In the province of natural spas in northwest Iran, where the king of Alborz Mountains, mount Sabalan in 4811 of height spreads its domain over the fertile lands of Ardabil, a sufi mystic became to change the fate of Iran.
Seikh Safi al-din Ardabili, the great ancestor of Safavid dynasty and renowned founder of Sufi order made Ardabil a pilgrimage goal for mystics to reach "intoxicated" by the love of God in his Khanegah. Khanegah is a spiritual place for retreat which resembles the paradise on the earth to selfless sufis. The most famous Persian poets, from Hafez to Sa'adi and Rumi to Attar, have spread this mysticism through their poetry which has deeply influenced the Persian culture.
The sufi disciples of this Khanegah made the military power of Safavid dynasty a century later. When Shah Ismail I, Sheikh Safi's descendant, was only 13 year old warrior established his kingdom relying on the power of Sufi followers as the first unified Iranian reign after 900 years of Arab Invasion. In fact Safavids introduced the Shiite form of Islam that stayed the main religion of country until now.
Right in the middle of city center the shrine ensemble of Sheikh Safi and his conqueror descendant is a blend of Iranian and Medieval Islamic architecture mixing the grandeur of ornamented facades and interiors, with the delicacy of Persian artworks. One of the least visited World Heritage sites of Iran takes you immediately by the nice garden and a door into the courtyard leads to blue tile domes, but the best is yet to come!
As you enter a long prayer hall called "Ghandil khaneh", with every step your eye is getting to explore the seven levels of sufi course. You will be taken by the gold paint decoration and ornamented vaulting design or Moqarnas on roof. At the end of hall the oldest part of complex is the wood carving coffin of Sheikh under a double-shelled dome and besides tomb of Shah Ismail Safavi who shaped the history of country.
On the left side of Sheikh safi there is a pathway to take you to the octagonal room of "Chini Khaneh" or China room where stucco tiers carved in the shape of wares and the fantastic echo absorbing slices steal your sight in a blink of an eye. About 1000 stucco niches cut in 8 walls for display of donative porcelains which China has gifted to the 5th Safavid king, Abbas the Great. This brilliant plasterwork is a smaller version of this masterwork in Ali Qapu palace at music room.
In the 14th Century, the Chinese potters invented a technique to make under glaze blue and white porcelains which remained as a secret to the rest of the world for 400 years later when the sea routes unlocked to China. The Chinese porcelain ware has to take a voyage for thousands of miles to get to Iran through the Silk Road as Marco Polo and other travelers did in that time that made the ware is worth its weight in gold. Over 800 pieces of the most magnificent porcelains all from the 14 to 16th Century were donated to the Ardabil shrine by Shah Abbas I as right now a collection of 100 pieces of the best in the world are on display around Chini Kahneh to introduce Ardabil along with Istanbul (Topkapi Palace) as the holder of the best collections of Chinese Blue and White Porcelains in the world.
Don’t neglect on the floor to see reproduction of the most famous and old dated Persian carpet, the Ardabil Carpet which refers as the singular perfection by the world.