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The Sassanid Era
 
Contrary to what had been perceived in the past, Sassanid art did not abruptly emerge as a completely new trend vis-à-vis the Parthian art. According to archeological findings, the art of the Sassanid Era in all its branches is a continuation of Parthian art and retains its impact even though the presence of its own innovative aspects cannot be overlooked. In any case, the perpetuation of the elements of Achaemenian art during the Sassanid Era has to be admitted since the Sassanids initially lived in parts of Iran that were the main centers of the Achaemenid rule in which a large number of remains from the earlier Achaemenian period could be found. In the engravings depicting the coronation of Ardashir in Firuzābād, trilingual inscriptions and the depiction of the King and Āhurā Mazdā (God) as larger than the rest in the engravings as well as other elements of Iranian Art that had sunk into oblivion came to be revived once again and, thus, a minimal influence of Roman and Greek Art can be seen in them. During this period, diverse artistic disciplines such as urban planning and architecture as well as other associated arts, metalwork, and minting flourished in an unprecedented manner.
Although the limited archeological excavations carried out in the Sassanid cities cannot depict a complete picture of the urban planning of this period, what the historians and the geographers of the Islamic era have written about the structure of Ardashir Khoreh, underlines an astonishing precision in the urban planning of the said period. Interestingly, the city has a new regular plan. Its structure is a full circle with a diameter of two kilometers, the two axes of which are met by four gates. A 30-meter-long minaret had been erected at the center of the circle, at the top of which, a fire used to be lit. There was a castle in the center of the city and two parallel towers and a moat protected the city against any probable enemy attacks. The city was divided from within into twenty incomplete triangles. This precise urban planning and the public buildings inside and outside it depict the advancement of the Sassanids in the art of urban planning. Other Sassanid cities such as Bishāpur, Beh Aradashir, Ctesiphon, Gondishāpur, etc. enjoyed similar structural features.
There was a unique progress in the area of architecture, not only in terms of the construction of gigantic palaces, but also in the erection of public buildings such as fire temples, castles, bridges, unpaved roads, caravansaries, and even houses. Iran Kasrā, near Baghdad, which is the only surviving part of Ctesiphon, was among the structures built under the orders of Shāpur I in the second half of the 3rd Millennium AD. The building, whose splendor not only astonished the Arabs of its times, but the remains of which still do not fail to astonish every visitor, bears eloquent witness to the architectural capabilities of the Sassanid. Its portico, with a 37-meter high ceiling and a 43-meter long mouth, along with its gigantic structure is matchless in the ancient architecture of the world. Even the Romans who are famed for their ancient architecture in the world could not build such a monument. Some parts of this building were destroyed on the order of the Abbasid Caliph in order to use its materials in the palaces of the newly-built city of Baghdad.
The throne palace of Ardashir Khoreh and some structures of Bishāpur as well as Takht-e Soleymān are among such buildings. Bricks were extensively used in Sassanid architecture. Bricks constitute the main raw material of Takht-e Soleymān and Ivān Kasrā. A major progress in the architecture of this era was the construction of a dome on a rectangular space with the help of three angles and a division of the space under the dome into a rectangular space and then to an octagonal one and then creation of a circular area. This method was introduced for the first time in the architecture of the world by the Sassanids, creating a great change in the erection of domes and the construction of wide ceilings. The engravings of the Sassanid Era constitute a great chunk of the art of this period. The central theme of these works is mainly the coronation of the kings and their victories over their domestic and foreign enemies; but specific mention should be made to the preying grounds of Khosrow in Tāq-e Bostān which demonstrates the apogee of this art.
One should not neglect two noteworthy, intricate, and beautiful arts of the Sassanid Era: firstly, the art of carving and engraving of precious stones in the forms of gems and stamps in jewelry; and secondly, the art of minting. From the viewpoints of their designs and the ornamentation of the face and clothes as well as other aspects, none of the pre and post-Islamic periods have reached such a peak. In the areas of architecture and design, the three arts of plasterwork, mosaic, and wall engraving played important roles as building decoration in the Sassanid architecture. Although having its roots in the Parthian Era, the Sassanid plasterwork underwent numerous changes during the four centuries of its development in the Sassanid era. The widespread use of plasterwork, in fact, spread the application of molded plaster bricks which were cheaper and simpler to construct. The same method was used in the sculpture of busts and by adding some details to the facial figures, exquisite sculptures were carved out. The diversity of design in the Kish Palace, Ctesiphon (presently in Iraq), Hājiābād, Bishāpur, etc. underlines the importance rendered to this art. Similar features can be observed in the mosaics - created with the use colorful stones - in human and plant forms for the flooring of the halls, particularly in Bishāpur. Although this art has its roots in Rome, most of its are of Persian origin.
Regarding painting and the widespread application of its various branches, such as wall painting, book illumination, and bust sculpturing, not only do we have some historical and literary reports, particularly from the Islamic period, but archeological findings, too, prove the presence of these arts in the Sassanid Era. The fame of Māni (or Manes), who had depicted his ideas in his book “Artang” or “Arjang”, and the findings of the archeological excavations of Hājiābād, underline the application of the art of painting during that era.
Since a major portion of the Silk Road fell in the Sassanid Iran, it had managed to gain worldwide fame not only due to its monopoly of the exports of raw silk to the Far East but also because of the weaving of fine, exquisite, and colorful silks. The war breaking out between Iran and Rome in the late 4th Century AD, better known as the “Silk War”, and the boycott of Iranian silk textiles by the Roman Church was among the consequences of the trade of silk and its export by Iran. The surviving samples of the hand-woven silk items of the Sassanid era are undoubtedly among the most important artifacts of the ancient world. The Sassanid hand-woven works left a considerable impact on all textile centers from Byzantine to China and Japan, and particularly in Egypt.
The wealth accumulated in the kingdom of the Sassanids, on the one hand, and the valuable artistic heritage of the past on the other, are clearly visible in the metalwork of this period. A large number of golden and silver items that were accidentally unearthed in the Eastern Russia and Ural regions are among the valuable items of the Armitage Museum. Moreover, a number of metallic items of the Sassanid era are also stored in all the great museums of the world and especially in the Iranian National Museum. These artifacts reveal the artistic skills of the Iranians in the areas of designing and technique. These ancient relics mainly comprise plates, jars, vases, and various kinds of bowls and goblets. Among the most beautiful ones is the ornamented, golden goblet known as the “Soleymān Goblet” that was presented by the caliph Hārun al-Rashid to Charlemagne, and which is preserved in the Paris National Library. There are also a number of goblets in the shape of animals or animal heads that are mainly gold-plated, silver, or silver with decorations of gold among them. Interestingly, this decorative style was specifically Iranian and the Roman and Greek artists were not acquainted with it earlier. Although an inheritor of ancient Iranian art, Sassanid Art, which is among the last genres of Eastern Art, through its innovations and with the elimination of alien elements from it transformed into a style that left an impact on all the branches of art in the eastern and western flanks of the Sassanid kingdom.
 
* source: Semsar , Mohammad Hasan " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp.632- 635
 
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