Ali Qapu, Isfahan
The Ali Qapu is a Safavid palace in Isfahan, Iran which was originally designed as a vast portal in the early 17th century and then it turned to a six-story palace with a series of additional architectural elements over a sixty year period to accommodate court functions.
Ali Qapu (Persian: عالیقاپو, High Gate) is a five-storey palace overlooking Meydan Imam, or "the royal square",in Isfahan, Iran. It was built in the seventeenth century, opposite the mosque of Sheikh Lutfallah.
The name Ali Qapu, from Persian ‘Ālī (meaning "imperial" or "great"), and Azerbaijani Qāpū (meaning "gate"), was given to this place as it was right at the entrance to the Safavid palaces which stretched from the Naqsh e Jahan Square to the Chahar Baq Boulevard.
In fact, the name of the palace refers to the vaulted passage which passes through the center of the building and which served to connect the square with the space formerly occupied by the Safavid palace. This passage is flanked by two storeys with smaller rooms, surmounted by an open portico, called talar, with a roof supported by eighteen columns of wood, and a fountain in the talar. Behind the vaulted passage and the portico stands a square building with three main floors and a vaulted door connected to the door allowing passage to the square, a reception room at the talar and a series of smaller rooms at the top , ornamented with moqarnas. Both the vaulted passageway and the central reception room are flanked by two storeys of smaller rooms, creating a five-storey structure.
The building now has seven floors, and is 48 meters tall. On the sixth floor, there is a "music room", decorated with complex circular niches having a decorative as well as acoustic function. The eighteen columns of the talar are decorated with mirrors and the wooden ceiling, decorated with marquetry.
The walls of the palace are richly decorated with murals by Reza-e 'Abbasi, a court painter of Shah Abbas I, and his pupils; mainly representing floral and animal motifs (birds) and some human representations.
The gently-cracked windows and doors of the palace were almost all destroyed in the course of time, except for a window on the third floor. The palace was restored under the reign of Shah Soltan Hossein, the last Safavid ruler; and then experienced severe damage during the reign of the Afghans who had invaded the country. During the reign of Nasseredin Shah Qadjar (1848-1896), the paintings were covered with ceramic tiles bearing inscriptions.
The general structure of the building suggests its function: the lower gateway served as a gateway to the Safavid palaces west of the meydan ("the square") towards the tchahar bagh ("boulevard des four gardens"), were used for royal receptions and other entertainments. Chardin describes a reception he attended on 16 July 1672 from a siege of the talar: the monarch and his guests were present at polo games, demonstrations of shooting and fighting of wild animals. Horse races were also held in the square.
History of the palace
The history of the palace is much less clear than its function.
Recent restorations of Ali Qapu have shown that the palace was built in several stages. The first part of the building to have been built seems to have been the five-storey central part. It is probable that this part did not exist in 1593, when Shah Abbas went up on the roof of a madrasa to attend a maneuver of his infantry. The construction of the square building seems to have followed the choice of Isfahan as the new capital of the Safavids, which led to the need for an official reception site. It is likely that only the central square building dates from the reign of Abbas I. Pietro Della Valle (1586-1652), during his trip to Persia in 1617, describes a reception without mentioning the talar; on the other hand, it describes the many small rooms opening onto a larger room and the narrow staircase to reach them, which corresponds to the square building plan.
According to Honarfar, literary and historical evidence would help to date the erection of talar in 1643-1644 during the reign of Abbas II. Its substructure contains a passageway in alignment with the stores located in the inner wall of the meydan.
The very dating of the name Ali Qapu is uncertain. In his list of buildings erected by Abbas I, Eskandar Beg lists the dargah-e pandj tabaqe ("five-storey gate") without a distinctive epithet.