The Imam mosque in Isfahan

  • Imam Mosque (Masjed-e Imam), Esfahan, Iran

The history

This spectacular mosque is located on the southern side of the large Naqsh-e Jaham square in Isfahan, Iran, and was commissioned in the Safavid era by Abbas the Great, who ordered the start of works in 1611. The Shah by that time was already 52 years old; to allow him to see his work completed, the technique of pre-painted tiles then assembled according to the pre-established models was introduced for the first time in Iran. The traditional techniques available were complex mosaics made with millions of individual tiles, or by directly painting the decorations on the walls, which took a very long time. This choice was decisive and allowed the completion of the structure already in 1629, 18 years after the beginning of the works. The builders of the Imam mosque had been chosen among the best architects, engineers, designers and artists of the Safavid era.

Until 1979 the Imam mosque was called Shah’s Mosque (or Royal Mosque); after the Islamic revolution it became the Imam’s Mosque but you can call it either way. It is a masterpiece of Persian and Islamic architecture that has witnessed some historical events and has a kind of royal harmony. Together with the monumental Naqsh-e Jaham square on which it overlooks, it has been registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The architecture

The asymmetrical plan of the mosque is due to a double alignment: the facade is oriented towards the square in the opposite direction to the entrance door of the Grand Bazaar of Isfahan, while the mosque is instead facing towards the Mecca. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the mosque are the splendid mosaic decorations with tiles of seven different colours.

One could spend days walking through the courtyards and in the buildings of the complex, simply following the geometric or floral patterns found on the walls, but remembering once in a while to look up as well, as some of the more elaborate mosaics decorate the domes.

The portal of the building, decorated with mosaics depicting geometric, floral and calligraphic motifs, is 30 meters high and is flanked by two 42-metre minarets. All the walls of the building are decorated with mosaic tiles of seven colours which allow a remarkable optical effect.

In the internal courtyard the arcades have refined blue and yellow mosaics, and in the center there is a tub for ablutions. The southern side leads to the main sanctuary with a large dome. In this space the echo effect reproduced by the structure is famous. According to scientists, there are 49 echo tones produced, even though the human ear perceives only 12.

Ultimately the Imam mosque, with its magnificent minarets and its various architectural marvels, is undoubtedly among the unrivalled masterpieces of Isfahan. A mosque which in its time was among the marvels of the age, and indeed, for the beauty of its design, the grandeur, the solemn dimensions and the magnificence of its majolica, is the shining star of the art of the Safavid period.

Photo Gallery by Thomas Gennaro 2022

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About the author

Thomas has a university background in the UK and in Latin America, with studies in Languages and Humanities, Culture, Literature and Economics. He started his Asian experience as a publisher in Krabi in 2005. Thomas has been editing local newspapers and magazines in England, Spain and Thailand for more then fifteen years. He is currently working on several projects in Thailand and abroad. Apart from Thailand, Thomas has lived in Italy, England, Venezuela, Cuba, Spain and Bali. He spends most of his time in Asia. During the years Thomas has developed a great understanding of several Asian cultures and people. He is also working freelance, writing short travel stories and articles for travel magazines. Follow Thomas on

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