Gawhar Shad Mosque

"It needs no acquaintance with other styles to acclaim this court, among the buildings now existing, as the most beautiful example of colour in architecture ever devised" 

Robert Byron (1905-1941). British Travel Writer. Author of The Road to Oxiana.

Timur & Timurid Architecture

A separate page dealing with Timur and some background to Timurid Architecture is here.


It is a four-ivan Masjid with two tile-decorated minarets flanking its main ivan. Upon the front of the ivan, there is a stately inscription containing the name of Shahrokh Bahadur and the date 1418 A.D. A part of the inscription is by the Timurid prince, Bysonghor Mirza and is exceedingly remarkable as a calligraphic achievement. The rest is from the Safavid period and has been attributed to Mohammed Reza Imami. The Gawhar Shad structures are masterpieces of archeological skill and tile decoration. more


The following extract is taken from, Pope, A. U. (1969) Persian Architecture. Oxford University Press: London.

The first and the greatest surviving, Persian monument of the fifteenth century is the beautiful mosque of Gawhar Shad (1418) now abutting the shrine of the Imam Reza in Mashhad. Its portal continues the Samarkand style of arch within arch, enriched by a succession of bevels and reveals that give it depth and power. The thick, tower-like minarets, merging with the outer corners of the portal screen, extend to the ground and, together with the high foundation revetment of marble, give the ensemble the impression of solidity necessary to support its exuberant colour. The entire court facade is faced with enamel brick and mosaic faience of the finest quality.

The full scale of colours includes a dominant cobalt blue and turquoise, white, a transparent green, yellow, saffron, aubergine and mirrorblack - all tones fluctuating through several shades. The patterns lucid and vigorous, are artfully adapted to their decorative role, whether for eye-panels, or dome ornament meant to be effective at a thousand feet.

Monotony, difficult to avoid in such a large area, and a distracting intricacy that might compete with the essential architectural forms are both forestalled.

This is accomplished by the energy of the faience floral patterns and brick geometrical schemes; by the emphatic rhythm of the arcades, open galleries and deep recesses; and especially by the contrast of the ivans.

Hillenbrand (1994:3107) says, 'The Timurid period took still further ideas which had been no more than latent in earlier centuries. While some mosques of traditional form were built - such as the Mosque of Gauhar Shad, in Mashhad, of standard four-iwan type (821/1418) - attention focused particularly on the portal and qibla iwan, which soared to new heights'.


The following extract is taken from, Pope, A. U. (1930) An Introduction to Persian Art, Peter Davies, London

But nowhere has a simple architectural form been managed to give a greater sense of thickness, depth and structural integrity than in the great portal and iwan arches of the Masjid-i-Shah or the mosque of Gohar Shad of Mashhad. By a succession of receding contours, wide soffits with multiple mouldings and deep concave channels, the arch is gradually built up and enriched so that it ceases to be the line of an opening and becomes instead an organised, complicated cluster of repeating forms, heavy strong and wholly adequate. In some of the iwan arches of Gohar Shad, the combined mouldings much reach a total depth of not less than 25 feet and every line and every modulation of the surface, however varied, consistently reinforces the central impression.


The following extract is taken from, Sykes, P. M. (1915) A History of Persia, Macmillan, London

The Mosque of Gauhar Shad. Among the greatest benefactors of the Shrine was Gauhar Shad, wife of Shah Rukh, and to her piety we owe the magnificent mosque called by her name, which perhaps constitutes the crowning architectural achievement of the Mongols. It is, indeed, a noble quadrangle, with four great arches. That to the south-west, known as the Aywan-i-Maksura^ or "Portico of the Sanctuary," supports a blue dome, and in it the services are held. The illustration shows the beautiful tile and plaster work inside the Portico; it also gives the pulpit which, according to Shia belief, will be ascended by the Twelfth Imam on the Day of Judgment [this is not true]. The loftiness and elegance of the quadrangle, together with its perfect proportions and exquisite tile-work, make it the noblest mosque in Central Asia. In front of the magnificent portico is an inscription in large white letters on a dark-blue ground which struck me as most beautiful. 

No description of this great mosque would be complete without a reference to the " Mosque of the Old Woman." The legend runs that an old dame who owned a tiny plot of the land required by Gauhar Shad declined to sell it at any price, but insisted that a separate mosque should be erected on it. To the eternal credit of the Royal Consort this unreasonable demand was complied with, and the "Mosque of the Old Woman" testifies to the fact.

All information provided in good faith, please check as appropriate before you travel (c) 2009