The Friday Mosque of Yazd and its decoration

clue after clue yielded treasure

It is the 20th of March 1934 when Byron arrives at Yazd. As he recounts in his travelogue, the very same day he reaches the city, he sets off to look for monuments. And the monument that intrigued him the most in the city is the Friday Mosque. In his journal, Byron informs the reader that this monument is usually overlooked by other travelers: “Sir Percy Sykes is the only writer who has noticed the buildings here, and he but shortly. Do people travel blind?”.

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Exterior view of the dome and its decoration. Photo by Robert Byron (archnet).

For sure, Byron does not miss the chance to visit the mosque, remaining fascinated by some of the architectural elements and annoyed by others.

The Friday Mosque of Yazd was originally built in the 12th century. However, what we see now is the new mosque, that was built first under the Il Khanids, in 1324, and later augmented in 1365, under the Muzaffarids. Also, at the moment Byron visited the mosque, it already had undergone further developments, that took place in the 18th and 19th centuries.

These construction phases are visible in the courtyard, that to Byron was “a disappointment, a parochial little enclosure”There, to the east one can see the ruins of the pre-Seljuk mosque, to the south, are the 14th-century structures and finally, to the west, the most recent 18th- and 19th-century additions.

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The courtyard of the mosque. Photo by Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom (archnet).

Apart from the structural innovations and the fact that this mosque is the earliest mosque, upon which later 15th-century mosques would have been modeled, the most important feature of the mosque is its decoration. Byron himself recognizes it when he states This is the best decoration of that kind I have seen since Herat. It differs from the work there. The colours are colder, the designs more lucid and precise, but not so gorgeous.”

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The entrance portal, and the dome. Photo by Marie-Thérèse Ullens de Schooten (archnet).

The decoration of the mosque is indeed stunning and carried out magnificently. The decoration was carried out for the most part under the Muzaffarids and is a wonderful example of how different decorative techniques are juxtaposed and work perfectly in combination: glazed tiles and unglazed carved terracotta, used together, highlight the surfaces. The different techniques reflect the cumulative history of the mosque, its phases of constructions and reconstructions.

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Internal decoration of the dome. Photo by Nandini Bagchee (archnet).

Of particular beauty is the entrance portal, profusely decorated and flanked by two tall minarets. But also the dome, that is made of two different domes, one internal and the other external, feature beautiful internal and external decorations. On the outside, the dome is decorated with a geometric arabesque in black and blue tile mosaic, on a beige background. Inside, a star-shaped decoration covers the surface and enhance the form of the dome.

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Detail of the decorative tiles. Photo by Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom (archnet).

Last but not the least, it is worth noticing the decoration of the qibla wall: besides the richly decorated mihrab, the wall is ornamented by hexagonal tiles, formed by a multiplication and rotation of the word “Allah”, in the characteristic style called Square Kufic.

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The mihrab and the qibla wall, decorated with Square Kufic mosaic. Photo by

We can just imagine the awe that this mosque and its decoration inspired to Byron and the other travelers. And as he writes in his travelogue, they visit Yazd and its Friday mosque “till at the end of the day we were almost too tired to walk home”.

Sources

The first source for the article has been the Archnet page with the description and photo of the monument.
Lisa Golombek and Donald Wilber, The Timurid Architecture of Iran and Turan, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1988, pp. 414-418.
Maxime Siroux, “La Masjid-e-Djum’a de Yezd”, in Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, 44 (1947), pp. 119-76.
Donald N. Wilber, The Architecture of Islamic Iran: The Il Khanid Period, Greenwood Press, New York  1969, pp. 159-160.

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