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#14 Imam Square and Ali Qapu Palace

Today was a two palace day! First the Chehel Sotoun Palace. Shah Abbas II was the seventh Safavid Shah of Iran, ruling from 1642 to 1666. He finished the pavilion in 1647 basing the design on the Achaemenid idea of a porch with columns to bridge the gap between garden and interior. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1706.

On the porch the twenty slender ribbed wooden pillars sit on stone plinths. Above is a superb wooden ceiling with crossbeams and exquisite inlay work as you can see below.

Detail of inlay work under the ceiling and the eaves.

Chehel Sotun means ‘40 pillars’ – because when the twenty pillars are reflected in the pool in front, they appear as 40. Interestingly not all the pillars are guarded by lions like this one. Perhaps they've disappeared over the centuries.

side view of Chehel Sotoun porch

Forty is also a number which in Persian is used to represent any large number, as in Ali Barber and the Forty Thieves.

The Great Hall has some delightful frescoes portraying court life and some of the great battles of the Safavid era.

There's an impressive mirror glass iwan at the entrance to the Great Hall.

The detail and patina in this mirror mosaic work is stunning.

A couple of workers were hosing the gardens - what great water pressure.

Carving on a stone fountain head very similar to the lions under the porch.

Imam Square Isfahan By Arad Mojtahedi under creative commons licence wikimedia commons

From there we moved on to the centre of life in Isfahan. It has one of the biggest city squares in the world, nicknamed Imam Square. On the left is the Sheik Lotfollah mosque, the dome at the end is the Jame Abbasi Mosque and on the right the Ali Qapu Palace. Let's visit them all!

The square was once used for marching displays, ceremonies and polo. The Ali Qapu Palace facade facing the square is a viewing platform and spectators could also use the second floor alcoves as well. Enclosed within the square is a geometrically designed garden with a central axis and long pool, lawns, and the jingling bells of horse-drawn buggies for the tourist trade. Red tasselled horses waiting for customers stand with their noses in feedbags. People sit and lie in every square inch of shade. On this hot day some were even lying in the full sun.

That's the dome of the Sheik Lotfollah mosque taken from the viewing balcony at the Ali Qapu palace. Shah Abbas II finished the mosque in 1619 for the private use of the women of his harem, and there's an underground tunnel joining the two so that they could go to prayers without having to be seen in public. There is an offset entry portal (I wonder why a portal at all when the public couldn't access it) but no minarets. It was never seen by the public and only opened to westerners centuries later. The tile work is more exquisite than the beautiful Jame mosque on the southern side of the square.

The blue and green entry portal or muqarna with its turquoise barley twist ceramic decoration.

The barley twist is continued inside. There is no courtyard, just one simple corridor leading to the soaring open prayer hall under the dome. The architect's signature is on a tile inside. The size of the mosaic pieces in this mosque are very tiny - in other mosques tiles have been about 6 inches square.

The dome is covered with beautiful tile work.

Time for tea! We took a circuitous route through a junk yard to arrive at a very quaint narrow tea shop which felt like a railway carriage, jam-packed with light fittings and bric-a-brac.

Tea was served in glasses from a teapot, with a delicious sticky pastry.

Sugar lumps in irregular shapes.