Published: August 25th 2007August 25th 2007
Sheikh Lutfollah Mosque - obviously finer than any of Aladdin's domes at Disney Sea, but still tickled mum's fancy.
My 54-year-old Japanese mother was inspired by my recent Iran photos to take me on a mother-daughter bonding trip to Tokyo Disneyland. Why? Because the mosques reminded her of Aladdin, and she was eager to experience the 'Arabian Coast' of Disney Sea and go on the 'Small world' esque ride called 'Sindbad's Adventures'. After ice cream and wearing ridiculous Aladdin and Jafar hats, we sat down for some fierce chainsmoking (hiding from Mickey and the screaming kids) to compare Disney and Iranian architecture.
So then, speaking of huge colorful domes, sparkling tilework and magical fantasies all smooshed together on a grand scale, Esfahan would be the place. Compared with Paris by the French poet Reiner, with its eye-pleasing recreational promenades along rivers and parks, the famous epithet came about - Esfahan as 'Half of the world' (in Persian, it rhymes: 'Esfahan, naqsh-e-Jahan').
And magic numbers. There's a lot hidden in numerous monuments here. To start off with, it is said that Esfahan is located on the 33rd degree Parallel geographically alongside Babylon, Baghdad and Damascus. If the occult is up your alley, perhaps indeed this city was destined to witness many dramatic events (and bloodshed) throughout its existence.
Imam Mosque, Esfahan
Back in Esfahan, but the thrill was as lively as my first time.
So then, what is it about the number 33? there's the famous Si-o-se Pol (33-arch bridge) built by Shah Abbas' favorite general in 1602, there are a total of 16 lattice windows and 16 closed panels around the base of the magnificent Shekh-Lutfollah mosque's dome (and counting the medallion of the dome itself, this totals to 33), and there are 33 different niche designs which create the splendour of Ali Qapu palace's Music Room.
The number appears continuously in both the Old and New testaments - the number of years King David ruled Jerusalem, the years the first temple of Solomon stood before it was pillaged, and also the age of Jesus Christ when he was crucified. Also, there are 33 Heavens mentioned in the Tibetan book of the dead, as well as 33 divinities in Hinduism. And so forth.
I was told that numerology in Persia at the time was held in high regard as the importance of numbers and geometry were the very foundations behind architecture. Pythagoras said "The world is built upon the power of numbers. all things are mathematical patterns and numbers influence the essence of things. Thus number is the mediator between the
Sheikh Lutfollah Mosque's mysterious peacock
divine and the earthly."
So we examine the beauty of famous mosques here. They all have a strict symmetrical design, that is reflecting both man-made and natural beauty. We find perfection in symmetricality because that is the way we humans and animals look like. But an appreciation of the organic is also present (it was absent in European architecture at the time, hence expressing a touch of sternness and lifelessness). Each design of the walls, niches and even the shape of the columns interact together to create a sense of wholeness in the world. One aspect cannot be torn away.
Sheikh Lutfollah mosque is the 'Gem of Esfahan', when Esfahan was known as the gem of the world. Here, you can see another 'trick' - coming here at the right time in the morning, one can witness the sudden appearance of a mysterious peacock with an illuminated tale. At the very center of the huge dome above the prayer hall, there's a small blue speck shaped like the back of a peacock. starting from its bottom, rays of light reflecting upon the body of the massive dome acts as a long straight tail of gold. However, examining the
Ali Qapu palace - the brilliant music room with slightly differing niche designs to capture the sound of musical performances
illusion carefully, there is no bloody peacock anywhere once the sunlight moves in time. There is certainly no blue speck in the center of the dome, for it was just created by shadow. And light from the lattice windows is just...light.
And lastly, the illusion of the lions. Khaju Bridge, now a hot nightspot for locals, was built by Shah Abbas II. This double-arcaded 132m monument was covered in paintings, but also helped regulate water flow as a dam. There are two identical statues of lions at each side of the river beside the bridge, which are constantly ridden by little kids and young women (legend says it that it stregthens a woman's heart by riding them - so i did this too by lining up behind the kids, excitedly as if waiting for my turn on the Indiana Jones ride). Just after dusk, the two lions glitter their eyes at one another, literally, from their sides of the river. I saw the two eyes stare at me in the distance as i sat on my stone lion. How could this be? They're just made out of plain stone!
My Esfahani guide, Mr Zahedi, smiled as I questioned
Khaju Brige - one of the stone lions with glittering eyes at night (and i checked, no glow-in-the-dark stickers anywhere)
him. He had told me so many secrets of his city after all...what about this one? "Maybe next time," he said, "it is better to keep at least one secret. So that you'll have a reason to come back again."
There are more photos below