There are places of worship throughout the world that can claim to be extraordinarily beautiful in design and form. The Vakil Mosque in Shiraz, southern Iran, situated to the west of the Vakil Bazaar is just such a holy site. Shiraz is located in the southwest of Iran on the Khoshk seasonal river. Shiraz has a moderate climate and has been a regional trade center for more than one thousand years. The earliest reference to the city, as Tiraziš, is on Elamite clay tablets dated to 2000 BC. In the 13th century, Shiraz became a leading center of the arts and letters, thanks to the encouragement of its ruler and the presence of many Persian scholars and artists. Shiraz was the capital of Persia during the Zand dynasty from 1750 until 1781, as well as briefly during the Saffarid period.
Shiraz is known as the city of poets, literature, wine and flowers. The word "shir" in Persian means "lion", but it could also mean "milk". It is also considered by many Iranians to be the city of gardens, due to the many gardens and fruit trees that can be seen in the city. One of the most important artistic and historical buildings, which have remained from the Zand period, is Vakil Mosque, also known as soltani Mosque and Jami Vakil, Mosque. This Mosque was built by order of Karim Khan Zand near the royal palace and in the Zandiyeh complex. Now after about two centuries this building is still standing. It was used as a place for Friday prayer a few years ago. The tile workes in this building is one of the best that shows the art of Iranian tile workers and the painters in the 12th century A.H. This mosque was built between 1751 and 1773, during the Zand period; however, it was restored in the 19th century during the Qajar period. Vakil means regent, which was the title used by Karim Khan, the founder of Zand Dynasty. Shiraz was the seat of Karim Khan’s government and he endowed many buildings, including this mosque.
Vakil Mosque covers an area of 8,660 square meters. It has only two iwans instead of the usual four, on the northern and southern sides of a large open court. The iwans and court are decorated with typical Shirazi haft rangi tiles, a characteristic feature of the art and industry of Shiraz during the latter half of the 18th century. Its nocturnal area or Shabestan (night prayer hall) with an area of 2700 sq.m. contains 48 similar tall pillars of stone with a beautiful ceiling and a marble altar that is considered to be one of the master pieces of the Zand era.
Masjed-e Vakil is especially famous for its large prayer hall (75 meters long, 36 meters wide) covered with small cupolas resting on forty-eight twisted columns cut out of one single block of stone.
The entrance gate of the Vakil mosque is very artistically decorated and is flanked on two sides by the left and right corridors. From here, you are led to the main room which has an altar. A tall pulpit (menbar) embedded with green marbles will greet your eyes and the speaker has to climb all the way up to sit there and face the people in the mosque. The ambiance inside the mosque is very soothing and you will feel inclined to dream about the huge congregation of people who must have gathered there in the past to offer their prayers. Your artistic appreciation will be further strengthened when you notice the Koranic verses right on the entrance gate written in Sols and Nosakh scripts. The carving and dedication of the builders to their craft can leave you gasping in wonder at the intricacy of their work. Every surface that could be molded into something else with hammer and chisel seems to have been worked on, and the overall effect is quite something.
The craftsmanship has been so strong and solid that the mosque has withstood the ravages of the earthquakes in the area. It bears witness to the caliber of the artisans in the Zand era. There has been a lot of renovation work done in recent times to maintain the ancient Vakil mosque. Improvements have been made to the tile works, lighting systems, plaster works, courtyard flooring and all such other aspects of the mosque to keep it in good condition. You have to stop to admire it on your trip to Iran and Shiraz. So, make sure you plan your Iran travel itinerary to cover this mosque.
The historic building was registered as national heritage about 76 years ago. According to Fars Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Department, the stones of the floor and tile-works were renovated, lighting system of the interior was improved, exterior of the nocturnal prayer rooms were renovated and the plasterworks were upgraded. This place is, unsurprisingly, a popular tourist destination, and the area around it offers much more for the visitor to enjoy. If you enjoy visiting cathedrals and churches for their wealth of history and unbelievable beauty that can await you at every turn, then the Vakil Mosque should be high on the list of things you intend to see before you die.