Ardestan Jame Mosque with Sassanid fire temple structure
The Congregational Mosque of Ardestan is one of the most beautiful and best-preserved Iranian mosques. Vestiges of four historical epochs are discernible here. The earliest belong to a Sasanid fire temple, remodeled to meet the needs of a Muslim religious building. This primeval mosque, which consisted of a single domed sanctuary, was built in the 10th century by Omar ibn Abdolaziz, a governor of Esfahan.
During the late 10th and 11th centuries, it was reconstructed and executed on the "kiosk” plan. By the Seljuk period, the mosque was destroyed and rebuilt on a new, four-Eeivan type of the floorplan used for the first time in neighboring Zavareh. Several other halls and chambers were annexed to the structure under the Safavid rulers. The mosque is greatly reminiscent of the Congregational Mosque of Esfahan However, it has preserved intact most of its original Seljuk decorations, while in Esfahan they were often replaced by adornments of later periods. The mosque has numerous entrances, a feature typical of Iranian congregational mosques, which could always be accessed easily from the trade or residential sections. Of the mosque's five entrances, the main one is located in the southwestern corner . The mosque has a rectangular stone-pebbled courtyard, enclosed by rows of arcades interrupted by an eivan on either side of the court. The south eivan, the sanctuary with the main mihrab, the prayer hall bordering the sanctuary, and the two-shelled brick dome date from 1158-1160.
The south eivan is particularly remarkable. It is decorated with an impressive number of varied patterns elaborated in brick and stucco. Its vault features the unrivaled whirling arabesques made of brick and whitewashed. The Tholth inscription round the eivan was made in 1160, at a time when the “kiosk” mosque was converted into the foureivan mosque. The south eivan also features an inscription from the time of Shah Abbas I dated 1615, the subject of which is tax reduction for the Shiite inhabitants of Ardestan, The south eivan leads to the majestic sanctuary where the mosque's main mihrab is located. This mihrab is ranked among the best achievements of Seljuk plaster art. It has seven rows of inscriptions in Kufic, Naskh, and Taliq, carved on a background of stucco flowers and arabesques. The sanctuary features the mosque's oldest historical inscription in Tholth, dating from 1158 and giving the names of the founder, Abu Taher, and the architect, Ostad Mahmud Esfahani. The dome is over 19 m high, and its surface is adorned with more than 500 ornaments. The remains of plain plaster decorations from the Buyid period can be seen in the corridor leading from the south eivan to the hosseiniyeh. Two stucco mihrabs are located in the back bays of the prayer hall bordering the sanctuary. They are smaller in size than the main mihrab, but their decorations are equally remarkable.
The north eivan , known as Soffe-ye Safa, was built in 1540. It is wider than two other eivans, eastern Soffe-ye Amir Jomleh and western Soffe-ye Imam Hasan, which were built in the 17th century. The northern eivan has an inscription dated 1539, which indicates that the place was repaired and partly reconstructed under Shah Tahmasb I Safavid. The corner between the north and west eivans is marked by a short Seljuk brick minaret. In this corner, one can notice the remains of the mud-brick walls, which belonged to the Sasanid fire temple and were incorporated into the primeval mosque. Three-story arches pierce the interior of the west eivan and connect it with the flanking prayer halls. This eivan is separated from the mosque's western corridor behind it by a latticed brick wall. The opposite east eivan, surmounted with a halfdome, leads to a small sanctuary and a prayer hall . This hall, perhaps more than any other section, shows traces of the mosque's several renovation periods.
The madreseh, named after Hajj Hossein Nur al-Din, was founded in 1659. Today, it is occupied by the local office of the ICHTO. Beside the madreseh, the mosque's structures include a caravanserai, a well, a hosseiniveh, and a bathhouse. The mosque also has a remarkable collection of ancient tombstones that were gathered here from the graveyards in Ardestan's environs.
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