Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque (Persian: مسجد شيخ لطف الّله - Masjed-e Sheikh Lotf-ollah) is one of the architectural masterpieces of Safavid Iranian architecture, standing on the eastern side of Naghsh-i Jahan Square, Isfahan, Iran.

Construction of the mosque started in 1603 and was finished in 1618. It was built by the chief architect Shaykh Bahai, during the reigh of Shah Abbas I of the Safavid dynasty.

It is registered, along with the Naghsh-i Jahan Square, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Of the four monuments that dominated the perimeter of the Naqsh-e Jahan square, this one was the first to be built.

The purpose of this mosque was for it to be a private mosque of the royal court, unlike the Masjed-e Shah, which was meant for the public. For this reason, the mosque does not have any minarets and is of a smaller size. Indeed, few Westerners at the time of the Safavids even paid any attention to this mosque, and they certainly did not have access to it. It wasn't until centuries later, when the doors were opened to the public, that ordinary people could admire the effort that Shah Abbas had put into making this a sacred place for the ladies of his harem, and the exquisite tile- work, which is far superior to those covering the Shah Mosque.

To avoid having to walk across the maydān when getting to the mosque, Shah Abbas had the architect build a tunnel spanning across the piazza, from the Ali Qapu palace, to the mosque. When reaching the entrance of the mosque, one would have to walk through a passage that winds round and round, until one finally reaches the main building. Along this passage there were standing guards, and the obvious purpose of this design was for the women of the harem to be shielded as much as possible from anyone entering the building. At the main entrance of the mosque there were also standing guards, and the doors of the building were kept closed at all times. Today, these doors are open to visitors, and the passage traversing underneath the field is no longer in use.

Sheikh Lutfallah

Throughout history, this mosque has been referred to by different names. For Junabadi it was the mosque with the great dome (Masjed-e qubbat-e ’azim) and the domed mosque (qubbat masjed), while contemporary historian Iskandar Munshi named it the mosque of great purity and beauty. On the other hand, European travellers, such as Jean Chardin referred to the mosque using the current name, and Arabic incsrictions within the mosque, done by calligrapher Baqir Banai, also include the name of Sheikh Lutfallah. In addition, the reckonings of Muhibb Ali Beg, the imperial treasure holderer, show that the Imam's salary came directly from the imperial household resources. All this suggests that not only was the building indeed named after Sheikh Lutfallah, but also, that this famous imam was among the first prayer leaders for the royal court in this very mosque.


The entry gateway, like those of the Grand Bazaar and the Masjed-e Shah, was a recessed half- moon. Also, like in the Masjed-e Shah, the lower facade of the mosque and the gateway are constructed of marble, while the haft- rangi tiles (seven- colour mosaic) decorate the upper parts of the structure. Creation of the calligraphy and tiles, which exceed, in both beauty and quality, anything created beforehand in the Islamic world, was overseen by Master calligrapher Ali Reza Abbasi.

Compared with the Shah Mosque, the design of the Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque is quite simple, there is no courtyard and there are no interior iwans. The building itself consists of a flattened dome resting on a square dome chamber. Yet, in its construction the finest materials were used and the most talented craftsmen employed. Robert Byron wrote about this sight: I know of no finer example of the Persian Islamic genius than the interior of the dome:

One of the unique characteristics of the mosque is the peacock at the center of its dome. If you stand at the entrance gate of the inner hall and look at the center of the dome, a peacock, whose tail is the sunrays coming in from the hole in the ceiling, can be seen.

The monument's architect was Mohammad-Reza Isfahani, who solved the problem of the difference between the direction of kaabeh and gateway of the building by devising an L- shaped connecting vestibule between the entrance and the enclosure. Reza Abbasi's inscription on the entry gateway gives the date of the start of construction.

  • Sheikh Bahai (Chief architect)
  • Mohammad- Reza Isfahani

Ali Reza Abbasi, the leading calligrapher at the court of Shah Abbas, has decorated the entrance, above the door, with majestic inscriptions with the names and titles of Shah Abbas, the Husayni and the Musavi, that is, the descendants of Imams Husayn and Musa.

The inscriptions of the Mosque reflect matters that were preoccupying the shah around the time it was built; namely the need to define Twelver Shiism in contrast to Sunni Islam, and the Persian resistance to Ottoman invasion. The running inscription in white tile on blue ground on the exterior drum of the dome, visible to the public, consists of three suras (chapters) from the Quran; al- Shams (91, The Sun), al-Insan (76, Man) and al-Kauthar (108, Abundance). The suras emphasize the rightness of a pure soul and the fate in hell of those who reject God’s way, most likely referring to the Ottoman Turks.

Entering the prayer chamber, one is confronted with walls covered with blue, yellow, turquoise and white tiles with intricate arabesque patterns. Quranic verses appear in each corner while the east and west walls contain poetry by Shaykh Bahai. Around the mihrab are the names of the Twelve Shi’i Imams, and the inscription contains the names of Shaykh Lutfallah, Ostad Muahmmad Reza Isfahani (the engineer), and Baqir al- Banai (the calligrapher who wrote it).

Turning right at the entrance to the domed prayer chamber, one first encounters the full text of Sura 98, al- Bayyina, the Clear Proof. The message of this chapter is that clear evidence of the true scripture was not available to the People of the Book (i.e. Christians or Jews) until God sent his messenger Muhammad. The horizontal band of script at the bottom of the arch is not Quranic, but states that God’s blessings are on the (Shi’i) martyrs. Thus, Shi’i invocation echoes the Quranic verses in its stress on the truthfulness of God’s message.

The poem of Shaykh Bahai on the right wall prays for help from the Fourteen Immaculate Ones (Muhammad, Fatima and the Twelve Imams), while the inscriptions on the interior of the dome emphasize the virtues of charity, prayer and honesty, as well as the correctness of following Islam and its prophets versus the error of other religions.

The specifically Shi’i passages and their prominent placement in the mihrab, on the two lateral walls and in the horizontal bands of each corner, underscore the pre- eminence of this creed in Safavid Iran.

The fact that two poems by Shaykh Bahai, a devoted sufi, grace the walls of Shah Abbas’ private mosque, proves that, although some sufi elements in the empire were suppressed, Sufism as a general phenomenon continued to play an important role in the Safavid society.

Panoramic View
  • 360 degree view of the mosque


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