In Iran, religious sites are at the same time holy and historic; and people visit them for both of these reasons. Almost all of these holy sites in Iran are of great artistic and architectural importance built throughout the country, in different cities and at different times.
There are many interesting facts about each of these religious sites which I am going to talk about. However, one interesting fact they share is the combination of faith, art and a desire to create something new and unique. All these artists and architects living in different eras spanning through hundreds of years had tried to use the new trends of their time, and find a way to attach it to the original plan for a mosque.
Consequently, it can be said that the religious sites in Iran are not just a mosque in which you can go and say your prayers or pay tribute; they are a source of pride and honor for people. And it has been the case with these religious sites for centuries; this way of feeling and regarding the holy sites is common to all of the people of Iran. Be it at the time of them being built or five hundred years later, now, in which some of them are being used mostly as museums. The usage may differ, but the place they have in people’s hearts and the kind of pride people get with them had always been the same. As they are the manifestation of the art and knowledge of the people of this country.
The Holy Shrine of Imam Reza; the World’s Biggest Mosque
In the north east of Iran is a place which holds the title of the heart of Shia for the Muslims of Iran and the world. The burial place of the eighth Imam of Shia’s, Imam Reza is the world’s biggest mosque and a pilgrimage destination for thousands of people every year.
When the eighth Imam of Shia’s came to Iran and stayed in the city of Mashhad which used to be the capital of the Abbassi Caliphate of Mamon, he was martyred by the Caliph and buried in the city. The believers erected a massive tomb above his burial place which has been for centuries one of the most visited holy sites of Iran.
The very beautiful architecture and interior design of this mosque has been an example of magnitude and gratitude for centuries. It is believed by many people that this holy site is capable of giving them what they truly wish for and they visit it with open hearts. It may be the reason for the extraordinary positive and pleasant feeling of this mosque. Its huge halls and courtyards hosts thousands of people and the special chefs of this religious site fed the visitors with very famous and delicious food. No matter which royal dynasty or system of government rules the country, the holy site of Imam Reza’s shrine in Mashhad has always had a special place in people’s minds and souls and the different governors throughout its long history of standing have paid lots of tribute to it.
Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque in Shiraz, A Prism of Colors
This spectacular mosque in the historic and beautiful city of Shiraz dates back to the 19th century. Built by the governors of Shiraz at that time and named after them, this mosque has been one of the most unique and innovative monuments in its kind, and it has continued till today.
The Nasir-al-Mulk Mosque was built at the peak of Iran’s westernization in the 19th century, when the current King of Iran, Nasser-al-Din Shah Qajar visited Europe and came back with lots of ideas and new things such as different-colored tiles. Formerly, Iran’s high art of making tiles and using them in architecture has some definite borders and perspectives like the use of different shades of blue and specific symmetrical shapes. However, after seeing the art of tile and how this was perceived in Europe, having different colors and manifesting little scenes like landscapes, the King decided that this beautiful kind of art must be added to Iran’s beautiful architecture.
As a result, the holy site of the Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque has another name due to the usage of different types of tiles and stained glass, which is the Pink Mosque.
Although people may remember different churches all over the world when someone talks about the usage of the stained glass in buildings, the early record of them being used in architecture is in Syria in the 7th century, and they have been used in Iran for many years. However, the peak of the use of the stained glass is during the Safavid and Qajar dynasties of Iran, an era spanning through 400 years. The religious site of Nasir-ol-Molk mosque has one of the most stunning depictions of the art of stained glass.
Although there are many interesting facts one can talk about in this special holy site, one nicely put and well conveyed fact is the use of light. According to the book of Islam, Quran, “Allah is the light of the Heaven and the Earth”, as a result, in many religious sites, and in this special Pink Mosque too, the use of light is very cleverly done, being alight all day long with the light of the sun and the specific placement of its many windows known as Orsi, and the beautiful scene the stained glass creates as its result. This mosque is a must to go when you visit Shiraz, the cultural capital of Iran.
The Holy Shrine of Shah-Cheragh in Shiraz; Let the Light be Your Guide
The religious site of Shah-Cheragh in the city of Shiraz is a funerary monument of one of the sons of the 7th Shia’ Imam who was killed in Shiraz while he was on his way to visit his brother who lived in Mashhad at that time, and a mosque with a legendary tale about it.
No one knew about the burial place of this holy person, and where he was buried was a small hill near Shiraz. The legend tells us that an old woman used to live near that hill and she saw every week, on Friday night near dawn a glitter of a light over the hill. Curious, she stayed up late for many weeks and every Friday night that light was visible at the exact moment. She went to the court and told the King about it. Although the court people were rejecting her, the King was intrigued to find out the truth, so he declared that he would go to the old woman’s house on Friday and sleep there to see the light for himself. Thus he went and told the old woman to wake him up when the light glitters. Anxious and intrigued, when the light glittered at the right moment she yelled “King! Light!” three times. The King woke up and saw the light. He ordered his people to investigate this case and soon the remains of a body was found in there that had a ring on it which had the name of its owner engraved. This way a shrine was built over it and as the old woman called “King! Light!” The name remained with the holy site, the name Shah-Cheragh means the King of Light.
The beautiful mosque excellently built at its own time is still beautiful, and one of the celebrated pilgrimage centers for Muslims, especially Shia’s since the 14th century. Its massive halls are covered with little pieces of mirror, beautifully covering the walls and ceilings and doubling the lights within. As a custom, people dedicate different sources of light to this holy site, like different lamps and candles.
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Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan; the Royal Mosque
When the King of Iran at the Safavid Empire’s time, the Great Shah Abbas decided to move the capital of the country to the city of Isfahan, he wanted it to be one of the most glorious and important events in Persian history. The wise minister thought of a clever plan, as the city of Isfahan hosted the beautiful river of Zayandeh Roud, meaning the Giver of Life, giving the city of Isfahan life, the minister decided to build two architectural masterpieces around and near this river. One of them is Chahar-Bagh avenue which is still in use even after 500 years, and a massive square. This massive square is known to the world as the Naqsh-e-Jahan square, meaning the picture of the world is one of the UNESCO’s world heritages and hosts 4 of architectural and artistic monuments of Iran. One of these spectacular monuments is the religious site of the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque.
Located at the eastern side of the Naqsh-e-Jahan square, this special mosque has no minarets or entry courtyard like the usual mosques. The reasons for this change is that firstly, this smaller mosque of the square compared to the bigger mosque located in the southern side, was built for private use of the royal family who lived across the square in the Ali-Qapu Palace. Also, the symmetrical design of the square would have been distorted if the mosque had an entry courtyard. The minarets of the bigger mosque being taller than any minaret till that time served the purpose of the minarets in a mosque as well.
The tile work and the inscriptions of this holy site is done by masters and is a masterpiece. The blue colored tile decorations have also found their ways to the design of Persian carpets. This private mosque used to be connected to the Ali-Qapu Palace with a tunnel which went under the ground of the square, beneath the pool and the fountain and the green areas. This beautifully built artistic, architectural, historical and religious site is a must to go to when you visit Isfahan.
Imam Mosque in Isfahan; a Mosque with Many Names and Huge Presence
In the southern side of the Naqsh-e-Jahan square in the beautiful city of Isfahan is a mosque; massive, elegant and surprisingly artistic and innovative. The religious site of grand art and holy spirituality.
It was built about 500 years ago by the order of Shah Abbas the Great, the powerful King of the Safavid dynasty. Shah Abbas declared that he is going to build a mosque honoring his grandfather King Tahmasb, so he ordered everything in that mosque to be suitable to renown such a powerful and significant king. As a result, a mosque was built that when it is visited and judged by architecture experts they claim it to be the height of 1000 years of building mosques in Iran and still a masterpiece.
It was named the King mosque for centuries, as it was built by a king and dedicated to another king, but it has had different names during its 500 years of history, like New Abbasid Mosque, the King Mosque or the Imam Mosque. In 1841 the French architect and orientalist Pascal Coste painted the beautiful mosque, a valuable piece of art that can be regarded as one of the oldest depictions of this beautiful mosque.
This huge building with tall minarets and massive courtyards is covered with amazing tile work and inscriptions by masters. There is a special place in this mosque where you can stand and tap your foot and the echo you hear back is extraordinary. This religious site is also a very important architectural and artistic site from almost 500 years ago. It was the public mosque joining the smaller royal mosque of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque to be a part of a master square, a world heritage.
Agha Bozorg Mosque in Kashan; a School and a Mosque
The city of Kashan is known as the mosque city in Iran as it hosts a number of mosques beautifully built and still in use. One of the most famous ones of these mosques is the Agha Bozoeg mosque in the old, historic part of the city.
There was a renowned theologian and teacher living in the late 18th and early 19th century in the city of Kashan by the name of Mulla Mohammad Naraghi. He was very much respected among people and by the king, Fathali Shah Qajar to the extent that he gave him the title of Agha Bozorg, meaning the Great Master. This is where this holy site in Iran takes its name from. This religious site consisting of a mosque and a school was built for Agha Bozorg to teach and pray and educate people, and till today it bears his name.
The way this mosque was built was unique alongside its design and architecture. It was built in a way to require less and less working hands as the city of Kashan is located in the warmer part of Iran near its great deserts. Also, its symmetrical design with its two massive iwans are great architectural masterpieces. Additionally, the combination of the mosque and the school and the way they are harmonized and attached to one another is another architectural masterpiece.
This mosque has an architectural trend common to the architecture of towns near the deserts in Iran. It includes a second court in the middle of the courtyard which comprises a garden and a fountain.
The Holy Site of Imamzadeh Saleh in Tehran; A Revered Plane Tree
The district of Shemiranat in the northern part of the capital of Iran, Tehran, formerly detached from the main city but now a part of it, is the home to one of the very famous holy sites of Iran, Imamzadeh Saleh.
The city of Tehran is known for its plane-trees, and in Shemiranat also one of the most seen trees is the plane-tree. And it is in the middle of the courtyard of the Imamzadeh Saleh that a very old plane-tree stood, a tree sacred to the people. The legend says that this special tree stood as long as the religious site stood, it means for about a thousand years. Although the tree is gone today, the place it used to stand is marked and people still remember and glorify the huge tree that used to be a sign of comfort and the holy presence of a mighty God among them.
The religious site of Imamzadeh Saleh with its thick marble walls and ceilings and green rays of light hosts the remains of a holy person to Shia’s. The wooden box inside the tomb which covers the original graves is believed to belong to the late Safavid or the Afghanid era, it means about 400 years ago. People of Tehran still bring food like bread with cheese and green vegetables and give it to the pilgrims at the Imamzadeh Saleh as a sign of gratitude.
Shah Abdol-Azim shrine; the Royal Burial Place
The city of Rey is one of the oldest cities of Iran, its history goes back to more than two hundred years ago and it has been the home to many famous Iranian scholars and artists. The religious site of Shah Abdol-Azim has been for so long not just a burial place for a holy and respected person, but also a site of pilgrimage and a burial place for the royal families of Iran, the important scholars, literary and political figures.
This beautiful and massive mosque which is visible from distance has stood as a sign of hospitality and spirituality for many years. Among the most famous people buried there we can name two kings, Naser-al-Din Shah Qajar and Reza Shah Pahlavi, two sons of the mentioned kings, political figures like Qaem Maqam Farahani the renowned prime minister of the Qajar dynasty and a major literary figure, also scholars and political figures like Prince Abdolhossein mirza Farmanfarmaian and Sattar Khan.
Goharshad; a Dedication to Higher Belief and Knowledge
The beautiful mosque of Goharshad is adjacent to the holy shrine of Imam Reza in the city of Mashhad. Built in 1243 H by the order of the current king’s wife, Goharshad Khatoun, this mosque is at the same time a very grand library hosting about 34,650 books.
Goharshad Khatoun was a very beautiful and intelligent woman with high spirituality and state of beliefs. There is a legend about this mosque that says when she ordered this religious site to be built she wanted an architectural masterpiece filled with both spirituality and knowledge. She paid regular visits to this religious site while it was under construction and loved the place so much she gave her own name to it.
Religion and Art hand in Hand in Iran
In Iran, religious sites are seen in every town and every village, respected by people and glorified for their spiritual and artistic value. The above mentioned mosques are just some examples of these marvelous architectural, historical, artistic and religious sites one needs to visit while visiting the country, not just for the spiritual capacity or religious beliefs, but also for the sake of the art.
There are many tours here in Visit Our Iran which will promise you joyful, artistic, historic and spiritual visits to these holy sites. Iran is a country in which for thousands of years people have tried to find a way to attach the high arts to the high spiritual moments and thus have created masterpieces which are treasures for our world.