Nasir ol-Molk Mosque: A Light Show of a Different Kind
It seems an odd thing to do in Iran, but if you want to practice Japanese, Korean or Mandarin, head to the Nasir ol-Molk mosque in Shiraz. You’ll find the greatest concentration of East Asian tourists in Iran there. All of the visitors are there for one thing: a light show that is one of the most captivating that Man has made without electricity.
There are several pretty sights around the 130-year-old mosque: the twin minarets mirrored in the ablution pool, an illuminated ancient cow well on the southern side, and honeycomb vaults at both ends. Don’t try to look for the elegant Shirazi dome from here; it’s only visible from an alley to the east.
None of this is relevant to the light show that everyone’s there to see, however.
The prayer hall on the north side is separated from the courtyard by seven large stained glass windows. Although the sight of the thick white curtains veiling these windows is ghastly, don’t try tugging on them or searching for the caretakers. Leave them alone and head inside, where everything looks heaps better.
The entire complex lies along an axis that points towards Mecca in Saudi Arabia. As such, at breakfast time each day, sunshine bathes the carpets and the fluted pillars in intense blue, red, yellow and pink hues. There’s no fuzzy logic at work, just the movement of the earth controlling the light and a few thousand pieces of tinted glass taming it. Winter is the prettier season when the low sun means these colours cover more real estate.
The whole place lends itself to beautiful and creative photos, making it a magnet for camera-toting Asians. We lurve taking photographs, and there were more than a few Asians around when my friends and I dropped in.
Parts of the prayer hall were minefields of camera tripods during our visit, especially the area near the door. People were standing in the tinted light, letting it print polychromatic blossoms on their faces for their next Instagram post. Now and then, the clicks of camera shutters echoed off the pink-tiled walls and ceilings.
Thankfully, no loud tour groups were with us. While some of the poses the other visitors made weren’t appropriate for a place of worship (e.g. using Buddhist hand gestures), they generally kept the peace. This could change, of course, as Iran gets easier to visit and word gets around. Maybe you should check it out before it happens.
I may have made things sound a lot worse than they actually were. Even though the early morning is the mosque’s most “crowded” period, we shared that space with no more than 20 other people. About half of them were Chinese, Japanese and Koreans travelling solo or in pairs. I hadn’t seen that many East Asians in one spot in Iran, yet none of the animosity between any of those countries on the global stage was apparent.
At Dolat Abad in Yazd, I was told that stained glass could keep mosquitoes out and improve one’s health; perhaps we should also test its calming properties.
It’s easy to lose track of the hours watching the ways people and surfaces interact with it. The sun continued its march across the sky unabated; the light slowly shortened and slipped off the pillars and the carpets.
Eventually, the shafts of light were at right angles to the windows. From the ceiling vault to the windows, to the illumination on the carpet, the symmetry was perfect. It was pure photography gold. All we wanted was to capture that fleeting moment of perfection in pixels.
We took turns to snap photographs from different angles, and it didn’t matter that we had used some of them less than an hour ago. Our earlier pictures merely showed how the tinted light transformed the surfaces; now, the symmetry added a pleasing sense of order that reflected the precision of the stained glass designs.
The light continued to move and shorten, heading steadily towards previously-unlit surfaces. It would eventually disappear as the sun crossed to the other side of the mosque, but I had to leave before the end of the show. I had seen enough, though, to know that fancy electronics aren’t necessary to create an awe-inspiring light show.
Directions to Nasir ol-Molk mosque
- From the Vakil bazaar, head east along the south side of Lotf Ali Khan e Zand street. Around 800m later, you’ll arrive at a wide lane that leads to the entrance of the mosque. As mentioned earlier, don’t expect to see a dome.
- Alternatively, ask a friendly local, ‘Bebakhshid, Masjid Nasir ol-Molk kajast?‘ (‘Excuse me, where is the Nasir ol-Molk mosque?)
- The entrance fee is 100,000 rials., payable at the booth that is covered with postcards from around the world.