Chehel Sotoun, Qazvin, Iran (Persia)

Photo by Mahmoodreza Mohajerani via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

While Isfahan’s Chehel Sotoun Palace is more famous, Qazvin’s Chehel Sotoun pavilion was built first, referring to the time when Shah Tahmasp transferred the capital from Tabriz to Qazvin due to the fear of Ottomans’ attacks. On his command, the lands in an area called Zangi Abbad were purchased from Mirza Sharaf Jahan who was one of the respected tradesmen of the city. He then invited several master architects to build what we know today as Safavid Complex. It comprised a series of constructs including a couple of palaces, a garden, and a square. This square later turned into an architectural model for the construction of Naghsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan.

One of the remained constructs of the complex in Qazvin is an edifice that was entitled later Chehel Sotoun during the Qajar Dynasty (1789-1925). It was built amid a large garden in a central square of the old city. It is worth mentioning that the whole construct has a cross-like and extroverted plan and this plan made archeologists call it a pavilion rather than a palace. It has been argued that if it was a palace, its architecture should have followed an introverted plan.

Chehel Sotoun, Qazvin, Iran (Persia)

Photo by Parisa Tondaki

This pavilion is in the shape of an octagonal structure in two stories comprising several pools, iwans, and halls that were beautifully adorned with tiles, stucco, and frescos. Furthermore, the ground floor includes brick columns and semicircular arches, while the first floor has an iwan (porch) with wooden pillars and colored reticulated wooden windows. Notably, Chehel Sotoun edifice is famous for its fresco miniature paintings (art of the Qazvin school), where there are three historical periods of paintings each covered by the next.

The first layer of the painting refers to the early Safavid Dynasty (1501-1736) when Shah Tahmasp chose Qazvin as the country’s capital and ordered the construction of this palace. However, not much could be seen of this layer and its theme of painting could not be identified since today it is the deepest layer beneath the other two successive layers. The second layer belongs to the late Safavid Dynasty showing scenes of hunting and celebration. The last layer was painted when Qajars were on the throne but its paintings have been lost over time. In general, the paintings were inspired by the most important events of the time including the advent and ruling of kings, their battles, victories, and defeats.

All doors of the palace are inlaid woodwork decorated with paintings, tiling, and gilding. However, decorations’ colors and more broadly the structure has been faded and deteriorated in the course of time, like the floor’s bricks that have been replaced with new ones. The pavilion has been turned into a calligraphy museum in recent years displaying some of the valuable artworks (e.g., calligraphy, and old books) of the country.