Immediately opposite the Royal Palace of Ali Qapu stands
one of the loveliest mosques in Iran: the Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque. It was started in 1602 by Shah Abbas I, replacing an older mosque, for his father-in-law, and it was thereafter used as the royal mosque until the Masjed-e-Imam was built. Although it lacks the size and grandeur of the latter, it surpasses it in workmanship and design.
Sheikh Lotfallah was born in Mess, which is currently in the Lebanon. Like his family he was a member of the Imami, or Shi'ite sect and was encouraged to take up residence in Iran under the Safavid rulers as part of the policy of promoting Shi'ism in Iran, along with other followers of this tradition from Bahrain. At first he lived in Mashed,
where the second holiest of Shi'ite shrines is located, that of Imam Reza, but, partly due to the political instability of the area at the time and partly
because of pressure from Shah Abbas, he took refuge first in Qazvin and then in Isfahan, where he seems to have acquired a son-in-law and patron at the same time. It was probably he who introduced the great mathematician, Sheikh Baha Al-Din Mohammed Ameli, otherwise known as Sheikh Bahai, who designed the famous sundial in the Royal Mosque, to Shah Abbas. Sheikh Lotfallah died in 1622.
The galleried colonnade on the Eastern side of the main square is cut cleanly and the main entrance, as can be seen here is set back. The effect is highlighted by the intricacy of the tilework panels on the exterior, and the offsetting of the dome, necessary for the correct orientation of the prayer chamber, also rouses the visitor's curiosity.
The mosque is entered through the eivan above the steps. The covered passageway down which you pass then subtly turns you through the 45 degrees or so necessary to bring you into line with Mecca, before entering the sanctuary.
Last Updated: October 20, 1998