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Iran's Ali Qapu the 'Sublime Gate'

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ali Qapu, one of the most famous tourist attractions in the Iranian city of Isfahan is a highly ornamented edifice of the Safavid era.

The palace was named Ali Qapu, the Turkish words for 'sublime gate', because it was originally designed as the entrance to the Safavid palaces.

Located on the western side of Isfahan's Naqsh-e Jahan square, the palace was originally designed as a vast 48-meter-high portal with six floors connected by spiral staircases.

The monument was built for Shah Abbas I in the early 17th century to entertain his noble visitors and foreign ambassadors.

The king celebrated Nowruz (Persian New Year) in Ali Qapu for the first time in 1006/1597.

The Safavid monarchs could watch polo games and keep an eye on the daily activities in the square from the huge terrace in front of the building.

Ali Qapu has an ornate inlaid ceiling, supported by wooden columns. The walls of the edifice are covered with rich naturalistic murals by Reza Abbasi, the court painter of Shah Abbas I, and his pupils. The paintings display floral, faunal and bird patterns.

Ali Qapu was repeatedly repaired under Shah Sultan Hussein, the last Safavid ruler, but fell into dilapidation during the Afghan invasion.

Under the Qajar ruler, Nasser al-Din shah (1848-96), the Safavid cornices and floral tiles above the portal were replaced by inscribed tiles.

Under Shah Abbas II, Ali Qapu was improved mostly in the construction of its magnificent hall on the third floor. All the 18 columns were covered with mirrors to create an illusion of a roof floating in the air and the ceiling was decorated with great paintings.

One of the most interesting parts of the building is the music chamber on the sixth floor, which displays unique and ornamental plaster works on the walls and ceilings. The room has many deep circular niches in the walls, which have aesthetic and acoustic values. Music ensembles used to perform here.

It is said that in earlier times women were allowed to sit in and listen to the musicians (men) playing, and that after leaving the room music could still be heard, as the palace's acoustics created an echo effect which kept the music reverberating inside the rooms.

Inside the palace, there were many beautiful murals, depicting scenes from nature and history, which have unfortunately been destroyed over the years during different invasions and occupations

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