The main hall of Chehel Sotun is a three dome structure, with each dome being flanked by a vaulted arch on either side, to give a total of six vaults. Each vault is filled with a large scale fresco painted on ceramic with the detail of a Persian miniature as used until then only in book illustrations. The decoration and the frescoes of the main hall were finished in 1647, under the auspices of Shah Abbas II to record key events in the Safavid dynasty
The renowned frescoes overpower the beautiful decoration of the domes and the vault surroundings. The decoration is in the Safavid style, similar to that found in the mosques, but instead of blues and yellows the dominant colour here is a warm gold. The richness of colour contributes to the overwhelming experience. The impact of the frescoes is due in a large part due to the very decorations that they are embedded into, and as such form an integral part of.
The internal roof is all the more breathtaking considering this palace was badly damaged when Esfahan was occupied by the Afghans from 1721-1729, who covered the frescoes with thick white paint. The remarkable recovery is being carried out by the Instituto Italiano per Il Medio Oriente. It seems only the dome frescoes are beyond repair, which makes the well preserved dome fresco on the open air rear terrace all the more precious.
The eastern side (shown here on the lower half) shows three frescoes, from left to right:
- Shah Abbas II's party for Nader Mohammad Khan, Emir of Turkistan
- Shah Ismail I's battle in India
- Shah Ismail I's Battle of Taher-Abad against Sheibak Khan the Uzbek
The western side (shown here on the top half) also shows three frescoes, from right to left:
- Shah Tahmasp receiving the Hindu prince Humayun
- Shah Ismail I's Battle of Chaldoran against the Ottoman Turks
- Shah Abbas I's feast in honor of Vali Mohammad Khan, Emir of Turkestan
The lower walls that support the domed and vaulted roof feature an additional twenty small frescoes, placed between the doors, niches and windows. These are conventional frescoes painted on plaster, and somewhat dominated by the six large frescoes in the ceiling vaults. While they have survived less well, they depict daily life at the Safavid court in exquisite detail.
note: There are "Click for detail" links attached to notes over each individual fresco, that load the separate photo of the relative fresco, including the smaller frescoes along the lower walls.
On our first trip to Iran, I took so many photos inside the main hall that upon reviewing the photos, I realised there were enough photos to create this composite image of the entire ceiling, excluding the lower walls. The shadows from the side windows have been reduced, but not removed to retain a sense of depth. The individual photos had to be manipulated considerably to 'flatten' the complex form of the ceiling and join the pieces together - a process which by nature introduces distortions in spatial form as well as technically compromising the resolution of some sections more than others, depending on the level of correction. In addition, with the inevitable 'flip and copy' sections, this image is not 100% accurate.
For over a year, while this image accumulated some 3,000 views, there were dark black shadows where the detail of the lower walls was missing.
On our second trip to Iran I systematically photographed the lower walls, taking first a series of photos of both walls to create a stitched panorama image of each wall, as well as taking individual photos of each of the small frescoes, which were post processed as individual shots (each also individually uploaded to flickr from the individual shots) and then reduced into the wall 'panoramas'. The two composite wall 'panoramas' were subsequently added to the top and bottom of the composite roof image. Finally the combined 'roof and walls composite' was re-equalised to match the roof and the walls, as well as enhancing colour and contrast from the earlier 'roof only' versions.
Unfortunately not a single shot of the small fresco on the right beside the eastern main entrance came out sharp enough, so for time being, there is no large version available of that particular fresco, and accordingly, there is no 'Click for detail' link on this composite.
Instead of uploading the complete version as a new image, I chose to replace this previously incomplete image.
The complete composite measures 10400 x 14941 at 133Mb in JPEG (in PSD it's 2GB and that's in 8bit after the 16bit version ran out of memory...). This scaled down version measures 'only' 2048x1534 at 4Mb. The six main frescoes linked from this page are crops from the high resolution PSD original, while the smaller frescoes from the lower walls are linked to the original size photos, which appear in reduced size on this composite.
The EXIF data originates from a photo from the lower part of the 'Battle in India' fresco, but all photos were taken with identical exposure etc. During both trips to Iran I was still shooting with the Nikon D200, so the Sigma 30mm f1.4 was the perfect lens given its equivalent to the classic normal prime on an APS-C sensor. The hall is remarkably dark, and no flash is allowed. The crowdy environment means setting up a tripod is simply not an option. The Sigma f1.4 allowed the low noise ISO400 to be used while still achieving a speed of 1/45 sec - just fast enough to get a sharp handheld picture...