Leila Mirzamani: The Sense of Friendship in Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Isfahan, Iran

Untitled1How are we able to create the sense of friendship in our society? May be through friendship-based architecture. To this day, so much has been written about Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan, Iran and its incredible architecture and design, which is the most valuable art legacy of the Safavid era (1501-1736 CE). With all that has been done before, the architectural monument still remains an appealing case study to every new researcher. Considering all the work that has been done on this interesting subject, it’s quite hard to believe that no one has ever paid attention to the foundations of friendship, which has been laying in its architectural plan.

In fact this huge monument consists of four irreplaceable buildings and it also forms a dynamic civilization, which was meant to bring friendship and intimacy into society. Each of the many elements in Naqsh-e Jahan Square is somehow used to create a kind of friendship between the people and the government. These symbolic elements are related to the following realms:

– The government

– Religion and Public Spirituality

– Education

– Economy, Commerce and Industry

This complex simply institutionalized friendship among different social sectors, classes and individuals, including the Shah/administration-people, people-religious and finally education-development relations.

Aali Qaapu

The government in Safavid era had unique features. It used a combination of tradition and modernity in ruling the country. Thanks to the mutual dynamic relationship between government and scholars of various fields, the government had the support of its people. Being located on the west side of the Square as the main palace of the Shah, and also its one of a kind design and architecture which drew people’s attention, Aali Qaapu gave Shah Abbas (d. 1629) the opportunity to witness people’s daily routine from the third floor balcony. This mutual relationship between the government and the people created the main roots of friendship and intimacy among the different social classes and it helped people find security, justice and honesty in the government.

Naqsh-e Jahan

Imam Mosque in Isfahan (originally named Shah Mosque)

Shah Mosque which is located on the east side of the Square is considered one of the masterpieces of architecture in the world. This mosque has been the main place for people to gather around in huge numbers at different times. The important point to notice is that well-known scientific and religious figures performed their prayers among the general public in this mosque. The existence of two schools at this mosque gathered a lot of students and made it a place not only to propagate religion, but also to learn and study. We can see that people gathered in Shah Mosque to pray, learn and study, and you could see they would get closer to one another.

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is located across Aali Qaapu and on eastern side of Naqsh-e Jahan Square. Although Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is very unique in architecture and tile decoration, there is another feature, which is very important. This mosque was built on Shah Abbas’ father in law’s advice and its main use was to educate women. This is very important, as there were many female scientists in this period. Also due to the fact that women would come to this place to say prayers and also to learn and study, they became even closer to social life.

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Qeysarieh Bazaar

The northern bazaars in Isfahan especially the ones around Naqsh-e Jahan Square including Qeysarieh were mainly built in the Safavid period. What one needs to notice about the marketplace is that besides the architectural marvel of its structure, it functioned to create friendship and intimacy among people, shoppers and shop clerks. The southern part of the bazaar is skillfully connected to the old bazaar that was the main place for commerce in late 16th and early 17th century. Importantly the concept of bazaar as a location for social economy connects the two periods of Safavid and Seljuq (1037-1194 CE) economic culture together.

At the end of Safavid bazaar there were a jamé (congregational) mosque and a caravanserai (traveler’s residence) built during the Seljuq period. All these buildings could only mean syndication of friendship and affection. Although, during the Safavid period, Isfahan seemed to have two different political and cultural areas, but the main political power was located in the Safavid part of the city.

Friendship promises the survival of a society and a civilization defined by various ethical, social, cultural and religious concepts, institutions and values. In fact a civilization can be validated only if it is established on the basis of friendship, affection and kindness. What you find in Naqsh-e Jahan Square is the manifestation of art and beauty and one would only expect some people who are full of love to one another to have created it. The combination of the architectural plan, structure and color simply shows and artistic and friendly synergy among all its elements. This harmony is the direct result of social friendship and affection to one another laid at the architectural foundations. When this friendship is institutionalized, it covers all critical elements of a society.

Naming a square Naqsh-e Jahan, which translates to ‘the world’s architectural plan,’ confirms the idea that the whole universe was created based on love and affection. In this Square, one can find all the elements needed for a society that is moving towards purity and friendship. In such a society, no doubt, one would expect its rulers and people being engaged in education, economy and spirituality with the goal to move towards immortalizing friendship and eliminating corruption.

What is friendship and kindness? Is it to please everyone else in the society? Friendship and kindness in their true form are supposed to be intertwined with honesty and helping humanity. The fact that people would care about each other helps them pave the way to immortalize kindness and friendship. When we refer to the attributes of God, we can see that God himself is the symbol of mercy, kindness and friendship, divine attributes that defeat anger.

The main question here is that, how can we reach a strong architectural structure that can lead to institutionalization of friendship in society? In fact we must define our perspective in connection with our surroundings in such a way that material constructions would result in spreading friendship. Although it’s not possible to provide an absolute definition about society, but one can at least do his/her best to lead the society to a holy grail.

If we look at the structure of Naqsh-e Jahan from above, we can see, all the architectural prerequisites and knowledge-skill resources needed to spread friendship and build a friendship-based society. The relationships between governmental offices and people and also recreational facilities like the cricket field in the center of the Square sums it all.

With a bird’s eye view of the Square, one can thoroughly understand how its architects have put all the elements needed for a society to live on communion friendship. Naqsh-e Jahan Square has not only been an architectural piece of art, but it’s also a dynamic monument that after four centuries still amaze scientists and all visitors from around the world.

By Leila Mirzamani, M.A. Student of Art Studies, Tehran Sooreh University, Iran