The beautiful Chehel Sotoon (also Chehel Sotoun) Palace of Isfahan is one of the most beautiful monuments in Iran. Chehel Sotoon meaning the “Forty Column Palace” is a long-standing relic of the Safavid Empire rule in Iran, which fascinates visitors with its amazing and original 17th century architecture. The splendid mural paintings of Chehel sotoun are just one of its many attractions. Join us to travel to Isfahan and talk about Chehel Sotoun palace.


Chehel Sotoun Palace known as Forty Columns Isfahan


History of Chehel Sotoon

The time of construction of Chehel Sotoon Palace dates back to the time of Shah Abbas I known as Abbas the Great, when Isfahan was chosen as the capital of Iran. At that time, multiple huge projects were implemented in this historical city. The construction of a large and wide boulevard called Chahar-baagh and some lovely Persian gardens around it was one of these plans. The Chehel Sotoon green area was one of the most important of these gardens, and in fact, it served as a connection passage from Chahar Baagh to Naqsh-e Jahan Square.

During the reign of Shah Abbas the Great, a pavilion mansion was built in the middle of this garden in order to host foreign and domestic guests. This pavilion was actually the first foundation of the palace – in where some historical books mentioned that Shah Abbas I celebrated Nowruz of the year 1614.

When Shah Abbas II came to power in mid-17th century, this simple pavilion was expanded and several halls were added to the main structure, such as the 18-column hall, the mirror hall, and the luxurious and large rooms on the first floor. The new mansion was ornamented with various Iranian decoration techniques such as mirror work, miniature paintings, tile work and Muqarnas and was titled the most blessed building in the world. A beautiful pool was built in front of the building that doubled its beauty. The construction of Chehel Sotoun palace was completed in 1647 and was inaugurated in the presence of foreign and domestic guests and the king. It then served as a Reception Hall to receive foreign ambassadors and dignitaries.



Chehel Sotoun Architecture

The palace front porch has 20 columns. It seems to be known as Forty column due to the reflection in the front pool’s water. Another theory is that the name of Chehel Sotoun (Forty Columns) is due to the numerous columns in this palace; in Iranian literature “Forty” is more often expressed as indication to multiplicity.

If you travel to Isfahan to visit this palace, a large porch with a length of 38 meters and a width of 17 meters will attract your attention first. This porch is on the east side of the building and has 18 wooden columns 14 meters high made of plane and pine tree trunks, the top of each is decorated skillfully. There are also four middle pillars on four beautifully carved stone lions. Stone lions are fountains that spout water out into a marble pool between the four pillars. The spectacular ceiling of the porch is made of wood and is artistically decorated with porcelain knots, paintings and mirrors.



Chehel Sotoon Throne hall

The throne hall or the main hall is the most important part of Chehel Sotoon palace in Isfahan; with spectacular and amazing paintings of the Safavid period, inlaid windows and a majestic ceiling.

The ceiling of this large room is perhaps the best example of its kind in Iran. Plaster works with soft texture in navy blue color, bright emerald red and gold leaves, generously decorated with a series of oil paintings on the sides.

Chehel Sotoun Palace painted Ceiling

Paintings of Chehel Sotoon Palace

Among the salient features of Chehel Sotoun Palace of Isfahan, are its paintings and painters which add a lot to the building’s reputation and charm. Regarding the paintings, it should be said: they are perfect examples of Isfahan School of Painting in the 17th and 18th centuries. In general, in addition to the floral and animal decorations that have been worked on the walls, about seventy murals with the techniques of Tempera and Oil paintings can be seen in the Chehel Sotoon palace.
The original frescoes of this palace date back the time of Shah Abbas II and mostly show the characteristics of the Isfahan school.

In general, three painting methods can be detected in Chehel Sotoon Palace paintings:


1The Isfahan School, which is the result of Reza Abbasi‘s efforts; a famous artist, painter and calligrapher of 17th century.

2The European style, which was the result of the taste of the Safavid court, the presence of some European artists in Iran, as well as the political, cultural and economic relations between Iran and Europe. Although the roots of the influences or tendencies of European painting in Iran should be traced back to previous decades, but since about the second half of the 17th century, it has emerged as an independent trend in the life of Iranian painting.

3A combination method that is the result of the efforts of some Iranian painters influenced by European teachings.


Reza Abbasi - Painter & Caligrapher
Reza Abbasi is the most famous painter of the time of Shah Abbas I Safavid. Political and trade relations with European countries, during the reign of Shah Abbas I, had led to the spread of Italian style of paintings in Isfahan. On the other hand, the artistic rivalries between the Safavid court and the court of the Mongol king Jahangir of India was another reason to pay attention to artists at this period. In the meantime, Reza Abbasi became the prominent name among all artists and painters in Isfahan. The construction of several buildings during the reign of Shah Abbas I in Isfahan created a new type of painting. In these pictures, the color of the clothes and faces, and the decorations of the scene are remarkable. But the skill of Reza Abbasi, who was more inclined to paint in Chiaroscuro style, was in depicting nature and the mental and moral states of ordinary people. His specialty, however, was the single miniature for the albums or books of private collectors, typically showing one or two figures with a lightly drawn garden background, sometimes in gold, in the style formerly used only for border paintings (Tazhib), with individual plants dotted about on a plain background. These vary between pure pen drawings and fully painted subjects with color throughout, with several intermediate varieties. Unlike most earlier Persian artists, he typically signed his work, often giving dates and other details as well, though there are many pieces with signatures that scholars now reject.



Paintings of Chehel Sotoon Palace A banquet for one guest, temera on plaster, Chehel Sotoun Palace, Isfahan, Iran 


Murals Paintings of Chehel Sotoun royal hall

West side from right to left:

1Shah Abbas I‘s feast and reception in honor of Vali Mohammad Khan, King of Turkestan


2 The battle of Shah Ismail I with the Ottoman army headed by king Sultan Selim I in Chaldoran region (Painting from 19th or 18th century)

Chaldoran Battle

In the early 16th century, two empires competed for eastern Turkey and Iraq and Greater Syria. One of these was the Ottoman Empire settled in western Turkey and Constantinople (Current Istanbul). Another empire was the Safavid Empire, founded by Shah Ismail I of Iran who began with a series of conquests in Azerbaijan and northwestern Iran. Nine years later, Shah Ismail conquered the entire plateau of Iran and Baghdad. The sudden expansion of the Safavid Empire posed a serious threat to the Ottoman Empire, prompting Sultan Selim to confront the Safavids. Ottoman troops suppressed the Turkic tribes of eastern Turkey and reached Chaldoran, where the Safavids and Ottomans fought each other on 23 August 1514.

Chaldoran Battle painting from 19th century

The battle ended with the help of artillery technology in favor of the Ottomans. Their victory strengthened the Ottoman rule in Kurdistan and Iraq. The Safavids, who relied heavily on cavalry and minimal use of artillery, were shocked by their defeat. But the important point was that the Battle of Chaldoran had a profound effect on the formation of the modern Middle East. The defeat of the Safavids at Chaldoran prevented the establishment of a vast empire in the Middle East because they failed to take control of eastern Turkey and Iraq. This event led to the formation of today’s borders between Iran, Turkey and Iraq.

The battle is one of major historical importance because it not only negated the idea that the Murshid of the Shia-Qizilbash was infallible, but also led Kurdish chiefs to assert their authority and switch their allegiance from the Safavids to the Ottomans.

Portrait of Sultan Selim I and Ismail I Safavid


Who was Sultan Selim?
Selim I, (October 10, 1470 – September 22, 1520; in Ottoman Turkish; Sultan Yavuz Selim I) was the third son of Bayezid II of his wife Golbahar Khatun. After the assassination of the Crown Prince and his other brother, he deposed his father in a coup d’état and in 1512 succeeded his father as the Ottoman Emperor. By the end of his eight-year reign, his empire reached an area of 6,557,000 square Km. Turkish historians have entitled him “Yavuz (Yavuz)” meaning victorious, decisive and steadfast. Europeans called him “terrible.” At the beginning of his rule, Selim tended to expand his rule, but first he had to organize his internal organization, so he strengthened the Yeni Ceri. A Yeni Ceri or Janissary meaning “new soldier” was a member of the elite infantry units that formed the Ottoman Sultan’s household troops, bodyguards and the first modern standing army in Europe. Then Selim made a trade agreement with the government of Venice and Hungary so that he would not be threatened by Europe, and then marched on Iran. After the defeat of the Safavid government in the Battle of Chaldoran, he was able to add parts of Iraq and a more or less large part of Kurdistan to his territory. Then he marched to the Levant and captured Syria in 1514 and went to Egypt in 1517 during the Egyptian Wars. At the end of his conquests, Sultan Selim considered himself the absolute ruler of the Islamic world and was the first sultan of the Ottoman Empire to call himself the caliph of the Muslims.



3 Shah Tahmasb I receiving King Homayun of India

Mirza Nasir al-Din Beig Muhammad (March 1508–22 February 1556 AD), known by his royal name Homayun, was the second king of the Mongol Empire (Mughal Empire) of India or the Gurkanis, who ruled from 1530 to 1540 and for the second time from 1555 to 1556 ruled a vast territory that included present Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Like his father Babur, he soon lost his kingdom and took refuge in the territory of Safavid Iran, and with the help of the Safavids and the bravery of the Baluch people, he regained his territory, as well as other areas. At the time of his death in 1556, the Gurkani Empire reached a territory of approximately one million square km.

Shah Tahmasb and Humayun painting The reception given by Safavid king Tahmasb I in honor of Indian prince Homayun who fled to Iran in 1543 



East side from right to left:

1 The battle of Shah Ismail I with Sheibak Khan, ruler of Uzbekistan

Paintings of Chehel Sotoun Shah Ismail I in a war against the Uzbeks in Taherabad of Uzbekistan – 1510 AD.


2Conquest of Nader Shah Afshar over the Indian army of King Mohammad Shah Gurkani (in Karnal)

The mural above the main entrance to the hall depicts the battle of Karnal between the armies of Iran and India, which took place in Karnel region near the Indian capital Delhi in the fourth year of Nader’s kingdom and led to the conquest of Iranian forces and the conquest of Delhi. In this painting Nader Shah Afshar is depicted on the horseback with an ax in the hand and Nasser al-Din Mohammad Shah Gurkani, mongol King of India is riding an elephant. This mural dates back to 18th century and was painted during the reign of Nader Shah.

Chehel Sotoun Painting Left: Karnal battle (Nader Shah’s India Campaign)  |  Right: Chaldoran battle Scene


3 Shah Abbas II’s reception feast in honor of Nader Mohammad Khan, King of Turkestan. This painting is placed in front of Shah Abbas I mural.

Safavid painting in IsfahanLeft: Reception scene of Shah Abbas II   |  Right: Reception scene of Shah Abbas the Great 



Isfahan Chehel Sotoun Museum

The Chehel Sotoun Museum was founded in October 1948, and after several stages of reconstruction and restoration of the palace, the museum now hosts manuscripts and historical books, decorative vessels and works of fine arts such as carpets, rugs, pottery and porcelain. Objects in the Chehel sotoun Museum include the collections as per below:

a collection of pottery and tile works
a collection of glassware
a collection of coins from prehistoric times to the present
a collection of art works of Safavid era such as Kufic manuscripts of Quran
a collection of calligraphy
a collection of unique and old hand-woven carpets



How to go to Chehel Sotoon Palace?

To visit Chehel Sotoon Palace of Isfahan, you should go to the west side of Naghsh Jahan Square, somewhere in the east of Chahar Baagh Street and south of Sepah Street, to reach one of the most magnificent historical attractions in Iran. It is easy to reach this palace by walking a few steps from Naghsh Jahan Square.