Chehel Sotoun (also Chihil Sutun or Chehel Sotoon; Persian: چهل ستون, literally: “Forty Columns”) is a pavilion in the middle of a park at the far end of a long pool, in Isfahan, Iran, built by Shah Abbas II to be used for his entertainment and receptions. In this palace, Shah Abbas II and his successors would receive dignitaries and ambassadors, either on the terrace or in one of the stately reception halls.
The name, meaning “Forty Columns” in Persian, was inspired by the twenty slender wooden columns supporting the entrance pavilion, which, when reflected in the waters of the fountain, are said to appear to be forty.
This great Safavid Palace was one of nearly 300 built in Isfahan when it was the capital of Iran. It was largely completed under Shah Abbas II (1642-1667), although work may have started on the palace as early as 1598, and is said to derive its name from the pillars which dominate the verandah. There are twenty of these laid out in three rows of six with two additional ones on either side of the main entrance. When these are reflected in the water of the pool the number is made up to forty, the Farsi for which is “chehel”. However the number forty is also used to signify a large number as in the Minaret of Chehel Dokhtaran.
The magnificent talar or verandah, is the dominant feature of the palace and the slender columns, over 40m tall, which support it are cut from single chenar trees (platanus orientalis). The roof is also made from chenar tree beams and inset with complex decoration. The surface of much of the throne room is still covered with mirrored glass and this probably also was used on the pillars, as it was in the palace of Ali Qapu, so as to give the appearance of a roof floating in the air.
Looking out over the pool from the Verandah, one is able to appreciate the importance attached historically by Persians to the concept of “talar” which fulfilled their love of sitting in the garden while they were protected from the light and heat.
Behind the verandah there is a small raised throne room which leads into a spacious audience chamber. This is richly decorated with paintings celebrating the heyday of the Safavid dynasty, including a particularly celebrated one of Shah Tahmasb receiving the Mughul Emperor Homayun at a banquet. There are also some paintings of a more secular nature, depicting ladies lying in gardens and hunting scenes, although these have been badly defaced. On the outside of the building there are some particularly interesting pictures of european figures, presumably based on the ambassadors and their retinue who would have stayed in the palace from time to time.