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Iranian architecture

Naqshe Jahan square in Isfahan is the epitome of 16th century Iranian architecture. (see 360 degree view)

Architecture in "Greater Iran" has a continuous history from at least 5000BCE to the present, with characteristic examples distributed over a vast area from Syria to North India and the borders of China, from the Caucasus to Zanzibar. Persian buildings vary from peasant huts to tea houses, and garden pavilions to "some of the most majestic structures the world has ever seen".

Iranian architecture displays great variety, both structural and aesthetic, developing gradually and coherently out of prior traditions and experience. Without sudden innovations, and despite the repeated trauma of invasions and cultural shocks, it has achieved "an individuality distinct from that of other Muslim countries".[2] Its paramount virtues are several: "a marked feeling for form and scale; structural inventiveness, especially in vault and dome construction; a genius for decoration with a freedom and success not rivaled in any other architecture".

Traditionally, the guiding, formative, motif of Iranian architecture has been its cosmic symbolism "by which man is brought into communication and participation with the powers of heaven".[4] This theme, shared by virtually all Asia and persisting even into modern times, not only has given unity and continuity to the architecture of Persia, but has been a primary source of its emotional characters as well.

In summary:

“ "The supreme Iranian art, in the proper meaning of the word, has always been its architecture. The supremacy of architecture applies to both pre-and post-Islamic periods."[5] ”

Fundamental principles

A traditional pigeonhouse in Meybod, Yazd.

Traditional Iranian architecture has maintained a continuity that, although frequently shunned by western culture or temporarily diverted by political internal conflicts or foreign intrusion, nonetheless has achieved a style that could hardly be mistaken for any other.

In this architecture, "there are no trivial buildings; even garden pavilions have nobility and dignity, and the humblest caravanserais generally have charm. In expressiveness and communicativity, most Persian buildings are lucid-even eloquent. The combination of intensity and simplicity of form provides immediacy, while ornament and, often, subtle proportions reward sustained observation."[6]

Underlying characteristics
Iranian architecture is based on several fundamental characteristics. These are:[7]

درون‌گرایی: Introversion (?)
نیارش: structure(?)
پیمون: homogeneous proportions(?)
مردم‌واری: anthropomorphism (?)
جفت و پادجفت: symmetry and anti-symmetry (?)
پرهیز از بیهودگی: Minimalism (?)

Categorization of styles

A 19th century reconstruction of Persepolis, by Flandin and Coste.

Overall, the traditional architecture of the Iranian lands throughout the ages can be categorized into the seven following classes or styles ("sabk"):[8]

The Pre-Parsi style
The Parsi style
The Parthian style
The Khorasani style
The Razi style
The Azari style
The Isfahani style

Available building materials dictate major forms in trational Iranian architecture. Heavy clays, readily available at various places throughout the plateau, have encouraged the development of the most primitive of all building techniques, molded mud, compressed as solidly as possible, and allowed to dry. This technique used in Iran from ancient times has never been completely abandoned. The abundance of heavy plastic earth, in conjunction with a tenacious lime mortar, also facilitated the development of the brick.[9]

The bi-millennium old citadel of Arg-é Bam: The world's largest adobe structure.

Iranian architecture makes use of abundant symbolic geometry, using pure forms such as the circle and square, and plans are based on often symmetrical layouts featuring rectangular courtyards and halls.


Ernst Herzfeld's depiction of Persian architectural column typology.

Certain design elements of Persian architecture have persisted throughout the history of Iran. The most striking are a marked feeling for scale and a discerning use of simple and massive forms. The consistency of decorative preferences, the high-arched portal set within a recess, columns with bracket capitals, and recurrent types of plan and elevation can also be mentioned. Through the ages, these elements have recurred in completely different types of buildings constructed for various programs and under the patronage of a long succession of rulers.

The columned porch, or talar, seen in the rock-cut tombs near Persepolis, reappear in Sassanid temples, and in late Islamic times it was used as the portico of a palace or mosque, and adapted even to the architecture of roadside tea-houses. Similarly, the gonbad on four arches, so characteristic of Sassanid times, is a still to be found in many cemeteries and Imamzadehs across Iran today. The notion of earthly towers reaching up toward the sky to mingle with the divine towers of heaven lasted through the 19th century, while the interior court and pool, the angled entrance and extensive decoration are ancient but still common features of Iranian architecture.[10]


Pre-Islamic architecture of Persia (Iran)

It was not uncommon for ancient Iranian builders to make models such as this Adobe Ceramic maquette of a tower (dated 13th century BCE) in their work. Excavated at Chogha Zanbil, Iran.

The pre-Islamic styles draw on 3-4 thousand years of architectural development from various civilizations of the Iranian plateau. The post-Islamic architecture of Iran in turn, draws ideas from its pre-Islamic predecessor, and has geometrical and repetiitve forms, as well as surfaces that are richly decorated with glazed tiles, carved stucco, patterned brickwork, floral motifs, and calligraphy.

As such, Iran ranks seventh in the world in terms of possessing historical monuments, museums, and other cultural attractions[11] and is recognized by UNESCO as being one of the cradles of civilization.[12]

The ruins of Persepolis, approximately 2500 years old.

Each of the periods of Elamites, Achaemenids, Parthians, and Sassanids were creators of great architecture that over the ages has spread wide and far to other cultures being adopted. Although Iran has suffered its share of destruction, including Alexander The Great's decision to burn Persepolis, there are sufficient remains to form a picture of its classical architecture.

The Achaemenids built on a grand scale. The artists and materials they used were brought in from practically all territories of what was then the largest state in the world. Pasargadae set the standard: its city was laid out in an extensive park with bridges, gardens, colonnaded palaces and open column pavilions. Pasargadae along with Susa and Persepolis forcefully expressed the authority of The King of Kings, the staircases of the latter recording in relief sculpture the vast extent of the imperial frontier.

With the emergence of the Parthians and Sassanids there was an appearance of new forms. Parthian innovations fully flowered during the Sassanid period with massive barrel-vaulted chambers, solid masonry domes, and tall columns. This influence was to remain for years to come.

The roundness of the city of Baghdad in the Abbasid era for example, points to its Persian precedents such as Firouzabad in Fars.[13] The two designers who were hired by al-Mansur to plan the city's design were Naubakht, a former Persian Zoroastrian who also determined that the date of the foundation of the city would be astrologically auspicious, and Mashallah, a former Jew from Khorasan.[14]

The ruins of Persepolis, Ctesiphon, Jiroft,[15] Sialk, Pasargadae, Firouzabad, Arg-é Bam, and thousands of other ruins may give us merely a distant glimpse of what contribution Persians made to the art of building.

Post-Islamic architecture of Persia (Iran)

Koochehs provided relief from dust storms and intense sunlight. This was an efficient and ancient form of urban design in Persia. Photo is from Kashan, Iran (Persia).

The fall of the Persian empire to invading Islamic forces ironically led to the creation of remarkable religious buildings in Iran. Arts such as calligraphy, stucco work, mirror work, and mosaic work, became closely tied with architecture in Iran in the new era. Archaeological excavations have provided sufficient documents in support of the impacts of Sasanian architecture on the architecture of the Islamic world.

Many experts believe the period of Persian architecture from the 15th through 17th Centuries to be the most brilliant of the post-Islamic era. Various structures such as mosques, mausoleums, bazaars, bridges, and different palaces have mainly survived from this period.

Interior spaces in Persian architecture make optimal use of techniques for regulating light, temperature, and heat by usage of appropriate design and materials.

Safavi Isfahan tried to achieve grandeur in scale (Isfahan's Naghsh-i Jahan Square is the 6th largest square worldwide) knowledge about building tall buildings with vast inner spaces. However, the quality of ornaments was decreased in comparison with those of the 14th cnd 15th centuries.

In the old Persian architecture, semi-circular and oval-shaped vaults were of great interest, leading Safavi architects to display their extraordinary skills in making massive domes. Domes can be seen frequently in the structurae of bazaars and mosques, particularly during the Safavi period in Isfahan. Iranian domes are distinguished for their height, proportion of elements, beauty of form, and roundness of the dome stem. The outer surfaces of the domes are mostly mosaic faced, and create a magical view. In the words of D. Huff, a German archaeologist, the dome is the dominant element in Persian architecture.

Another aspect of this architecture was the harmony it presented and manifested with the people, their environment, and their beliefs. At the same time no strict rules were applied to govern this form of Islamic architecture. The great mosques of Khorasan, Isfahan, and Tabriz each used local geometry, local materials, and local building methods to express in their own ways the order, harmony, and unity of Islamic architecture. And thus when the major monuments of Islamic Persian architecture are examined, they reveal complex geometrical relationships, a studied hierarchy of form and ornament, and great depths of symbolic meaning. In the words of Arthur U. Pope, who carried out extensive studies in ancient Persian and Islamic buildings:

"the meaningful Impact of Persian architecture is versatile. Not overwhelming but dignified, magnificent and impressive."

Iranian architects

Persian architects were a highly sought after stock in the old days, before the advent of Modern Architecture. For example, Ostad Isa Shirazi is most often credited as the chief architect (or plan drawer) of Taj Mahal.[16] These artisans were also highly instrumental in the designs of such edifices as Afghanistan's Minaret of Jam, The Sultaniyeh Dome, or Tamerlane's tomb in Samarkand, among many others.

Tomb of Humayun, India. Many Iranian architects built edifices outside their homeland.

Taj Mahal is one of the greatest examples of Persian architecture outside of Iran.

The medieval royal courtyard and its Chahar Bagh garden in Samarkand.

Sassanid fortress in Darband Russia.


^ Arthur Upham Pope. Introducing Persian Architecture. Oxford University Press. London. 1971. p.1
^ Arthur Upham Pope. Persian Architecture. George Braziller, New York, 1965. p.266
^ Arthur Upham Pope. Persian Architecture. George Braziller, New York, 1965. p.266
^ Nader Ardalan and Laleh Bakhtiar. Sense of Unity; The Sufi Tradition in Persian Architecture. 2000. ISBN 1-871031-78-8
^ Arthur Pope, Introducing Persian Architecture. Oxford University Press. London. 1971.
^ Arthur Upham Pope. Persian Architecture. George Braziller, New York, 1965. p.10
^ Sabk Shenasi Mi'mari Irani (Study of styles in Iranian architecture), M. Karim Pirnia. 2005. ISBN 964-96113-2-0 p.26
^ Sabk Shenasi Mi'mari Irani (Study of styles in Iranian architecture), M. Karim Pirnia. 2005. ISBN 964-96113-2-0 p.24. Page 39 however considers "pre-Parsi" as a distinct style.
^ Arthur Upham Pope. Persian Architecture. George Braziller, New York, 1965. p.9
^ Arthur Upham Pope. Persian Architecture. George Braziller, New York, 1965. p.10
^ Islam Art and Architecture. Markus Hattstein, Peter Delius. 2000. p96. ISBN 3-8290-2558-0
^ Islamic Science and Engineering. Donald R. Hill. 1994. p10. ISBN 0-7486-0457-X
^ See PBS article: [1]
^ Arthur Upham Pope, Persian Architecture, 1965, New York, p.16
^ (AKTC)    the architecture you must see