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Sheikh Safi al-Din Ardabili’s Ribat and Shrine is a 16th century religious complex that became the prototype for Ribats built by Sufis in later years. The complex includes a library, a mosque, a school, an Ab-Anbar (water reservoir), a hospital, kitchens, a bakery, and offices as well as the tombs of several Safavid Sufi masters, Safavid royals and their wives and some of the fallen soldiers in the 1514 Battle of Chaldoran at the time of the Ottoman–Persian Wars.
Sheikh Safi al-Din (1252–1334) was the founder of the Safaviyya Sufi order and the eponym of the Safavid dynasty (1501–1736). His mausoleum was originally built by his son Sheikh Sadr al-Din Musa in 1334. One of Sheikh Safi al-Din Ardabili’s decedents Shah Abbas I (1571-1629) renovated parts of the shrine and expanded it. He employed Safavid calligraphers and artisans to create the exquisite ornamentations of this structure.
The result was some of the finest examples of Mo’arraq tilework, Muqarnas or ornamented vaulting, Monabbat or wood carving and inlaid work, stucco reliefs featuring the works of Safavid calligraphers, illuminated tiles, Persian miniature paintings, stone carvings and gold and silver embellishments, which amaze visitors to this day.
The complex consists of several parts most notably a façade known as Ali Qapu, a large courtyard, portico, Sheikh Safi al-Din’s mausoleum, a part known as the Hareem House, Shah Esmail’s Mausoleum, Porcelain House, Jannat Sara Mosque, Ribat, and Chelleh Khaneh.
The route to the shrine has seven sections that mirror the seven stages of Sufi mysticism and is separated by eight gates, which represent the eight attitudes of Sufism.
The Ali Qapu Façade has Mo’arraq tile decorations with Reqa and Kufic inscriptions.
The Sheikh Safi al-Din Mausoleum is a 17-meter cylindrical tower with blue tile decorations. The mausoleum has a short dome. A priceless wooden chest with monabbat decorations covering the tomb of Sheikh Safi. The chest has inscriptions in the Reqa calligraphy hand.
The Porcelain House is a 17th-century structure that holds the shrine’s ceremonial dishes and is located next to this tower.
The mausoleum of the founder of the Safavid dynasty Shah Esmail I (1487-1524) has a dome that is shorter than the Sheikh Safi dome. The dome has colorful tilework and Kufic inscriptions. Five swords belonging to the five families, who helped Shah Esmail’s rise to power, are installed above the dome. Shah Esmail’s tomb is also covered with an intricately carved wooden chest.
Jannat Sara Mosque has an octagonal plan and does not have a Mihrab (pulpit). The mosque once had a dome that fell during the Qajar era (1785-1925) and was replaced with a flat wooden ceiling which sits on 16 wooden pillars.
Chelleh Khaneh is where Saffaviya order Sufis held Chelleh. Chelleh is a Sufi practice of remaining in isolation for a period of forty days for prayer and spiritual contemplation.
Sheikh Safi al-Din Khanegah and Shrine Ensemble was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.