Mir Damad was an Iranian Gnostic philosopher and poet of the 17th century. He is the founder of the School of Isfahan and is known for his remarkable synthesis of Avicenna’s peripatetic philosophy and Suhrewardi’s Philosophy of Illumination, and for his efforts to integrate Shiism and Sufism. Born in Astarabad in Iran, he studied in the city of Mashhad, and one of his students became the renowned Sadr al-Din Shirazi, better known as Mulla Sadra, who himself was a great philosopher.
Mir Damad is known as the chief architect of the Masjid Shah (Shah Mosque) in Isfahan, Iran, for which he employed highly advanced mathematical calculations. The mosque is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its construction began in 1611 when Shah Abbas of the Safavid dynasty decided to move Iran’s capital to Isfahan, initiating a remake of this ancient city. The mosque had a four-iwan format, an architectural style that had been established when Iranian Sufi mysticism had been on the rise. The Iranians already had a rich architectural legacy and the distinct shape of the iwan was taken from earlier, pre-Islamic palace designs, such as the Palace of Ardeshir. When creating the dome, the Safavid borrowed heavily from pre-Islamic knowledge of dome building.
Therefore, in Iran, Islamic architecture began to differ in style from earlier mosques such as the Umayyad Mosque. The four-iwan format took the form of a square-shaped, central courtyard with large entrances on each side, giving the impression of a gateway to the spiritual world. The blue-colored and turquoise domes of mosques began to dominate Iran’s skyline, guiding travelers from miles away to its ancient cities.
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