GOWHAR-ŠĀD MOSQUE. Since its construction in the early 15th century, the Gowhar-šād Mosque has served as the Friday mosque for pilgrims to the tomb of Imam ʿAli al-Reżā (q.v.) in Mašhad, so named after this famous shrine. Over the centuries many new buildings were added to the shrine complex, but the Timurid mosque remained the dominant monument and the only place for congregational prayer (PLATE I).

Foundation. Gowhar-šād Āḡā (q.v.), wife of the Timurid ruler Šāhroḵ (r. 811-50/1409-47), is named as the founder of the mosque in the inscription on the qebla ayvān (PLATE II; see AYVĀN), in the endowment document (waqf-nāma), and in several Timurid texts. The lengthy inscription which records the building of the masjed-e jāmeʿ “from her own funds” was written by her calligrapher son Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Bāysonḡor (q.v.) in 821/1418 (text in Ṣaniʿ-al-Dawla, II, p. 147; O’Kane, pp. 123-24). The same date is given again in a shorter inscription (Ṣaniʿ-al-Dawla, II, p. 146). An early copy of the waqf-nāma in the shrine library, from which extracts have been published (Ṣaniʿ-al-Dawla, II, p. 153-57; O’Kane, pp. 126-27), gives the date Rajab 829/May-June 1426. References to the mosque’s foundation occur in ʿAbd-al-Razzāq Samarqandi (Maṭla-e saʿdayn, ed. Šafiʿ, II/1, p. 214, describing Šāhroḵ’s visit on the occasion of presenting a gold candelabra to the shrine in 821/1418. Also noting that the mosque was nearly finished) and Ḥāfez-e Abru (I, p. 98; O’Kane, p. 120, noting that other structures were built beside it).

Beneath the qebla ayvān inscription is a panel of mosaic faience naming the architect Qewām-al-Din b. Zayn-al-Din Širāzi al-Ṭayyān, “the plasterer.” He was also the architect of Gowhar-šād’s mosque and madrasa in Herat, built over a twenty-year period from 820/1417 to 841/1437-38 (O’Kane, pp. 167-77), thus overlapping with construction of the Mašhad project. As almost nothing remains of the Herat buildings, the preservation of the Mašhad mosque is critical as an example of Qewām-al-Din’s commissions for the royal family.

Spatial organization. The mosque was designed to fit into the pre-existing structures at the shrine, as described in the waqf-nāma. On the northeast lay the mausoleum of the Eighth Imam. A small bāzār ran along the north-west, and the public thoroughfare ran along the other two sides with some additional buildings. To connect the new mosque to the existing square mausoleum with its auxiliary structures (possibly the Bālā-sar Masjed, a minaret, and a madrasa, the architect built two elegant rectangular halls side by side, the Dār-al-Ḥoffāẓ and the Dār-al-Siāda. Because the mausoleum doorways have undergone so many alterations it is not clear how these halls functioned, whether as rooms for gathering or as passageways between the mausoleum and the mosque. As the mosque is not provided with a monumental portal, it is possible that the Dār-al-Siāda originally had such an entry point. Today it is surrounded by later buildings.

The mosque itself is a traditional four-ayvān type with a much larger qebla ayvān, followed by a very large domed sanctuary (the dome was rebuilt in concrete in the 1960s). Pillared prayer halls flank the sanctuary and connect the axial ayvāns. Secondary entrances are located in the exterior walls that border on the bāzār. The sanctuary dome with its huge ayvān compensates for the lack of a monumental entrance portal so typical of Timurid architecture. The qebla ayvān towers over the courtyard façade, which rises as a two-story arcade. It is framed by a pair of cylindrical minarets with gol-dastas reaching the height of the dome. Inside the sanctuary there is an unusually clear view from the ayvān to the prayer niche (meḥrāb), nestled within a cloud of plaster moqarnas. The architect has all but eliminated the wall of the domed sanctuary that normally intervenes between the domed hall and the ayvān. Instead, as he does elsewhere, Qewām-al-Din uses transverse arches to bear the dome. He has done the same in the Dār-al-Siāda on a much smaller scale.

Decoration. While the exterior of the mosque except for the dome and its drum was undecorated, the courtyard façade and the ayvāns were completely covered with tile revetments. How much of this is original is difficult to determine, as numerous dates of repair are recorded. More recently, the lateral ayvāns and the dome were rebuilt in concrete. Much of the tile work of the qebla ayvān is original and demonstrates the predominance of mosaic-faience technique. The use of plaques of mosaic-faience set into a ground of unglazed brick-like tiles to cover the minarets is a hallmark of Qewām-al-Din and is found on his buildings at Herat and Ḵargerd. Less common in the mosque are haft-rangi (cuerda seca) tiles and underglazed-painted tiles. Large expanses of wall such as found in the ayvāns are ornamented with glazed brick-like tiles (bannāʾi technique).




Lisa Golombek and Donald Wilber, The Timurid Architecture of Iran and Turan, Princeton, N. J., 1988, I, pp. 328-31.

Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru, Joḡrāfiā-ye Ḵorāsān, ed. and tr. D. Krawulsky as Ḫorāsān zur Timuridenzeit nach dem Tāriḫ-e Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru (verf. 817-823 h.), 2 vols., Wiesbaden, 1982-84.

Noṣrat-Allāh Meškāti, Fehrest-e bānāhā-ye tāriḵi wa amāken-e bāstāni-e Irān, Tehran, 1349 Š./1970, pp. 99-100.

ʿAli Moʾtaman, Rāhnemā-ye tāriḵ wa tawṣif-e darbār-e welāyat-madār-e Rażawi, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969, pp. 104-25, 217-23.

Bernard O’Kane, Timurid Architecture in Khurasan, Costa Mesa, Calif., 1987, pp. 119-30.

Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Ṣaniʿ-al-Dawla (Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana), Maṭlaʿ al-šams, 3 vols., Tehran, 1301-3/1883-86, repr. in one vol., Tehran, 2535 = 1355 Š./1976, II, pp. 138-57.

Survey of Persian Art III, pp. 1124-30, 1203, fig. 424.

Percy M. Sykes, “Historical Notes on Khurasan,” JRAS, 1910, pp. 1139, 1145-48.

Idem, The Glory of the Shia World: The Tale of a Pilgrimage, London, 1910, pp. 239, 249-50, 261-62.

(Lisa Golombek)

Originally Published: December 15, 2002

Last Updated: February 17, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XI, Fasc. 2, pp. pp. 181-184