The Blue Mosque at Tabriz, like Tinco saw it

Tinco Lycklama stayed thirteen days in Tabriz. There was a lot to see. In his own estimation, the city had a population of about 150,000 people. It was the second city of the Persian empire after Tehran (not counting Isfahan, which was a capital and rich in monuments, but of far lesser importance in terms of commerce and industry).

Tabriz is a place where an erudite traveler like Tinco would feel at his best. Lots of bazars and street-sellers, from whom he could buy rare objects and souvenirs for his collection. The city also counted many craftsman who made and sold a very diverse trade – such as clothing, rugs, jewelry…

Mozaffar al-Din Shah
Mozaffar al-Din Shah, crown prince of Persia and governor of Tabriz

Tabriz was also rich in history. The earliest mention of the city dates from the 8th century BC. In the 16th century of our era, it was the first capital of the Safavid dynasty king, Ismail I (1487-1524). He unified Iran and is considered to be responsible for the conversion of the region from sunni to shia islam. After the establishment of the Qajar as rulers of Persia, and more precisely starting with prince Abbas Mirza (1789-1833), Tabriz became the traditional seat for the heir to the Qajar throne. Thus, the Qajar shah at Tinco’s time, Naser al-Din Shah Qajar (1831-1896), had a son and heir, Mozaffar ad-Din (1853-1907)- who was governor at Tabriz since 1861 (at the age of eight years old).

Whilst in Tabriz, Tinco made several excursions to places in the vicinity – such as Kohmabad and Metabad. And he offers us many insights into the spread of shi’a islam throughout the region – often relying on the analysis by leading scholars in his time.

One of the places that he covers extensively in his diaries, is the so-called “Blue Mosque”. Like many other monumental buildings, the Blue Mosque was built under the Sunni ruler Muzaffar al-Din Jahan Shah ibn Yusuf (1397-1467). Tinco relates how the 16th century traveler  Jean-Baptiste Tavernier had described (around 1670) the magnificence of the mosque – where Jahan Shah was buried. However, when Tinco visited the place, almost nothing was left of it. Not only because of neglect, but also because of a major earthquake that hit Tabriz in 1721 – an event that left an indelible mark on the city.

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The images above illustrate what had survived of the mosque at the time of Tinco’s visit. The drawing is by Eugène Flandin (1809-1889) and dates from 1851. The photograph is by Antoin Sevruguin (1830-1933), from around 1880. The latter shows probably very well what Tinco saw. The third picture gives us the present and restored state from the same entrance gate – seen from within. It’s a view that Tinco could only imagine from what the writings of Tavernier and the people of Tabriz told him.

Tinco’s stay in Tabriz is coming to an end. In his diaries, he spent forty pages on describing the history and local customs of the city. A worthwhile read to learn about how the city was a hundred fifty years ago!


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