The splendid complex of Chahar Bagh monuments makes the final achievement of the Safavid period in Iranian Architecture. Although at the time of its construction the dynasty itself was almost in death throes, the architectural style developed by Shah Abbas (I) seems to have been still thriving. The complex consists of a madreseh, the Bazaar-e-Honar and a caravanserai that has now refurnished into the luxurious Abbasi Hotel.
The madreseh was the principle structure of the complex, built upon the initiative and at the expense of Shah Sultan Safavid’s mother, whence its other popular name is madrese-ye- Madar-e Shah. The construction was finished in 1706 but the decorative works were completed in 1714. The bazaar and the caravanserai were created to produce revenue for the madreseh. The complex occupies a vast quadrilateral. Its architect succeeded in reproducing a truly organic ensemble that offered travelers a wide range of amenities.
In addition to the sumptuous common rooms and the private apartments of the carvanserai, there were shady gardens with fountains and benches, where travelers could talk far into the night or listen to story tellers and music. The bazaar was the place where supplies for the journey could be purchased.
The mosque of the madreseh served pilgrims as a place of prayer. That is why throughout the final years of the Safavid period the complex continuously prospered. It retained its prominent status also during Qajar rule. It is entered from Chahar Bagh Avenue, through a great entrance portal featuring a splendid vault of ceramic moqarnas decorations.
During the restoration of 1968, most of the tile mosaic was stripped off and substituted by modern faience. The ancient remains have only survived on two inner ledges of the long sides of the door. The magnificent entrance gate, made of wood and faced with silver plates and gilt medallions, is particularly notable. The entrance opens first to a splendid octagonal vestibule with the beautiful tile work on its roof, and then to the main courtyard.
This courtyard is rectangular, but cut across at each corner to give access to the patios, where the officers of the college once lived. A delightful courtyard is shaded by tall plane trees, perhaps as old as the madreseh itself. They produce the fascinating effect of light and shadow play.
A long marbeled edge pool in the center runs across the courtyard. It is filled with the water of one of the Esfahan’s numerous madi- a water canal branching off the Zayande-Rud. The courtyard is surrounded by two story chambers that can lodge up to 150 students. The rooms have arched windows at the back of large niches that are sparsely decorated with black, blue or yellow lines along the ribs.
The outer side of the walls is covered with brightly colored mosaics of rosettes and flowers. The cells are designed on a similar plan and each consists of a large room on the ground floor and a smaller room approximately half its size on the upper story. In the north western corner, embellished with rich gilt decoration, is the cell that was once owned by Shah Sultan Hossein. Nowadays the building houses a theological college called after Imam Jafar Sadeq.