Tehran, unlike Mashhad, Yazd, and Isfahan, is not currently considered a religious city; however, its historical mosques have many stories to tell. If the Shah Mosque isn’t the most important mosque in the capital, it can definitely be said that this historical structure is one of the most significant and beautiful mosques in Tehran.
The Shah Mosque of Tehran, also known as the Sultani Mosque, which was renamed the Imam Khomeini Mosque after the victory of the revolution in 1978, is one of the remaining buildings from the Qajar era, constructed during the reign of Fath-Ali Shah Qajar. This mosque is located in the 12th district of Tehran municipality, on 15 Khordad Street, opposite Naser Khosrow and adjacent to Tehran’s grand bazaar. This mosque can be considered the second-largest in the capital after the Jameh Bazaar Mosque or the Jameh Atiq Mosque.
The construction of this mosque, which took around 18 years, was ordered by Fath-Ali Shah. However, sources mention that Asia Khanum, the mother of Fath-Ali Shah Qajar, financed the construction of the mosque with money she had vowed for her son’s reign. Fath-Ali Shah, in addition to the Shah Mosque in Tehran, which was famous as the Sultani Mosque of Tehran, also ordered the construction of other Sultani mosques in Borujerd and Qazvin. Among these, the Sultani Mosque of Borujerd, which is now known as the Imam Mosque, is older and larger than the rest.
The Shah Mosque in Tehran has witnessed many ups and downs throughout its 200-year history. A significant portion of events related to the Constitutional Revolution took place here. With the transition from the Qajar era and entering the reigns of Reza Shah and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the government, given past events, prevented the Organization of Endowments from intervening in the management of the mosque. The government directly and strictly controlled the mosque, determining its custodianship.
History of the Mosque
Based on the inscriptions and plaques situated in the southern courtyard of the mosque, the approximate commencement of the construction of this mesmerizing structure was either in 1212 or 1224. Despite the passage of 190 years since the construction of the Shah Mosque in Tehran, it still radiantly stands, boasting its former splendor and beauty in the heart of Tehran. After the mosque was built during the reign of the second king of the Qajar dynasty, Fath-Ali Shah, a small market emerged adjacent to the mosque. Over time, this market expanded, connecting with other small markets, stretching all the way to Tehran’s citadel. Essentially, the Grand Bazaar of Tehran, which nowadays functions as the beating heart of the capital’s economy, started taking shape back then.
Aiming to complete various sections of the Shah Mosque in Tehran, modifications were made in 1268 Hijri-Shamsi (solar year) under the directive of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar. These changes included renovating the main northern door and constructing two minarets on both sides of the mosque’s facade. Therefore, Naser al-Din Shah can be regarded as the one who perfected this mosque.
Following the victory of the Islamic Revolution, further modifications were made to the Shah Mosque, which was renamed to Imam Khomeini Mosque. However, sometimes, some of these renovations and changes have affected the original integrity of parts of the mosque. With the efforts of the mosque’s Imam, Ayatollah Seyed Mohammad Baqer Mousavi Khansari, the central pool in the mosque’s courtyard was restored. Additionally, two ablution areas were built at the northern entrance to facilitate worshippers in performing their ablutions with ease.
Historical Events at Tehran’s Shah Mosque
Over its nearly 200-year existence, Tehran’s Shah Mosque has witnessed a myriad of significant events. While these events might not surpass the mosque’s own intrinsic value, they undoubtedly resonate with its grandeur. One might even argue that to truly understand a portion of the country’s history, we must delve deep into the mosque’s courtyards, halls, and chambers.
The mosque’s prime location and religious significance made it a focal point for many of the most consequential historical episodes, especially during the Qajar and Pahlavi eras. Owing to its proximity to the bazaar, it served as a hub for the clerics to connect with the merchants. The clergy present in the mosque often influenced the various historical currents of the bazaar, rallying the merchants alongside them.
From the time of its construction during the reign of Fath-Ali Shah, this structure, given its importance and strategic location, was always an ideal venue for holding commemorative events for prominent scholars, political figures, and national dignitaries. Notable ceremonies held here include those in memory of Mirza Hassan Shirazi, Ayatollah Seyed Abolhassan Isfahani, Shoa’ al-Saltaneh (son of Mozaffar al-Din Shah), Ayatollah Boroujerdi, Ayatollah Fayz Qomi, and Ra’is Ali Delvari, a prominent figure of the southern movement.
One of the most significant events related to the Constitutional Revolution during the reign of Mozaffar al-Din Shah Qajar unfolded within these walls. On 20th of Azar 1284 (Hijri-Shamsi), a governor named AlaalDowleh ordered the public humiliation and beating of two merchants under the pretext of high sugar prices. This punitive action, carried out in the courtyard of the Shah Mosque against merchants named Haji Seyed Hashem Qandi and Haji Seyed Ismail Khan, sparked intense backlash from Tehran’s market community and ignited the flames of the Constitutional Revolution.
During the Pahlavi era, the mosque saw incidents that have been etched into the nation’s history. On 16th of Esfand 1329 (Hijri-Shamsi), Haj Ali Razmara, a high-ranking military officer and the then Prime Minister of Iran, was assassinated by Khalil Tahmasbi, a member of the Islamic Fedayeen, within the mosque’s compound. Furthermore, a man named Mohammad Taqi Falsafi, one of the mosque’s prominent orators, stirred considerable controversy in 1295 with a broadcasted speech against the Baha’i Faith, which for the first time was directly aired on the radio.
The mosque, being a primary location for the merchants’ protests during the events of 15th of Khordad 1342, played a particularly vibrant role in the series of struggles leading to the revolution’s victory in 1357. During this period, the mosque’s clerics, through speeches and various ceremonies, did their utmost to rally the people and merchants alongside their cause.
Architecture of the Building
The Shah Mosque of Tehran is a prime and spectacular example of the four-Iwan mosques. Four-Iwan mosques represent the most complete type of Iranian mosques, with their formation dating back to the 5th Hijri century. These mosques are renowned as Iranian mosques in the Islamic world.
Covering an area of about 11,000 square meters, the Shah Mosque of Tehran‘s overall architecture and specific details draw inspiration from the Vakil Mosque of Shiraz. It is likely that artists from Shiraz played a role in the design and construction of this mosque, similar to other buildings of that era. It’s worth noting that the name of the primary architect and builder of the mosque is not mentioned anywhere, and there isn’t even a trace of it on any inscriptions. However, historical sources mention Abdullah Khan Mu‘ammarbashi as an architect in the court of Fath Ali Shah, suggesting he might have been the chief architect of the Shah Mosque in Tehran.
The structure of the mosque is square-shaped and is gently oriented towards the Qibla in relation to the urban fabric. While we will delve into the various sections of the Shah Mosque in detail below, in general, it consists of elements like the central courtyard, dome chamber, columned night prayer halls, four iwans in the corners, arcades, and northern, eastern, and western entrances. This monument, with the exceptional artistry of the craftsmen of its time and the use of exquisite decorations such as tile work, plasterwork, muqarnas (stalactite vaulting), sun and lion motifs, and various inscriptions, stands as a perfect example of the four-Iwan mosques.
Access Route and Nearby Attractions
As mentioned, this mosque is located on 15 Khordad Street. Thus, it’s easily accessible. You can take the metro and alight at the 15 Khordad station. Taxis heading to Imam Khomeini Square or Topkhaneh can also be used.
The surrounding area of District 12, where the Shah Mosque of Tehran and the Grand Bazaar of Tehran are situated, is filled with noteworthy and captivating attractions. Among these, we can mention Shams-ol Emareh Palace, Golestan Palace, Khanat Caravanserai, Hajeb-aldowleh Timcheh, Seyed Azizollah Mosque, and Imamzadeh Zeyd. When visiting the Shah Mosque, make sure to take the opportunity to visit a few of these fascinating places up close.
If you ever visit Tehran, be sure to explore this beautiful mosque. Also, don’t forget that if you’re looking for monthly furnished apartment rentals in Tehran, you can visit the SURFIRAN website.
Different Sections of Shah Mosque in Tehran
The Mosque’s Entrances
Upon entering the Shah Mosque, the first thing that stands out is its entrances. The Shah Mosque in Tehran has three main entrances located on the north, west, and east sides. The primary entrance is the northern one, guiding visitors from the 15 Khordad street into the mosque. Since the mosque’s level is lower than the street, there are 17 stone steps in front of the northern entrance to accompany you just before entering the mosque. The western entrance of the mosque leads to Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, while the eastern one connects to the Bookbinders’ Bazaar or Bazaar-e-Bin-al-Haramain.
The doors of the Shah Mosque are made of wood, with the main one measuring 4 meters in length and 3 meters in width. Above this grand entrance is an inscription that reads the lunar Hijri year 1241, indicating when the mosque’s construction was completed.
The Mosque’s Courtyard
The Shah Mosque’s courtyard in Tehran is square-shaped, measuring 65 by 65 meters. It has a stone pavement, and in its center lies a grand fountain. On all four sides of the courtyard, facing north, south, east, and west, are the mosque’s four porticos. Their beautiful arch designs and intricate tile works mesmerize every onlooker.
Next to the central fountain of the courtyard, there’s a stone pedestal. On top of it is a small marker used to indicate the direction of the Qibla (direction towards Mecca). This Qibla indicator, or as some might say, the sundial, casts a shadow as the sun moves from east to west, determining the time throughout the daylight hours.
As previously mentioned, the Shah Mosque in Tehran is of the type that features four iwans. The largest iwan, known as the Summer Iwan, is the northern one, which is used as a summer prayer hall. Above this iwan, beautifully tiled spandrels are on display, and amidst them is a clock. These embellishments are part of the renovations that occurred during the reign of Naser al-Din Shah in the mosque.
Dome House and Dome
The dome house is located behind the mosque’s southern iwan. This part of the mosque, featuring a square-shaped area, transitions into a polygonal structure above, supporting the mosque’s dome.
The dome of Shah Mosque in Tehran consists of two parts. The mosque features a smaller dome (known as the torquette) with a covering made from sheets of golden-colored material, along with a cylindrical stem with windows. This sits atop a larger, turquoise-colored dome, clearly visible from a distance.
The space beneath the dome is adorned with eye-catching tilework and plasterwork. On the southern side of this area, you’ll find the mihrab (prayer niche), and on the other sides, there are passageways leading to the mosque’s southern iwan and the columned lateral prayer halls.
Mihrabs and Pulpit
In the Shah Mosque, there are two mihrabs located in two prayer halls. These prayer halls are situated on either side of the mosque’s dome house. The mosque’s pulpit has 12 steps and is made of marble.
Inscriptions in the Mosque
The mosque features numerous inscriptions, each etched with different information. For example, some of the mosque’s inscriptions indicate the date of construction and the name of the mosque’s founder, Fath-Ali Shah Qajar; while another inscription features prayer complaints in the handwriting of Mirza Mohammad Mehdi Farahani. There are also Quranic inscriptions in the mosque’s dome house.
At the mosque’s northern entrance, there is an inscription listing the endowments of Fath-Ali Shah. Around the mosque’s courtyard, other inscriptions bear the names of some famous individuals, such as Mostafa Tabatabai, Asadollah Hosseini, Asadollah Abedini, Hossein Baqer, and others. Additionally, in different parts of the mosque, there are inscriptions featuring the poems of great poets like Fath-Ali Khan, Malek-ol-Shoara, and Mojtehed-ol-Shoara.