One of the highly recommended attractions to visit in the Shiraz is Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque. You want to know why? This article answers the question. But before that, make sure you arrange your itinerary travel Iran to see this place, particularly if you are a photographer and love to take pictures from historic architecture.
Nasir al-Molk Mosque or Pink Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Shiraz. Its area is 2890 square meters, and its base is 2216 square meters. The mosque is located in Arab Gowd neighborhood, formerly known as the Eshagh Beyg neighborhood. On the map of Iran, you can find the mosque south of Lotfali Khan St., near Shah Cheragh.
The name of the mosque in popular culture is “pink” because of the numerous pink tiles and glasses that the builders used in it. The construction of the mosque began in 1876 and ended in 1888.
The makers built the mosque in the Qajar era. The construction started by the order of Hassan Ali Nasir al-Molk. He was a rich and powerful man, and he was an aristocrat. His father was Mirza Ali Akbar Qavam-ol-Molk, who was the ruler of Fars at the time.
Mohammad Hasan-e-Memār, who was an Iranian architect, was the designer and primary architect of the mosque. He also made the famous Eram Garden before the mosque. The other designers were Mohammad Hosseini Shirazi and Mohammad Rezā Kāshi-Sāz-e-Širāzi. It took 12 years to complete the mosque.
You can also visit other Qajar monuments and significant places by consulting Iran tailor-made tours.
When you see different mosques in Iran, one prominent feature that might capture your attention is that some of them have domes (gonbad), while others do not. Setting aside architectural and artistic reasons, one point is very important about domes in Iran.
The mosques which have a dome are made by governments. This means that such mosques are built for the public. Those which do not have domes are private mosques. This means that such mosques are made by the order and financial support of prominent people, and the public is not generally allowed to use them. This is, of course, a historical fact. In today’s Iran, everybody is allowed to use mosques. As we said, Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, which doesn’t have a dome, was built by the order of an aristocrat. It was, therefore, a private mosque.
Westernization of Iran has a relatively short history. When the Qajar dynasty was ruling Iran, attention to western countries was getting more and more among people. Britain, the US, and France made many schools throughout Iran to teach Iranian students on a very wide range of topics.
Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, who was the ruler of Iran from 1848 to 1896, made travels to Europe. He was fascinated by the western, mainly European, cultures. With the help of Amir Kabir, he established a famous college, Dar ul-Funun, in Tehran. They established this school in 1852. Their purpose was to teach European languages and technical stuff to Iranian students. Photography and lithography were among the topics.
In this period, Iran started to pay attention to all kinds of European concerns. Among many things Iranian started to imitate, we can see colorful and shining ceramics and tiles that are part of Iranian architecture. Of course, Iranians had used this style in their buildings, mostly the architecture of Isfahan, before. Even before Western cultures came along, we can see a large decrease in manufacturing tilework in Iran in the 18 century, parallel to Qajar ruling.
The Qajar period is when Iranians started to bring in tilework from European countries. This tilework, which was used in Qajar palaces or personal residentials, had pictures of beautiful women, eye-catching landscapes, and European buildings on them.
It was during this phenomenal wave of westernization in Iran that they made Nasir al Molk Mosque. There are many pictures and illustrations of European architecture on tilework that is on the internal walls of the mosque. There are also the colorful and bright designs and depictions that characterize the mosque as different yet very similar to that kind of Persian architecture which was dominant in the 13th and 14th centuries.
In Nasir-al-Molk, the iwan bears a striking resemblance to the iwans that were common to Persian mosques in the past, such as the ones that you can see in Shah Mosque in Isfahan. This similarity is mostly in terms of structure. But in Nasir al Molk mosque, they designed the iwan with floral imagery that is somehow bright-colored. This is different from the turquoise shapes that were common in the previous Persian designs for iwans. All these designs and imagery on the walls of the mosque represent a highly significant feature of the mosque which tells us a lot about the westernization of Islamic Iran, specifically dominant in the 19th century. This westernization in this mosque by a combination of classic and modern art with Islamic art.
Partly as a result of the aesthetic influence of Western cultures, it was for the first time that the designers used the pink color dominantly in the design of a mosque. As we said, before that, the colors of green, blue, and turquoise were dominant in Persian mosques. Even when you touch the pink tilework of Nasir-ol-Molk interior walls, you will immediately feel the difference with other tilework.
Another interesting difference with other mosques is the use of Orsi in building the mosque. Orsi is actually stained glass. Stained glass, which you can see in most of the churches in the world, originates from Syria. People discovered stained glass in Syria in the 7th century. Jabir ibn Hayyan, in his book The Book of the Hidden Pearl, described how to make such a kind of glass.
Orsi windows are in fact a combination of wood and brightly colorful glasses. These windows are prominent in the architecture that we have from the Safavid and, later, the Qajar periods. The difference between Orsi glass and stained glass that you see in churches is that, in Persian architecture, it was used as a source of filtered light. However, in churches, it was mainly used to illustrate shapes and figures that the designers wanted to be prominent in the display.
Light has a symbolic presence in mosques, and it is the main feature of them. The reason is that light symbolizes God in Islam. As you can read in the Quran, “Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth” [24:35].
When you enter Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, a sense of awe takes over you. The source of that sense is, in fact, the effect of Orsi windows. The designers used Orsi to generate colorful light about and around the entrance of the building and also many parts of the interior. In Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, you can see seven different wooden doors in which the designers used colorful Orsi. These doors link the interior to the courtyard. In each Orsi windows, you can see different geometric shapes that reflect the sunlight differently. This is because Islamic art does not allow using icons and figures of holy people.
There is also a scientific reason for using Orsi in Naisr-ol-Molk Mosque. The mosque is sacred for Muslims, which is obvious for any holy place in any religion. In Islam, there is considerable emphasis on keeping such places clean and away from any insects. Now, since the eyes of many insects are sensitive to light, using Orsi makes them confused and they can’t have a clear perception of the place in the mosque. So, it simply makes them unable to enter the place.
The Mosque of Nasir al-Molk is unique in terms of tiling and construction, especially when it comes to Mogharnas. The mosque has one entrance at one side and two entrances on the other side, which open to the south alley and the adjacent Imamzadeh. You can see the so-called “five concave” design in the ceiling of all Shabestans. On the ceiling of other parts and arches, you can find muqarnas tile-work.
The main entrance to the mosque is a seven-color tile with lots of ornamentation inspired by Shiraz iris. The wooden door of the mosque has a stone frame with Islamic decorations and a large integrated stone with an arch. At the top of the stone frame, there is a small inscription. It is a poem by Shurideh Shirazi and its date of writing in Nastaliq calligraphy. At the bottom of the entrance, you can read a poem by Saadi and the name of the architect.
One of the innovative features of the mosque is that its entrance is not orthogonal to the Qibla. From the main entrance of the mosque, we enter a vestibule. With a 90-degree turn, it reaches a corridor that goes to the courtyard. The architect wanted the visitors not to confuse the direction of the Qibla. So, he designed the entrance in a diagonal direction. This is again a difference with other Persian mosques.
Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque has a door because the staff lived inside the mosque. Few mosques have doors at the entrances. The doors have two handle-like knobs which let the person inside of the mosque find out whether the person at the door, who is tapping the door with the handle, is male or female. This depends on the sound of the knob (for men, the sound of tapping with the handles is more low-pitch and echoing). These knobs are also called Koke.
The courtyard of the mosque is quadrangular in shape, with a howz (pond) in the middle. Across from the howz, you can see Orsi windows. The howz has a width of 4.5 and a length of 16.5 meters and it is in front of the iwan of the mosque. All around, the mosque is decorated with seven colored tiles. The mosque has two iwans: the north iwan, which is 8 meters tall, and the south iwan, which has no special use and which was created just to keep the symmetry with the north iwan. The arch of this one is called “the pearl arch” because of its amazing beauty.
Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque has two Shabestans: one in the west and the other one in the east. The East Shabestan is facing Qibla and was intended for use in winters. It was also intended to be used in hot summer weather to prevent direct sunlight and nighttime warming. Behind this Shabestan, there is a door that opens to a large madras. Madras is different from Shabestan in that it doesn’t have a Ravaq. Ravaq is something like the altar.
The West Shabestan is one of the most beautiful ones in Iran, decorated with tiles and bricks with rose paintings. But they made repairs recently and covered them with turquoise tilework. Also, the columns of the Nasir al-Molk Mosque are among the most beautiful historical sites in Shiraz, starting with a vase design on the top.
There are seven arches between the two columns. At the end of this row, we reach the extremely beautiful altar. The facade of the mosque is mostly brick, but the architect has brought a special kind of tilework to the walls to avoid generating boredom in visitors. In the West Shabestan, a beautiful altar was created through a recess in the Shabestan wooden facade.
Nasir al-Molk Mosque shines like a jewel in Persian religious architecture, which declined afterward. The entire ceiling, inside and out of Shabestan, has colorful tilework and Quranic verses written on it. On the south side there is an arch that is lower than the pearl arch, with its entire exterior and interior sides tiled, and its roof, like the north arch, is made from Mogharnas. In the end, you can see three inscriptions: the names of Mohammad Hassan Memar and Mohammad Reza Kashi Paz, who were the architects and creators of the building, the starting date in 1876, and the finishing date in 1888.
Inside the Madras which is located behind the east Shabestan, there is a well called Gav Chah. This is where the water-carrier animals were housed. People used these animals (usually cows) to carry water to the howz. This water used for ablution and cleanness before entering the Shabestans and start praying. And nowadays it doesn’t work anymore and just applied as a part of the mosque that visitors pay a visit to there.
This Imam zade is another part of the Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque. In that period, people would chain criminals and guilty individuals to specific places in the Imam zade. There was a mythical belief that if a person is not truly guilty, the chains would open up automatically and the individual would get freed.
The best time to visit the mosque varies from season to season. But generally speaking, you can visit the mosque between 8.30 and 11, when the sunlight fully passes the Orsi windows, creating the wonderfully colorful rays of light. At this time, the harmony between the carpets and the windows is at its perfect. These are actually the original carpets used by the designers and nobody has changed them ever since the building of Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque. The designers chose them carefully and in accordance with the design of each individual window.
When visiting Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, dress up in colorful clothes to be harmonious with the colors of the mosque. Of course, you should be careful to keep up with the Iran dress code. The amazing pictures you take in the mosque will remain as a nice souvenir of Shiraz for you.
When you travel to Iran, you can go on cultural tours to see many places like Nasir-ol-Molk
Mosque. Iran sight seeing tour is popular among many tourists who are in love with photography. Visiting Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque is highly recommended if you are also a lover of photography and beautiful architecture of the past.