Arg-i Tabriz

it had once been a mosque, […] one of the biggest ever built

During his visit to Tabriz on the 15th of October 1933, Byron records two monuments: one is the despised Blue Mosque, the other one is the Arg-e Tabriz, literally the Forterss of Tabriz.

The short description that Byron gives of the building is quite confusing though: ‘the Ark, or Citadel, a mountain of small russet bricks laid with a consummate art, which looks as if it had once been a mosque, and if so, one of the biggest ever built’. From this short description it is not clear what was the original purpose of the building: was it a mosque or a citadel? Actually, it was both, but in the mind of its patron, it was a mosque.

The patron was Ali Shah, wazir during the reigns of Uljaytu, the same ruler of the Dome of Sultaniyya, and of Abu Sa’id. According to the sources, Ali Shah was not only the patron of the immense building but also its designer. The building is named after him: Masjid-i Ali Shah, or Arg-i Ali Shah.

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Exterior view from north showing ruins near the fountain that once marked the center of the mosque courtyard. Photo by Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom (archnet).

In the mind of its designer and patron, the mosque needed to be a huge, massive construction. The plan developed around an enormous courtyard, paved with marble, 286 meters long and 229 meters wide. In the center of the courtyard, an elevated square platform contained an octagonal fountain with four lions sprouting water from their mouths in every direction. Trees were neatly organized in each of the four corners surrounding the platform with the fountain.

The entrance, a pishtaq, was at the center of the northern wall. The mosque had two iwans at the center of the East and West walls, and a larger iwan was on the Southern part. Also in the case of the big iwan, the dimension were huge, the vault being 30.5 meters wide and 48 meters deep with a total distance between the portal and the mihrab of 65.5 meters. This massive construction was made entirely of bricks.

 

IMG10218.jpg

Exterior view, southern elevation. Photo by Josephine Powell (archnet).

Perhaps because of the size of the building and particularly of its massive walls, the mosque was later used as a citadel, thence the name ‘Arg’.

 

The hugeness of the monument also determined its collapse: not a lot remains today of the once biggest mosque ever built.

Sources

Further information and images can be found on archnet.org

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