Kakh-e Chehel Sotun

Lonely Planet review

This, the only surviving palace on the royal precinct that stretched between Naqsh-e Jahan (Imam) Sq and Chahar Bagh Abbasi St, this Safavid-era complex was built as a pleasure pavilion and reception hall, using the Achaemenid-inspired talar (columnar porch) style. There are historical references to the palace dating from 1614; however, an inscription uncovered in 1949 says it was completed in 1647 under the watch of Shah Abbas II. Either way, what you see today was rebuilt after a fire in 1706.

The palace is entered via the elegant talar terrace that perfectly bridges the transition between the Persian love of gardens and interior splendour. Its 20 slender, ribbed wooden pillars rise to a superb wooden ceiling with crossbeams and exquisite inlay work. Chehel Sotun means ‘40 pillars’ – the number reflected in the long pool in front of the palace.

The Great Hall (Throne Hall) contains a rich array of frescoes, miniatures and ceramics. The upper walls are dominated by historical frescoes on a grand scale, sumptuously portraying court life and some of the great battles of the Safavid era – the two middle frescoes (Nos 114 and 115) date from the Qajar period but the other four are original. From right to left, above the entrance door, the armies of Shah Ismail do battle with the Uzbeks; Nader Shah battles Sultan Mohammed (astride a white elephant) on an Indian battleground; and Shah Abbas II welcomes King Nader Khan of Turkestan with musicians and dancing girls.

On the wall opposite the door, also from right to left, Shah Abbas I presides over an ostentatious banquet; Shah Ismail battles the janissaries (infantrymen) of Sultan Selim; and Shah Tahmasp receives Humayun, the Indian prince who fled to Persia in 1543. These extraordinary works survived the 18th-century invasion by the Afghans, who whitewashed the paintings to show their disapproval of such extravagance. Other items, including Safavid forebear Safi od-Din’s hat, are kept in a small museum .

The palace’s garden, Bagh-e Chehel Sotun , is an excellent example of the classic Persian Garden form and was recently added to Unesco’s World Heritage list.