Chehel Sotoun 2017-03-05
Chehel Sotoun is a pleasure pavilion built by Shah Abbas II (r. 1642-66) in the midst of a large park. The name of the pavilion, which literally means ‘Forty Columns’, derives from the illusion that the twenty columns of the front portico are doubled by the reflecting pool to the south. The building was intially constructed in 1647 and rebuilt in 1706 following a major fire. Since the site is aligned with the axis of the maidan, or central square of Esfahan, it may have been part of Abbas’ overall urban plan for the city.
Like many of Esfahan’s famous buildings, the Chehel Sotoun grew by accretion as new additions were merged into existing structures. The original core the of pavilion, at the rear, was erected with the somewhat novel feature of two iwans accessing the structure from the sides. These opened into a large triple-domed chamber. The next phase of construction saw the addition of two halls flanking an open pond. This formed an iwan-like ensemble at the front of the building with a deep murqarnas vault decorated with Venetian glass. The final stage of construction concluded with the addition of a talar, or portico, of twenty columns. Since the twenty columns were added in the last phase, the building may not have acquired its present name until that point (though the word ‘forty’ also means ‘many’ in Persian, suggesting that the term ‘forty columns’ should not be interpreted quite so literally).
The most startling feature of the pavilion is the brilliantly painted interior, which in constrast to general Islamic design features a multitude of human figures, including several scenes of battle and audiences held by the Shah with rulers bordering the eastern portion of the empire.