Just as Moscow’s Cathedral of St Basil is an architectural celebration of all that is Russian, the Nasir ol-Molk Mosque, a marvel of Qajar design and artistic innovation, is a microcosm of all that is Persian. Arguably the most famous mosque in the world, for its display of kaleidoscopic colours and myriad motifs, the Pink mosque, as it is affectionately known, reminds us that when art and faith combine, man can achieve truly great things.
Writing in Muslim Heritage, Cem Nizamoglu describes it perfectly: “This (Nasir ol-Molk mosque) is a space where light and worship intertwine. The mosque comes to life with the sunrise and colours dance throughout the day like whirling dervishes. It reflects on the ground, walls, the arches and the towering spires. It even reflects on the visitors as if a colourful ball is hit by the first sun ray and explodes to thousands of butterflies all around.”
Conversion and Rebirth
It was the Safavid’s who converted Persia from Sunni to Shia Islam, which would transform the kingdom into one of the undisputed spiritual bastions for all Shias across the globe. One could call this a Machiavellian plan by the Safavid shah’s, to distinguish Persia as an independent entity, separate from the Sunni majority nations. Whether it was or was not, this gargantuan shift in the spiritual foundations of the society, singlehandedly ignited an artistic revolution.
Artists are said to be the antenna of a culture, they visually articulate what is going on in the soul of a society, and during the Safavid era, the soul of the Persians was uplifted, and so its artisans rendered the distinct happiness and freedom of the Persian soul in their art, architecture and design. This all culminated in the Qajar epoch, when after several generations, the Persian character had finally been nurtured and allowed to flourish once more. No longer was it the slave of the invader, and just as Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh represented the anger and determination of the Persian soul not to become subjugated and disappear, Qajar arts and crafts represented a reflection of sublime beauty and joy of a soul that was free.
Poetry and Geometry
Which brings us to the Nasir ol-Molk mosque, unlike so many mosques that pay strict attention to divine geometry, Mohammad Hasan Memar and Mohammad Reza Sirazi, the architects behind it, conceived an idea for a mosque that represented the functional and the ethereal perfectly. For what they envisioned was a sublime blend of geometric perfection and quintessential Persian whimsy, with aesthetics that concentrated on the ebullient and carefree.
Its five concave design is richly brocaded from top to bottom with flora and fauna motifs, the Persian nature for visualising poetry on the grand scale and passion for the symbolic are carefully entwined with the deeply solemn nature of such a religious building, as evocative flower designs sit neatly next to words from the Noble Quran. As one visitor to the mosque put it “Spirituality leads to wonders and self-revelation needs a spot where you can connect to God, your quest ends when you encounter this wonder.”
Could there be anything more of a wonder than the Nasir ol-Molk mosque? Since its completion in 1888, it has stood proudly, bringing worshipers closer to the divine and enhancing an appreciation of just what Persian culture can achieve.