By Afshin Majlesi

On the occasion of World Mosque Day

August 22, 2020 - 0:4

Fifty-one years ago, on August 21, 1969, an extremist set fire to Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, which is of very high significance for Muslims as once being their first qibla or direction of prayer. The fire swept through an area of nearly 1500 square meters of the mosque, burning an ancient pulpit, altar, arches, pillars, walls, and ultimately causing a collapse.

It was early on Thursday morning when the alarm was sounded; Al-Aqsa Mosque was on fire! People, both Muslims and Christians, rushed to the mosque to quell the flames despite short but fierce clashes with the Israeli occupation forces who tried to prevent their entry.

The blaze, however, burned for hours with flames soaring from windows just below the dome, before it was finally extinguished despite water shortages and delays in pumping water engines.

A suspect was soon recognized; Dennis Michael Rohan, an Australian-born Christian tourist, who was detained on 23 August. Rohan was declared to be insane and hospitalized in a mental institution but Muslim-majority nations were skeptical about possibly being cheated. Days later, over 20 Muslim-majority nations submitted a complaint to the UN Security Council to conduct a thorough investigation.

“It was indicative of the true nature of the occupying, aggressive and terrorist Zionist regime, and on the other hand was a sign for the awakening of Muslims and (the necessity of) safeguarding our religious and Islamic identity,” President Hassan Rouhani said, addressing the 13th Conference of the World Mosque Day held in Tehran in 2015.

Mosque, according to Islamic tradition, is any house or open area of prayer in Islam. The Arabic word masjid means “a place of prostration” to God, and the same word is used in Persian, Urdu, and Turkish. The first mosques were modeled on the place of worship of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH); the courtyard of his house at Medina. 

Iran is home to countless mosques and holy shrines in the country, many of which represent a combination of symmetry, geometric designs, and vibrant colors creating an astonishing view which no visitor can forget easily. The architecture of the mosques in the country varies from one region to another. However, they often boast very complex structures in which color variations, tiles, and symbolic designs are utilized.

Here is a select to ten magnificent mosques travelers should not miss while visiting the country:

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque of Isfahan

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is a stunning example of intricate Iranian architecture, standing strong since the early 17th century. It is also very famous for having a very picturesque dome that makes extensive use of delicate cream-colored tiles, changing color throughout the day from cream to pink. Some say the sunset is usually the best time to witness the change.

The exterior panels boast collections of arabesques and floral designs that have become a signature motif of the masterpiece. The portal itself contains some stalactite-type stone carving used to decorate doorways and window recesses with rich concentrations of blue and yellow motifs.

Nasir al-Mulk Mosque of Shiraz

The atmospheric Nasir al-Mulk Mosque sometimes referred to as the “Pink Mosque”, situated in downtown Shiraz, southern Iran, has long been a prime destination for international and domestic travelers. The name “Pink Mosque” is driven from abundant pink-colored tilework that dominates its courtyard and exteriors facade.

When standing outside the mosque, you may not guess what waits for you inside. Just step in and discover the magic blend of the light, color is interwoven with arabesque designs and tilework.

Sheikh Safi al-Din Khanegah of Ardebil

Sheikh Safi al-Din Khanegah and Shrine Ensemble is a microcosm of Sufism where arrays of harmonious sun-scorched domes, well-preserved and richly-ornamented facades and interiors and, above all, an atmosphere of peace and tranquility have all made a must-see stopover while traversing northwest Iran.

The ensemble is named after Sheikh Safi al-Din Ardebili (1253-1334), who was a Sufi philosopher and leader of Islamic mystic practices. It embodies the essence of Sufi traditions by having a microcosmic ‘city’, which embraces a mosque, a madrasa, a library, a cistern, a bathhouse, kitchens, a hospital, as well as religious houses amongst others. The place also boasts a remarkable collection of antique artifacts.

Shah-e Cheragh Mosque of Shiraz

Shah-e Cheragh (“King of Light”) is a major mausoleum and pilgrimage site in Shiraz. The dazzling shrine of mirrored tiles is where Sayyed Mir Ahmad, one of the brothers of Imam Reza (AS), is laid to rest. Each day, it draws hundreds of the faithful from all over the country or even abroad.

The mausoleum boasts architectural elements and motifs from various centuries and its courtyard and tilework represent relatively modern embellishments from the late-Qajar period. Its blue-tiled dome is flanked by dazzling gold-tipped minarets.

Imam Mosque of Isfahan

At the southern end of Isfahan’s main square stands the big, grand and impressive Imam Mosque, which is not only impressive because of its sheer size and incredible decorations, but also helps to get a good impression of the needs and challenges of always on-going restoration works. The craftsmanship continues and is intricate with amazing views both on the façade and the interior. The monuments boast perfect proportions and iconic blue-tiled mosaics.

Originally named Masjed Shah (“the Shah Mosque”), its construction began in 1611 during the rule of the Safavid King Shah Abbas the Great who reigned from 1588 to 1629. The mosque’s topmost dome was completed in the last year of his sovereignty. Visitors to the mosque are mainly overwhelmed with good views of the main dome with its glorious profusion of turquoise-shaded tiles.

Jameh Mosque of Yazd

Soaring above the old city of Yazd, the 12th-century Jameh Mosque of Yazd (Masjid-e Jameh) is graced with a tiled entrance portal (one of the tallest in Iran), flanked by two 48m-high minarets and adorned with inscriptions from the 15th century.

The terms “Jameh Mosque” or “Masjed-e Jameh” or “Friday Mosque” is used in Iran for a grand communal mosque where mandatory Friday prayers are performed: the phrase is used in other Muslim countries but only in Iran does it designate this purpose.

 Vakil Mosque of Shiraz

Being in Shiraz without a visit to Masjed-e Vakil (Vakil Mosque), which is part of a bigger 18th-century ensemble, may be tantamount to a trip to Istanbul while missing the Blue Mosque. The mosque has a recessed entrance decorated with Shirazi rose-pink tiles, a splendid inner courtyard surrounded by beautifully tiled alcoves and porches, two vast iwans (porticos), and a pleasingly proportioned prayer hall.

The mosque is connected to a bazaar of the same name and almost attached to a bathhouse with a lane in between. As one enters the mosque, they can see a corridor leading to the Vakil Bazaar on their left.

Blue Mosque of Tabriz

The Blue Mosque, known as Masjed-e Kabud in Farsi, is one of the notable historic buildings standing tall in the northwestern city of Tabriz. The place of worship has long been distinguished for the grandeur of its intricate blue tilework and calligraphy for which it is nicknamed. The ornament took artists about a quarter-century to cover every surface.

Completed in c. 1465 it is remarkable for its simplicity, brickwork, and a great size as well.  The mosque survived a devastating earthquake in 1727. However, many parts of it caved in due to a quake struck later in the same century. Many parts of the structure were rebuilt in 1973.

Gohar Shad Mosque of Mashhad

Situated within the holy shrine complex of Imam Reza (AS) in Mashhad, the great mosque of Goharshad is a remarkable Islamic structure due to its age, architectural characteristics, and rich tile decorations.

Made of brick and plaster in the 15th century, the monument used to be served as a free-standing mosque and currently serves as one of the prayer halls of the complex that is one of the tourism centers in the country and has been described as “the heart of the Shia Iran”.

Agha Bozorg Mosque of Kashan

Standing tall in the oasis city of Kashan, the 19th-century mosque Agha Bozorg Mosque is simply one of many top destinations in central Iran that lure not only the faithful but travelers and architecture buffs. It boasts a good-looking symmetry in its traditional design that is embellished by intricate plasterwork, woodwork, mirrorwork, and geometric tilework patterns.

The massive structure includes several congregational halls, adjoining arcades, tiled minarets, massive badgirs (wind towers), and an austere dome. The mud-brick walls, arches, and ceilings are covered with Quranic inscriptions and mosaics as well.


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