Ali Qapu Palace, Introduction to the Royal Palace
Ali Qapu is located on the western side of Naqsh-e Jahan Square. The Palace is 48 meters high and it has an area of 1500 square meters which makes it an impressive building. This palace currently has five floors and a special half floor which was probably used by women during specific ceremonies. When Shah Abbas chose the Naqsh-e Jahan Garden area to build a new square (in 1597 AD), there was a one-story building from the Timurid period in the middle of the garden. The Grand Architect, Master Ali Akbar Isfahani, decided not to destroy this already existing building. Instead, he reformed it with some additions. Eventually, the Ali Qapu Palace became the center of Shah Abbas’s government in Isfahan. It should be mentioned that the Ali Qapu Palace in its present form is the result of the additions and reformations of later Safavid kings such as Shah Abbas II (1642-1666), Shah Suleiman (1666-1694) and Shah Sultan Hussein (1694-1722). For example, the roof of the porch was added to this palace by the order of Shah Abbas II. Accordingly, 18 sycamore pillars were designed to support this roof.
The Functionality of the Ali-Qapu
The king and the courtiers held their meetings with the foreign ambassadors at Ali Qapu Palace. There were even a number of banquets held for the court of the king in this palace on the top floor which is called the Music Room. Also, the king, from the porch of the palace, would follow and watch the ceremonies and matches in the square. Some of these plays were the game of polo and the play with wild wolves. Moreover, this palace was actually considered as the entrance of the royal harem. It was the gate through which the king would have entered his own paradise and spent his leisure time with his numerous wives in this enclosed palace.
The Story behind the name of Ali-Qapu
Where does the name Ali Qapu as the great Qapu (or as the name Ali) come from? Some call it Ali Qapu and some call it Aali Qapu. Now, why Ali Qapu?! Shah Abbas had a special devotion to the first Shia Imam, Ali. He even signed his court letters in the name of “the watchdog at Ali’s Doorstep”. That is why the palace was named Ali Qapu after Ali’s name. And why Aali Qapu?! During the Safavid era, and especially during the reign of Shah Abbas the Great, the Safavids competed fiercely with the Ottoman Turks, their western neighbor. Shah Abbas, who saw that a building called Aali Qapo had been built in Turkey, tried to establish a building with a similar name but with greater grandeur in Isfahan. After building this first skyscraper in Iran, he named it Aali Qapo, which translates as ‘’the greatest Gate’’.
The gate that is now installed at the entrance of the palace used to be the gate of the shrine of Imam Ali. Shah Abbas ordered the construction of a golden gate adorned with ornaments of various precious jewels. Then, he sent the gate to Najaf (where the holy Shrine of Imam Ali is Located). The Replaced gate was brought to Isfahan and was installed at the entrance of the palace. Once it was installed, no one had the right to pass from its nearby while riding a horse. The Shah himself was no exception. Eventually this gate became a place of refuge for sinners and thieves. In these circumstances, no one could take them away unless they themselves gave up out of extreme hunger. Then, they were punished for their actions. In addition to respecting the gate, passers would kiss the gate on their way. Today, this gate is at the entrance of the palace and can be visited.
What is inside Ali-Qapu?
According to the old travelogues of some foreign visitors, Ali Qapu had a basement where a group called Cheginis used to live there. Regarding the Cheginis, it should be said that this group were cannibals that used to eat the meat of the dead and the living. This was for the reason that they were suffering from a disease known as gout. The group took orders from the Safavid king to kill the sentenced people by eating them alive. Mir Emad Qazvini, a skilled calligrapher of Shah Abbas’ contemporaries, was taken to this group when he got Shah Abbas angry for some reason. He was eaten alive by the Cheginis in the alleys behind the square.
From the entrance to the palace, it is decorated in several Persian arts such as Gereh Chini, Laye Chini, Paintings, and calligraphies which mesmerize its visitors. It should be said that the paintings are all the work of Reza Abbasi and his students, which are beautifully depicted. Interestingly, Jean Chardin (the famous French Traveler) believed that the paintings of the European men and women are by no means the true image of Europeans. Painters had in mind that they can fully depict Europeans only by adding European hats and clothing.
The upper floors are accessible by some stairs which are called ‘’Gholam Gardesh’’. These stairs were added during the reign of Shah Abbas II. For security reasons, climbing these stairs were hard and almost impossible even by one person at a time. Today, when visitors climb these stairs, they pass through some closed gates. For that reason, the visitors would not notice the 52 rooms in the Palace.
The porch of the palace is consisted of 18 columns and a copper pool in the middle that in its time was unique and had modern facilities. This pool was filled with hot water or cold water by a pump which was one of the innovations of that time. The pump transferred the water from the lower floors upwards which would have provided the king with an entertaining atmosphere.
An exquisite room in Ali-Qapu
The highest and last room in Ali Qapu Palace is the Music Room. This room was named Music Room for being the room where musicians and the chorus used to gather for entertaining the king. They would have performed for the Safavid king and his companions in this room. The decoration of the room is much unique. These decorations can also be seen in the tomb of Sheikh Safi al-Din Ardabili, the great ancestor of the Safavid kings. Delicate carvings of different kinds of bowls on the walls and the ceiling are of the examples of these decorations. They mesmerize the eye of every visitor so much that the passage of time becomes meaningless.
Frequently Asked Questions about Ali-Qapu
Ali Qapu Palace is open:
Everyday 9:00 – 17:00
(0.55 mi) Narcis B&B
Narcis BnB is a comfortable hostel apartment in the heart of Isfahan and close to the main tourist attractions.