Repairs after an earthquake in Mashhad

In 1672, Chardin reported an earthquake in NE Iran:

1906 image of the golden dome and minaret in Mashhad: Project Gutenberg Literary Archive

“On 11 August, there arriv’d two Expresses [in Isfahan], one upon the Heels of the other, with bad News, to-wit, That two thirds of Metched . . one half of Nichapour, and a little Town near Nichapour, had been over-thrown by an Earthquake. That which most sensibly touched the Persians, and particularly the Devout Part of them, was the Damage that had happened to the Mosque of Metched, in which is the Tomb of the Imam Reza, and is a Magnificent Mosque, and famous throughout all the East”.

The dome of the Haram (shrine) had been originally been surfaced with gold-topped bricks by Shah Tahmasp in 1526.  These bricks were looted seventy years later by the Uzbeks; and then restored by Shah Abbas I when he completed his walking pilgrimage in 1601.

After the 1672 earthquake, Shah Sulaiman commissioned new golden tiles to re-cover the dome; and Chardin saw these being made:

This modern image shows the inscriptions around the dome and minaret. Wikimedia image

“On the 9th [of October, 1672], I went to the House of the King’s Goldsmiths . . to see them make some Gilt Plates in the Form of Tiles, which were to cover the Dome of the Mosque of Imam-Reza, at Metched, which an Earthquake had flung down as I before related. A thousand Men . .  were employ’d in repairing this mosque; and they work’d at it with so much Diligence and Application, that it was to be finish’d by the latter end of December. These Plates were of Brass, and square, Ten Inches in Breadth, and Sixteen in Length, and of the Thickness of two Crown-Pieces. Underneath were two Barrs, three Inches broad, solder’d on Cross-wise, to sink in the Parget, and so serve as Cramp-Irons to fasten the Tiles.”

The enamelled inscriptions around the dome are especially interesting. Although the gold letters seem to be part of the green and blue enamelling, they are in fact made by attaching golden letter-shapes onto the enamel. Those of you with access to the catalogue for the Shah Abbas exhibition in the British Museum can see this on page 193. More fundamentally, enamel is not supposed to exist in Iran in this period – so either Indian craftsmen were brought in to do the work, or the historians are wrong!

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