Iranian architecture

Regent’s Mosque, Shiraz

Iran is of course a center of world culture, and perhaps its greatest legacy to the world is its architecture, including especially Islamic religious architecture.

Some of my favorite Iranian architectural features are the oldest–the brick- and stuccowork that decorate Iranian buildings from the 9th to 12th centuries. [My favorite example of such brickwork (and one of my favorite buildings, period), is from 10th century Samanid Bukhara and will appear in a post on the Samanids to come.]

The Jorjir Portal dates from the 10th century (and was only rediscovered in the 1950s), and is now an entrance to the Hakim Mosque, Esfahan, itself a much newer structure.

The Kharaqan towers, 11th century, reportedly built as tombs for two Seljuk Kings. The tomb towers are now in the middle of a field (not too far from Qazvin).

Detail. Each face of the more ornate (and newer) building has unique geometric patterns. Dazzling, though also bordering on the baroque.

Similarly ornate are the Seljuk-era brick domes of the Friday Mosque of Esfahan, itself an architectural treasure spanning centuries of styles.

A much later example of brickwork, from the Karim Khan Citadel of Shiraz (18th c.).

The patterns on the towers of the Shiraz citadel are similar to mud brickwork on ruined cities and caravanserais in the Iranian desert (date unknown). [picture to come]

Another type of ornamentation that seems to have fallen out of favor sometime before or during the Mongol conquest–stucco. This example is from the Nain Mosque (10th c.), which is notable for being built in the “Arab” style before the form of the Iranian mosque was established. Our experience suggests that stucco decoration is not very durable, and often only fragments remain.

The exquisite stucco Oljeitu Mihrab (14th c.), with beautifully carved minbars. For additional information, see my post of 5.27.

From what I understand, muqarnas, the “stalactite” ornamentations found in Iranian niches, began as structural necessities–but the level of elaboration can be remarkable.

Nazir-ol-Molk Mosque, Shiraz (19th c.)

Kerman Bazaar (18th c.)

Iranian architecture is perhaps most famous for its domes and tilework. The Soltaniyeh Dome (14th c.) is one of the most impressive structures we have ever seen, and one of the largest domes in the world. For additional information, see my post of 5.27.

This dome was in a trading hall in Kashan’s bazaar. Try to get a sense of the scale and design!

Some more domes, from inside and out.

Imam Mosque, Esfahan (17th c.)

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Esfahan (17th c.)

Friday Mosque, Yazd

Ganj Ali Khan Mosque, Kerman

Some minarets

Imam Mosque, Esfahan

Friday Mosque, Yazd

The mathematician in me was fascinated by the geometric tilework of Iran’s buildings, especially the calligraphy. It is fortunate that Arabic script is so decorative, given the Islamic ban on representational art!

Hakim Mosque, Esfahan

Friday Mosque, Kerman

Friday Mosque, Esfahan

Also from the Hakim Mosque in Esfahan. Not calligraphy, but beautiful.

Of course, not all of Iranian architecture is religious. The palaces of Esfahan, though modest in scale, are among the most beautiful we have seen anywhere (see my post of 5.19), and as you can see in the Kerman and Kashan photos above, the bazaars of Iran are richly decorated.

We were told that Iranian leaders often dedicated attention not only to the construction of mosques (to fulfill the religious function) and bazaars (the economic), but also baths (the social). Sadly, most of Iran’s hammams are no longer in service (cf. my post of 4.27 on other bathing traditions), although I did visit functioning public baths in Yazd and Qazvin. We confirmed that the public bathing culture ended at the time of the Islamic Revolution–presumably, public bathing was thought decadent and a possible locus of misbehavior. [Perhaps under the same theory, men’s urinals seem to have been abolished in Iran–the only ones we found were at the airport, and Iranian men seemed to avoid them, preferring to wait for a stall. At one of the Iranian public baths I did visit, men wore swim trunks and showered in newly constructed stalls, all of which seemed a bit silly to me.] This hammam in Kerman, like many in Iran, has been converted into a teahouse (see my post of 6.2 on the shop outside the entrance).

Finally, we were amazed by some of the gardens of Iran. Not so much because of their plants or general aesthetic layout (east Asian gardens are in a totally different league), but because of their hydraulics. Many Iranian cities are located at the edge of the desert and use water from mountain springs instead of rain, and the gardens have been laid out to take advantage of these sources of water. Mountain springs are channeled through the garden, with numerous waterways spreading the flow into beautiful, crystal clear grids–almost creating the effect of a gigantic fountain. The waters of the gardens then empty out into orchards and the “gutters” of the city. The clear mountain water coursing through the urban landscape is used to flood-water the plants and trees lining city streets and provides Iranian cities with a feeling that is clean and fresh.

Frontal view of Shahzade Garden, Mahan (in the desert near Kerman)

Fin Garden, Kashan. The pool of water in front is the spring itself, from which waterways thread through the whole garden.

4 thoughts on “Iranian architecture

  1. Iran has great architecture and friendly people who aren’t known in the world as they are actually. The aren’t in prison! go there and see they aren’t in prison…

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