The shape and colours of the ceramic glass are what have made the mosque famous under its alternative names “Mosque of Colours”, “Rainbow Mosque” and “Kaleidoscope Mosque”.
The Outside of The Mosque
Outside, one can find iwāns (or ayvān in Persian) which are rectangular spaces, walled on three sides, and entirely open on one other side. The formal gateway to the iwān is called pishtāq and this pishtāq and the other walls are decorated with calligraphy bands, tilework and geometric shapes. Iwāns can be found in many mosques all around the world, but the form was invented in the pre-Islamic Sasanian period in Persia.
The decorated ceilings have two particularly well-known architectural elements. One of them, perhaps the most outstanding kind of decoration on the outside of the mosque, are the muqarnas. Muqarnas consist of tiers of niche-like elements that project out from the row below. Iran and other eastern Islamic countries made these decorations using plaster and wooden beams. The other kind of them is the panj kāseh-I, the five concave shapes on the ceiling domes. Also found inside of the mosque, these structures serve as an architectural protection and a cooling system.
Of course, these pictures are only a preview of what one can expect of this beautiful mosque. One must really visit this outstanding place in order to sense the relationship that the designers of the mosque wanted to acquire: the relationship between heaven and earth.