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 Susa - Tchogazanbil

The only substantial remains pre-Islamic religious buildings are those of the remarkable Elamite ziggurat at Chogha Zanbil. the  earliest building material was sun- dried mud brick. Backed brick was used for outer surfaces by the 12th century BC. The ancient inhabitants of Persia imbued the mountains with great religious symbolism, and structures were built in imitation of mountains, giving rise to the characteristic pyramidal temples called ziggurat. Purely religious Achaemenian Building are conspicuous by their absence However, the most important religious influence before the Arab conquest is Zoroastrianism. Most of the greatest buildings were built with a religious purpose, and even in secular buildings religious influences are rarely entirely absent. Palaces, on the other hand, abound, and these vary considerably according to the period. In Cyrus’s time, for example, they were oblong in shape, of exquisite proportions, and generally executed in contrasting colors as between say wall surfaces and window emplacements. The buildings of Darius and Xerxes were bigger and better; the result was rather heavy and colorless, depending on elaborate carving applied to doorways, staircases and columns . the usual plan was a large hall often with columns surrounded by small rooms; a common feature of these were the recesses about the height and size of  windows, probably used by cupboards, which are an invariable feature of the more modest houses of Iran today. The materials used include unbaked brick for walls, local stone for windows, stairways, doorways and some walls and columns, and heavy timber for columns and roofs.

Winter sasanid palace-Iraq
Winter sasanid palace-Iraq

Alexander the Great’s conquest (about 330 BC) brought a virtual end to the Achaemenian style in Persia. The following relatively dormant period under the Seleucids marked the introduction of  Hellenism to Persia. No great examples remain today, although the Temple of Artemis (Anahita) at Kangavar , with Greek capitals and built to a Greek goddess, is the best preserved.
Under the Parthians (about 250BC to 224 AD), Hellenism and indigenous style merged, along with some Roman and Byzantine influences, and several characteristically Persian features arose, including the ivan.
In the Sassanian period (224-642 AD) buildings became larger, heavier and more complex. Decoration became more adventurous and more use was made of color, especially in frescoes and mosaics The Sassanians built fire- temples thought their empire, and the simple plan of the earliest examples was retained throught the pre- Islamic era, even in the design of churches. But the central features of Sassanian building- the four- ivan plan with domed square chamber, the squinches on which the dome rested and the large arched doorway- are indigenous to Iran and of much significance later. The most important pilgrimage site of the pre - Islamic Persian Empire, Takht-e Soleiman, was established in the Sassanian era, In particular the above- mentioned features influenced the development of a specifically Iranian type of mosque, the so- called madrasah mosque built the four ivan plan.

Islamic Period

Ardabil.Sheikh Safi Mosque
Ardabil.Sheikh Safi Mosque

The art of Islamic Iran is broadly based on that of Sassanians, except that it is restricted to certain forms, in other words, the Arab Conquest in the 7th century AD did not supplant the well- developed Sassanian style, but it did introduce the Islamic element, Which had such a pervasive impact on most Persian art forms. Not only did it shape the nature and basic architectural plan of religious buildings but it also defined the type of decoration.
Mosques: Form Cordoba to Dehli, from Sarajevo to the Niger, the mosque (masjid in Persian and Arabic) or house of prayer is the outstanding symbol of Islam, the focus of worship, and contemplation, the meeting place of man with man, and of man with God its forms are more varied and its uses more widespread than those of the Christian cathedral or church. While primarily a place of worship, it is also an assembly hall, often a religious college, sometimes a court of justice, even, to some extent, a poor man’s club.
The majority of Iranian mosques conform, in whole or in part, to a plan that in Iran must be regarded as the norm. It consists of a an open central court, sometimes large enough to be planted with trees of flowers, with a large portal or Ivan, on the side facing towards Mecca, which leads into a domed sanctuary. On the other three sides of the court there are arcades and altars and in the center of each side another, though smaller, Ivan, To the left and right of the sanctuary there may be arcaded halls, and in addition balconies (often reserved for the use of women worshippers) from which a view of the mihrab can be obtained.
In the grander mosques the south Iran leading into the sanctuary, and sometimes also the north ivan, which frequently the main entrance to the mosque, is flanked by Minarets.


Isfahan.Chehel Dokhtaran Minarete Brick
Isfahan.Chehel Dokhtaran Minarete Brick

The earliest minarets were square, at least in their lower stories, but few of these survive in Iran today. The round minaret originated in north- east Iran and was built of brick, tapering towards the summit. Until at least the thirteenth century, minarets were almost invariably  single and placed in the north corner of the mosque. Since The fifteenth century minarets have generally been covered with mosaic or colored tiles, in the taste of the period. In general, Iran, compared with say, Turkey, is markedly deficient in minarets. Only at Esfahan do they occupy a prominent place in the landscape.


Nearly every town in Iran has its quota of shrines, and the village or wayside shrines are a recurring feature of the Iranian Landscape. In General they are modest, circular, four- sided or octagonal buildings, surmounted by a cone or dome. Many have charm but no great architectural merit; the famous shrines, rambling structure which have received additions from generations of the devout, are among the most splendid, and in some cases the most opulent, buildings in Iran. The lesser shrines, unlike the mosques, have a distinct regional character.





Secular tombs fall into two clearly marked architectural categories- the domed mausoleum and the bomb tower, the former has certain affinities with the larger shrine. It is frequently octagonal. Rising through squinches and galleries into  a circular dome. It is built for show, inside and out, meant to be visited, the last resting place of a chieftain who may have had no claim to sainthood, but expected to be duty revered when he was dead . Tomb towers, which are mainly confined to northern Iran, were conceived in a different spirit. They were gaunt, remote, solitary resting places, not meant to be frequented by admirers in generations to come.


There are substantial remains of Achaemenian and Sassanian palaces, impressive both in size and in detail, some of which, as at Persepolis, have been almost miraculously preserved; but when all is said they are ruins. Of Seljuk and Mongol royal residences, however, all trace has disappeared. It is only from Safavid times that royal houses have survived intact, and even then the crop is disappointing. For practical purposes, Safavid palaces are confined to Esfahan. Sotoon palace Isfahan
Chehel Sotoon palace

Bridges: More essential for the maintenance of communications than caravansaries, the building of bridge, which were both sturdy and a pleasure to the eye, continued  until recently. Well- constructed hump- backed bridges of ancient dates are to be found in many parts of the country- the outstanding examples of which you will see at Esfahan: the Allah Verdi Khan (1629) and the Khaju (1660). These two mighty structured are among the most impressive monuments in Esfahan, and are two of the most remarkable bridges in the world, of their kind, and still in service.


A caravan in Persian means a group of travelers or merchants banded together and organized for mutual assistance and defense while traveling through unsettled or hostile country. Caravan trade is associated with the history of Iran and the Middle East as far back as the records of ancient civilizations extend and seems to have been well developed before maritime commerce began.
It is  evident that all trade from one fertile area to another in this region had to be organized from the first, since long distances of desert trail separated settled parts and since local governments could not guarantee protection against tribes eager to loot and pillage. Such wares as jewels. Spices, per fumes, dyes, metals, rare woods, ivory, oils, and textiles (chiefly silk) are associated with the trade. Camels were the main carriers from Egypt and Iran to Mesopotamia and throughout the Arabian Peninsula. They were also introduced into North Africa and Sahara region in the 3rd century AD. Donkeys were used in Iran and Asia minor.


Trade naturally prospered in the period of great empires, when the caravan routes could be controlled and protected; and it was to secure control of such routes that many was were fought and conquests made in the ancient times.
Iranian Empire and later governments, religions foundations, merchants’ guilds, as well as the local notables and rulers provided for the establishment of  caravansaries, or inns, for the accommodation of travelers along the way.
Such improvements facilitated the movement of troops to protect the routes. Cities rose and fell in ancient times in production to the rise and fall in the trade of the caravan routes upon which they were located. Most of these are derelict today. But, even as ruins, they are readily recognizable, invariably built round a square- in fact like the courtyard of  mosque on the four-Ivan  plan. Architecturally, the simple design of Iran’s caravansaries provided security and privacy for the traveler, protection for the animals, and through the extra story over the arch of the main entrance facing the highroad, control over admissions. According to A U pope, never was the Persian facility for practical planning better demonstrated . in large towns caravansary, bazaar, and mosque were frequently contiguous. The grandest and remotest caravansaries often housed a mosque of their own within their precincts.
When you inquire the age of a caravansary in modern Iran, you are generally told that it dates from the time of shah Abbas. This is a deceptive generalization and a term applied indiscriminately to all caravansaries built between the late 16th – 19th centuries AD. They were for the most part in operation until the late 19th century, and it is only since the arrival of the motor car that they have fallen into decay.

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