Mosque is a holy place where Muslims worship God and it is also one of the most important buildings in Islamic architecture of Iran. The first mosques had a very simple architecture and they were mainly built in a square or rectangular shape whose walls were made of clay and the direction of mosques was toward Qibla.
Based on the archeological and historical researches, the oldest mosques of Iran are Shush Mosque and Jameh Mosque of Fahraj. The simple plan of mosques include minaret and semi-dome. The second oldest mosque of Iran is Tarikhaneh Mosque in Damghan city which was built at the beginning of 10th century. Shiraz Jameh Mosque, Jameh Mosque of Nā’īn and Neyriz Mosque in Fars Province were built during 10th and 11th centuries.
Seljuq Dynasty (11th and 12th centuries) is known as a time when mosque building flourished in different cities of Iran, there are some mosques made of bricks which can be considered the mementos of this era. They followed some of the instructions of Sassanid era such as Four-Iwan design (Chahar Iwani) in mosque building. Some of the mosque built in Seljuq era are Jameh mosques of Isfahan, Ardestan, Bersiyan, Borujerd, Ardabil.
The construction of huge buildings with their large domes became common in Ilkhanate Era (13th and 15th centuries) which can be abundantly observed in the architecture of the mosques. To make the buildings more attractive, they decorated the facades with long and thin frames and sharp crescents. The Jameh mosques of Yazd, Varamin and Oshtorjan were built in this era.
Timurid Empire (14th century) witnessed the flourishment of decorating mosques with tiles. The mosques were mainly built using Four-Iwan methods with tall iwans and portals having beautiful muqarnas. Building domes which were like Kulah Khud (the helmets used in ancient western Asia for battle which were bowl-shaped and pointed) was one of the salient characteristics of this era. The most significant and famous mosques of this era were Goharshad (Mashhad), Blue (Tabriz) and Jameh mosque of Kashan.
Blue Mosque in Tabriz is an indoor mosque without any yard, it is called turquoise of Islam.
The glory and resplendence of architecture and specially mosque building in Iran was observed in Safavid Dynasty (16th – 18th centuries). Some instances of the mosque in this era are Imam (or Shah) Mosque and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque. In this era, the patterns used for mosque building were Four-Iwan design and large domes.
Kabud Gonbad Mosque (in Sarakhs) and Vakil Mosque (in Shiraz) are the memorials of Afsharid and Zand dynasties (18th century).
Although the traces of Safavid mosque building style can be observed in Qajar Dynasty (18th century), it is not as glorious as theirs. Also, the European art and decorations were used in this era. Imam Mosque of Semnan is an absolute example of Four-Iwan mosque which is a representative of Qajar architecture as well. Some of these examples are Shah Mosque (Tehran), Sepahsalar or Motahari Mosque (Tehran), Nasir al-Mulk Mosque (Shiraz) and Agha Bozorg Mosque and school (Kashan).
It is interesting to know that Now or Atabak Mosque in Shiraz and Ard-Khorma (Flour and Date) Mosque in Ardakan are the largest and smallest mosques of Iran respectively.
Components of a Mosque
All the mosques have some common components regardless of their construction style including: Courtyard, Iwan (a rectangular hall), Portico, Minaret, Dome, Shabestan (an underground space) and Mihrab (semicircular niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the Qibla). Each of these components can be removed from the components of a mosque except Mihrab which is the most important part of a mosque and shows the direction of Qibla.
courtyard or “Sahn” is a common element in religious buildings and residences, used in urban and rural settings which is called Mian Sara as well. The Iwan is located around Mian Sara.
it is a sitting room which is higher than its surrounding spaces and is usually built in the exterior parts of the buildings. The Iwan of Iranian mosque is usually decorated with muqarnas.
it is an indoor space having pillars which is built between two sides of courtyard or Mian Sara of the mosque. Its entrance is opened to courtyard and connects the entrance of the mosque to the Shabestan.
the first minaret was built in 10th century. It was primarily built as a single construction but later, it became a paired element in the architecture of the mosques.
the hemispherical ceilings in the traditional architecture of Iran which are decorated with bricks or tiles.
it is a semicircular niche in the wall of mosque which indicates the Qibla and is the turning point of a mosque.
it is an indoor space with uniform and parallel pillars which is connected to the courtyard of the mosque wherein people can say prayers. Some of them lack pillars.
Different Iranian Mosques
Generally, there are two kinds of mosque in Iran: the mosques with Shabestan or with Iwan, of course, the crucial role of Chahartaqi mosques (an architectural unit consisted of four barrel vaults) cannot be ignored.
different parts of these mosques are an indoor area next to Qibla, central yard and platforms.
the mosques having a quadrilateral plan and domical ceiling including four pillars and a domical vault are called Chahartaqi mosques.
in 11th century, using pillars was no longer common and the architecture style changed from Shabestani to Iwan design. Iwan is a component which is used in this style and the mosques are named based on the architectural style and number of Iwans used in building them e.g. One-Iwan, Two-Iwan, Four-Iwan and the combination of Chahartaq and Iwan. In Two-Iwan mosques, the Iwans were built in front of each other.