Chehel Sotoun meaning “forty columns” in Farsi is the name of a palace that its construction was started during the reign of Shah Abbas I but his successor Shah Abbas II completed during the Safavid Dynasty (1501-1736). According to an inscription in the form of plasterwork on the southern side of the garden, the palace was introduced as a prosperous building of the world, which its construction was finished in the fifth year of the Shah Abbas II’s reign.
Its name is attributed to the palace’s 20 wooden columns such that considering their reflections in a large pool in front of the building, one can see an overall number of 40 columns. Besides, the name is attributed to an old belief originating from holy books and literature that 40 is a holy number. The palace is located in a rectangular garden (275 x 225 meters) with an area of about 67,000 m2, inspired architecturally by the plan of Persian Gardens.
Like other Persian gardens, it comprises a fence, pool, flowers and trees, and a remarkable pavilion in the center of the garden. The pool used to be watered from Fadan Madi, a wide stream that stemmed from Zayandeh Rood River and watered different areas of Isfahan. The garden’s most common plants include pines, elm, black maple, sycamore, juniper, and different types of seasonal flowers.
When the capital city was transformed from Qazvin to Isfahan, the city expanded gradually southward and the Naghsh-e Jahan Square along Chahar Bagh Street turned into the city center. Notably, Sheikh Bahaie, a scholar, mathematician, and astronomer of the 16th and 17th centuries, was the architect of many structures in this part of the city.
The Chehel Sotoun Palace consists of a large Iwan (porch), decorated with mirror works and Persian miniature, which is 38, 17, and 14 meters long, wide, and tall, respectively. This Iwan has a wooden roof that 20 wooden columns carry its weight. Of the columns, four central ones around a small pool have stone lions at their base. However, the four stone lions and other stone statues placed around the central pool have been brought from two other constructs outside the complex titled Ayeneh Khane (Mirror House) and Sar Pooshideh Hall.
Furthermore, there are other portable stones in the garden of Chehel Sotpun Palace (e.g., the eastern and southern walls of the garden) that originally belong to other historical monuments such as Ghotbieh Mosque, Joobareh Mosque, and Aghasi Mosque.
The most striking decorations in the main hall (Throne Hall) of the palace refers to beautiful frescos and paintings in Persian miniature style with different themes. The paintings and frescos display important royal events like the reception of Mohammad khan the ruler of Turkestan, Shah Ismail I in Chaldoran war against the Ottoman Sultan Selim I, the reception of Humayun the Indian king by Shah Tahmasp, Shah Ismail in Marv war, the reception of Nader Mohammad khan the ruler of Turkestan by Shah Abbas II, and Nader Shah’s victory against the Indian Army in the Battle of Karnal.
At the time of Shah Sultan Hossein, the last king of the Safavid Dynasty, some parts of the palace were fired but repaired soon following the King’s order. During the Qajar Dynasty (1789-1925), Zel Ol Sultan, the ruler of Isfahan and Naser Al-Din Shah’s son, ordered a series of changes in the place such as the destruction of the valuable mirror works and hiding the walls’ frescoes with plaster.
The palace is open to the public through the oldest gate on the east side. After crossing the portal entrance and a big pool, visitors reach the main pavilion in the middle of the garden. Visitors can also visit the main hall of the palace where there is a museum to exhibit historical objects belonging to different periods and different parts of Iran. In 2011, the Chehel Sotoun palace was registered as a UNESCO Heritage Site and also as a Persian garden.