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Architecture
 
Mosques were the first buildings to be erected after the Muslim conquests in the geographical limits of Sassanid Iran. In Kufa, which was first built as a cantonment near Hira in 638 AD and then converted into a famous city, the first mosque outside Hijaz was built by an Iranian architect named Ruzbeh son of Bozorgmehr Hamedani. The design of the mosque included a yard with a columned hall in the direction of the qibla (Mecca). The pillars had been brought from the palaces of Hira which was under their rule before the collapse of the Sassanid. In the reconstruction of the mosque more halls were added to the building on the other three sides of the yard. The administrative building of the city was built on the basis of the Sassanid architectural designs. The building had a central yard, four porticos on the four sides of the hall and an encircling fence with towers. The design was similar to that used in the Firouzabad, Sarvestan and Damghan towers. The same impact can be seen in the buildings of the Umayyad (661-750) period and all buildings constructed in the territories under their rules – such as Qobat ul Sakhra, Masjid ul Aqsa, Jama Mosque of Damascus, Moshatta, Hayr, and Amr palaces, etc. These buildings borrowed their designs, plans and decorations from the Sassanid architecture.

There are a number of remains of the buildings belonging to the early centuries of the Islamic period. According to some historical reports, there was a Jama mosque in Qazvin called Thur whose name stemmed from the fact that it had some columns with cow-shaped capitals. Also there was a similar mosque in the Estakhr of Fars indicating the continuation of the architectural tradition of the pre-Islam period. It was also customary during this period to convert fire temples to mosques and utilize the materials of previous buildings in the new buildings. The new architectural movement which continued in the same ancient Sassanid style for few centuries, gradually moved towards perfection and diversity accompanied with a tendency towards smaller buildings and reduction of the green spaces.

The ever expansion of transport routes, expansion of trade, economic prosperity as well as accumulation of wealth in the Islamic territories encouraged the construction of great buildings that were among the means of better material and spiritual life in the Islamic world. Due to this reason, the construction of such buildings as mosques, schools, libraries, bazaars, hospitals, bridges, caravanserais, and administrative buildings such as the dar ul imara (administrative office), palace, castles, etc. increased rapidly. The past experience and the existence of great buildings such as Taq Kasra, fire temples, and castles of the Sassanid period became an educative example for new buildings not only in Iran but also in many other near and far distanced places.

The first building attributed to the first Islamic century is the Jama Mosque of Fahraj, Yazd. The similarity of structural features of this building with those of Sassanid era were so close that the researchers in the beginning considered it to be a Sassanid mansions. However, later studies showed that the building was specifically erected for the mosque and belonged to the first century hegira; although in later stages the building had undergone some changes including the addition of a minaret to it. The features of the building, compared to other buildings including the Damghan History House, are closer to the Sassanid architecture.

Historical reports hint to the construction of some buildings in the early second century hegira (second century AD) on the order of Abu Muslim Khorasani such as the Merv Administrative Building which were very similar to the Sassanid fire temples having a high dome, four porticos and a central yard.

Two centuries later, a number of great mosques were built in Bukhara, Rey, Qazvin, Isfahan, and Shiraz as well as a number of other cities of Iran which were unique in the entire Islamic territories from the aesthetical and decorative viewpoints. Among them mention may be made of the Neishabour Jama Mosque, which became the most famous mosque in the world of Islam because of its marble pillars, plasterwork and paintings.

In contrast to the unique beauty and elegance of the Sassanid tombs, the height and giantness of the Tomb of Qabus ibn Voshmgir Ziyari with 55 meters of height and delicate construction is the tallest tomb among about 50 remaining tombs of the early centuries (hegira) across Iran each of which enjoys specific architectural features.

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries (AD), a large number of giant buildings were constructed across Iran whose remains underline the grandeur of Iranian architecture during these two centuries from the technical and aesthetical viewpoints. The powerful Siljuk government which, through the insight and efficiency of such viziers as Amid ul Mulk Kondori, Taj ul Mulk Shirazi, and Nizam ul Mulk Tusi, extended Iran’s military and cultural powers as far as the gates of China, the Mediterranean and beyond the lake of Kharazm, the plane of Qebchaq, to Yemen and Eastern Rome, Georgia, and Abkhazia, making them tax payers to the Iranian central government, was a reminder of Iran’s past splendor and glory. The most magnificent parts of Isfahan Jama Mosque, which is among the first-rate buildings in the world, are among the buildings constructed during these two centuries. The Nizam ul Mulk Dome in the south and the Taj ul Mulk Dome in the north of Isfahan Jama Mosque are among the eternal artifacts of Iranian architecture. The Tus, Harat, Baghdad, and Neishbour seminaries (Nizamiyeh) which belong to this period enjoy a specific status and fame in the Islamic world.

The devastative inroad of Genghis Khan Mongol caused widespread pogrom of the people, demolition of the cities, and destruction of cultural sites, undermining the prosperity of the art of the late sixth and early seventh centuries. But shortly the Mongols, under the influence of the Iranian culture and art, through intermingling with the scholarly Iranian figures, became the patrons of the reconstruction of the damages and created new cities and artistic works. On the order of Holacco Khan Mongol, a palace, a nearby Buddhist temple and an observatory were built near Khoi. The Buddhist Ilkhanids, who first embraced Christianity and then embraced Sunnism and Shiism, showed great interest in art in general and in Iranian architecture in particular. During the rule of Ghazan Khan, the Ghazan complex was built near Tabriz with 12 giant buildings including a mosque, palace, school, hospital, library, etc. Simultaneously one mosque with a public bath on its side – for running the mosque’s affairs through its income – was built in every city. Ghazan’s tower-like dodecagonal tomb was among the most decorated tower-tomb buildings of his time. According to some historical reports about 14,000 workers worked on this building for four years.

Later, on the order of Oljaytu, a Shia, Sultaniyeh was selected as the capital city. His tomb too was built in the same city. The building, one of the most magnificent examples of Islamic architecture in the Islamic world during its period became an example for other buildings in the later periods, living an obvious impact on other famous and beautiful monuments such as Taj Mahal. A large number of other buildings, although not as gigantic as what has been mentioned, were constructed across Iran on the architectural style of this period during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Among them mention may be made of Jama Mosques of Varamin, Natanz, Yazd, Oshtorjan (near Isfahan) and Kerman, and such buildings as Haruniya of Tous, as well as a large number o tombs and tomb-towers such as Pir Bakran, Bayazid Bastami, Imamzadeh Yahya (Varamin), Gonbad Alavian (Hamedan), and Gonbad Ghafariyeh (Maragheh).

During this period not only the construction techniques developed, but the technical problems in the way of construction of monuments were removed through Iranian know-how and innovation. The construction of higher domes, arches, and porticos as well as the improvement of the designs of four-portico buildings is among the achievements of Iranian architecture of this period. Side by side the spread and development of the decorative methods with such decorations as plasterwork, inlaid tiling, combination of tile and brick and consequently construction of unique altars in the new mosques or adding new altars to the old mosques prospered.

Towards the end of the fourteenth century, once again due to the intermittent onslaughts of Tamerlane, the massacre of the people and destruction of the cities were repeated. Although Tamerlane’s massacre of the people matched that of the Mongols, he was not as fierce in destruction of the cities as the Mongols were. By gathering the artists from all Islamic cities in the city of Samarkant, he prospered all branches of Iranian art and by construction of magnificent monuments a golden age began to unfold. Some of the works of the architects of this period are: Tamerlane Jama Mosque with a dome covered with polished marble and a ceiling resting on about 480 pillars, a palace in Samarkant, a giant palace in Kesh, the birthplace of Tamerlane, whose construction took about 20 years and his grave with a high dome covered with inlaid tiles which is still standing. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the buildings erected in Iran not only were numerous in number but they also reached a new apogee with regard to their structure and magnificence. The wealth accumulated in Samarkant and protection of a large number of artists who had assembled there, encouraged the emergence of new artistic centers such as Harat, Mashad, Tabriz, Shiraz, etc. Great, magnificent mosques such as Bibi Khatun in Samarkant, Goharshad in Harat and Mahsad, Mirchakhmaq in Yazd, and the Shahrukh, Ghiyatheiyeh, Ologh Beik, and Sultan Hussein Baiqara in Khorasan, as well as such masterpieces as the building of the Imam’s Gate in Isfahan, and Kabud Mosque in Tabriz were constructed. They are among numerous big and small buildings built during the said two centuries in Iran and Transoxania. Today, only few of them have survived, but most of them have been destroyed by the passage of time. It is pertinent to mention the names of some Iranian architects who were unique in their expertise and whose works bear witness to their professionalism: they are Qavam ul Din and Ghiyath ul Din Shirazi and Mohammad ibn Mahmoud ibn Isfahani.

The Safavid era, despite all skirmishes, particularly the wars with foreign adversaries, was accompanied with widespread architectural activities. Out of buildings constructed during this period only few have survived. However, two famous buildings of this period, i.e., Ali Mosque and Harun Vilayat, both built in Isfahan, are an example of keen attention to aesthetics from the viewpoints of structure and architectural decoration. Among the palaces, mansions and gardens built in Qazvin, the second capital of the Safavid, only few have survived due to the weakness of their construction or devastative earthquakes. The golden age of Safavid architecture starts with the reign of Shah Abbas and transfer of the capital to Isfahan in 1592. Great attention to the development of the cities, particularly Isfahan, which shortly became known as “Half of the World” by the renowned tourists of the world, led to economic prosperity, political stability and development of a number of public and private buildings.

A large number of mosques, schools, palaces, public baths, caravanserais, bridges, bazaars and other buildings needed by the hard working commercial community were constructed across Iran. The construction of complexes around the main square of the cities or around the religious centers became prevalent in the large cities. The Naqsh Jahan Square in Isfahan and Ganali Kahn Complex in Kerman are among such buildings. Contrast and beauty are observed in every item of these complexes. The cities with their streets and public and private gardens found new faces. The renowned French tourist, Charden, wrote in seventeenth century AD that in his time, there were 166 mosques, 48 schools, 183 caravanserais, 273 baths, etc. in Isfahan. Not only the buildings of Isfahan, but what was constructed around the Naqsh Jahan Square in Isfahan can be an example of the great efforts made during the Safavid for the development of Iran and quantitative and qualitative promotion of architectural works. The Imam Mosque from the viewpoint of its size and magnificence was among the greatest buildings of its time and was the peak of mosque architecture in Iran. It was an example of perfection in structure and beauty that was never repeated again.

Besides the new newly-constructed monuments, attempts were made during this period to renovate and maintain the old buildings. A good example is the repeated renovations of the Imam Reza’s shrine in Mashad and Jama Mosque in Isfahan. Also a number of palaces and other buildings were built in Isfahan and other cities during the Safavid era; only few of them have survived today though, including the Ali Qapu Palace on the side of the Naqsh Jahan Square that was the residence of the Shah and his seat of power. This six-story building with rectangular design whose main hall is located in its second floor, not only oversaw the square in the past, but also the entire city.

Chehel Setun (Forty Pillars) is a single story building with a columned portico on the side of a great water pool, whose image in the water has given the name Forty Pillars to it. The buildings of this palace were developed during the Safavid era and in each period its decorations were improved. The doors and windows were decorated by inlaid and mosaic work, the ceilings and walls were mirror worked and the walls were oil painted, particularly the main hall which displays the historical events such as the Chalduran Battle, the trip of Indian King, Humayun, to Iran, the Karnal Battle, etc. Some of these decorations were created during the Safavid era and some of them in the later periods.

The Hasht Behesht (Eight Paradises) is a two-story building, constructed on a two-meter high platform in the middle of a garden called Bagh Bolbol (Nightingale’s Garden) and oversees the garden from four sides. The construction of the Garden was completed in 1669.

During the twelfth century and up to the middle of thirteenth century, although Imam Reza’s Shrine was renovated and such gigantic monuments as the Vakil Complex in Shiraz, Gulestan Palace and Sepahsalar School in Tehran, Aqa Bozorg Mosque in Kashan and other buildings in other cities were built, the Iranian architecture was deprived of traditional, old-rooted Iranian achievements and no indigenous, traditional school was developed.
 
* 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.635 - 638
 
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