|Tabriz Blue Mosque, a glorious example of 15th century Islamic architecture||
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Devastated Tabriz had better things to do than mend it and it lay as a pile of rubble till 1951, when reconstruction finally started. The brick superstructure is now complete, but only on the rear (main) entrance portal (which survived 1773) is there any hint of the original blue exterior. Inside is bluer with missing patterns laboriously painted onto many lower sections around the few remaining patches of original tiles.
The so-called 'Blue Mosque' was once part of a complex known as the 'Muzaffariya' which included a tomb, cistern, library and khanqah. The function of the remaining building, itself in a state of ruin, has not been definitively identified.
The plan, unique in Iran, is comprised of a central square chamber covered by a dome and framed on three sides by a continuous arcade of nine domed bays. A domed sanctuary projects from the fourth, the qibla side. An entrance portal with semi-dome, on axis with the qibla, accesses the arcade, which forms a five-bay vestibule parallel with the façade. The plan bears comparison to the covered Ottoman mosques of Bursa, and Byzantine church architecture.
The Blue Mosque is named after, and celebrated for, its unrivalled tile decoration of which there is still evidence upon the ruined walls of the building. Both interior and exterior surfaces were once covered in a variety of tile revetment; remains of tile mosaic, underglaze-painted and overglaze-painted tiles and luster tiles attest to the richness of the decorative scheme. Patterns are rendered in subtle colors with extensive use of cobalt blue as a ground for inscriptions and arabesque designs in gold and white. The dome was a deep blue, stenciled with gold patterns.
Extensive rebuilding took place between 1950 and 1966. The dome over the central chamber dates from this period, as do the undecorated interior walls. Details from the mausoleum’s interior, such as alabaster pieces from the wall panels and the main prayer niche, reveal that the mausoleum was never completely finished.
Nonetheless, the Blue Mosque itself served as a mosque during the first half of the 16th century, when Tabriz became the first capital of the Safavid dynasty (1501-1732) between 1501 and 1555. Since the military conflicts with the Ottoman Empire had weakened the Safavid defense, Ottoman troops looted Tabriz, as well as the Blue Mosque, in 1514, after their victory in the battle of Chalderan.
A stone foundation supports a structure of fired bricks, which is completely covered with tiles and decorated brick panels.
Alabaster was used for the mausoleum’s dado and three prayer niches, and probably also for the door to the mausoleum, of which a fragment has been preserved, and the windows in the gallery. Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a French traveler, observed that the alabaster slabs created a warm red light inside the building.
The T-shape floor plan is unusual for an Iranian mosque. The main entrance leads to an antechamber that forms the center of a gallery that surrounds the central dome chamber on three sides, and whose two arms lead to the two prayer niches on the south side of the building.
The gallery supports nine cupolas, three on each side, and each arm ends in a vault above a prayer niche. The central dome (22-meter high) rests on eight arches. The description of the two pulpits by Tavernier indicates that the imam led the prayer from this central room.
In the corner pillars of these eight arches are four upper galleries. On the south side, the central dome chamber abuts the mausoleum. Its wooden door was usually closed so that the mausoleum was invisible from the prayer room, though it could be accessed through two disguised openings flanking the door. Four arched bays support the tall dome chamber and a crypt is below the prayer niche.
On the exterior walls of the Blue Mosque are many interesting under-glaze tiles, which are adorned with a black line and painted in white on a dark blue ground. Most of these are square blue-and-white tiles (5 × 5 cm) with floral or geometric ornaments.
Although it has been documented that triangular and lozenge-shaped blue-and-white tiles were found in the Blue Mosque during the 1960s restoration, there are currently no Blue Mosque specimens in any known collection.
Similar blue-and-white tiles, which may be related to those of the Blue Mosque, have been identified in some collections. Blue-and-white tiles were not widely used in 15th-century Iran, and the Blue Mosque constitutes an outstanding example of blue-and-white tilework. In Timurid era, blue-and-white tiles similar to those of the Blue Mosque were used in the Gowharshad Mosque in Mashhad.
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