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Isfahan's Chehel Sotoun: A Reflection of Beauty

11/14/07 By Tamara Ebrahimpour, Press TV, Tehran
Photos: Ali Moayedian, 2002

Iran's Chehel Sotoun pavilion is one of the numerous wonders of the Safavid era, which reflects the rich Iranian art.

Note: click on images to see high resolution ones.

Built in 1647 in Isfahan, the palace was used by the king and his successors to receive dignitaries and ambassadors on the terrace or in one of the stately reception halls.

Shah Abbas II built Chehel Sotoun inside a vast royal park round an earlier building erected by Shah Abbas I.

Meaning 'The Forty Columns' in Persian, the name was inspired by the 20 slender wooden columns, which support the entrance pavilion.

Reflected in the waters of the fountain, the columns appeared to be forty.

Each column is made of a plain tree with a thin layer of colored board fitted on the skin. The layer was formerly covered with colored pieces of glass and mirror.

The wooden pillars support an elegant terrace with a light wooden ceiling of wide fretwork louvers. The terrace is only a few steps high and opens the pavilion onto the gardens and an elegant pool.

The ceiling still keeps its beams, covering, painted wood louvers, and carefully lay-work-rosettes and suns, stars, stylized fruit and foliage.

The pool is 110 meters long and 16 meters wide, where two rows of stone lion fountains carry water to the huge, rectangular basin.

The Chehel Sotoun palace is one of the sixteen Safavid palaces in Isfahan four of which are left.

The upper part of the inside walls are decorated with six wall paintings, which represent Safavid court life and military exploits. The area beneath these frescos is covered with smaller paintings, closely similar to Persian miniatures.

The paintings portray the parties held by Shah Abbas II, reception of Mohammad Vali Khan, the king of Turkistan, the war between Shah Ismail the first and the Ottoman forces in Chaldoran, and the reception party in honor of Homayoun, the king of India.

A more recent painting portrays Nader Shah's victory against the Indian Army at Karnal in 1747. There are also traditional miniatures celebrating the joy of life and love.

The whole room is covered by a series of Safavid objects including carpets, armor, porcelain and coins.

The Chehel Sotoun has been badly damaged during different eras; especially while the Afghan invasion when the paintings were covered with a thick coat of whitewash.

All the walls used to be decorated with large mirrors and colored pieces of glass and beautiful paintings. All doors and windows displayed stunning works of inlay.

Many parts of the building including the vaulted ceiling and the throne room have been largely restored to their original design.

The palace is now a museum of Safavid paintings and ceramics, which attracts millions of domestic and foreign visitors.

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