Iran's Mosques: The Most Beautiful in the World

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


The "Telegraph" Newspaper has looked at the mosques in Muslim countries and picked up 25 of them as the most beautiful. Two of Iran's Mosques have been placed on the top of this list: Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan and Nasir al Molk Mosque in Shiraz


1- Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque of Isfahan, which is located on the eastern side of Naqsh-e Jahan Square, is among the most famous mosques in the world in terms of architecture. This mosque was built between 1602 and 1619 on the order of Shah Abbas I of Safavid dynasty. Master Mohammad Reza Esfahani has been the chief architect of this monumental building. The mosque has been named after Sheikh Lotfollah Jabal Ameli, the renowned Muslim scholar of Safavid era, who traveled to Iran from Lebanon on the invitation of Shah Abbas I, and taught Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh) and principles (Usul). The altar of the mosque is considered a unique masterpiece of architecture because of its delicate tile work and exquisite corbelling. Professor Arthur Upham Pope has written in his valuable book, A Survey of Persian Art, that this building can be hardly considered a work done by human hands. He added that there are no weaknesses in the construction, all sizes are totally proportionate, the plan is powerful and beautiful and the whole building is an amalgam of excitement and vivacity combined with a glorious silence and tranquility which represent extreme aesthetic flair and have come forth from no other source but religious faith and divine revelation. (Iran Review)


2- Nasir al Molk, Shiraz, Iran

From the outside, the Nasir al-Molk Mosque in Shiraz, Iran, seems like a fairly traditional house of worship -- but it's hiding a gorgeously colorful secret. The multitude of stained glass windows turn the inside of the mosque into a riotous wonderland of color that is absolutely breathtaking. You can only see the light through the stained glass in the early morning. It was built to catch the morning sun, so that if you visit at noon it will be too late to catch the light. The sight of the morning sunlight shining through the colorful stained glass, then falling over the tightly woven Persion carpet, is so bewitching that it seems to be from another world. Even if you are the world’s least religious person, you might feel your hands coming together in prayer naturally when you see the brilliance of this light. Perhaps the builders of this mosque wanted to show their “faith” through the morning light shining through this stained glass. (Iran Review)


3- Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Majestic, magnificent and utterly beguiling, the Blue Mosque has six needle-like minarets that form an essential part of Istanbul’s skyline, and is an unmissable part of any break to the city. Terry Richardson, Telegraph Travel’s Istanbul expert, describes how the “interior gleams with the famous blue Iznik tiles from which its name derives.” It was built under the reign of the Ottoman ruler Ahmed I between 1609 and 1616, and is now open to non-worshippers every day outside of prayer times.


4- Aya Sofya, Turkey

Opposite the Blue Mosque in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, the squat, rosy Aya Sofya was built more than 1,000 years before its neighbour. The original “Church of the Holy Wisdom” was built in the 6th century, but the building on the site when the Ottoman Empire took Istanbul was turned into a mosque. Over the 16th and 17th centuries, mihrabs, minbar, and a preaching stand were added to the structure, and the Aya Sofya today is a mixture of Byzantine glittering mosaics and inscriptions from the Koran in Arabic. It is now a museum.


5- Blue Mosque, Cairo, Egypt

The Amir Aqsunqur Mosque, which dates from the 14th century, reopened in Cairo in May this year following a 13-year closure to repair earthquake damage. The mosque is part of a funerary complex, containing the mausoleums of its founder Shams El-Din Aqsunqur and his sons. Its current aesthetic reflects the Ottoman style, especially in the Iznik tiles depicting cypress trees and vases holding tulips.


6- Ibn Tulun Mosque, Egypt

Slightly more low-key but no less beautiful is the Mosque of Ibn Tulun in the Egyptian capital. It was commissioned during the Abbasid era, and although it is believed to be Cairo’s oldest mosque, it has undergone several restorations.


7- Hassan II mosque, Morocco

The Grande Mosquée Hassan II proudly supports the world’s tallest minaret, at 210 metres. The world’s third largest mosque, it is the only such building in Morocco that non-Muslims can enter. It stands proud on the seafront in Casablanca, and the seabed is visible through the glass floor in the hall.


8- Al Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem

The third holiest place in Islam is inside the al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, in the Unesco-listed Old City of Jerusalem. The Al-Aqsa mosque – destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt several times throughout history – was used as a palace by the medieval Crusaders, but subsequent Islamic caliphates carried out repairs and restored it as a place of worship. Jerusalem’s Old City is currently under Israeli control, and worship at the Noble Sanctuary is limited to Muslims only, but tension between Palestinians and Israelis mean that restrictions are sometimes imposed on Palestinian access to the site for security reasons.


9- Al Haram Mosque, Saudi Arabia

The Sacred Mosque, or Great Mosque of Mecca, can accommodate up to four million people, and surrounds the Ka’aba – a cuboid building that is the holiest place in Islam. It covers 400,800 square metres (99 acres), and has outdoor and indoor praying spaces. The mosque is also home to the Black Stone, set into the Ka’aba's wall by Muhammad before his first revelation, and the Maqām Ibrahim (Abraham's place of standing). Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter Mecca.


10- Al-Masjid an-Nabawi – Medina, Saudi Arabia

Built by the Prophet Muhammad circa 622, this is the second holiest site in Islam after the Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca. It now houses the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad, inside the Green Dome. It has 10 minarets – the tallest of which is 105 metres tall – and a capacity of 600,000, increasing to one million during the annual Hajj period. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter some parts of the Medina.


11- Ubudiah Mosque, Malaysia

Built between 1913 and 1917, this place of worship in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar, Peninsular Malaysia, is often touted as the country’s most beautiful mosque. With four minarets and a golden dome, it was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback, a British architect who was also behind the Kuala Lumpur railway station.


12- Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque, Malaysia

Malaysia’s largest mosque can be found in Selangor, Peninsular Malaysia, and is built in modernist Malay style. It has inscriptions by an Egyptian calligrapher alongside blue-stained glass windows, and its aluminium dome is covered with steel panels engraved with verses from the Koran. It has the capacity to accommodate 24,000 worshippers.


13- Faisal Mosque, Pakistan

The world’s fourth largest mosque stands against a backdrop of the Margalla Hills in Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad. Its contemporary design was conceived of by Turkish architect Vedat Dalokay, and its eight-sided concrete shell is inspired by a Bedouin tent and the cubic Ka’aba in Mecca. The Faisal Mosque is described in the book The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini.


14- Wazir Khan Mosque, Pakistan

Also in Pakistan, in the north-eastern city of Lahore, is the Wazir Khan mosque, built in the 17th century under the reign of Shahabuddin Muhammad Shah Jahan. On the “tentative" list for Unesco World Heritage Site status since 1993, it is built in cut and dressed bricks laid in kankar lime, with some red sandstone in the gate and the transept, and is adorned with fresco paintings and tiles, with the predominant colours lajvard (cobalt), firozi (cerulean blue), green, orange, yellow, and purple.


15- Badshahi Mosque, Pakistan

Lahore is not short of beautiful mosques. The Badshahi Mosque, commissioned by the sixth Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in the 17th century, is built in red sandstone and marble, and has a courtyard spreading 279,000 sq ft. The mosque's large minarets were supposedly used for storing zamburahs – light guns – in the Sikh civil war in 1841, while the British used the building as a military garrison during the period of the Raj. Repairs during the 20th and 21st centuries have seen the building restored to a much finer condition than during its time for military use.


16- Taj-ul-Masajid – Bhopal, India

With a name that translates as “Crown among Mosques”, this place of worship in Bhopal has a pink façade, two 18-storey high octagonal minarets with marble domes, and a double-storeyed gateway. All of which mean it is not surprising that this is India’s largest mosque, with enough space for 175,000 worshippers.


17- Jama Masjid, Delhi

This striking red sandstone and marble mosque, with three domes and two minarets, was built under the rule of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan between 1644 and 1656. In 2006, two bombs were set off after Friday prayers in the mosque’s courtyard, which left several people injured, and in 2010, two tourists were injured after gunmen shot at a bus stop near the mosque’s third gate.


18- Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

This brilliant white place of worship in the UAE’s capital is home to the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, crafted by 1,200 artisans, and a 12-tonne crystal chandelier. Combining Mamluk, Ottoman and Fatimid styles, it is described by Rosemary Behan, Telegraph Travel’s Abu Dhabi expert, as a “landmark building” that is worth visiting “for the architecture alone.”


19- Masjid Sultan Qaaboos, Oman

Its position next to a motorway in Muscat might not be conducive to calm, but once guests are inside the Sultan Qaaboos mosque’s gardens, thoughts of the tarmac pummelled by white 4x4s outside will be gone. With peaceful sahn (courtyards), elegant riwaqs (arcades) and mesmerising muqanas (vaulted panelling), this place of worship is one of the most impressive buildings in this Gulf country. Its central minaret is 91.5 m (300 ft) tall, and the main prayer hall has a Persian carpet that took 600 women four years to weave.


20- Great Mosque of Samarra, Iraq

This unique 9th-century mosque near Baghdad in Iraq was built when Samarra was the capital of the Abbasid Empire, but was destroyed in 1278. Its idiosyncratic “Malwiya” minaret remains, however, with its ascending spiral conical design, 52 metres high and 33 metres wide at the base. It was damaged by an explosion in 2005, and is currently on Unesco’s list of endangered world heritage sites.


21- Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, north Cyprus

This building in Famagusta was St Nicholas's Cathedral before the Ottomans captured the city in 1571, at which point it became a mosque. It was renamed in 1954 after the commander of the 1570 Ottoman conquest, who was an unsavoury character, known for the torture of the Venetian commander of Famagusta’s fortress.


22- Umayyad Mosque, Syria

The Great Mosque of Damascus is easily one of the finest buildings in the Islamic world. Finished in 715 under the rule of the Umayyad Caliph al-Walīd I, it is based around a vast courtyard some 157m by 100 m. The Shrine of Saint John the Baptist (Prophet Yahya) is believed to contain the man’s head. The mosque has thus far been protected from the violence that has ravaged much of Syria and destroyed mosques hundreds of years old elsewhere, such as in Aleppo, but reports of stray shells causing impact damage to its facades emerged this year. The Foreign Office currently advises against all travel to Syria, which has suffered violent conflict since 2011.


23- Great Mosque of Herat, Aghanistan

In lapis lazuli (a precious gem), brick and stone, this large congregational mosque in the north-western city of Herat is quite simply astonishing. With foundations laid by Sultan Ghayas-ud-Din Ghori in 1200, it was extended, amended and repaired throughout subsequent eras, and took its current form in the 15th century, although it was damaged in the Anglo-Afghan wars in the 19th century. The Foreign Office currently advises against travel to Afghanistan.


24- Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, Spain

One of the world's finest examples of Moorish architecture, this building was originally a Catholic Christian church started around the year 600. When the Islamic world spread to Spain in the early 8th century, it was divided into Muslim and Christian halves, although a later caliph destroyed it and rebuilt it as a mosque that was converted into a Roman Catholic church in the Reconquista, finally becoming a cathedral in the 16th century. The mosque within the complex is still present, although Muslims are not permitted to worship within it.


25- Koutoubia Mosque, Morocco

Familiar to any tourist who has been on a city break to Marrakesh, the Koutoubia Mosque stands near the Djema'a el-Fna square in the centre of the Red City. The mosque, with one of the most intricate and impressively decorated minarets in Sunni Islam, goes by various other names, including the Jami' al-Kutubiyah, Kotoubia Mosque, Kutubiya Mosque, Kutubiyyin Mosque, and Mosque of the Booksellers. Non-Muslims are not allowed inside, but the mosque is surrounded by tranquil gardens.

Source: The Telegraph