Musalla of Mashad
Mashhad, Iran
The Musalla of Mashad, located outside the city center, was built towards the end of the seventeenth century by Shah Suleiman (1680-81). A musalla is a type of open air mosque, usually located outside the city center; the term musalla simply means "a place of prayer," and a musalla may consist of only a wall marking the direction of the qibla. This typology came about from the need for a large space to accommodate worshipers who would congregate in large numbers, especially during the major Muslim festivals. For this reason, in Iran it is also referred to as an "idagh," or a place of festival.

The musalla of Mashad is much more architecturally elaborate than a typical musalla, being composed of a large iwan flanked by two smaller iwans set within and facing a large garden. Inside the central iwan is the mihrab. Presumably, the minbar was kept inside the iwan, from which point the imam would conduct the prayers. The worshipers would be gathered outside the iwan in the open air.

The smaller iwans flanking the main iwan served as buttresses of the larger central iwan and also provided access to square domed rooms behind them. According to Arthur Upham Pope, neither of these served any liturgical purposes, but were instead reserved for women. In addition to the mihrab, the back wall of the central iwan houses two niches, one on each side of the mihrab. These are also articulated as pointed arches, but are slightly smaller than that of the mihrab. Above the mihrab is an opening in the form of a pointed arch that is approximately the same size as the mihrab. A pointed arch doorway is also found at each side of the iwan; these provided access to the domed rooms behind each of the smaller flanking iwans.

Although it is not clear from historical references and photographs, the ceiling was probably composed of a vault that was decorated with tile work; these photographs do, however, reveal the elaborate tile work that adorned the musalla. A band of inscriptive tile work delineated the perimeter of the pointed arch opening and the edge of the frame of the main iwan. A second band of floral mosaic faience set within square or pointed arch shapes sat between the inscription bands rising to the top. Finally, the spandrels of the main iwan were also decorated with floral mosaic tile work. In 1933, when photographed by Robert Byron, the smaller flanking iwans were in ruins, so it can only be presumed that they too were originally adorned with tile work.

Inscriptions reveal that the musalla was built by Shah Suleiman (1680-81). They also reveal that Hajji Shuja of Isfahan was the author of the mosaic faience, and that Muhammad Husayn of Mashad was the author of the inscriptions.


Godard, André. 1965. The Art of Iran. New York: Praeger, 274-285.

O'Kane, Bernard. 1987. Timurid Architecture in Khurasan. Costa Mesa, California: Mazdâ Publishers in association with Undena Publications, 20, 318.

Petersen, Andrew. 1996. Dictionary of Islamic Architecture. New York: Routledge, 208.

Pope, Arthur Upham and Phyllis Ackerman. 1977. A Survey of Persian Art. Tehran: Soroush Press, 1212-13.
One kilometer southeast of the city center, Mashhad, Iran
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