Iran Day 5 : Isfahan (5 Mar 11) – Half of the World : Visiting the Ali Qapu Palace and the Imam Mosque in Isfahan Square

A Home for the Royalty – Ali Qapu Palace

We started the day slightly later than the previous days. After breakfast, we headed for the Imam Square to visit the 3 monuments there. I would consider this as the second climax of my Persian trip, I have read so much about Imam Square and its constructs. Afterall there is a saying in Iran that goes “If you have visited Isfahan, you have been to half of the world”.

Our first stop is Ali Qapu Palace. The interesting thing about this palace is it is designed to confuse onlookers. From a different side of the palace, one would see the palace having a differing number of floors. This is done on purpose too so as not to let non-dwellers know how many floors there are in this palace.  We climbed to the Balcony level of this palace. From here I can see the whole of Imam Square and the 2 mosques that stand at the edge of the square. We were told this level is where the royalties used to watch polo from and also to host foreign dignitaries that would come into Persia and visit the kings back then. We climbed to the topmost level of this palace, which is the 6th level. The unique feature of this chamber has to be the musical instrument hollow ceilings. The purpose of the hollow is to allow music, that would be played from this level to flow down 1 level down, so those at the lower level can hear and enjoy the music. Back in those days, males and females are housed in different levels of the palace when it comes to entertainment. The males will stay on the 6th level where the music would be played, while the females will stay 1 level below. As I was climbing these stairs up the palace, it made me wonder if the builders purposely built this palace in such a way to “torture” their king back then.

The entrance of the Ali Qapu Palace. Some restoration work is being done when we visited the palace
This is the main entrance to the palace. The arched ceiling allows one to whisper to another when standing at two separate corners of this hallway
The main entrance of Ali Qapu Palace
Ali Qapu Palace
Ali Qapu Palace
The ceiling of the view deck of Ali Qapu Palace
Looking out from the viewing deck of Ali Qapu Palace. This was where the king addresses his subjects or to watch the Polo game
View of Lady Mosque from the viewing deck of  Ali Qapu Palace
Side entrance leading to top floors at the viewing deck
View of the back alley of Ali Qapu Palace
This is the “dance floor” of the palace. In ancient days, males and females are separated in royal parties. This is the floor for the ladies and the holes on the wall allows music to travel from the top floor where the band is to this floor
Close up of the “music holes”
The very intriguing design of the dance floor in Ali Qapu Palace
The ceiling of the top floor in Ali Qapu Palace
Persian design is embedded into the walls of this palace
Persian design is embedded into the walls of this palace
Persian design is embedded into the walls of this palace 
This portrait is taken at the viewing deck depicting a Persian Lady
This portrait is taken at the viewing deck depicting a Persian Lady
The ceiling of the viewing deck
Pillars at the viewing deck
View of Imam Mosque from the viewing deck

The Symbol of Religious Harmony – The Imam Mosque

Exiting the Palace, we headed for the Imam Mosque next. This is the bigger of the 2 mosques in Imam Square and it was used as the main mosque in Isfahan. From afar our guide pointed out a structure that is not traditional in Islamic Mosque structure. We were told back in those days, to promote religious harmony between the Muslims and the Christians, they exchanged some building structures. We were told that we will be seeing a dome in a church later in the day.

As we entered the Mosque, the size of the courtyard alone is huge! At the courtyard, there are 3 buildings. The one on the right side is the one with Christianity structure subsequently built on. We went to that building, inside was rather large and there is a garden behind it. We then proceeded to the centre building. This is the largest of the 3 building. Our guide told us to pick a spot and stay there. He then took out a note and started to flip it. From where I am I could hear the note. We were then told that this mosque is designed in such a way that the sound will transmit from the centre of this building to any part within the mosque. I had seen this when I was taking a picture at the courtyard, nearer to the entrance into the courtyard, a handful of young Iranian girls were standing at the centre of the middle building and they were singing. I could hear them from afar, it was amazing. We then went to the left building, which was equally as big as the right building. We spent more time taking pictures in the courtyard then at the side buildings. We were told that the sheer size of this mosque is built so that different branches of Islamism do their prayers at the same time without interfering with each other. Such a design has religious harmony in mind.

The main entrance to Imam Mosque
The ceiling design on the main entrance of the mosque
The ceiling inside the main gate building
Colourful blue pattern design
The main prayer hall of Imam Mosque
Exquisite Persian Design on the ceiling
So much detail in the design of the mosque
The colour blue ceiling inside the main prayer hall of Imam Mosque
A huge prayer hall
Just love the Persian design on the ceiling and all over the mosque
The amount of detail that went into the walls and ceiling tells one how much the Persians love their mosque
The huge prayer hall inside Imam Mosque
The amount of detail that went into the interior of the mosque is unimaginable
Inside the Imam Mosque
The exterior of the prayer hall of Imam Mosque
Imam Mosque covers a huge area
Me in Imam Mosque
The main prayer hall of Imam Mosque. Notice the small building on top of the hall which does not have a dome
Me in Imam Mosque
The huge area the Imam Mosque covers
Inside the Imam Mosque

The Lady Mosque

Exiting the Imam Mosque, we went to the smaller mosque in Imam Square. This mosque was used for religious studies more than a mosque. It was loosely referred to as the “Lady’s Mosque” as it is the smallest mosque in this square and was used by the women for prayers. This mosque does not have any minarets nor any courtyard. Once we entered the mosque, a corridor was there to usher us into the main hall. This mosque is rather uneventful, perhaps the only thing worth mentioning is the basement, which was used for prayers.

The ceiling of the main hall in the Lady’s Mosque
Inside the Lady’s Mosque
The underground prayer room in Lady’s Mosque
The hallway that leads into the main hall

The illusive Forty Pillars Palace

Next stop for us was the Chehel Sotun Palace or the 40 pillars Palace. This palace originally has only 2 pillars, the other 18 was added to this palace by a later king. The palace got its name as 40 pillar palace as the reflection from the pool in front of the palace gave it extra 20 pillars. The palace is built as a leisure and a place to entertain guests, thus it is rather small in size. As we entered this rather small palace, I can see paintings of kings entertaining guests on the walls of the throne hall. These paintings are rather colourful at in good condition. The most important part of this palace does not lie with these paintings, rather a very old copy of the Quran in the centre of the throne room. The other room has other displays such as a wooden door, nothing quite interesting here though.

The 40 pillars of Chehel Sotun Palace
The main entrance of Chehel Sotun Palace
The open area of Chehel Sotun Palace
Entering the Chehel Sotun Palace
The mural paintings inside the Chehel Sotun Palace depict some battle scenes here
Colourfully designed ceiling
Some of the murals inside Chehel Sotun Palace 
A very old Qu’ran

The Forbidden Palace of Persia – Hasht Behest Palace

After the palace, we went on to the Hasht Behest Palace. This simple 2 storey palace is in the middle of a garden. This garden was out of bounds to commoners as it is a royal garden, where the royalties come for relaxation. The garden is like any other garden we have seen so far, nothing worth mentioning. We headed into the Palace, it looked rather old. Other then that, there is nothing worth mentioning or even seeing here. Felt like a waste of time. After the Hast Behest Palace visit, we headed for lunch. As we entered the restaurant, an elderly man told us not to take pictures in the restaurant. What a waste! The Persian decor of the restaurant is nice. I ordered the traditional Isfahani food – Biryani, which is minced meat in the centre of 2 pieces of naan. I took pictures of the food anyways.

Hasht Behest Palace
Typical Persian Designed Ceiling
Looking out into the garden from Hasht Behest Palace can be very therapeutic
The Hasht Behest Palace is very simple
Inside Hasht Behest Palace
Inside Hasht Behest Palace
The exterior of Hasht Behest Palace
Birayani for lunch

The 33-Arch Bridge – Si-o-Seh Bridge & The Cathedral with an Islamic Dome – Vank Cathedral 

After lunch, we headed for the Si-o-Seh Bridge. This bridge is also known as the 33 arches bridge. This bridge was once the only bridge connecting the 2 parts of Isfahan. Here I saw a lot of Isfahanis hanging out. Other then the architecture of the bridge being unique, there is nothing eventful here. Serves more like a photographic point for travellers in Isfahan, other than used by the locals to cross between the 2 parts of Isfahan.

We crossed the bridge to the other side and headed for a rather unique cathedral. The Vank Cathedral is an Armenian Church, which has a dome at the top of the cathedral. Our guide pointed out that this is a symbol of friendship and religious harmony, as what we had seen earlier on at Imam mosque. It is a pity that we are not allowed to take pictures inside the cathedral as there are rather vivid paintings of the gods, Jesus and hell. We exited the cathedral and went next door to the museum. Here showcased numerous Christian artifacts as well as the culling of the Armenians. However, the centrepiece of the museum is this Armenian bible verse written on a single strain of hair, which is about 0.1mm wide. This hair was placed under a microscope and through the scope, the verse is seen.

Walking on the Si-O-Seh Bridge
Si-O-Seh Bridge from far
Si-O-Seh Bridge
The Vank Cathedral
The Vank Cathedral has a dome that is commonly found on mosques

Isfahan at Night

After the cathedral, our guide left us to wander around the Imam Square as he has some stuff to “settle”. We took the cab to Imam square and bought some souvenirs. As we were walking, we had a lot of “hellos” and “welcomes” coming our way. We stayed at the square till about evening time, when we headed back to the Si-o-Seh Bridge to take some pictures at dusk. The view of the bridge was rather artistic at dusk when the bridge glimmers with the soft orange light. After taking some pictures, we headed back to Imam Square to take more pictures of the Square at night. The square at night has some mysticism to it, it is beautiful. I felt rather worn out after a whole day of walking, time to grab some rest at the hotel, as we have quite a bit of ground to cover the next day.

Hasht Behest Palace at night  
Si-O-Seh bridge at night is beautiful
Si-O-Seh bridge at night
Si-O-Seh bridge at night
Walking on Si-O-Seh bridge at night
Lady Mosque at night
Imam Mosque at night

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