Uzun Ḥasan in Iṣfahān

Some thoughts on Uzun Ḥasans inscription in the masjid-i jāmi’ of Iṣfahān: Gleichzeitigkeit des Ungleichzeitigen? [DYNTRAN WORKING PAPER 1, June 2015]

by Georg LEUBE

The masjid-i jāmi‘’ or friday-mosque of Iṣfahān is probably one of the most iconic monuments of Islamic architecture in the world. Its ‒ notwithstanding the attached picture ‒ sunny court opens on four great īwāns, grand arches leading over to semi-domes, and is embedded in a sea of smaller and larger cupolas. As suggested by Grabar in his seminal The Great Mosque of Isfahan, the façade of the court was extensively reworked in Ṣafawī times, leaving the walls covered with the dazzling revetment of colorful tiles seen today.

Grosse Moschee Isfahan

While the Ṣafawī builders were careful to represent the integrated nature of their Early Modern State by means of an uniform aspect of the façade of this mosque, proclaiming the tenets of shī’‘ī Salvation History and the glory of the Ṣafawī ruler, they preserved an Arabic building inscription of their 15th century Akkoyunlu predecessor Uzun Ḥasan in a most unexpected location: Directly overhead the main or qibla-īwān marking the direction of prayer. Until today this text in carefully constructed mu’‘arraq-tile-mosaic continues to lead the faithful in prayer as it towers over them, a claim to authority difficult to misconstrue.

Inscription Uzun Hasan Isfahan

The text of this inscription runs as follows:

1) Ḥamdun li-llāhi wa-ṣalātu ‘’alā nabiyyihī muḥammadin qad amara

2) Al-sulṭān al-a‘’dal al-a’‘ẓam Abū l-Naṣr Ḥasan bahādur khallada llāhu mulkahū wa-sulṭānahū

3) Bi-iṣlāḥi mā khtalla min hādhā l-jāmi’‘i l-manī’‘i wa-a‘’ādahū hādhā l-saqfa l-rafī’‘a ba‘’da l-indirāsi *wa-li-mā jarghaba l-inṭimās* min mālihī l-ḥalāli fī sanati 880.

1) Praise be to God and prayer to his prophet Muḥammad, it has ordered

2) The most lawful and most exalted sulṭān Abū l-Naṣr Ḥasan bahādur, may god make his kingship and rule eternal

3) The repair of what collapsed of this well-ordered mosque. Furthermore he has returned this high ceiling after its fall and *unclear* from his lawful property in the year 880.

The text rendered above follows the version published by Hunarfar in the Ganjīne-yi āthār-i Iṣfahān, p. 13, with some corrections: In line 2) the Ganjīne gives the title of the ruler as al-‘’ādil instead of al-a’‘dal, and adds khān to bahādur ‒ at least according to the excerpts I made of a Xeroxed version of the text shown to me inside the masjid-i jāmi’‘ in Iṣfahān last summer. In line 3) the Ganjīne gives ŠQF instead of al-saqf, the ceiling, a printing error easily corrected.

A bigger problem is presented by the following part of line 3), rendered by the Ganjīne as wa-li-mā jarghaba l-inṭimās. Not only is jarghaba not otherwise attested as an Arabic verb, but also this rendering fails to account for the strokes of three alifs clearly visible in the picture. In addition, the letter given as ṭā’’ in inṭimās is rather patently lacking its upstroke, figuring as a ḍād instead.

Detail Uzun Hasan Isfahan

Even though it is tempting to puzzle around a bit and suggest something along the lines of wa-ajara li-mā amara bi-khimāsin illā ‘’an mālihī l-ḥalāli, and paid for what he ordered by fifths from his lawful property, this probably leads to more problems than it solves, emending a clear ḍād into a khā’’, forcing a construction of ‘an mālihī where one would expect min mālihī in order as to free the possible min for MR of amara, using illā without a preceding negation, not taking into account one remaining stroke of an alif and also opening up completely new problems of explaining why one should pay by fifths.

In consequence, even though the last line seems well established due to the rhyming saj’‘ of jāmi’‘ l-manī‘’ / saqfi l-rafī‘’ and indirās / *inṭimās*, it is under closer inspection rather problematic, even accepting the conjoined writing of LAJR of l-indiRĀs … *ǦaRghaba without further questioning.

Seeing the extensive Ṣafawid revisions surrounding the inscription such as huge letterings in geometrical kūfī proclaiming ‘Alī, Muḥammad and Allāh in neighbouring squinches, it may be justified to speculate about some purposeful tampering with the original inscription in order as to obliterate part of their predecessor’s message to posterity. Indeed there is a slightly suspicious seam vertically splitting the fā’’ of saqf in the lower right hand corner of the above picture. Parallel instances of inscriptions tampered with in all likelihood during Ṣafawid times are to be found for example in the masjid-i jāmi‘’ of Yazd in the main īwān, where the names of the first three caliphs Abū Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthmān in monumental fields of geometrical kūfī were rendered illegible by the transposition of a handful of well-selected tiles.

However, neither can the possibility of a later restoration rendering this part of the inscription illegible be rejected out of hand, as shown by numerous foundation inscriptions in the Balkans and in Anatolia, for example on the Xhamia e Plumbit in Shkodër, Albania, or some inscriptions in Veysel Karani, Turkey. Also it might be advisable to think about the preceding passage as well where the change from qad amara in line 1) … 3) bi-iṣlāhi to the new verb a‘’ādahū seems rather unmotivated, instead one would expect something along the lines of wa-bi-i‘’ādatihī‘, and [he ordered] the reconstruction etc. This would also give a better rhyme of two genitives in manī’‘i / rafī’‘i instead of the uneasy manī’‘i / rafī‘’a called for by the verbal reading of a’‘ādahū. And of course, I might just be plain mistaken.

Be that as it may, the iconography of authority appearing in the clearly readable part of this short inscription is interesting enough to warrant a closer look. In the following, I will give a short overview of the single motives used to convey different notions of authority, sketching their particular import before trying a tentative reconstruction of the claim to authority proclaimed by means of this inscription.

The structure of the inscription as composed of eulogies in 1), titles in 2) and particulars of the building activities in 3) seems fairly straightforward and not too extraordinary when compared for example with the roughly contemporaneous inscriptions on the main portal of the masjid-i jāmi in Yazd or the Blue Mosque of Tabrīz. Implicitly it refers in 1) to an immutable divine authority and Muḥammad as its messenger, followed in 2) by similarly aloft titles of the patron of the building. The passages about the actual building activity in 3) are in contrast very much focused on the precise instance of the inscription and distinguished from the above by its rhyming saj‘’-meter.

The titles given in 2) follow the classical Arabic form of laqab, kunya and ism (cf. Schimmel, Islamic Names), however instead of nasab or nisba, the non-Arabic bahādur ends the name of the sulṭān, followed by the eulogy khallada ’llāhu mulkahū wa-sulṭānahū. The letters L’A‘ẒM of al-a‘’ẓam and the following words Abū l-Naṣr Ḥasan Bahādur as well as an additional alif most easily explained as the alif of Allāh are distinguished by their being written in gold. In the following notes, the elements of the title in line 2) will be commented upon mainly in light of coins published by Turābī Ṭabāṭabā’’ī, Sikkahā.

Al-sulṭān al-a‘’dal, the most lawful sulṭān: Not used on coins by Uzun Ḥasan, used among his successors on one coin of Alwand Akkoyunlu (Turābī Ṭabāṭabā’’ī, Sikkahā, p. 150) and two coins of Muḥammad Abū l-makārim Akkoyunlu minted in Yazd (Turābī Ṭabāṭabā’’ī, Sikkahā, p. 159).

[Al-sulṭān] al-a‘’ẓam, the most exalted sulṭān: Most common qualifier connected with sulṭān on coins of Uzun Ḥasan and his successors.

Abū l-Naṣr, father of victory: Used frequently on coins by Uzun Ḥasan, commonly found on tamgha-style inscriptions by contemporary mamlūk rulers of Egypt and Syria and other Islamicate rulers.

Ḥasan: The naming-patterns of rulers have been shown by Redford Seljuqs to offer insights into the implicit cosmos in which authority is claimed by a family of rulers. The nature of families and naming-patterns under Ak- and Karakoyunlu rule will form a central field of our research.

Bahādur, hero: Of Central Asian origin (see Nişanyan Sözlük), this designation is used on the large majority of coins by Uzun Ḥasan and his successors. Its use in the highly normative Arabic-Islamic fields of building inscriptions and coins is rather interesting. One wonders whether there was not some extent of perceived tension between the classical Islamicate sphere of mosque-building and coinage and some warrior-ethics imbuing the term bahādur, described in an aside by de Clavijo, p. 139, as the one who holds his liquor best.

In this context it might be interesting to draw attention to the missing title khān, ruler of Turkish-Mongol Central Asian tradition, in this inscription. This title is used frequently on coins by Uzun Ḥasan and also figures on the contemporary building inscription of the Ottoman sulṭān Bāyizīd II. over the entrance of the Beyazit Camii in Istanbul. Other than its Central Asian connections I have, however, no idea how to explain its possibly conspicuous absence in our text.

Khallada llāhu mulkahū wa-sulṭānahū, may god make his kingship and rule eternal: Often found on coins of Uzun Ḥasan and his successors, this phrase has close Timurid and mamlūk parallels.

In line 3) the notions of repair and reform, iṣlāḥ, which the ruler has ordered, qad amara, after a period of decline are prevalent. This paradigm of architectural rectification after decadence is paralleled by the expressed statement of mālihī l-ḥalāl, lawful property, by means of which Uzun Ḥasan paid for his expensive patronage. The ruler not only returns the most important mosque of Iṣfahān to the height of its former splendour, he also carefully adheres to the normative concepts of Islamic law differentiating minutely between lawful and unlawful property of a ruler and thereby returns the state’s dealings to conformity with divine law.

In conclusion, the inscription of Uzun Ḥasan in the masjid-i jāmi‘’ of Iṣfahān draws on the paradigm of repair after decline to convey the notion of a just, new order adhering to Islamic prescripts while also drawing on warrior ethics etymologically foreign to Islamic lands. The continued visibility of this inscription serves to show the effectiveness of such a claim to authority even after the demise of Uzun Ḥasan and his immediate successors. While there is a certain probability the text was tampered with in later times, the space above the qibla-īwān so central to the ritual of daily prayer to this day proclaims the glory of the Akkoyunlu ruler.

It would be most interesting to connect this message with the social background of its Funktionseliten comprising not only the author(s) of the text but also the craftsmen who designed and executed the actual tilework. I’d be delighted to find out more about that!

Georg Leube (Marburg, June 8th 2015)


de Clavijo, R. G. Narrative of the Embassy of Ruy González de Clavijo to the court of Timour, at Samarcand, A. D. 1403-6, tr. C. R. Markham, London 1859 (Repr. Cambridge 2009).

Grabar, O. The Great Mosque of Isfahan, London 1990.

Hunarfar, L. Ganjīne-yi āthār-i tārīkh-i Iṣfahān, Iṣfahān 1971.

Nişanyan, S. Sözlük,

Redford, S. The Seljuqs of Rum and the Antique, pp. 148-156 in: Muqarnas X, Leiden 1993.

Schimmel, A. Islamic Names, Edinburgh 1989.

Turābī Ṭabāṭabā’’ī, S. J. Sikkahā-yi Āqquyūnlū, Tabrīz 2535 pahlawī.

To quote this publication:

Leube, Georg, “Uzun Ḥasan in Iṣfahān. Some thoughts on Uzun Ḥasans inscription in the masjid-i jāmi’ of Iṣfahān: Gleichzeitigkeit des Ungleichzeitigen?”, DYNTRAN Working Papers, n° 1, online edition, June 2015, available at:

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