With 52 rooms spread over 6 floors, the Ali Qapu Palace in Esfahan is sometimes known as the first Iranian skyscraper and when you consider that it was completed in the 17th Century, that’s pretty impressive. It sits on the east side of Naqsh-e Jahan Square almost directly opposite the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque and overlooks the beautiful landscaped gardens and fountains.
The Palace has performed a number of functions over the years at some point being administrative headquarters whilst at the same time housing the Shah’s private bedrooms and acting as a buffer between the public square and the royal harem. The Palace was also considered lavish and sufficiently ornate enough to welcome visiting dignitaries, ambassadors and heads of state and even now you can see why.
The entrance door is more than 5m high and whilst the first 2 stories have been ravaged by vandals in the immediate aftermath of the Islāmic Revolution, it is not difficult to imagine how startling this building must have been in its hey-day.
I am no engineer, but it is the examples of practical engineering found upstairs that impress me most.
Climbing the steps to the third floor you step on the verandah which is not only beautiful itself, but has the most magnificent view across the square. It is simply breathtaking. The verandah is 28m long and 16m wide and the wooden ceiling is beautifully decorated. The verandah is supported by 18 columns each carved from the trunk of a plane tree and which were originally covered in mirrors.
You would never dream of finding a pool on the third story of a building, but here not only will you find a pool but also a fountain. The pool was filled by hydraulic machines which brought the water up from ground level. Ingenious!
The palace is full of lovely paintings and murals and some of the decoration which has been preserved will take your breath away but my favourite room in this building is the Music Chamber.
If you love music then the Music Chamber on the upper story of the Ali Qapu Palace will both surprise, delight and amaze you.
Music and poetry have always been important to the Persians and here you will find what could be called one of the earliest Dolby stereo systems. Elaborately carved out of stucco work and at 400 years old, it is impressive.
As already mentioned, the Music Chamber is on the upper floor. The musician’s quarters however are on the ground floor. The Shah sat on a platform in the Music Chamber listening to the music whilst watching parades and celebrations in the square.
So how was this achieved without blaring out music at uncomfortable decibels? It is all in the design of the building which meant that the music travelled from the ground floor up to the Shah’s Music Chamber by way of the hollow columns built into the walls and was then transmitted around the Music Chamber through carvings in the plaster. The carvings were designed to create echoes and thus improve the sound quality of the music. Sadly we weren’t able to test this theory out but I have no doubt that like the rest of the engineering, it works perfectly!