History Avicenna

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Avicena Tomb

Avicenna, Arabic Ibn Sīnā, in full Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Sīnā (born 980, near Bukhara, Iran [now in Uzbekistan]—died 1037, Hamadan, Iran) Muslim physician,the most famous and influential of the philosopher-scientists of the medieval Islamic world. He was particularly noted for his contributions in the fields of Aristotelian philosophy and medicine. He composed the Kitāb al-shifāʾ (Book of the Cure), a vast philosophical and scientific encyclopaedia, and Al-Qānūn fī al-ṭibb (The Canon of Medicine), which is among the most famous books in the history of medicine.

Avicenna did not burst upon an empty Islamic intellectual stage. It is believed that Muslim writer Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ, or possibly his son, had introduced Aristotelian logic to the Islamic world more than two centuries before Avicenna. Al-Kindī, the first Islamic Peripatetic (Aristotelian) philosopher, and Turkish polymath al-Fārābī, from whose book Avicenna would learn Aristotle’s metaphysics, preceded him. Of these luminaries, however, Avicenna remains by far the greatest.

Life and education

Conventional modern portrait of Avicenna

Conventional modern portrait (on a silver vase, Avicenna Mausoleum

and Museum, Hamadan)

According to Avicenna’s personal account of his life, as communicated in the records of his longtime pupil al-Jūzjānī, he read and memorized the entire Qurʾān by age 10. The tutor Nātilī instructed the youth in elementary logic, and, having soon surpassed his teacher, Avicenna took to studying the Hellenistic authors on his own. By age 16 Avicenna turned to medicine, a discipline over which he claimed “easy” mastery. When the sultan of Bukhara fell ill with an ailment that baffled the court physicians, Avicenna was called to his bedside and cured him. In gratitude, the sultan opened the royal Sāmānid library to him, a fortuitous benevolence that introduced Avicenna to a veritable cornucopia of science and philosophy.

Avicenna began his prodigious writing career at age 21. Some 240 extant titles bear his name. They cross numerous fields, including mathematics, geometry, astronomy, physics, metaphysics, philology, music, and poetry. Often caught up in the tempestuous political and religious strife of the era, Avicenna’s scholarship was unquestionably hampered by a need to remain on the move. At Eṣfahān, under ʿAlā al-Dawla, he found the stability and security that had eluded him. If Avicenna could be said to have had any halcyon days, they occurred during his time at Eṣfahān, where he was insulated from political intrigues and could hold his own scholars’ court every Friday, discussing topics at will. In this salubrious climate, Avicenna completed Kitāb al-shifāʾ, wrote Dānish nāma-i ʿalāʾī (Book of Knowledge) and Kitāb al-najāt (Book of Salvation), and compiled new and more-accurate astronomical tables.

While in the company of ʿAlā al-Dawla, Avicenna fell ill with colic. He treated himself by employing the heroic measure of eight self-administered celery-seed enemas in one day. However, the preparation was either inadvertently or intentionally altered by an attendant to include five measures of active ingredient instead of the prescribed two. That caused ulceration of the intestines. Following up with mithridate (a mild opium remedy attributed to Mithradates VI Eupator, king of Pontus [120–63 bce]), a slave attempted to poison Avicenna by surreptitiously adding a surfeit of opium. Weakened but indefatigable, he accompanied ʿAlā al-Dawla on his march to Hamadan. On the way he took a severe turn for the worse, lingered for a while, and died in the holy month of Ramadan.

Influence in philosophy and science

12th-century manuscript of the Canon

12th-century manuscript of the Canon, kept at the Azerbaijan National

Academy of Sciences.

In 1919–20 British Orientalist and acclaimed authority on Persia Edward G. Browne opined that “Avicenna was a better philosopher than physician, but al-Rāzī [Rhazes] a better physician than philosopher,” a conclusion oft repeated ever since. But a judgment issued 800 years later begs the question: By what contemporary measure is an appraisal of “better” made? Several points are needed to make the philosophical and scientific views of these men comprehensible today. Theirs was the culture of the ʿAbbāsid Caliphate (750–1258), the final ruling dynasty built on the precepts of the first Muslim community (ummah) in the Islamic world. Thus, their cultural beliefs were remote from those of the 20th-century West and those of their Hellenistic predecessors. Their worldview was theocentric (centred on God)—rather than anthropocentric (centred on humans), a perspective known to the Greco-Roman world. Their cosmology was a unity of natural, supernatural, and preternatural realms.

Avicenna’s cosmology centralized God as the Creator—the First Cause, the necessary Being from whom emanated the 10 intelligences and whose immutable essence and existence reigned over those intelligences. The First Intelligence descended on down to the Active Intelligence, which communicated to humans through its divine light, a symbolic attribute deriving authority from the Qurʾān.

Avicenna’s most important work of philosophy and science is Kitāb al-shifāʾ, which is a four-part encyclopaedia covering logic, physics, mathematics, and metaphysics. Since science was equated with wisdom, Avicenna attempted a broad unified classification of knowledge. For example, in the physics section, nature is discussed in the context of eight principal sciences, including the sciences of general principles, of celestial and terrestrial bodies, and of primary elements, as well as meteorology, mineralogy, botany, zoology, and psychology (science of the soul). The subordinate sciences, in order of importance, as designated by Avicenna, are medicine; astrology; physiognomy, the study of the correspondence of psychological characteristics to physical structure; oneiromancy, the art of dream interpretation; talismans, objects with magical power to blend the celestial forces with the forces of particular worldly bodies, giving rise to extraordinary action on earth; theurgy, the “secrets of prodigies,” whereby the combining of terrestrial forces are made to produce remarkable actions and effects; and alchemy, an arcane art studied by Avicenna, although he ultimately rejected its transmutationism (the notion that base metals, such as copper and lead, could be transformed into precious metals, such as gold and silver). Mathematics is divided into four principal sciences: numbers and arithmetic, geometry and geography, astronomy, and music.

Image of Avicenna on the Tajikistani somoni
Image of Avicenna on the Tajikistani somoni

Logic was viewed by Avicenna as instrumental to philosophy, an art and a science to be concerned with second-order concepts. While he was generally within the tradition of al-Fārābī and al-Kindī, he more clearly dissociated himself from the Peripatetic school of Baghdad and utilized concepts of the Platonic and Stoic doctrines more openly and with a more independent mind. More importantly, his theology—the First Cause and the 10 intelligences—allowed his philosophy, with its devotion to God as Creator and the celestial hierarchy, to be imported easily into medieval European Scholastic thought.

Influence in medicine
Despite a general assessment favouring al-Rāzī’s medical contributions, many physicians historically preferred Avicenna for his organization and clarity. Indeed, his influence over Europe’s great medical schools extended well into the early modern period. There The Canon of Medicine (Al-Qānūn fī al-ṭibb) became the preeminent source, rather than al-Rāzī’s Kitāb al-ḥāwī (Comprehensive Book).

Inside view of the Avicenna Mausoleum

Inside view of the Avicenna Mausoleum, designed by

Hooshang Seyhoun in 1945–1950.

Avicenna’s penchant for categorizing becomes immediately evident in the Canon, which is divided into five books. The first book contains four treatises, the first of which examines the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) in light of Greek physician Galen of Pergamum’s four humours (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile). The first treatise also includes anatomy. The second treatise examines etiology (cause) and symptoms, while the third covers hygiene, health and sickness, and death’s inevitability. The fourth treatise is a therapeutic nosology (classification of disease) and a general overview of regimens and dietary treatments. Book II of the Canon is a “Materia Medica,” Book III covers “Head-to-Toe Diseases,” Book IV examines “Diseases That Are Not Specific to Certain Organs” (fevers and other systemic and humoral pathologies), and Book V presents “Compound Drugs” (e.g., theriacs, mithridates, electuaries, and cathartics). Books II and V each offer important compendia of about 760 simple and compound drugs that elaborate upon Galen’s humoral pathology.

Unfortunately, Avicenna’s original clinical records, intended as an appendix to the Canon, were lost, and only an Arabic text has survived in a Roman publication of 1593. Yet, he obviously practiced Greek physician Hippocrates’ treatment of spinal deformities with reduction techniques, an approach that had been refined by Greek physician and surgeon Paul of Aegina. Reduction involved the use of pressure and traction to straighten or otherwise correct bone and joint deformities such as curvature of the spine. The techniques were not used again until French surgeon Jean-François Calot reintroduced the practice in 1896. Avicenna’s suggestion of wine as a wound dressing was commonly employed in medieval Europe. He also described a condition known as “Persian fire” (anthrax), correctly correlated the sweet taste of urine to diabetes, and described the guinea worm.

Avicenna’s influence extends into modern medical practice. Evidence-based medicine, for example, is often presented as a wholly contemporary phenomenon driven by the double-blind clinical trial. But, as medical historian Michael McVaugh pointed out, medieval physicians went to great pains to build their practices upon reliable evidence. Here, Avicenna played a leading role as a prominent figure within the Greco-Arabic literature that influenced such 13th-century physicians as Arnold of Villanova (c. 1235–1313), Bernard de Gordon (fl. 1270–1330), and Nicholas of Poland (c. 1235–1316). It was Avicenna’s concept of a proprietas (a consistently effective remedy founded directly upon experience) that permitted the testing and confirmation of remedies within a context of rational causation. Avicenna, and to a lesser extent Rhazes, gave many prominent medieval healers a framework of medicine as an empirical science integral to what McVaugh called “a rational schema of nature.” This should not be assumed to have led medieval physicians to construct a modern nosology or to develop modern research protocols. However, it is equally ahistorical to dismiss the contributions of Avicenna, and the Greco-Arabic literature of which he was such a prominent part, to the construction of modalities of care that were fundamentally evidence-based.

The statue of Avicenna in United Nations Office in Vienna

The statue of Avicenna in United Nations Office in Vienna as a part of

the "Persian Scholars Pavilion" donated by Iran


It is difficult to fully assess Avicenna’s personal life. Most of what is known of Avicenna is found in the autobiography dictated to his longtime protégé al-Jūzjānī. While his life was embellished by friends and vilified by foes, by all accounts he loved life and had a voracious appetite for lively music, strong drink, and promiscuous sex. Avicenna’s mercurial wit and expansive brilliance won him many friends, but his flaunting of Islamic puritanical conventions earned him even more enemies. At times he appears arrogant. While he borrowed heavily from al-Rāzī, Avicenna dismissed his Persian predecessor by insisting that he should have stuck “to testing stools and urine.” Avicenna also appears to have been a lonely, brooding figure, whose efforts at self-promotion were often tempered by a cagey instinct for survival in a politically volatile world. Despite Avicenna’s personal strengths and weaknesses, his intelligence was great in theoretical and practical matters.

In addition to Avicenna’s philosophy having been readily incorporated into medieval European Scholastic thought, his synthesis of Neoplatonic and Aristotelian thought and his encompassing of all human knowledge of the time into well-organized accessible texts make him one of the greatest intellects since Aristotle. British philosopher Antony Flew’s appraisal of Avicenna as “one of the greatest thinkers ever to write in Arabic” expresses the modern scholarly assessment of the man.

In medicine, Avicenna exerted a profound influence over the schools of Europe into the 17th century. The Canon was subjected to increasing criticism by Renaissance instructors, yet, because Avicenna’s text adhered to the practice and theories of medicine described in Greco-Roman texts, instructors used it to introduce their students to the basic principles of science. Avicenna, never wanting for enemies, was as true in death as in life. Medieval physician Arnold of Villanova berated Avicenna as “a professional scribbler who had stupefied European physicians by his misinterpretation of Galen.” But such an assertion is heavy-handed. Indeed, without Avicenna much knowledge would have

The first page of a manuscript of Avicennas Canon
The first page of a manuscript of Avicenna's Canon, dated 1596/7

been lost. Furthermore, his resilience over the centuries belies Villanova’s conclusion. Lecturing in 1913, Canadian physician and professor of medicine Sir William Osler described Avicenna as “the author of the most famous medical text-book ever written.” Osler added that Avicenna, as a practitioner, was “the prototype of the successful physician who was at the same time statesman, teacher, philosopher and literary man.”

Taken in his entirety, Avicenna must be seen in context with his Islamic colleagues—al-Rāzī, Ibn Rushd (Averroës), ʿAlī ibn al-ʿAbbās (Haly Abbas), Abū al-Qāsim (Albucasis), Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar), and others—who, during the Islamic golden age, served as invaluable conduits of textual transmission and interpretation of Hellenistic learning for an amnesic Europe. First through Sicily and Spain and then via the Crusades, the rich cultural enlightenment of the Islamic world awakened a benighted Europe from its intellectual slumber, and Avicenna was perhaps the movement’s greatest ambassador.

Avicenna’s continued importance as a towering figure in Islamic history may be seen in his tomb at Hamadan. Even though it had fallen into disrepair by the early 20th century, Osler noted that “the great Persian has still a large practice, as his tomb is much visited by pilgrims, among whom cures are said to be not uncommon.” In the 1950s the tomb was refurbished and transformed into an impressive mausoleum adorned with an imposing Mughal-inspired tower, and a museum and 8,000-volume library were added as well. Avicenna’s resting place remains a major stop for tourists in the region. Now, as when he was alive, the great physician and philosopher continues to attract the attention of scholars and the public alike.



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Sasanian Statue of Khosrow

The founder of the Sasanian dynasty was Ardeshir son of Bâbak. Son of Sâsân. Sâsân’s wife was a priestess of Temple of Anâhita at pasargadae and a princess of the royal Bâzrangi line which ruled from Nisâys (the Bayzâ of the Arab geographers). On reaching adulthood, Bâbak gained control of the small town of khir by the lake of Bakhtegân. Later, his son Ardeshir attained the rank of Argapedi (argabadh) of the town of Dârâbgerd through the help of the Bâzrangis and it was from then on that the fortunes of the Sasanians began to prosper. From the outset of his career, Ardeshir contemplated the restoration of the grandeur of Achaemenian times, On Bâbâk’s death.his son shâpur first held power, but the early death of the latter soon left Ardeshir sole command. Before long he had attacked and seized kermân, an acquisition which added greaty to his prestige. Subsequently, he waged a campaign against Ardavân (Artabanus V) whom he finally beat at Hormizdagân in khuzestân. With no rival in sight, Ardeshir embarked on the gradual conquest of all the lands of Iran and thus established the Sasanian dynasty, which ruled the whole country from A.D.224 to 652, and boasted such great kings as shâpur I, Qobâd, anushirvân and khosrow parviz.   
The social classes  Under the Sasanians, society was divided into four classes:
a.    The religious class, or âthravân
b.    The military class, or arteshtârân
c.    The secretary class, or dabirân and
d.    The commons, who included the farmers and
Herdsmen, or vâstryoshân, and the artisans and bourgeois class, or hutukhshân.
Each class had its own Magistrate: the religious class had their high priest , the mowbadnân-mowbadh, the head of the military was the erân-ispâhbadh, the chief of  the secretaries was the erân – dabirbadh, while the chief magistrate of the commons was the vâstryoshânsâlâr or hutukhshbadh. The governors of the larger provinces — mostly subject princes and kings under Sasanian protection — were known as shatrtârân and the governors of border lands were called marzbân.

Rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rustam
Rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rustam

There were seven family, Suren, kârin, Aspâhbadh, lspandiyâr, Mehrân and Zik. The paterfamilias of each was called the vaspuhrân, The prime minister was the vuzurg-farmadhâr, this title later becoming vuzurgmihr and then boxorgmehr [Arabicized from: buzarjomehr]. Those holding high civil rank as well as the premier noblemen were called vuaurgân, mahân, or âzâdeh-nezhâdân (âzâdhân). Those who actually lived on their estates were known as dehgân or dehqân (dehkân).
The divisions of the realm On Ardeshir’s accession to the throne, the state institutions created by the parthians took a new form, which lasted with only minor changes till the fall of the Sasanians . Before Anushirvân, Iran was divided into small states and provinces, each with its own governor. If this ruler was a member of the royal Sasanian family, or of the previous dynasty, the parthians, he was called Shâh; borderland governors were called marxbân. Anushirvân divided Iran into four pâdhghows and over each he appointed an ispâhbadh with the title of pâdhghowspân. The Ispâhbadh of the East was the military commander of khorâsân, Sisân and kermân, the lspâhbadh of the South commanded Fârd and khuzestân, that of the west help Iraq right up to the borderers of Byzantium while the commander of the North was responsible for Media and Azarbâyjân. The larger provinces were divided into ostâns, governed by ostândârs. Each ostân was divided into smaller districts, the shahr, of which the shahrestân was the center. The governor of the shahr was the shahrik, while villages and hamlets were administered by the dehik or dehsâlâr.
The army

Sasanian army

The Sasanian army consisted of cavalry and infantry units, but the cavalry was considered its real core and acquired special importance from the time of  Anushirvân. The cavalry itself was made up of a number of units; first, there was the asvârân-e jâvidân which was an imitation of an Achaemenian model; secondly, the cavalrymen who came in time of war from the various lands of the empire; and thirdly the unit known as the jânsepâr. Up to the time of Anushirvân, the noblemen of the second rank, of whom the military was chiefly composed, served without pay and supplied the horses and weapons themselves, but Anushirvân gave horses, arms and an allowance to those lacking the necessary funds. A soldier’s impedimenta consisted then of armour for his horse, a short coat of mail, leg armour, breastplate,sword, spear, shield, mace, a noose, and bow and arrow. The command of  the army before Anushirvân was help by the rerân-ispâhbadh, or arteshtârânsâlâr, but Anushirvân abolished this post and appointed instead four ispâhbadhs over the four pâdhghows. As in former times, the infantry was not of much importance, merely following up behind the main (cavalry) force to demolish fortifications and generally serve the cavalry. The infantrymen were known as the pâyegân; their chief was the pâyegânsâlâr. Elephants were employed in the Sasanian army to create confusion in the enemy ranks and terrify their horses, though it would sometimes happen that for some reason the elephants would take fright and turn their backs upon the enemy, thus brinding about the defeat of the persian army. This actually happened at the famous Battle of Qâdesiyyeh fougt against the Arab Muslims.
Two types of tax were collected; first there was the land tax, which was levied on the produce. The amount therefore depended on whether cultivation had been good or not. Secondly, was a poll tax. This was levied proportionately to wealth on all persons between twenty and fifty years of age who held no lands, and was paid also by tradesmen and artisans. The aristocracy, the gentry, civil functionaries as well as servants of the king were all exempt. The poll tax was paid in three-monthly installments, and the relevant receipt was kep in the Royal Treasury. Anushirrvân equitably adjusted the tax burden and curbed the extortionate of the tax officers.Tax collectors were called âmârkâr, of whom one was the erân-âmârkâr,who evidently help the post of assistant to the vuzurg-tarmadhâr. The king’s private exchequer was called ganjvar. Some Sasanian rullers would remit overdue taxes whoen they became king. When Bhrâm Gur, for instance, failed to press for payment of the tax arrears on his accession, the taxpayers found themselves found themselves better off to the tune of seventy million dirhams . In addition to this Bahrâ also reduced the tax by a third in the year of his accession to the throne.
Industry and commerce

Horse head gilded silver 4th century  Sassanid art

The most highly developed industry in Sasanian times was the weaving of carpets, silks, woolens and brocades. The rulers made use of Byzantine captives and foreign immigrants to popularize other crafts too. The chief exports were silk cloths try was the most important and made up the bulk of the export trade. Raw silk was bought by persia from China and then sold off to other countries. Imports consisted of silk. Paper from China; spices, precious stones from India; ano perfumes from Arabia. An important centre for the trade between persia and Byzantium was the town of  Nisibis, while in other towns of Mesopotamia too, fairs were held at regular intervals. And merchandise from persia, China and India was sold to the Byzantines.
The various creeds and religions
Apart from Zoroastrianism, the offical religion of  Iran from the time of Ardeshir, son of Bâbak, two other religions emerged during the Sasanian period, one founded by Mâni, the other by Mazdak. Mâni came of noble stock; his father, fâtak, left Hamadân and settled in Lower Mesopotamia, and Mâni was born at a small town near Babylon in A.D. 215/6. In childhood, Mâni studied ancient learning and philosophy and reaching maturity he examined Zoroastrianism, Christianity and the other religions of his time. At the age of twenty – four he laid claims to prophecy. Shortly before the accession of Shâpur I, he proclaimed his new religion, and for a while passed his time publicizing itin Mesopotamia. Then, through the intermediary of Shâpur’s brother piroz, ( an adherent to Manichaeism), Mâni managed to gain admittance to the court. He began by offering the king a copy of his book, the Shâhpurgân. The king treated Mâni kindly and allowed him and his followers freedom in the propagation of their religion. It is even said that he became an adherent himself Mâni later travelled to India and China and spent some time in central Asia before returning to Iran. The Zoroastrian priests, alarmed at the progress Manichaeism had made, managed to get the king, Bahrâm I, to arrange a public disputation between themselves and Mâni. The latter was apparently defeated and died in A.D. 276 as a result of the tortures inflicted upon him. It is believed by some, however, that he flied alive and his body was hung on a gibbet.
Manichaeism was a combintion of Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Buddhism. According to Mâni’s doctrine, the word in its present stste had come about through the workings of two elements, Light and Darkness, and its foundations rested therefore on Good and Evil. But at the end of the word, the Light would separate from the Dr kness, whereupon peace and reconciliation would be permanently established. It was the duty of the Manichaean, he help, to strive present combination would be destroyed. This meant that one had to purge oneself of evil and vice, which were associated with Drakness. Mâni’s followers therefore abstained from such worldly pleasures as marriage, the consumption of meat and wine, and the acquisition of property and wealth.

Coin of the Indo-Sassanid kushansha  Varhran I early 4th century

Coin of the Indo-Sassanid kushansha

Varhran I early 4th century

To further popularize his religion, Mâni wrote a number of treatises, one of which was the Shâhpurgân, already mentioned above. For illiterates, ne illustrated his manuscripts with pictures, which earned him the appellation “the painter”. The Arzhang or Artang, another of Mâni’s works, attained fame frome from early times on account of its fine illustrations. Following the death of Mâni and his followers, Manichaeism did not gain much ground in Iran, but it long continued to flourish with many adherents in East turkistan, China, Syria, Palesting, Egypt, Italy and Southern Europe.
Mazdak, son of Bâmdâd, came from Estakhr, or according to one opinion from Neyshâbur. During the reign of Qobâd he founded a kind of religion which, like Manichaeism, was based on Light and Darkness. Mazdak differed from Mâni, however, in his belief that Light was completely omnipotent and omniscient in its own sphere and that the works of  Darkness were wrought in ignorance and were merely accidental. The combination of the two forces, which had resulted in the present state of the world, had arisen spontaneously .Mazdak concluded that Light was patently superior to Darkness and therefore worthy of being revered. Until such time as Light should overcome Darkness, man must strengthen the former through abstinence and good deeds. The Mazdakites therefore shunned such worldly pleasures as the eating of meat, and refrained from shedding blood. Mazdak abhorred revenge, war and strife. Which he blamed on man’s desire for wealth and women. And enjoined that both of these should be equally shara by all men.
The fundamental doctrines of Mazdakism had existed two centuries before Mazdak, but he is consid ered its chief architect and propagator. For up to three centuries after Islam.  Mazdakites continues to flourish in different guises, and it is even thought by some that the followers of bâbak Khorramdin were really Mazdakites.
Literature and the sciences Sassanid silver plate featuring a senmurw

The language of both Parthian and Sasanian times was pahlavi, which came after the Old persian of the Achaemenians and before the Modern persian of Islamic times. The pahlavi script employed in Sasanian times was derived from Aramaic. A certain number of Aramaic words were written, but were read as persian; for example, shâh was written malekâ. In addition to this , Semitic words were given persian grammatical treatment and persian plurals: shâhân. For example was written malekâân. Up to a thousand Aramaic words were thus used. As a resuit of all this, the pahlavi script is one that is extremely difficult to read.
The information we have at our disposal regarding literature and the sciences in Sasanian times is incomplete; we do know, however that the nobility and letters, though the acquisition of knowledge was traditionally the province of the religious class and the mowbadhân.
As in Achaemenian days, young noblemen were tutored by an asvârân instructor and taught reading, writing, arithmetic, polo, chess, riding and hunting. Treatises were available on such subjects as the training of horses, hunting birds, shooting and polo.
While we know that both poetry and music flourished under the Sasanians, little remains of the former, but what is extant shows us that Sasanian poetry differed from Modern persian poetry in metre and in style. As far as music is concerned, we know the names of many tunes and of such musicians as the famous Bârbadh, Nekisâ, Râmtin, Bâmshâdh, sarkesh and Sarkab.
Few works in the pahlavi script have come down to us. What we have was chiefly written during the period after the establishment of Islamic rule. However, writers of the first century of the Islamic era name many Sasanian works which were translated from pahlavi to Arabic, of  which no trace remains today. It would appear from the the titles given to these works that they were  mainly on politics and government, medicine, the art of war and history, or religious writings, legends, anecdotes and wise counsels. One of the most important of these works was the kalileh va Demneh, which was brought to persia from India during the reign of Anushirvân, translated firt into pahlavi, then from pahlavi to Arabic by the persian, Abdollâh ebn Moqaffa; n the second century of the islamic era, only to be translated into modern persian at a later date. Another important work translated into Arabic by ebn Mogaffaʹ was the Khodây-Nâmeh. This was a compilation dating from the time of the Sasanian Yazdigerd III on the history of the persian kings, of which the original pahlavi is lost. It was put into persian prose in the fourth century A.H. and served as the basis for the Shâhnâmehs of Daqiqi and Ferdowsi.
During the Sasanian period, all learning was based principally on the Avestâ, but the rulers, especially Anushirvân, encouraged the translation of the works of such other nations as the Greeks and Romans. Medicine made great strides under the Sasanians, who sought hard to develop it through the recruitment of physicians from Greece and Byzantium. Surgery was commonly practised, too, and if a surgeon lost three patients, he was deprived of his right to continue his profession.
Sasanian monuments  

Ruins of Adur Gushnasp, one of three main Zoroastrian  temples during Sassanian Empire.

Ruins of Adur Gushnasp, one of three main

Zoroastrian temples during Sassanian Empire.

Several monuments of the Sasanian period still stand: the Arch of Khosrow ( Tâq-e Kesrâ). Also called the place of Madâʹen, built by Anushirvan to the east of Ctesiphon. The ruins of this palace are still visible today. Some scholars date the foundations from the time of Shâpur I. The edifice is 400 metres long, nearly 300 metres wide, and over 26 metres high. The pubulic audience chamber in the centre of the building is 44 metres long and 26 metres wide. The Arch of Khosrow was the residence of the Sasanian rulers and also the centre of both military and civil government. The great hall housed the famous Bahârestân Catpet, also known as “bahâr-e Khosrow” (Springtime of Khosrow). In the middle of the 8th century A.D. the Abbasid Caliph, mansur, made up his mind at one time to demolish the Arch and use the materials in the construction of his new city of Baghdad. Although his persian vizier, Khâled the Barmakid tried to dissuade him, he would not be put off, and gave orders for the building to be pulled down. It was only when he realized that the cost of this operation would outweigh any advantages accruing that he finally gave up the idea.
At the Tâq-e Bostân near Kermânshâh may be seen in relief the figures of Khosrow Parviz and Shâpur III as well as various hunting scenes. The remains may also be seen of Qasr-e Shirin, palace, built by Khosrow Parviz  for Shirin, his Christian sweetheart. Tâq-e Eyvân is another  Sasanian monument, situated near Karkheh. At Naqsh-e Rostam near persepolis there are carvings of Ardeshir, son of Bâbak, Sh’pur I Nersi, and Bahrâm II, while at the locality of Shapur, about eighteen kilometers north of Kâzerun there is a rock carving showing the captive Roman Emperor Vlerianus kneeling before the mounted Shâpur I. there is another scene with Bahrâm I and BahrâII, and near the town of Shâpur, a large statue of Shâpur I has heen found. Other Sasanian remains are to be found at Firuzâbâd, in the Fârs province, and at Sarvestân, between Shirâz and Dârâb. Some scholars, however, date both Firuzâbâd and Sarvestân remains to partian times, basing their opinion on the particular methods used in costruction.

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Written by Super User. Posted in History

The splendid art of the Sasanian period has its roots in the ancient past: to understand it one must look to the monuments and works of art of the earlier ages of Iranian history, the periods of the parthians, Achaemenians and Medea, and the prehistoric cultures of the Iranian plateau. In this way one can comprehend its originality, its evolution and the changes it underwent in the course of the centuries.  

Tang -e- Chogan.Bishapour.King ShapourII.
Tang -e- Chogan.Bishapour.King ShapourII

The craftsmen of the period used such taste and originality in creating works of art that the influence of their skill not only reached beyond Iran to neighbouring countries but even extended to the farthest quarters of  the Know world, that is to say, from the shores of the Mediterranean to china. In fact, Sasanian art became a worldwide art to  such an extent that its influence survived in later ages as well.
In Sasanian art which attained high standards of perfection, besides elegance and subtlety, a kind of harmony and balance are represented, characteristics which are not only apparent in particular works of art but also affected all the different classes and levels of artistic work: architecture, sculpture, engraving, metalwork, weaving coinage , jewelry, pottery, glasswork and so on.
The Sasanian monarchs were greatly interested in building, constructing cities, palaces, towers, fire-tem-ples, eyvâns and fortifications. Architect and other craftsmen used admirable taste and skill in constructing them from brick and various types of stone and decorating them with engraving. Reliefts, stucco-work, mosaics and metal- work. Tâq-e Kesrâ (The Arch of Khosrow) at Ctesiphon,

Gor City Satelite View
Gor City Satelite View

In its particular style, the palace of shâpur I at Bishâpur, the palace of Gur ( Firuzâbâd). Tâq-e Garrâ and Tâq-e Bostân are all examples of the excellent architecture of the Sasanian period.
The various types of decoration such as relief – carving. Stucco-work and mosaics which are used in these buildings are, each in their own way, among the masterpieces of the time. Pieces of plaster very beautuiflly cut in relief. Coming from Sasanin palaces, have been found, mostly in the of medallions attached to walls. The majority of the designs on them consist of animals, birds of Dâmghân and Ctesiphon.
The ancient historians have spoken of most of these monuments in detail, describing the spacious palaces, the audience – halls and fire-temples, thir internal. decoration  and the splendor and magnificence of their appearance. Similar either regard to the beautiful capital of the Sasanian kings and the Tâq-e kesrâ at Madâʹen (Ctesiphon) the great Arad and persian ports, while expressing their somehow at its ruined state, have praised the grandeur of its remnants. Among such verses one can mention the Qasideh of Bohtori (Abu Obâdeh valid ebn Obeyd b. Yahyâ Tâʹi). khâqâni shervâni also composed a Qasideh of Iamentation upon seeing the palace of Madâʹen.

Rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rustam
Rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rustam

Sasanian reliefs, of which about thirty exist, were carved on flat surfaces stone. In these reliefs, the sculptors, who were undoubtedly craftsmen of skill and ability, succeeded, with particular subtlety and taste, in representing different scenes of important contemporary events sides of mountains or rocks. Many fine points of  sculptural technique can be observed on the reliefs of the investiture of Ardashir I at Naqsh-e Rajab and Naqsg-e Rostam, in which Ahurâmazdâ is giving the diadem and staff, the symbols of  Kingship, to Ardashir; and on the relief of Bahrâm I at Bishâpur; the giving of the diadem of kingship to Narsi by Anâhitâ at Naqsh-e Rostam; Ardashir llʹs being given the diadem in the presence of Mithra and the investiture of peroz at Tâq-e Bostân. The large and magnificent reliefs of Shâpurʹs victory over Valerianus at Naqsh-e Rostam, Naqsh-e Rostam, Naqsh-e Dérâb and Tang-e Chugân demonstrate the excellence with which the Iranians succeeded in constructing such tableaux. Scenes of combat with beasts or of hunting – grounds or hunts, like the relief of Bahrâ ll and the lion at sar Mashhad or the extremely attractive and lively hunting – scene of Khosrow parviz at Tâq-e Bostân are not only examples of the arts of sculpture and engraving, but also, as it were, pictures displaying the manifold episodes of the sumptuous royal hunt.

Khosro Parviz Sassanid King and his Horse Shabdiz Taq  Tagh. -e- Bostan

Khosro Parviz Sassanid King and

his Horse  Shabdiz Taq  Tagh. -e- Bostan

In the last – mentioned relief, in one part, Khosrow parviz is seated with regal dignity on his horse watching the hunt, with a parasol over his head to protect him from the heat of the sun,    while musicians, sitting on a platform are busy playing; in another, he is galloping his horse in pursuit of the quarry; in a third he is mounted on an elephant. A further seen is set in a reedbed; the king is standing in a boat drawing his bow at some boars. Behind him are two boats of minstrels playing haps. These sculptured monuments are not only valuable historical documents but may also be consiered precious pages of the history of persian art.
The statue of Shâpur I in the Shâpur cave at Bishâpur and the bust of Shâpur  ll at Qasr-e Kish in ancient Babylon are striking specimens of the statuary of the choicest objects of the ancient world. With great subtlety and elegance, craftsmen created supeb pieces, using such subjects as the hunt, drinking and feasting and battles royal together with designs of mythical beasts, birds and vegetation. These gold or silver pieces which may be in the form of cups, plates, dishes, biwls or drinking vessels, ere engraved with well-proportioned designs, the figures beasts, like lions, tigers or boars, are engraved with rhythm and elegance. In vessels which show the royal hunt the artist extended himself to ensure that postures and movements should be realistic. In scenes of merriment and feasting and the enthronement of Kings every detail is attended to. The artist pays close attention to the design of clothes, jewellery, crowns, swords and thrones and carefully engraves the finest detail.
A number of dancers and musicians performing, now silver plate, with traces of gold decoration remaining , now in the Hermitage, Leningrad, shows a scene of a castle. Prepared for defense, with the people on its walls playing martial music on horns. The engraving on this vessel is so fine and true to life that from it on can gain an excels fine and true to life that from it one can gain an excellent Knowledge of the way castles of the period were for tidied. One of the finest examples of Sasanian art is a golden cup, now preserved in the Bibliothégue Nationale in paris. This cup is engraved with raised designs, the depressions of which are filled with white, crimson and green glass. In the centre of the cup a round transparent crystal is mounted and engraved upon it in the shape of a medallion is a scene of Khosrow II, seated on the throne, with the complete royal insignia. Fine glass vessels and colored glass beads for ornaments and necklaces Were also produced in this period.
Sasanian seals and medals are also important works of art. On most of them the ownerʹs portrait o title, or the symbols of the great Sasanian families and princes, or religious designs such as fire altars and the like can br seen. It is probably not too much to say that a study confined to nothing but Sasanian seals, which are made of various precious stones like carnelians, red, white,yellow or brown; rubies, quartz, marcasite and silver, would suffice to demonstrate the artistry of Iranian craftsmen.

Hunting scene on a gilded silver bowl  showing king Khosrau I

Hunting scene on a gilded silver bowl

  showing king Khosrau I

Coins, especially those of the early Sasanian period, like those of Ardashir I, Shâpur I, Bhrâm II and many others are extremely fine and beautiful. In fashioning the dies the artists took pains to engrave the figures of the kings, their particular adornments and the decoration of their robes and crowns with great delicacy. Their detailed work is full of artistic nuances.

From coin designs, metal vessels, sculpture, different sorts of engraving and pieces of jewellery one can Learn about the arts of the goldsmith and jeweller in the Sasanian period. The portraits of kings, queens, noblemen and princes, whether on coins and seals or reliefs show a variety of ornaments which tell of the goldsmithsʹ and jewellersʹ  mastery of their art, Different types of crowns decorated with gems and plearls, jewelled pins and rosettes attached to the brocaded spheres which surmount them , earrings, necklaces, pendants, the borders of robes, daggers, swords and belts, all display the skill of the jewellers of the time.
Ferdowsi repeatedly speaks of the luxurious furniture of the courts of the Sasanian kings and a number of  historians have described in detail and at length such jewellery and decorations. The Zeyn OI-Akhbâr contains a long description of the magnificent splendor and beauty of the throne and crown of Kosrow parviz, of his rings and ornaments, his robes and jewelled brocades, his necklaces and his earrings.The jewelled decoration and gold work of the crown and ruby-studded gold throne of Khosrow Anushirvân (Khosrow I) and  the crown of khosrw parviz (Khosrow II) are described in full by Balʹami in his version of the History of Tabari.
Although we do not possess many specimens of Sasanian painting, what has survived and  what historians have written on the subject demonstrate clearly the powrrs of observation and imagination of the painters of the period and their artistry. In his book, Al-Tanbih val-Eshrâf, Mas’udi mentions the paintings in a book which he saw in the possession of one of the great persian families at Estakhr. Among the contents of the book, which covered many of the sciences and the history of the Sasanian kings, were twenty-seven portraits of Sasanian monarchs, two  of them women.

Winter sasanid palace-Iraq
Winter sasanid palace-Iraq

Estakhri makes mention of scrolls painted with the portraits of kings which he himself saw in the hands of a family living near Arrajân. He also says that painting in manuscripts of the period was not only confined to portraits of  kings and nobles but that astronomical and medical drawings also existed.
In the Manichaean paintings discovered at Turfan in Chinese Turkistan and in kansu the artistic vigor and the power of the drawing is self is self – evident.
Sasanian palaces, such as Ctesiphon, were decorated with murals and frescoes. The Roman historian, Ammianus Marcellinus in his description of another palace which he saw in the neighbourhood of Ctesiphon in the time of Shâpur II, tells of variety of royal hunting – scenes painted on the walls of the halls.
At Dura Europe's mural paintings of mounted spearmen in battle have been discovered, dating from the reign of Shâpur I. On another painting on stucco, found at Susa and datable to the middle of the fourth century, huntsmen on horseback pursue the quarry. The ground of the painting is blue, the horses and wild animals brown and orange and the clothes of the hunters pink and gold. In this scene the painter’s talent is evident, the movements of the fleeing animals as if real.
The craft of weaving made grat progress in this period and master weavers from all quarters were encouraged by the kings to come to Iran. As a result, Susa, Shushtar and Marv became important weaving centres and the export of fine and beautifully designed persian materials extended beyond the Mediterranean region as far as Gaul. The silken, woolen and brocaded cloths of persia, because of their beautiful designs and colours became famous and much desired outside Iran. The great men of Byzantium and other countries were eager to possess them, and even the churches used them for decoration and to cover the tombs of kings and nobles. The Chinese, who exported silk themselves were so taken by the designs and colours of  Iranian cloth they began to produce materials inspired by them.

Ruins of Adur Gushnasp, one of three main Zoroastrian  temples during Sassanian Empire.

Ruins of Adur Gushnasp, one of three main

Zoroastrian  temples during Sassanian Empire.

Among the gifts which, as historical sources tell us, khosrow ll use to give to other kings were various types of garments of hand – woven materials, tunics of satin ornamented with designs of birds in delicate colours, the brocaded materials Sundus and Estabrag, and satin horse-clothes, embroidered with gold and pearls. One can learn in detail about the designs of Sasanian materials from royal reliefs, coins and metal vessels.
In the Sasanian period the art of carpet-weaving was highly valued and the object of particular attention. In the historical texts there are long accounts of the precious court carpets of khosrow Anushirvân and khosrow parviz. The famous Bahâreatân and khosrow parviz. The famous Bahârestân carpet, also known as “Bahâr-e khosrow” (Spring time of khosrow), which fell into the hands of the Arabs at the capture of Ctesiphon, was of silk with gold and silver warps, and depicted a garden in spring, with trees, roses, sweet- smelling flowers, streams and bird of many species in a lifelike and enchanting way. Different jewels were used for the various colours. It is even said that when the king sat on it in winter, he had the illusion of springtime.
This originally Iranian art did not lose its importance in later times. Even the court of the Caliphs imitated the Sasanians in encouraging persian artists to weave carpets. In the succeedung ages as well, the art continued; the vicissitudes of time did not diminish its vigouror the beauty of its products.



Written by Super User. Posted in History


Darius Relief of Darius I in Persepolis
Darius Relief of Darius I in Persepolis

Drius, the son of Hystatspes, commaner of the lmmortal Army ( sepâh-e jâvid) assumed power in the year 522 B. C. after he had crushed other claimants to the throne. As a rasult of his election as king, sovereignty to the throne. As a resuit of his election as king, sovereignty passed from the line of Cyrus the Great to a different branch of the Achaemenian family.
Cambyses had left no heir to succeed him when he died. The rule of his brother Smerdis (Bardiya) in eastern Iran meant excessive freedom to the subject states, which spelled danger to the unity of the Empire. Darius had perceived this danger clearly on the death of Cambyses, and with the overthrow of the rule of the imposter Smerdis, he succeeded in acguiring control of the Empire.
The quelling of disturbancesʹ
The first two years of Dariusʹ rule were fully spent in putting down uprisings which occurred in all the Achaemenian lands. There were eight serious rebellions. Addition to this there was refractory behaviour in Bactriana (Balkh), Arachosia (Rokhkhaj), Egypt, Asia Minor and fought, the whole Empire once again submitted to Darius. The king ordered these victories to be recorded high up on a rock by the kermânshâh to Hamadân road. Above the inscription is the figure of the shâh, Darius, under the protection of Ahurâmazdâ, Great Lord. The eight conquered kings, bound in ropes, line up at his feet. The inscription itself tells of his victories.
The beginning of the conquests
When he had assured himself that he was firmly established in power. Darius embarked in his policy of  expansion and conquest, and as Cyrus had done before him, began to extend his borders both in the east and west. tn the west, his target was the rich, flouishing lands of Greece. In the east he sought to acquire influence in India and to find an outlat to the indian Ocean. He began his career in the east and conquered the entie region of Gandhara and East India as far as the River Indus. At the confiuence of the River Indus and the River Kabul he despatched a band of sailors who reached the Indian Ocean, and then made their way to Egypt by crossing the persian Gulf and the Red sea. Darius ordered a canal to be dug in the vicinity of the site of the present Suez canal so that the River Nile would be Joined to the Red sea, By means of the sea route, the most remote lands in the west were thus joined to the farthest points east making a system of communications which was of vital importance to the chaemenians, both politicaiiy and economically. Favoured thus by good fortune, Darius began his preparations for his attack on Greece.

The invasion of Greece

The Persian Empire under Darius 490 BC in a modern overview map
The Persian Empire under Darius 490 BC in a modern overview map

The origins of the war with Greece go back to the time of Cyrus the Great, who conquered the Greek – occupied provinces in Asia Minor, which consisted of a number of prosperous and flourishing city states. Asia Minor was also of great strategic imprortance, as it lay midway Weast between East and West and was regarded as the gateway to Greece.
Darius did nit begin with a direct attack on Greece. He proceeded by way of Central Asia and Southern Russia, crossed the Danube, reached the Balkan peninsula and took Eastern Thrace. We know that the forests of the Balkan peninsula were of the utmost importance to the Greeks who bulit their merchant fleet and warships from the timer. In following a longer, roundabout route, it might have been Dariusʹ intention to close the roads from Northern Greece to these forests, and thus prevent the importation of timber. With the seizure of  Egypt and Libya by Cambyses, and the provinces of Asia Minor — the granaries of Greece — by Darius, the country was cut off from food supplies on one side and faced a blockade of timber imports on the other. This was an all – round economic blocade which facilited the conquest of the country.

Before beginning his direct attack on Greece, Darius sent a fleet of thirty ships on a scouting mission to the straits of the Mediterranean Sea, The task was carried out well and the way was smoothed for the campaign. The preliminaries over, the time was now ripe for the invasion. In the year 498 B. C. the persians once again passed through the Straits of the

Darius as Pharaoh of Egypt at the Temple of Hibis
Darius as Pharaoh of Egypt at the Temple of Hibis

Hellespontus and began to invest the coastal lands one after the other. The Greek states, which under Athenian or Spartan rule had for long fought among themselves, reacted to the persian victories by ceasing their hostility and uniting. The Greek provinces in Asia Minor also ejected their oarsian goyernor and joined the alliance. This led finally to the lonian Alliance against persia. Some really fierce fighting ensued and in the battles of Salamis 498 B.C. and Marsyas 497 B.C. Darius was victorious, and the persians once again seized lonian lands. Milletus surrendered after resisting for two years and some of her inhabitanst were sent in captivity to Susa. As a result of these victories, the very heartlands of Greece now found themselves under attack and the persian troops began to disembark from their ships.
The defeat of Marathon
The entry of persian troops into Greece marked the first clash brtween East and West, the East ensuring her superiority over the West by acquiring conteol of the Mediterranean Sea and occupation of territories of the Greeks. Sitill undefeated, the persians conquered Eretria after a long siege and sent the entire population to Susa.
Once again, the victory of the persians caused the Greek states to put aside their differences and form what later became the Delos Alliance againt the common enemy. Finally, Darius was defeated on the plains of Marathon and obliged to retreat. This defeat was the first and last ever to be suffered by the Achaemeninan monarch, and though the persians themselves regarded it as an unimportant local incident, it meant a lot to the Greeks, and drove home a number of points: first, the persian army was not invincible, as they had previously thought. Secondly, by means of a united front it was possible to resist enemy attacks. This was the lesson the Greeks learnt Which proved useful in laster campaigns and influenced their future relations with persia.Though Darius failed to add further to his conguests, he continued nevertheless to retain what he had gained up to that time.
The results of the clash between East and West

Darius I imagined by a Greek painter 4th century BCE

Darius I imagined by a Greek painter

4th century BCE

Relatons between Greece and persia continued to subsist thus for centuries; the culminating point was Alexander’s attack on persia. Apart from the political and economic changes which took place, the encounter brought abut great cultural development which contributed significantly to world civilization. Iran became the highway of eastern and western thought, and was thus responsible for the development of whole series of fruitful cultural contacts.
when Darius died in 486 B.C. he left extensive territories. In his own words:
“Darius the king says: By the favour of Ahuramazdaʹ [are] the countries, which I seized, remote from persia. I ruled over them; they bore me tribute. What was said to them by me, that they did.My law, that help them. Media – Elam – Parthia – Aria – Bactria – Sogdiana – Drangiana – Arachosia – Sattagydia – the Men of Maka – Gandhare – India – the naoma drinking Scythians – the pointed helmeted Scythinans – baby lonia – Assyria – Arabia – Egypt – Armenia – Cappadocia – Sardis – the lonians, those of the sea and those beyond the sea – Skudra1- the libyans – the Ethiopans – the Carians 2. …..Darius the king says: Much which was ill – done thet I made beautiful.”
Darius chose to rule in the same way thet Cyrus had done. Taking care that the various creeds, religions and customs of the subject nations should suffer no harm, he divided up his realms into twenty states. At the head of each he appointed a persian governor, the shahrbân, chosen from one of the great persian families, or even the royal family. Egual in rank to the shahrbâni, an army commander responsible for military functions was sent to each state. Other high – ranking officials sent from the central government to the provinces included the tax – collerctor, who on the kingʹs orders had to remit the taxes to Royal Treasury every year. The amount varied according to the wealth and resources of the particular province, and might have been in cash or kind. Enormous sums were involved the triute thus collected was not only spent on incerasing royal grandeur but also on city building and such things as would bestow greatness on the Empire.


PERSEPOLIS: showplace of the splendour and civilization of the Achaemenians   

Tomb of Darius the Great located next to other Achaemenian kings at Naqsh-e Rustam

Tomb of Darius the Great located next

to other Achaemenian kings at

Naqsh-e Rustam

Darius know well that in order to rule the vast Empire, it was necessary to acquire power through both spiritual and material means. He tried therefore to strengthen the foundations of his rule and to bring a biut unity between the states. In all his inscriptions which survive, he regards homself as the manifestation of Ahurâmazdâ and the executor of his divine laws on earth, and continually brings this to the notice of the subject nations, realizing that spiritual power is important to strengthen material power.
Darius had palaces and edifices put up in his chosen capital, Susa, and strove to the utmost to embellish them. This was to show off his night in the very heart of the Empire, to which each day numerous amnassadors, learned men and travellers from far and wide would come. Then he ordered persepolis to be built in pârsa, the heartland of the Empire, from where the lization of the Achaemenians might there be centred. All this was achieved by Darius, who was one of the finest statesmen and graeatest warriors of ancient times.


History History of Iran briefly

Written by Super User. Posted in History

History of Iran briefly

History is a book that one has to start from the middle, especially from ancient civilizations like China, India and Iran. Think that the history of Iran is long and complex, its forms are determined by the rise and fall of the successive dynasties - with intervals of chaos and confusion - unity of their recent phase, victory of the Islamic revolution and rise of an Islamic republic in the Modern world.
Man has been living on the Iranian plateau for 15,000 years. The oldest inhabitants were nomadic hunters who gradually turned to agriculture and developed permanent settlements. Sialk, not for the south of modern Tehran, is the site of one of the world's most famous settlements. Here, some of the first stages of civilization, which have made considerable progress in architecture and graphic design, developed, the early sialkwaren with their geometrical and abstract motifs in fact "modern".
Wild wheat and barley were cultivated first in Iran and already in the 4th millennium BC. To Egypt and from there to Europe introduced. Several animals have been domesticated and great progress has been made in the use of metals, especially copper.
The greatest civilization in Iran during prehistoric times was that of Elam, the alluvial plain of the Southwest Iran, now known as Khuzestan province. Susa, the Elamite capital, is the site of literally dozens of consecutive archaeological periods that peaked in the golden period of the 13th century BC, when Elam dominated all of western Iran, as well as the Tigris Valley and most of the Persian Gulf region. In the past, and until the second half of the twentieth century when it came to telling the origin of their country, most Iranians used the side of the myth or mingled the myth with the actual story. This was a true reflection of the influence of the great literary works such as Shahnameh on the people. More than a dozen royal dynasties ruled Iran for a period of more than 2000 years, on average, according to national legends. Details of these dynasties are given in the Avesta, the sacred writing of the Zoroastrian faith, written according to Islamic sources on 12,000 pieces of cow skin. Apart from the Avesta and Shahnameh names of the legendary kings and dynasties are given in Vedas and Mahabharata, as well.

Kashan.Sialk Hill
Kashan.Sialk Hill

Early Persian
What follows is a brief sketch of the history of the ancient Persian empire, in which the present Iran has its roots. Early in the first millennium BC, significant invasions of Indo-European tribes took place. They gave themselves their names for their new homeland - they were Aryans, meaning 'of noble origin' ', and the name Iran derives from it. According to some sources, the speakers of the Iranian language can already as early as 1500 BC. Travel to this part of South-East Asia. They apparently succeeded in subjugating peoples who had already lived there and intermingled with them, but their dominance of certain areas was recorded in the derived place names of Parsua and Parsumash. The Assyrian rules were adopted in the ninth century BC. Expeditions against them, and the resources of these campaigns are evidence of the early Persians.

The Medes
The Median Kingdom started with the rule of Deioces. He organized his realm into several provinces and created a strong army to stop the Assyrians. The military genius of his son and successor, Phraortes, helped the Medes defeat the Assyrians. After Phraortes, there was a short period of Scythian domination over the Medes until they were overthrown by Cyaxares, who induced Scythian kings to get so drunk that they were then easily slain. Cyaxares, the greatest king of the Medes, reorganized the army and utterly defeated the Assyrians. At his death, the Medes controlled vast territories, stretching from Anatolia in modern Turkey to the area of Tehran as well as all of southwestern Iran.

Apadana Palace columns

Achaemenid Empire (550-330 B.C.)
Cyrus the Great was the first important Achaemenid ruler. By the time he became king, Persia was already a large domain, but Cyrus aspired to nothing less than the conquest of the entire known world. In a campaign that lasted for less than two years, he took Elam, Media, Lydia, and several Greek cities on the Ionian coast. Having strengthened his power, Cyrus besieged and captured Babylon and released the Jews who had been held captive there, thus earning immortality in the Book of Isaiah. His territories in the east also were great and stretched as far as the Hindu Kush in present-day Afghanistan.

Hellenistic Period (323-141 B.C.)
In his world-conquering campaign, Alexander hoped for a fruitful union of the Europeans with the peoples of the Middle East. In the effort to reach this goal, Alexander married Roxana, daughter of the most powerful of the Bactrian chiefs, and commanded 80 of his top officers and 10,000 of his soldiers to marry Persian women in a mass wedding at Susa. However, his plans to consummate the union of the Greek and Iranian peoples ended when Alexander was struck with fever and died in Babylon.

Parthian Empire (247 B.C.-224 A.D.)
Under the Achaemenians, a satrapy named Parthava was annexed to the empire during Cyrus the Great's campaign south and east of the Caspian Sea. The Parthians were among the first to revolt against the Seleucids and were led by two brothers, Arsaces and Tiridates. Arsaces was proclaimed the first king, and his name became the honorific title used by all subsequent Parthian kings, who were generally known as the Arsacids.

Sasanid Empire (224-651 A.D.)

Rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rustam
Rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rustam

The last Parthian king, Artabanus V, lost the final battle to the Sasanians around 224 A.D. A legend has it that Ardashir Babakan, a vassal of Artabanus V, provoked the encounter when he founded a city called Gur, or the "Glory of Ardashir" near Firuzabad. Ardashir traced his ancestry to Sasan, a Zoroastrian priest, who gave his name to the last native dynasty in Persia before the Arab conquest. A strong central-ized government, a strict principle of dynastic legitimacy, and an official religion, which were quite contrary to the Parthian confederation and freedom of religious practices, characterized the Sasanid domain, which rapidly rose to rank among the world's largest empires.

Arab Conquest and the Early Iranian Islamic Dynasties (636 - c. 1100)
The Muslim Arabs who toppled the Sasanid Empire were insprred by a new religion Islam. Although the Koran, the holy b k f h  religion, considered people equal regardless their race and social status, the conquerors, especially the Umayyads (the Muslim rulers who succeeded the Prophet Mohammad), tended to stress the primacy of Arabs. Despite this, the Iranians rapidly integrated into the new Islamic community.

Ghaznavid Dynasty (962-1186)
The Ghaznavid dynasty was of Turkish origin. It was founded by Saboktekin, a former Turkish slave who was recognized by the Samanids as governor of Ghazna (modern Ghazni, in Afghanistan). As the Samanid dynasty weakened, Saboktekjn consolidated his position and expanded his domains as far as the Indian border. His son Mahmud continued the expansionist policy, and during his reign, Ghaznavid power reached its zenith. Mahmud created an empire that stretched from the Oxus to the Indian Ocean.

Mongol Rulers of Iran (1219-1353)
Mongol occupation was disastrous to Iran. Numerous cities were razed, and a large number of people (particularly males) were killed. The Kharazrn-Shahs could not oppose the Mongol hordes led by Genghis Khan. The last Kharazrn-Shahs' prince, al-o Din, tried to restore the empire but failed to unite the Iranian regions, although by that time Genghis Khan, who had withdrawn to Mongolia, was dead.

Timurid and Turkman Rulers (1389-1508)

The tomb of Timur c.1910.
The tomb of Timur c.1910

Tamerlane (Timur), who claimed descent from Genghis Khan's family, was the next ruler to achieve the status of emperor. He did not have the huge forces of earlier Mongol leaders, so his conquests were slower than those of Genghis  Khan or Hulagu Khan. Ironically, this ruthless warrior and appalling killer was a great patron of arts and initiated a true civilization with a center in Samarqand. Timur was famed for his great interest in unorthodox religious beliefs, among them Sufism, which developed considerably in his time.

Safavid Dynasty (1501-1736)
While the Turkrnan dynasties ruled in Azerbaijan, Sheikh Heydar headed a movement that had begun in the late 13th century as a Sufi order under his ancestor, Sheikh Safi al-Din of Ardabil, who claimed descent from the Seventh Shiite Imam, Musa al-Kazem. By the end of the 15th century, this Sufi order was turned into a militant movement with numerous followers, mainly from the Turkman tribesmen of Anatolia.

Afsharid and Zand Dynasties (1736-1779)
After a disastrous but brief Afghan occupation, the country was united under the power of Tahmasb Qoli, a chief of the Afshar tribe. He expelled the Afghans in the name of surviving Safavid members, but soon dethroned them and was himself crowned as Nader Shah. He chose Mashhad as his capital.

Qajar Dynasty (1794-1925)

Mohammad Khan Qajar
Mohammad Khan Qajar

After Karim Khan's death, Agha Mohammad Qajar, who was brought up at the Zand court,  gathered a large force of his Qajar tribesmen and embarked upon a war of conquest. He defeated the last Zand ruler and in the same year took Mashhad, which was at the time the residence of the last Afsharid king. In this way, he made himself master of the country and founder of the Qajar dynasty.
Under his successors Faith Ali Shah (1798-1834), Mohammad shah (1834-48), Nasser od-Din Shah (1848-96), Muzaffar od-Din Shah (1896-1907), Mohammad Ali shah (1907-09) and Ahmad shah (1909-25), the whole context of Iranian history changes, we emerge from the middle Ages into recent times, in which the interest of Iran lay not in her own civilization or splendor or mystery, but in her possibilities as a field for expansion among rival great powers- or rather , to be more precise, as a field in which expansion of one great power should be limited by a rival power, and it was precisely this rivalry, rather than any inherent strength in the Qajar monarchy, which together with a nation- wide resistance enabled Iran to preserve her endangered independence.

Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and his wife  Farah Diba upon his proclamation as the  Shhanshh of Iran.
Mohammed Reza Pahlav

The Pahlavis
In 1921, Reza khan, an army officer, led a state coup and established a Shah military dictatorship and ended the Qajar dynasty. In 1941, two months after the German invasion of Russia, British and Russian troops occupied Iran. On 16 September Reza shah took leave of his son Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. American troops later followed Iran to handle the delivery of war supplies to Russian fronts.
At the Tehran conference in 1943, the Tehran Declaration signed by the United States, Great Britain and Russia guaranteed the independence and territorial integrity of Iran. But the Russians, dissatisfied with the refusal of the Iranian government to grant oil concessions, formed a revolt in the north that led to the formation of marionette governments led by the People's Republic of Azarbaijan and the Kurdish People's Republic (December 1945) under the leadership of Russian controlled party leaders.
When the Russian troops remained in Iran after the end of a war treaty (January 1946), which also allowed the presence of American and British troops, Iran protested against the United Nations. The Russians finally withdrew (May 1946), after receiving a pledge from oil concessions from Iran, subject to Parliament's approval.
The Russian-established governments in the north, lacking popular support, were deposed by Iranian troops late in 1946, and the Parliament subsequently rejected the oil concessions. In 1951, the National Front Movement, headed by Premier Musaddiq, a militant nationalist, the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). Although a British blockade led to the virtual collapse of oil industry and serious internal economic problems, Musaddiq continued its nationalization policies.




Written by Super User. Posted in History



The early life of Cyrus, like that of so many heroes of ancient history, us shrouded in legend, as is his demise. The story of how his grandfather had a dream in which he saw a vine growing from his death occurred in a remote eastern land of unknown causes, reflects the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death.
The historical facts, however, are that Cyrus was born from the marriage of cambyses the persian and Mandana the daughter of Astyages, king of Media, and his family's importance was at first increased by the connection with the Median royal family.
The persians , like the Medes an Aryan people, after a long period of migration, had settled in pârsumâsh, dependency of Elam, the region around modern Masjed – e Soleymân. With the gradual decline of the persians succeeded in the father in 550 B.C. consisted not only of Pârsumâsh but also of Anshâ, correspondding to the eastern and south-eastern parts of  Mâl-e Amir in the Bakhtiâri region, and parsa, roughly equivalent to the modern province of Fârs ( or pârs). Although he at first paid homage to his grandfather as king of kings, Cyrus styled himself  Great King, an Achaemenian. This tile occurs on a table discovered under the foundations of one of the palaces of pasargadae.
Cyrus, who was always trying to expand his sphere of operations and extend his territory, succeeded in his expansionist from the very start. It should, however, be stated that the world was in a realatively troubled state, a fact which contributed to his success.
The brilliant Elamite civilization which had begun some four thousand years B.C had succumbed to Assyrian oppression, and the Assyrians at the height of their power had been overthrown by the babylonians aided by the Medes. The eastern world was divided between these two powers, the Bobylonians and the Meades. At the same time the Median Kingdom had begun to show signs of weakness, which were ultimately to lead to the dowenfall of the ancient word and the emergence of a flourishing new era.
Inevitably, the two great powers were destined one day to clash, with the victor swallowing up the vanquished to become lord of the east.

It was in these circumstances that Cyrus took the bold step of striking out on his own, and as the Medes and Badylonians were preparing for war Cyrus seized the chance to further his own end and with the help of Babylon, overthrew the Medes and seized their throne. In those days the lands to the east and north – east of Iran were among the country’s main provinces and played a major role in politics, culture and civilization. Another branch of the Achaemenian family ruled over them under the overall sovereignty of Cyrus.
The great Achaemenian monarch pursued two  political objective in his life. One was to expand his empire westwards to the Mediterranean and Greece, and the other was to win victories in the east until his eastern frontiers reached the natural frontier of transoxiana. Cyrus succeeded in carrying out the major part of this master plan, which was continued by his successors. The persian Empire reached its peak when the plan was fully executed and its frontiers stretched from the Mediterranean, Egypt and Abyssinia, in the west, to the river Jaxartes ( Syr-Daryâ, seyhun) in the east.
Of Asia Minor, which took place in 546 B.C. formed part of his general strategy, and from then on Lvida was an integral part of his empire and had a persian governor. Once Lydia became part of the  Persian empire roads were opened to give access to the Greek settlements of Asia Minor, and finally lonia fell to the persian armies, thus opening a gateway to the Mediterranean. This was a vital step towards the ultimate objective of penetrating this important sea, whereby rich and prosperous Greece could be reached.In the years 546 to 530 B.C. Cyrus devoted his attention to the eastern front.
To the north-east of the central desert of the Iranian plateau lay fertile Hyrcania (modoerr Gorgân ) and the Caspian Gates, and further east  the mountainous highlands of parthia, both of which were ruled by Hystaspes (Vishtpâ, or Goshtâsb), son of Arsames (Arshâme), a member of the Achaemenian family, who was a vassal of Cyrus.

The winged man

East of parthia was Aria (modern Herât), and further south Drangiana ( Zaranga, or Sistân). In his campaigns to the north-east of Iran cyrus first conquered these territories, then proceeded to Soghdiana (Soghd), Iying brtween the rivers Jaxartes and Oxus (Amu-Daryâ, Jeyhun) with its capital at Maracanda ( modern Samarqand). Beyond these rivers were the nomadic Massagetae and the Chorasmians (Khwârazmis), whom Cyrus subdued. Then to secure the territories to the southe of these lands, particularly Transoxiana, from the danger of attacfpm these nomadic tribes he erected fortifications to the south of the Jaxartes and Oxus as well as at Maracanda, Thus etending the eastern limits of Iran to the town of  Bactria (Balkh). Finally he occupied Gandhara the key to the conquest of India.
After these brilliant successes, Cyrus turned his attention to Babylonia, which for some time had been in every way a suitable objective. Mesopotamia had a long history, but because of the decrepitude of its government, its overthrow had for some time been predicted. The jews, in exile, had prophesied the Iranian attack. In the words of the prophet jeremiah: ֞the Lord hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes: for his device is against Babylon, to destroy it; because it is the vengeance of  the Lord, the vengeance of his temple֞. (Jeremiah, 51:11).
In 538 B.C. Babylon fell without resistance, only the royal citadel holding out for a few days. Cyrus was hailed npt only as the conqueror of Babylon but also as its saviour, and the legal successor to the Babylonian crown, and with full Babylonian ceremonies he ascended the throne of the Mesopotamian empire. He embraced Marduk the chif Babylonian deity, bestowed on title ֞  King of Babylonia, king of countries," and made the following public proclamation:
I am Cyrus, King of the world, great king, mighty king, king of Babylon, king of the land of sumer and Akkad, king of the four quqrters, son of cambyses, great king, king of Anshân, grandson of Cyrus, great king, king of Anshân, descendant of Teispes, great king king of Anshân,progeny of an unending royal line, whose rule Bel and Nabu cherish, whose kingship they desire for thir heartsʹ pleasure. When I, well – disposed, entered Babylon, I set up the seat of domination in the royal palace amidst jubilation and rejoicing. Marduk the great god caused the big-hearted inhabitants of Babylon to… me. I sought daily to worship him. My numerous troops moved about undisturbed in the midst of Babylon. Idid not allow any to terrorise the land of / Sumer/ and Akkad. Ikept in view the needs of Babylon and all its sanctuaries to promote their well- being.the citizens of Babylon… Ilitted their unbecoming yoke. Their dilapidated dwellings Irestored. I put an end to their misfortunes. At my deeds Marduk, the great lord, rejoiced, and to me, Cyrus, the king who worshipped him, and to Cambyses, my son, the oftspring of (my) loins, and to all my troops he graciously gave his blessing, and in good spirits  before him we / gloritied/ exceedingly his high / divinity/. All the kings who sat in throne rooms, throughout the four quarters, from the Upper to the Lower Sea,

those who dwelt in …, all the kings of the west Country who dwelt in tents, brought me their heavy tribute and  kissed my feet in Babylon, From…to the cities Ashur and Susa, Agade,Eshnuna, the cities of Zamban, Meurnu, Der, as far as the region of the land of Gutium, the holy cities beyond the Tigris whose sanctuaries had been in ruins ove a long period, the gods whose abode is in the midst of them, I returned to their places and housed them in lasting abodes. I gathered together all their inhabitants and retorted (to them) their dwellings. The gods of Sumer and Akkad whom Nabonidus had, to the anger of the lord of the gods, brought into Babylon, I, at the bidding of Marduk, the great lord made to dwell in peace in their habitations, delightful abodes. May all the gods whom I have placed within their sanctuaries address a daily prayer in my favour befor Bel and Nabu. That my days may be long, and may they say to Marduk my lord, : " May Cyrus the king who reveres thee, and Cmbyses his son…."
Thus we see that Cyrus respected the religion, customs and practices of the Babylonians,adopted their social system, restored their ruins and returned their gods to their rightful places, thus winning the hearts of the conquered people. The conquest of Babylon conferred on Cyrus dominion over Babylonian conferred on Cyrus dominion over Babylonian possessions: Syria accepted his overlordship, the phoenician kings paid him homage and placed their fleets at his disposal, and the whole of Mesopotamia recognized Achaemenian sovereignty, thus realizing Cyrusʹ drem of reaching the Mediterranean.
It is natural to ask how Cyrus could have won such a great empire so easily. The answer is to found in his treatment of the peoples he conquered. Clearly it was no easy task to rule over so many states and kingdoms each with their own peoples, races, customs, religions and laws.Cyrus succeeded in solving this problem by following a very intelligent and proper course, which was to respect and sometimes even to adopt personally the customs and religions of his conquered people. He encouraged the peoples to think think that the old regime had merely been replaced by a new administration that worked for the worked for the welfare of all. This made Cyrus acceptable to the subjected nations As long as his successors followed this policy the Achaemenian empire was perfectly capable of continuing its task, and we may note that Alexander was to adopt the same policy in establishing his new world order.
In the very first tear of his reigh in Babylon, Cyrus proclaimed the freedom of the jews from captivity and permitted them to return to their own land and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem as it was before the temple in Jerusalem as it was before the destruction. In 537 B.C. more than 40,000 jews left Babylon for the Holy Land. Cyrus’ deliverance of the Jews had both humanitarian and political aspects. In humanitarian terms, he enabled a dispersed people, who had long lived in captivity far from their native land, to return there, giving them at the same time the means to repair their ruined temples. Politically and materially, Cyrus realized that lsrael was both the gateway to North Africa, especially Egypt and Lipya, the granary of Greece, and to the Mediterranean, giving access to Syria and Asia Minor, and therefore offered the Achaemanian government tremendous political and economic advantages.

By winning popularity among the Jewish pepole, cyrus in effect made them his protégés. He sent Iranian commissions to supervise the reconstruction of Palestine and saw that local Jews, who were affilited to the Iranian government, were appointed as governors. By so doing, he exercised control over palestinian affairs, and without  bloodshed or war in effect ran this important country, and through it help the key to North Africa. The Jewish leaders were convinced that "now because we have maintenance from the king’s palace, …
Further, on the subject of Cyrus’ divine mission, we find in the Old Testament: “ Thus saith the Lord to hisanoed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will lose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in asunder the bars of iron: And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of  secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by name, am the God of lsrael.”
The Middle East as far as the borders of Egypt was annexed to the persian empire, and way was prepared for the conquest of Egypt and other regions of North Africa. This enabled Cambyses, Cyrusʹ successor, to conquer Egypt without difficulty.
Finally, following the attacks which had been started by the nomadic central Asian tribes on Iran’s north-eastern frontiers, the great king set out to suppress them, and in 529 B.C. he was kil!ed fighting the Massagetae, a branch of the Scythians. As mentioned earlier, the exact circumstances of his death are  not known. His body was brought back to pasargadae, the centre of the persian family and nation, and interred in mausoleum built by Cyrus, which is still extant, and is known as “Mashhad –e Morghâ      b” Thus, our account of the life of a great personage, who was both a valiant warrior and an astute politician, comes to an end.
Ghirshman writes as follows of the conquests of this Achaemenian monarch and their results:
“.. Cyrus found himself at the head of an empire whose geographical situation and naturalwealth enabled him to play the part of intermediary between the civilization of the West and that of the Far East. Throughout millennia of her long history, Iran has not deviated from the historical mission thus bestowed upon her.”



History 2500 Years of Architecture

Written by Super User. Posted in History

2500 Years of Architecture

IRAN of the Master Builders

The purpose of this work is not to provide a history of Iranian architecture over the 2500 years since Cyrus the Great founded the Persian Empire. Its aim is simply to offer an interpretation of the more important works of each period, for, in Iran, more than anywhere else in the world, architecture has always been the essential means of expression.

Tomb of Cyrus the Great in Pasargadae

The feeling for space, geometry and mathematics, which is the outstanding characteristic of Persian art, can be most clearly appreciated in its constructions. In fact the Iranian master builders were the first to introduce a number of fundamental and revolutionary solutions which influenced the art of the near and Middle East and were later to be adopted by the architects of the Mediterranean lands and the Orient.
Our aim is to outline the new formulas and technological solutions which formed the basis of Persians achievements. In so doing I shall endeavour to follow the general thread of architectural evolution without going into any great detail, except as regards the major monuments grouped on the sites of the ancient capitals of the Empire.
The fact of concentrating on a limited number of buildings—particularly as regards the photographs that illustrate this study—has two advantages. Firstly, only the most accomplished, best preserved and most adequately restored monuments have been taken into consideration. Secondly, and more important, for each site or monument it is possible to supply a set of documents in sufficient detail to give a relatively complete image. As you turn the following pages, then, pictures of the edifices will unfold before your eyes, enabling you to view them from different angles and so appreciate their prodigious variety of forms, their technological inventiveness. Their sumptuous decoration, their complex spatial solutions and their magnificent colours.

Persepolis Palace

This survey, which touches only on the greatest achievements, starts out from the architecture of the Achaemenids, with the palaces and temples at Pasargad and Persepolis, and the necropolis of Naqsh-Rustam; then, leaving aside the Parthians-‘who are known only through few sparse remains, we come to the glorious Sasanian period, which elaborated a plastic language that spread beyond the frontiers of present-day Iran and reached its highest peak at Ctesiphon on the banks of the River Tigris.
The penetration of the Iranian uplands by Islam in about A.D. 650, was followed by two parallel architectural trends that continued for several centuries. One kept close to the original Arab tradition; the other constituted an Iranian resistance movement. The originality of this latter trend came to light during the Seljuk period. The architectural vocabulary elaborated after the year 1000 led to a splendid renaissance. At that time Isfahan was the capital both of Persia and of the immense empire of the Seljuks. In the early seventeenth century it became the capital once again under the Safavid dynasty, that made it one of the world's handsomest cities. Shah Abbas, cutting deep into the urban tissue of the ancient city, erected an incredible complex of monuments whose daring design was equalled only by the perfection of their execution.
Towards the end of the Safavid dynasty this grandiose trend developed into a sort of baroque. At the same time it made its influence felt in all the neighbouring countries and permeated the art of the Moguls in India where it became a determining factor in the development of Indo-Islamic art.

Shah Ismail I
Shah Ismail I

Even if the borders of Iran have changed over the centuries, the lasting influence of the imagination of her master builders can still be traced far beyond the present-day frontiers. It can be felt in towns such as Samarkand, Bukhara and Merv, in Ghazna, Jam, Nemroz, and Herat or even in Hatra, not to mention the distant echos from the Indian subcontinent dating from the Buddhist period of Asoka (273-232 B. C.) and the Islamic periods in Delhi, Lahore and Agra. All round Persia splendid buildings bear the mark of an authentic feeling for architecture that originated in the highlands of Iran and above all in Persepolis and Isfahan.
These, in the main, are the landmarks of this brief study devoted to the major contributions of the Iranian genius to the history of architecture through the 2500 years that have elapsed since the foundation of the Empire by Cyrus II, whom Herodotus dubbed "The Father of the People".
Incongruous elements, but an original synthesis that has resulted in an entirely new construction in which the distribution of forms produces a novel and harmonious effect. Achaemenid art, though founded on what already existed, created a new combination that was at the same time both daring and integral.

The Elamite Antecedents
In fact, the revolutionary aspects of Achaemenid art are more important than they appear to be at first sight. We must not forget that the first Iranian civilization did not begin at Pasargad. It was the Elamites who, between the fourteenth and the seventh centuries B.C., elaborated an architectural language of their own in the southern regions of the country. There is no denying that the Babylonians exerted a strong influence on them, but in the immense alluvial plain and the delta of the Ab-i-Diz (itself a tributary of the Shatt-el-Arab which originates from the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates,( the Elamites soon began giving a certain originality to their religious monuments. Like the great Mesopotamian ziggurats, that of Choga Zambil, near Susa, was built of brick. Founded in 1250 B.C,. it has five levels and rises like a stepped pyramid to what must have originally been a height of about 160 feet. The outermost of its three walls measures no less than two and a half miles in circumference. This huge structure, which encloses vaulted halls, was built on the inside of sun-dried bricks, with fired bricks for the facings.

Choga Zambil, near Susa

The tradition of brick architecture seems to have been preserved until the Neo-Elamite period in the seventh century B.C. The city of Ecbatana (the present-day Hamadan) which was the capital at that time, offers us much interesting information about the state of architecture on the eve of the Achaemenid period.

A Technological Revolution
The edifices of Pasargad and Persepolis owe their revolutionary aspect first and foremost to the fact that the Achaemenids abandoned brick in favour of freestone, at least for buildings of monumental importance. Influenced probably by the Phrygians and the Lycians of Anatolia conquered by Cyrus, his grandiose tomb was built in the shape of a stepped pyramid topped by a funerary chamber with a double pitched roof. This mausoleum, derived from the gabled tombs of the nations that had come from the north, is composed of huge blocks of stone arranged in six colossal stages and dry bonded with amazing precision. Though 36 feet in height, it does not seem monumental. Its proportions are so perfect that only comparison with a human being enables one to appreciate its size.
The tomb of Cyrus at Pasargad is one of the major landmarks in the history of Iranian architecture. There, for the first time, stone cut in colossal blocks was the sole building material. What is more, the Elamite vault was abandoned in favour of robust lintels that are combined with a windowless garret which fills the space directly under the double pitched roof.
This formula, however, did not last long. After the reign of Cambyses II, whose unfinished tomb would have had the same shape as his father's, it was superseded by the rock-cut tombs at Naqsh-i- Rustam and Persepolis. These reproduce the front of the royal palaces set in a curious cruciform design.

Pasargad and Its Palaces

 pasargadae private palace

When Cyrus set up his new capital at Pasargad, he started by erecting a sort of citadel on a small hill. Nothing at Persepolis can compare with the esplanade formed by retaining walls in great blocks of stone, some of them over 13 feet long, arranged in regular courses. Among the palaces and state buildings erected by Cyrus there are there huge structures each characterized by the presence of a hypostyle hall .in two of these buildings this audience hall is flanked by porticos with double colonnades. The most important edifice at Pasargadae has an Apadana with eight columns, two corner towers designed to reinforce the structure and grand porticos on its four sides. This layout anticipates that which subsequently prevailed both hall 7000 square feet in area with. Five rows of six columns each. It is flanked on two sides by porticos that are far longer than the hall itself. The portico on the south, which has two rows of twenty columns each, extends for about 260 feet in manner of a Greek stoa. Indeed, one may well say that this immense Achaemenid composition was the forerunner of the finest civic edifices that surrounded the Hellenistic agorae. On the opposite side of the building there is a portico, also with two rows of columns but slightly less long because there are only twelve pairs, which is terminated at either end by corner towers of the type so common in the ceremonial constructions of the Achaemenids.

Apadana Palace columns
Apadana Palace columns

Thus, from the very start, the architecture of Cyrus’ reign offers original solutions that reached their full development at Susa and above all in the Apadana of Xerxes at Persepolis. This architecture is based on a technique of stone supporting members with tall shafts, whose elegant proportions could only be achieved with the use of timber beams for the lintels that sustain the roof. But in a land where trees are rare this formula was an innovation of considerable importance. It was only possible because the empire included Phoenicia and the forests of cedars that grew in what is now Lebanon. Consequently, there was nothing in common between the buildings Erected by the Elamites, with their fired and unfired bricks, their vaults and their maze of chambers of modest proportions, and the clear-cut organization of vast stone edifices with timber roof trusses introduced by Cyrus at Pasargad. This far-reaching revolution was still more strongly asserted at Persepolis with a virtuosity and an organic articulation that are even more extraordinary.
Be that as it may, the hypostyle halls of the Achaemenids did not derive, contrary to common belief, so much from the sanctuaries of Pharaonic Egypt, as from the palaces of Anatolia, Armenia and Azerbaijan built by the Hittites of Boghazkeui in the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C., by the Manneans of Hasanlu in the eleventh, and by the Urartians of Altintepe in the eighth. They were a typical tradition of those well-wooded lands, and this tradition penetrated as far as the Iranian plateau as a result of Cyrus’ conquests. If any proof is needed, it is this. The oldest palace at Pasargad was erected before Cambyses conquered the valley of the Nile. Its ground plan, with eight columns arranged in two rows, is closer to the palaces at Hasanlu than to the temples at Karnak. Moreover the originality of the Achaemenid buildings lies precisely in the fact that they stressed the importance of civic architecture in the Middle East in contrast to the magnificent buildings of Thebes, which were predominantly religious. This brings them closer, culturally, to the achievements of the Anatolian and Phoenician master builders than to the theocentric monuments of Egypt.

Persepolis or Solemn Organization

What strikes one most on a first visit to Persepolis is the curious choice of the site for the royal palaces. Why did the Achaemenids build their sumptuous capital—they spent the winter at Susa and the hottest part of the summer at Ecbatana—in a valley of modest proportions compared, for instance, with that of Shiraz which was no great distance away? And why did they erect their palaces and audience halls backed by a rocky ridge that dominated the monuments, and which dwarfed them instead of setting them off?
At Pasargad the buildings are erected on the rises, however unimpressive these may seem. Were strategic considerations perhaps taken into account at Persepolis? This seems rather farfetched where the site itself is concerned, for the cliff that dominates the palace was by no means impregnable. On the other hand, the valley had passes that would have been easy to defend. it is, however, most unlikely that problems of this sort influenced a universal monarchy that felt safe from attack
Was it perhaps the aesthetic factor that made the planners choose to set the edifices on terraces that are like bastions jutting out into the plain? This is plausible if we look at the buildings from the side. But those who crossed the valley to enter the presence of the Great King saw them from the front, and from that viewpoint, however colossal their proportions, they must have been barely distinguishable from the rocky background.

Maybe it was the existence of a spring—now dried up except during the rainy season-and of a rich, though small, irrigated valley that favoured the site selected by Darius in 518 B.C. In fact, water must have played an important part in the layout of the palatial precinct. Not only for everyday use, but also because it permitted the creation of vast lawns and plantations, the existence of which is demonstrated by the pine trees shown on the bas-reliefs at Persepolis. Some of the terraces seem to have been irrigated, and channels cut in the solid rock break up the rigorous organization of the open spaces that separate the palaces.
The strict organization of the plan of the terraces at Persepolis—literally levelled out of the rock—with all the buildings set close together and facing in the same direction, is one of the most distinctive features of the ensemble. At Persepolis, the Achaemenids developed a genuine system of town planning. Nothing of the sort ever existed at Pasargad, where the palaces are scattered in apparent disorder and without any mutual organic link, even through they all face in the same direction.
At Persepolis, standing on the high walls of the crenelated bastions that dominate the plain, one is reminded of a military encampment. Actually, it seems that some parts of the ensemble, built of sun-dried brick, housed the royal guard. But most of the edifices erected by Darius and Xerxes were huge halls designed to exalt the majesty and emphasize the power of the Great King. They lie close together, arranged in a strictly orthogonal layout, on lofty terraces that stretch about 440 yards from north to south and 275 yards from east to west, covering an area of about 25 acres. Sites persepolis pics3.jpg

The Hypostyle Edifices
When one examines this plan one is surprised to find that virtually every hall and chamber—from the largest, which measures over 220x220 feet, to the smallest, which hardly attains 26x26 feet—is based on the formula of the hypostyle. Here the system elaborated at Pasargad is raised to the level of an absolute principle." The supporting members may number 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 16, 20, 25, 32, 36, or even 100 (in the Throne Room), but there is a clear preference for a square plan with 4,36 or 100 columns.
As we have already seen, the austerity of this extremely rigorous plan was probably tempered by zones of greenery and still more by winding roads and carefully devised differences of level, joined by gently sloping stairways that give almost the same impression as ramps. The combination of these monumental flights of stairs with the widely varying height of the halls must have done much to enliven a townscape of such vast proportions.
In addition to the state apartments, this magnificent ensemble comprised offices, storerooms, barracks, stables, armouries, a treasury, the living quarters of the palace staff and the private suites of the kings and queens. It is entered through impressive propylaea. Twin stairways diverge at the foot of the high walls that support the terraces and rise in long, gradual flights. Their parapets are broken by recessed crenels. Half-way up, each turns back upon itself before
resuming its majestic ascent. They meet at the level of the esplanade. On reaching this point one discovers the great Gate of All Nations or Gate of Xerxes, a square edifice with entrances on three sides. To the east and west, pairs of colossal mythical beasts stand before the gate, like the human-headed, winged bulls of the Assyrian palace of Khorsabad (eighth century B.C.) from which they derived their inspiration. These propylaea form a spacious square hall measuring 70 feet each way, whose roof rested on four stone columns. Sites persepolis pics.jpg

The vista from the gate is dominated by the vast hall of the Apadana, which is unquestionably the culminating point of Achaemenid architecture. Started by Darius the Great and finished by his son Xerxes, the construction of this hall brings together all the trends which characterize the Persian genius of that period, and which one can observe at Susa. On the north and east sides of the square terrace, pairs of stairways that face each other on different vertical planes lead to the remains of an audience hall that must have measured 250 feet square on the exterior. The enclosed space—not counting the porticos that flank it on three sides—is a square measuring close on 200 feet each way, sustained by six rows of six columns each. These 36 columns, 66 feet high including the bull protoma capitals, supported a cedarwood ceiling that covered an area of about 36,000 feet. Never before had a place come anywhere near attaining such vast proportions.
This hypostyle structure is preceded on three sides, as we have seen, by porticos with two rows of columns of the type already found at Pasargad. These porticos provide a subtle transition from the exterior of the building to the interior, by means of covered areas that are elegantly balance by the slender stone shafts of the twelve columns that supported the roof.
At each corner, the guardrooms form square towers that flank the relatively frail structure of the hypostyles. They serve to give solidity to the ensemble in the same way as we have seen at Pasargad and Susa.

Persian Art and Greek Art
The tall columns of the Apadana, unlike those of the Greek temples, did not support stone lintels, but cedarwood trusses. In this way it was possible to create a sensation of light and space at Persepolis. In fact, the intercolumniation attains over 25 feet, which would have been out of the question with stone architraves. Moreover, the columns themselves are extremely slim in proportion to their height. The ratio is 1:14 or 1:15. And even though we know that they were cut by Ionian and Sardian craftsmen—the Hellenic touch is clear to see in the fluting of the shaft and the torus of the base, which resemble those in lonic temples—the purpose they served was very different.
In Greek civilisation, architecture is first and foremost in the service of religion. The Hellenic temple comprises a peristyle surrounding a small cella designed only to house the statue of the god, though in proportion to the total volume of the building the interior space is virtually non-existant. In the halls of the Achaemenids, however, what really counted was precisely this interior space. They were designed as residences, for granting audiences and for holding assemblies. Consequently, the art of the Persian builders—unlike that of the Greeks, who created what might be termed a sort of sculpture in space—is architecture in the truest sense of the word.

The Function of Persepolis

  Persepolise Panoramic view of Persepolis.jpg

Persepolis was a city designed to assert the unity of the immense empire founded by the Achaemenids. There the Medes and Persians brought together the most diverse influences, received from their remote dominions. We must not forget that in the days of Darius. Iran was the heart of a "great universal empire of the Iron Age", and that the archers of the Great King "camped on the laxartes and the Indus, on the Nile and the Danube". The grand festivities of Naw Ruz were organized with a view to giving cohesion to the immense territories united under the "Pax Persica".
Thus Persepolis was a politico-religious foundation created for the purpose of exalting the power of the sovereign. Evidence of this is the solid gold stele that commemorated the inauguration of the palace temple. It bore this inscription dictated by the king: "I built this palace. The materials were brought from afar. The bricks were moulded and baked by the Babylonians. The cedarwood beams were brought from Phoenicia by the Assyrians. The stones for the columns came from Elam and were cut by the lonians and Sardians. The sculpture that adorns the walls was carved by the Medes and the Egyptians. The gold came from Bactria, the silver and the ebony from Ethiopia and Sind. The ivory was brought from the region of Arachosia."

Persepolise Royal Soldiers

These different origins of materials and techniques, of men and slaves, are proclaimed by the bas-reliefs. There we can see not only the Made and Persian warriors marching side by side in processions and military parades, but also the carriers of offerings who brought the tribute from the remote provinces to lay at the feet of the omnipotent Achaemenid. Susians, Babylonians, Lydians, Phrygians, Scythians, Sogdians, Gandahrians, Cappadocians and many other peoples travelled to Persepolis in order to present the products of their lands and crafts. Nothing could evoke the worldwide supremacy of the Persian Empire better than the procession of tributaries that unfolds around the base of the Apadana.
This superb cosmopolitan art was far more than the simple sum of formulas lumped together by more chance. It was the result of a masterly process of integration, an extraordinary creative synthesis that brought fifth-century architecture to one of its highest peaks of perfection.
However, this masterpiece disappeared in a single night in the year 330 B.C., swallowed up by the flames of an all-devouring fire started by some of Alexander the Great's drunken soldiery who were celebrating their victory over Darius III.
The destruction of Persepolis marked the end of a style of architecture. In fact, that art left no heirs. None of the features that constituted its originality survived, except perhaps as a distant echo in the great pillars of Asoka, topped by Persian capitals, at Sarnath, Mathura and Sanchi, where the last memory of the world-wide fame of Persepolis still lives on.

Chapter II
From the Parthian Renaissance to the Sasanian Culmination
The Achaemenids had achieved the synthesis of the knowledge of their age and raised architecture to a level it had never before attained. Now Iran, conquered and mutilated, withdrew within itself under the Seleucids after the death of Alexander, whose ephemeral empire soon fell apart. Pillage and famine scourged the remnants of a world in ruins. Where architecture was concerned. The Greek column failed to force itself on an impoverished Iran, where building activity was restricted to ordinary dwelling houses in mud or beaten earth.
From now on the nation turned back towards its natural sources, towards a popular art that had been all too absolutely rejected in the huge imperial projects of the Great Kings. lt rediscovered the virtues of brick, the vault and the dome. And it is these three elements that were destined, in the ultimate stages of their development, to produce the great masterpieces of Iranian architecture.

Seleucus I Nicator,

Seleucus I Nicator, the founder of

the Seleucid Empire.

The last relics of the presence of the Greeks and Macedonians can be seen in the palace of Hatra (near Ashur, on the Tigris), where the semicircular barrel vault is combined with the engaged column and the pilaster. This example of late. Corrupt Hellenistic architecture displays ardly a single Iranian trait. Buildings in the same provincial style can be found in all the countries of the Near East.
Hatra, a city founded by Vologaeses I (A.D. 51-78), seems to have been more interesting, to judge from its ground plan. It was circular, and surrounded by a well over three miles in circumference. This formula apparently derived from the military encampments of the Assyrians and was employed seven hundred years later by Al-Mansur when he founded Baghdad. It also occurs in other Parthian cities, for instance in Ctesiphon, which later became the capital of the Sasanians, in Takht-i-Suleiman and in Gur, later named Firuzabad, which was built by the founder of the Sasanian dynasty, Ardashir. Lastly, the same principle can be found in the first city of Isfahan which, if we are to believe lbn Rasta, measured about 2 miles in diameter.
When Trajan came to blows with the peoples of the east the fortifications of Hatra withstood his most vigorous attacks. The enmity between Iranians and Romans continued for centuries. It resulted in the defeat of the Emperor Valerian by the Sasanian sovereign Shapur l in A.D. 260 and still made itself felt in the wars between Byzantines and Muslims.
It was apparently during the Parthian era that vaulted ivans arranged around a court were employed for the first time. This formula first occurs in a palace at Ashur which dates from the first century A.D., having previously been a feature of popular dwellings. It was destined to have a great future not only under the Sasanians, but in the majority of the Islamic monuments in Iran. In addition to this, all the developments of systems of vaults and domes that were the
boast of Iranian architecture at a later date were anticipated in the fire temples of Mazdaism. The dome on squinches supported by four pillars joined by arches is the key to all subsequent research, the problem of contriving the transition from the square chamber to the circular roof 'loading to a great variety of vaulting systems.

A New Iranian Empire

 Coin of Ardashir I.
Coin of Ardashir I.

In A.D. 224, Ardashir, a member of the Sasanid dynasty, defeated Artabanus V, the last of the Arsacid kings, and conquered Ctesiphon. The result of this was the rise of a new Iranian Empire that soon spread over an immense territory which ranged from Tashkent to Antioch and from the River Indus to the Black See. It was in this vast country that the prophet Mani began to preach Manicheism in the year 242. The foundation of the new empire ushered in a period during which architecture advanced by leaps and bounds.
At Firuzabad, Ardashir I built a palace that measures 330 feet by 170 and comprises a huge vaulted ivan and three domed halls, behind which is a court with two axial ivans. The complex was ringed round by crenelated walls. This was probably the first realization on a monumental scale of a type of vault which had been employed by the peasants from time immemorial and is characterized by a slightly elliptical profile.
This formula was further developed in the palace built in the fifth century by Bahram Gur at Sarvistan, where the dome is lighter, and the elliptical shape, that later rendered possible the most amazing Sasanian achievements, is more in evidence. The great audience hall already attains a diameter of 45 feet and a height of 70. It is the centre of a palace that covers an area of 15,000 square feet, and containing a great many domed halls.

Sarvestan Palace
Sarvestan Palace

Certain techniques borrowed from the Romans—-such as the rubble filling that occurs in the palace at Bishapur in the province of Fars built by Shapur I—probably helped to provide the Sasanians with new building methods. We know, in fact, that when Valerian was defeated and captured at Edessa, his legions remained as prisoners of war in Iran. That workforce of seventy thousand men may well have been employed on civil engineering projects. In the third century the armies of the Roman emperors had an unequalled experience in the matter of building roads, bridges and dams. On the other hand, as regards architecture in the strict sense of the word, the Romans do not seem to have made any real impact on local forms. It is true that Rome was at the peak of her power at that time and virtually no roofing technique based on the round dome and the groined vault held any mystery for her. But those are not the formulas we find applied in Iran.
The most fantastic example of all Sasanian architecture is the great palace at Ctesiphon, which must be ascribed to the reign of Chosroes (Khusraw I) in the sixth century. The facade is almost 320 feet long and the elliptical vault of the immense ivan spans 90 feet, is about 135 feet deep and rises to a height of 115 feet above the which pavement. This huge hall is built of baked brick throughout. Its elliptical dome, besides giving it great elegance, permitted it to be buttressed relatively low, at the level of the extrados, by a series of perpendicular vaults this formula is a prodigious technical achievement outrivalling the solutions discovered by the Romans. It led by degrees to the pointed vault, which has the same static properties, and spread throughout the Arab world in the eighth and ninth centuries. It also formed the basis of the great art of the Cistercians and the achievements of the Seljuks at Rum in Anatolia.
Thus, beginning during the Parthian epoch, a renewal of native sources can be clearly seen. From then on, under the Sasanians, techniques characteristic of the Middle East based on original and daring formulas, spread throughout the ancient world. The vast motion of systole and diastole—the Achaemenids borrowed from their nieghbours to nurture their art, while the Sasanians disseminated their knowledge of the vault—could still be felt in the western world up to the Middle Ages.

Chapter III
From the Arab Invasion to the Seljuk and Timurid Periods

Winter sasanid palace-Iraq
Winter sasanid palace-Iraq

In 637 Arab horsemen burst upon the Sasanian empire and took the capital, Ctesiphon, less than twenty years later occupying all the Iranian plateau. The result of this was a collapse similar to that which the Achaemenid empire had suffered at the hands of the troops of Alexander the Great, though it took the invaders a very long time to reduce the military resistance in some northern districts and in the mountainous regions. Meanwhile a cultural resistance set in. Instead of adhering to the Sunnism of the Arab troops, the Iranians who were converted to Islam joined the Shi'ite sect, almost as if they were deliberately intent on distinguishing themselves from their invaders. What is more, refusing to adopt the Arabic of the Koran, they continued to speak Farsi or Persian. This antinomian nationalistic attitude was soon reflected in their religious architecture.
In the early days of the Islamic conquest the Arabs introduced a new type of building throughout the country. This was the mosque, which was the focal point of the religious activity of the Muslim community. There, five times a day, at the call of the Muezzin, the faithful assembled to pray together facing Mecca. The type of mosque introduced into Iran was characterized by the Omayyad plan, which consists of a vast court surrounded by porticos with a hypostyle hall for prayer. This plan is common to all the great mosques that were erected in the ninth century, during the Abbasid period, on the banks of the rivers of Mesopotamia, near Ctesiphon, at Samarra and at Abu Dulaf. Their vast enclosures and the brick vaults that cover the parallel naves of the hypostyle are identical to those we find at Qairwan and Cordova and in the Mosque of Amri at Cairo.

Nayin Jame mosque

At the outset the Iranians were unable to resist this trend, which was responsible for the mosques at Damghan (eighth century) and Nayin (tenth century). Soon, however, a movement of national revival began to make itself felt. This found expression in architectural forms derived from Iran's splendid past. The result was the creation of a new plan in which the kiosk, derived from the Mazdaist fire altar, and the ivan derived from the Sassanid audience hall were adapted to the architectural needs of Islam. The typically Iranian formula developed through the palace to the madrassa or Koranic school. At the start the Persian mosques had only a single ivan, which was already a typical Iranian feature. But the palaces. And later the madrasses, had a square centre court with an ivan on each of its four inner faces. This cruciform plan, to which the Muslim architecture of Iran owes its originality, first appeared in the eleventh century under Malik Shah, a member of the Seljuk dynasty. Thus, almost three centuries elapsed amid wars and migrations before Iran recovered its identity, its creative power and its own idiom in the domain of architecture.

The Search for New Solutions
We have seen the Iranians resumed their link with the past by borrowing the formula of the ivan from the Sasanian palaces. While at the same time maintaining some of the fundamental precepts of the mosque. Thus, the end of the prayer hall is closed by a wall perpendicular to the direction of Mecca termed the "qibla", in the centre of which the "mihrab"—a sort of niche—representes the holy of holies. This mihrab, framed by a curbed arch, may perhaps have symbolized the idea of prayer by analogy with the churches of primitive Coptic Christianity in which, even before the dawn of Islam, the vaulted apse crowned the pre-eminently consecrated spot—the altar.

Imam Mosque
Imam Mosque Ivan & Yard

In Iran the great vault known as the ivan was destined to reach an enormous architectural development and attain vast proportions. The four ivans of the mosque embrace a huge expanse of open sky and their covered area provides a link with the interior of the edifice. What is more, the ivan is surrounded by a vertical frame, like a triumphal arch, that offered an opportunity for ornamentation of even greater wealth and variety.
Iranian architects took advantage of the huge vaulted niches of the ivans, as well as the domes of the halls that precede the qibla and mihrab, to give their prodigious formal inventiveness a free reign. Those curved surfaces came to be the scene of a veritable orgy of forms that were as varied as they were ingenious, in which the most cunning solutions obtained by Middle Eastern architecture crystallized.
Architects found great stimulation in the rivalry between the purely Arab and the Iranizing trends. The latter claimed descent from native sources and aimed at expressing the permanence of the national character. The result was a display of originality that demonstrates an interest in research giving rise to constant renovation and improvement. The forms evolved very rapidly, though they never abandoned the basic precepts derived from ancestral traditions.

From the Square to the Circle

 Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
 Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque

It is perhaps in the architecture of Islamic Iran, rather than in any other of the past, that vaulted spaces such as domes, ivans, hypostyle halls and the like, were the object of the most refined, elaborate research. For the Iranians, the dome built of brick had always been the basic feature of the popular dwelling house. We have already seen that, starting with the Parthian and Sasanian periods, research, which aimed at extending the applications of those small "domestic "domes to the great palaces and the Mazdaian temples erected for the celebration of the fire cult, gave birth to forms of steadily increasing perfection. The Muslim architects of Iran, while keeping faith with the past, aimed at advancing still further in the technical accomplishment of their vaulting.
The focal point of their research and of the resulting formulas was the link between the hemispherical dome and the square base on which it rests. The transition from the square plan to the circular plan was first achieved empirically. The builders erected a conical squinch over each of the four corners of the edifice. Between these corner squinches, elements of masonry that grew more and more warped as they rose above the vertical walls provided the transition from the walls to the circular base of the dome. This resulted in imprecise forms that could not be reduced to a simple geometrical expression.
The Iranian architects concentrated their utmost attention and untiring efforts on improving this hybrid solution and on developing a set of purely geometrical elements in the transition zone between the square plan and the circular base of the dome. This concern with geometry is one of the typical features of the Persian spirit. And we shall see the master builders push it to a virtuosity which at times transforms an endless abundance of detail into an exercise of style. Indeed, their buildings seem to have been the pretext for engaging in a game that consisted of never employing exactly the same type of vaulting twice, simply to demonstrate the architect's consummate skill.
This justifies the use of the term research in connection with this phase of Iranian architecture, which never tired of seeking new solutions. But the frenzied concern for technique, the unbridled passion for ever greater complexity and refinement in vaults, domes, pendentives, networks, stalactites and honeycomb cells, was finally transmuted into a mannerism in which decoration was all important and the original functions based on structural requirements were entirely lost.
Elaboration led from the first tottering steps of empiricism, through rigorous structures achieved by clever combinations of ribs and Cells. To end up in a sort of "art for art's sake". Or, to put it differently, in a technicality so extreme that its functional purposes disappeared, giving place to a superficial ornamentation that had lost the support of any organic need.

Isfahan, a "Research Laboratory"

Isfahan A Historical Survey
Imam Mosque & Square

If we want to trace the evolution of architectural research in Persia, we must consider the great achievements of the city that was the focal point of Islamic Iran, namely Isfahan. There, in fact, we can trace the development of building techniques without a break from the eleventh century to the eighteenth. Isfahan was the capital of Iran under the Seljuks and again under the Safavids. For that reason the most perfect palaces and sactuaries in all Persian history are assembled on its exemplary site.
We shall, therefore, turn to Isfahan in order to study, first some achievements of the Seljuk period, and then those produced by the developments of the Sefavid epoch.
The oasis of Isfahan lies in the very heart of the Iranian desert, encircled and protected by a ring of mountains, and has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The existence of a river, the Zayinda Rud, though its flow is very capricious, has endowed the site with a wealth of greenery. For thousands of years lime trees, willows and poplars have attracted caravans towards this water point, at the same time a refuge and a haven of rest. Little wonder that its situation in the centre of the Iranian plateau at an altitude of close on 5000 feet and its agreeable climate, attracted the attention of the monarchs who chose it as their capital.
The city started to develop under Malik Shah in 1073. This expansion can be seen first and foremost in the Masjid-i-Jami, or Friday Mosque, erected by the Seljuks. During the reign of Malik Shah the Seljuk empire covered an area similar to that of the Achaemenid and Sasanian. In fact, it stretched from the borders of China to Syria and from Transoxania to Arabia. That was a golden age for all the arts, the great post Omar Kayyam being one of its leading lights.

The Masjid-i-Jami

The mosque is woven organically into the urban fabric
Jame mosque Ivan

The Friday Mosque at Isfahan is built to the traditional Iranian plan. The vast edifice comprises a four—ivan court and includes elements of many different periods, ranging from 1073 to about 1800. The earliest portions are two domed chambers situated on the north and south sides of the ensemble and dating from the Seljuk period. The first of these domes that precedes the mihrab was built by Malik Shah, who reigned from 1073 to 1092. It has a diameter of 45 feet and is supported on the south by the qibla wall and on each side by pairs of huge piers formed by four bundle columns between robust corner pillars. Like the north dome, which dates from 1088 but is only slightly more than 30 feet in diameter, it displays a brickwork technique that sets off the vaulting system to perfection.
The transition from the square to the circle is achieved in a similar way in both domes. The conception of the squinches that produce the octagonal structure is extremely complex. A small corner squinch is prolonged by a pointed barrel vault projecting on the 45-degree axis and corresponding to the diagonal of the square. This vault is flanked on either side by a shallow triangular panel resembling a half-squinch. These four elements, the squinch, the projecting vault and the two lateral triangles, are enclosed in a big pointed arch that marks one side of an octagon. On the next higher tier these big arches are topped by a series of small arches of exactly half their span that project very slightly and straddle the corners of the octagon. These small arches form a sixteen-sided polygon around the entire circumference of the dome. This polygon consists alternately of flat arches, namely arches that have no depth because they coincide with the sides of the octagon, and deeper arches that span the eight small squinches. The north and south hemispherical domes have decorative motifs that consist of bricks in large star designs.

Isfahan.Jame mosque Yard
Jame mosque Yard

It is clear that the Seljuk architects had developed an extremely elaborate technique as early as the eleventh century. The combination of forms that provides the transition from square to circle passing through an octagon and a sixteen-sided polygon is perfectly satisfactory both intellectually and structurally. The transition zone at the level of the drum may be reduced to elements, all of which are rigorously geometrical. The concave triangular panels that constitute the pointed-arch squinches were the decisive discovery of the Seljuk master builders.
This three-dimensional triangular link found innumerable applications. First, in a series of small domes in which the octagonal plan is subdivided into eight identical squinches whose bases are located in the centre of each side of the octagon and which develop in projection to form an eight-pointed star. Additional small squinches, shifted half a width relative to the lower tier, link the points of the star to the upper tier. Theoretically, this formula could permit as many superimposed tiers as the architect might wish, with squinches that diminish in size from one tier to the next. It offers a rational solution to the problem of progressively covering an area with a warped surface subdivided into triangular "facets". This is the origin of the famous stalactites that were used with such a remarkably decorative effect during the Safavid epoch. Each tier of squinch-like elements supports the next, which projects beyond it, and the whole forms a honeycomb of cells that give rise to a succession of thrusts which buttress each other and so cancel each other out.

The Honeycomb Ivans

The Jameh Mosque of Isfahan is a veritable museum of Islamic architecture and still a working mosque.

The remarkable potentialities that this formula involves is demonstrated by a clear example in the west ivan of the Friday Mosque at Isfahan. It is entirely covered with cells of this type, combined with shallow triangular panels and inverted pendentives. The structural part of this extraordinary achievement dates from the end of the Seljuk period in the mid-twelfth century, but the enamelled decoration that surrounds the ivan was probably applied not earlier than the fifteenth. It is also worth noting that the rear of the ivan displays a structure in which the lines of force of the thrusts are clearly visible in the great flying buttresses embedded in the mass of masonry. The salient ribs express most clearly the functional aspects of a technologically perfect architecture that anticipated the structuralism of a Nervi as well as the most advanced research on prestressed structures. It was not till far later that western architects experimented so boldly in that direction: namely, in the heyday of the High Gothic, from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, and during the Baroque period.
The south ivan, which precedes Malik Shah's domed chamber, dates from the same time as the west ivan and its structure is based on the same principle. But here the problem is still more complex, even if the solution is plastically less satisfactory. In fact, the ivan is articulated in two phases: it opens on the court through a sort of shallow niche covered with large cells, but is followed immediately, without a break, by an octagonal dome which is supported by a series of squinches and triangular panels. The connection is achieved imperceptibly through a sort of wide-open cusped arch with broad vaults that rise in tiers. The bearing structure dates from the twelfth century, like that of the west ivan, but the base and the entire triumphal arch, which is flanked by two minarets, were added in 1475. These latter parts are completely covered with faience mosaics that are easily distinguished from the Seljuk decoration because in the letter the pale buff of the natural brick is contrasted by only a few coloured highlights.

The Halls

The Jameh Mosque of Isfahan is a veritable museum of Islamic architecture and still a working mosque.

The two hypostyle hells, celled quincunxes, that open on either side of the ivan and of the south dome, also date from the twelfth century. These halls mark the adoption by Iran of part of the layout of the Arab mosques of the primitive Omayyad type. Two similar hypostyle halls flank the north dome but are more recent. They date apparently from the fourteenth century. This system of areas covered with little brick domes offered the master builders an opportunity to display their prodigious virtuosity and inexhaustible imagination. There are about a hundred different types of vaulting. Every possible formula is tried o out-hemispherical, ribbed, pendentive, honeycomb, radiating. Stellar, conical-shelled, and so forth. The small size of these domes permitted every licence, and their decoration consists of the varied arrangement of the bricks in accordance with a tradition that dates back to the tenth century and reached its peak at Damghan, Kharagan, Jam and Ghazna.

Isfahan.Jame Mosque Oljaito Mihrab.
Jame Mosque Oljaito Mihrab.

The Friday Mosque, however, also offers other highly original solutions. For instance, during the Mongol epoch, Sultan Uljaitu (1304-1316) built a hall whose vaulted roof resumes a number of Seljuk techniques, while adding a quantity of innovations in a formula that involves five extremely taut transverse spans which cover an area about 65 feet long and 25 feet wide. This hall is adorned with a very finely sculptured stucco mihrab, in which decorative tracery is combined with stylized Arabic characters treated as elegant ornamental motifs.
This hall is followed by the Winter Hall, which was erected in 1447 and belongs to the Timurid epoch. It measures 160 x 90 feet and is covered by a series of groined vaults that intersect diagonally and extend down to the floor in ten stout piers. The low, squat, unadorned, dimly lighted structure gives an extremely modern impression. In its strict lines and the interplay of clear, sharp forms illuminated by minute vents closed by alabaster panels that diffuse a yellow light, this Winter Hall, with its three naves and 18 groined vaults, testifies to an amazing knowledge of internal spaces. It may perhaps have derived from the shape of the nomads’ tents, with which the Mongols were familiar.

Faience Decoration
The arcades of the portico that surround the court also date from the Timurid period. There, in all its splendour, we find the faience mosaic decorated with brightly coloured arabesques, that from now on becomes a characteristic feature of Iranian architecture. This glaze protects the brick and gives an extraordinarily intense colour and plasticity.
This polychrome skin spreads over entire edifices, being no longer limited to the discrete touches that characterized the architecture during the Seljuk epoch. This evolution continues with increasing momentum until the end of the Safavid period.

The Third and Fourth Ivans

The Jāmeh Mosque of Isfahān

So far we have discussed only two of the four ivans that surround the court. We must new deal with those on the north and east sides. The first consists of a simple pointed barrel vault and dates from the Seljuk period after 1121. The decoration, however, does not seem to be earlier than the reign of Shah Suleiman (1667-1694), and might even have been applied during the Qajar dynasty of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The east ivan, on the other hand, seems to have been erected far later. Its facets or cells are much smaller than those of the Seljuk period and reveal a totally different style. The structural and functional elements are completely hidden under the ornamentation, based on the same combination of triangles and squinches. This makes it seem to derive from the ornamental system of the Safavid period, being probably the result of a restoration that aimed at imitating the Seljuk style but which had forgotten the lesson of grandiose simplicity and austerity received from the twelfth century.

Chapter IV
The Period of Shah Abbas
Shah Ismail, founder of the Safavid dynasty, was crowned at Tabriz in 1502 and reigned until 1524. Before ascending the throne he had already conquered the whole of Azerbaijan, including Baku. After his accession he continued his triumphal progress, occupying Baghdad in 1508, and later Khurasan. Ismail was decisively defeated by the Ottoman Turks at Chaldran in 1514, but Persian expansion was resumed under Shah Abbas (1587-1628), who once again made Iran into a great empire by conquering Balkh, Laristan and the islands of the Persian Gulf and recapturing Tabriz and Baghdad from the Turks. Even more than being a great soldier, Shah Abbas was a great builder. "He considered the prosperity of his vast States as the noblest objective of his new conquests. There is no counting the bridges, caravanserais and other buildings of public utility that he erected ". His reign ushered in a period of great glory for Iran.

The Maydan-i-Shah

Naghsh-e Jahan Square

It was Shah Abbas who transferred the capital of Persia from Qasvin to Isfahan in 1598. There, he undertook colossal urbanistic and architectural projects, beginning with the Maydan-i-Shah or Royal Square, which was to become the new centre of the city. During the forty years of his reign, the enlightened monarch never ceased to improve and embellish his capital, which he wanted to endow with all the splendours of an architecture worthy of his power.
He cut through the narrow alleys, demolished the jumble of dusty hovels that encumbered the centre of the city, and created the immense open space known as the Royal Square. The new heart he grafted onto the ancient town of Isfahan measures about 550 yards by 165. It is ringed round by arcades that house shops, and its perimeter is dotted with the most splendid monuments erected by the Safavids. On the south stands the Masjid-i-Shah, the Great Mosque of the Shah, the culminating point, both for its size and for the perfection of its execution. On the west, over the gateway to the palace quarters, the Palace of Ali Qapu contains state apartments, assembly halls and the terrace from which the emperor used to watch the polo games that were played on the Maydan. On the north lies the great bazaar, with its shady courts and its maze of vaulted alleyways. On the east, finally, is the Shaykh Lutf Allah Mosque, the first sanctuary erected by Abbas, its name commemorating one of the most famous doctors of Islam.

The Shaykh Lutf Allah Mosque

This Mosque, of relatively modest proportions, has a very non-Iranian character. It has neither a four-ivan court nor a minaret, but merely a prayer hall with a single dome supported by a drum with sixteen windows. This hall is built to a square plan and the transition to the circular base of the dome is achieved by means of a formula as simple as its lines are pure. The four great unadorned squinches that extend down to floor level are matched on the four sides of the square by four large arches of the same dimensions as those that frame the squinches. These eight arches provide the regular arcading of the octagon. The transition from this octagon to a sixteen-sided polygon is achieved with the help of small triangular facets which divide the pendentives. Each of these small facets coincides with a window. Thus the edifice displays a perfect geometrical regularity in which all the elements are arranged with absolute plastic harmony. The profiles of the dome, of the ribs that divide the squinches, and of the arcading of the octagon derive from the four-centred arch already found in the tenth century mosque at Nayin. The shoulders of the arch are curves of very short radius, whereas its tense sloping sides have a very long radius. In addition. The arch is completely inscribed in a semicircle and the ratio of its height to its span is the same as in a round arch.
The Shaykh Lutf Allah Mosque is a closed space whose height is equal to the diagonal of its square ground plan. In some respects it recalls the research undertaken by Sinan, the great architect of Ottoman Turkey, whose major works were erected between 1550 and 1575. The mosque built by Shah Abbas dates from 1603, so it is quite possible that it reflects the trend towards regular spaces and pure forms we find at lstambul. However, Turkey can boast no example of such simple plastic evidence as the Shaykh Lutf Allah Mosque. The Turks have always preferred great corner pendentives to squinches, following the example of Saint Sophia built a thousand years earlier.

Although this sobriety results in a rigorously plain, almost compact space, it does not exclude a subtle refinement of detail. This is perceptible in the corridor that starts behind the handsome, stalactiteadorned portal of the entrance ivan situated on the Mayan. This corridor, a sort of narrow passageway with three bands, helps to give an impression of mystery, which is enhanced by its darkness. The tortuous course of this approach is certainly not due merely to the necessity of orienting the building towards Mecca. Its aim is first and foremost to give the visitor a physical shock at the sudden realization of the spaciousness of the prayer hall, when at last he reaches it, by contrast with the oppressive, gloomy narrowness of the approach. Nor is it by mere chance or for any technical reason that the great portal is entirely out of line with the dome. The asymmetry of the facade of the edifice, viewed from the Royal Square, can only be explained by the urge to enliven masses and volumes in order to make up for the relatively modest proportions of the mosque, whose chamber measures less than 50 feet across.
The vaulted portal of the ivan is entirely covered with little cells or stalactites and offers a perfect example of the technique that was the glory of the Safavid epoch. From now on, the stalactites, which derive from the more ample formula of the Seljuks, are completely encrusted with a decoration of faience mosaic that clothes the buildings in splendid colours. The structures are complicated to a certain mannerism by a cascade of arches projecting into the void, and networks of cells that have lost all structural function.
For Safavid art there now begins a period of virtuosity, which, though sometimes unjustified, takes the place of structural requirements. The effect produced by decorative refinements, that are often carried to an extreme, overrides technological considerations. The most complex problems are tackled with such ease and assurance that the plethora of triangular squinches, after the manner of the great ivans of the Friday Mosque, ends up by dissolving in a mass of facets in which the original elements, though certainly still present, are reduced to the rank of mere ornaments.
This decorativeness does not lack a certain grandeur and monumentality, for the network is so tenuous, the motifs of the mosaics are so fine and delicate, that the eye rediscovers unity through a sort of "Pointillism" in which lines, volumes and masses lose none of their simplicity. In this way plastic unity is preserved irrespective of the means the architect adopted. The minutest detail is perfectly integrated with the purity of the general lines. On these grounds the portal is far from being inconsistent with the crystalline simplicity of the interior space, despite all its richness. The admirable way the two modes of expression balance each other can be seen on a far grander scale in the Great Mosque of the Shah which closes the Maydan on the south side.

The Masterpiece: The Great Mosque of the Shah

In the Masjid-i-Shah, which was begun in 1613, the monarch reverted to the traditional Iranian layout: a court surrounded by porticos that are balanced by four axial ivans. Thus the edifice is in keeping with the greatest examples of Persian architecture. But if innovations are in abeyance in the general layout, they abound in the details. The monument produces a prodigious effect. One is fascinated by its harmony, particularly if one analyses the means employed to attain it.
In this mosque, Safavid art showed what it was capable of doing, displaying a technical mastery and an amazing freedom in the solutions adopted. The entire construction, including the centre court, is absolutely symmetrical. The two ivans on the east and west are identical and each gives access to a domed chamber. The south ivan, which is bigger than the two others, leads to the sanctuary that contains the mihrab and is topped by the huge green faience bulb of the horseshoe dome. The great chamber itself is flanked by two hypostyle halls. Thus the layout is rigorously symmetrical with respect to the axis that points towards Mecca. The two minarets that rise one on each side of the main ivan and provide a visual frame for the dome, stress the perfection of this distribution.
And yet in this concert of symmetry there is a note that adds a daring accent and disturbs the mathematical precision of the whole. The break in the symmetry occurs at the point where the north ivan joins the Maydan. The entrance from the Royal Square consists of an immense portal with an ivan-like niche which, as in the Lutf Allah Mosque, is completely covered with magnificent stalactites. It is framed by two minarets, one on either side. So there is nothing asymmetrical in the facade that fronts the Maydan nor in the north ivan, which opens onto the central court. It is between these two features that the ingenious formula occurs. The axes of the square and of the mosque form an angle of 45 degrees. This angle had to be compensated and it was essential that the solution of the problem should not emphasize the displacement of the axis of the passageway but rather should conceal it. In fact the visitor who enters the Masjid-i-Shah hardly notices the change in direction; he instinctively knows that something is happening but does not understand what that something is. Let us see how the architect managed to contrive this effect.

Between the entrance portal and the north ivan there is a vestibule roofed over by a small dome. The ivan itself faces the court and. instead of having a rectangular groundplan like the other three, it ends in a triangle. The vestibule is connected to one side of this triangle through a big open arch that is balanced on the other side of the triangle by a second arch, identical in shape and size but blind. To prevent the bend in the passageway from being immediately apparent, the ivan is not entered along the bent axis. The passage under the open arch is blocked by a stone bench that obliges the visitor to make a detour around the north ivan through two vaulted corridors, one on each side, that lead to the court. Through the corridor on the right the court is reached after a short distance; through the other the distance covered is greater owing to the change in direction.

Structures and Vaultings

The vaulting of the triangle that closes the north ivan presents an extremely interesting interplay of ribs, pendentives and facets that develops on an eight-point star design. This design is derived from the octagon, and is based on two interwoven squares one of which has been rotated through an angle of 45 degrees with respect to the other. Half of this octagonal motif is utilized here for the half-dome that covers the triangular end of the ivan, the rectangular portion of which has a keel-shaped vault.
It is precisely in the vaulting of the half-domes which surmount the ends of the ivans, that the Persian architects have displayed all their skill. The infinity of different solutions they proposed, demonstrates their virtuosity. Thus, though the west ivan has the same eight-point star design derived from the octagon and based on two interwoven squares, the formula is treated in a totally different manner. In fact, whereas in the north ivan the vault covers a triangle, in the west ivan it is built over a rectangle. Both, however, are based on a semi-octogonal plan. The two formulas differ considerably where their details are concerned. In one case the four pendentives between the arches are simply divided into two triangular panels forming a concave surface. In the other, the areas between the arches are filled with four pendentives and eight small lozenges that constitute a network of ribs.
In the east ivan, however, the octagonal scheme is abandoned in favour of a new design that involves an asymmetry in the two big squinches. The subdivision of the dome is based on an angle of 36 degrees instead of 45. This means that the fundamental figure is a decagon and the half-dome is articulated on half a ten-point star. The formula adopted for the great central ivan that gives access to the sanctuary is still more complicated. The two corners at the end of the rectangle, to the right and left, are treated like a complex squinch and are enclosed in a design which appears to be square when viewed from above, but viewed in elevation along its axis displays an elegantly pointed arch. The summit of the vault of this ivan is subdivided into a network of ten lozenge-shaped facets. This corresponds to the division of a full circle—here only half is employed—into a twenty-point star achieved with the help of angles of 18 degrees.
It is no exaggeration to say that the master builders employed by Shah Abbas were not afraid of trying out solutions of exceptional complexity. If I have analysed these few examples of the roofing of the ivans, it is solely to demonstrate the abundant resources and the virtuosity of their art. It must be noted, however, that this interplay of ribs and facets is based on a simple geometrical design in which lines that are curves in three-dimensional space appear straight on the architectural plans. Hence, despite the apparent complexity of the networks of intersecting lines, the curve of each concerns only a single plane in space. The arches and ribs can always be reduced to a relatively simple stereometric design. Each of these curves may be represented graphically as a straight line, both in plan and in an elevation, which. Viewed from a certain angle, coincides with the radius of the curve.
The Double-Shell Dome

Imam mosque dome

For the great dome that covers the main sanctuary hall and measures no less than 70 feet in diameter, the architects had recourse once again, purely and simply, to the four-squinch formula that had given such good results in the Shaykh Lutf Allah Mosque. But they combined the four squinches forming the octagon with four arches located on the axes of the hall. In this case they did not, as in the Shaykh Lutf Allah Mosque make use of three blind arches and only a single open one with a bay to light the upper level. Instead, they reversed the order. Three arches open on the exterior through buys. Those on either side are wide open, while the one in front has a smaller window with a ceramic grille. Only the fourth, which frames the mihrab, is blind. On the other hand, there are eight windows on seem to open in the curve of the dome; viewed from the outside, they seem to be cut in the drum. This difference is explained by a constructional method based on two superposed domes.
In fact, the Great Mosque of the Shah is an example of a vaulting technique which involves a double-shell dome. This technique was inherited from Timurid architecture, and especially from the mosque of Gur—i-Mir at Samarkand (1434). The same formula had already been employed, though more diffidently, in the Lutf Allah Mosque, where the two shells are located at the same level and develop in parallel. It was also the method employed in the fourteenth century in the huge dome of the mausoleum of Uljaitu at Sultaniya. In these two cases, however, the double-shell solution derives from technological considerations: it aims at lightening the structure while increasing its rigidity. At Gur-i-Mir, though, as in the Mosque of the Shah at Isfahan, the formula was adopted for aesthetic and symbolic reasons. The principle of the double-shell dome consists of superposing two shells separated by a large empty space. The bases of the two shells are not at the same level, and the external and internal aspects of the dome are totally different. The former is more slender, often stilted and bulbous, whereas the latter is squatter, sometimes even surbased and can become almost flat, as is the case among the Moguls of India, who inherited it from Iran.
The origin of this double vaulting system is still an unsolved question. It first occurs, in the shape of a real dome. In the wooden Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem, also known as the Dome of the Flock, which was built in 691. It seems to have derived from certain ancient funerary constructions in which an upper chamber contained the sarcophagus. Examples are provided by Palmira, the tomb of Theodoric at Ravenna, and the Seljuk Turks with their turbe or gunbad. But the formula reached such an extreme—in the Taj Mahal, for instance—that it led to the creation of an inaccessible blind space at roof level that was larger than any of the accessible spaces of the monument.
Whatever its origin, this solution was almost certainly adopted in the Mosque of the Shah at Isfahan for aesthetic reasons alone. Viewed from the exterior, the magnificent onion dome rises like an emerald green banner above the body of the edifice. If the interior of the sanctuary had extended to the level of the upper dome, it would have been totally out of proportion. That is why the lower shell was indispensable. On the other hand, were this latter not crowned by the upper shell, the mosque would lack the splendid elevation to which it owes its monumental perfection.
It should be pointed out, finally, that between the two shells a rigid system of stanchions helps to support the stilted dome, whose construction is a challenge to the laws of statics.

Volumetry and Elevation

The Mosque of the Shah incorporates many other exciting formulas. Its dimensions make it truly colossal but there is not a trace of clumsiness. The entire ground plan measures no less than 480 feet by 430 but the court (215x170 feet) gives sufficient distance for the visitor to appreciate the lofty ivans in all their grandeur. The pool for ritual ablutions mirrors the brilliant colours of the faience facing.
Yet this ceremonial architecture reveals a flaw. The Seljuk, Timurid and Safavid master builders never succeeded in finding a satisfactory solution to the problem of linking the facade of the ivan—that huge, shallow triumphal arch—to the dome it precedes. Actually the triumphal arch is simply a two-dimensional decorative feature, a screen erected for the purpose of masking the joint between the rear of the ivan and the main edifice. It is a bodiless structure that gives the impression of having been conceived on the drawing board. Handsome when approached from the front, it becomes insignificant when viewed from three-quarters.
None the less, this art is not based on superficial effects. The best proof of this is that the facades shun all facile monumentality. They tend towards an assymetry that enlivens the forms, and whose subtlety we have already observed in the Shaykh Lutf Allah Mosque. The Mosque of the Shah presents the same rejection of four-square simplicity in the change of axis between the portal and the main building. As a result the two minarets of the portal are not aligned with those that flank the principal dome. Since their base lines form an angle of 45 degrees, the two pairs stand neither one behind the other, nor in the same vertical plane. Hence the entire edifice is shifted towards the right. From the Royal Square, the portal is viewed from the front, the rest of the building from three-quarters. Another fundamental principle of this architecture is the notion that it must be viewed along a given route. Being a place of mystery, the prayer hall must not be visible directly from the exterior. This explains the tortuous access and the impossibility of seeing the mihrab from the main entrance. Thus the introduction of zig-zag approaches, screened entrances, passages that shrink to narrow defiles and prepare for the sudden explosion of space and balanced surprises that have been so subtly chosen.


The art of Shah Abbas marks a new approach in that, from then on, the entire surface of the most important monuments is covered in faience. This dazzlingly bright, clean glaze stresses forms, strengthens lines and defines planes with tremendous force. During the Seljuk period, only a few coloured accents heightened the buff tones of the backed brick. Under the Timurids, as we have seen, the triumphal arches of the ivans and the domes were adorned with a rich mosaic in deep blue, ocre and yellow and covered with erabesques of script in black and white. As far as refinement of execution and intensity of colours are concerned, polychromy attained its peak in the fifteenth century. The Safavids, however, went one step further when they extended the coloured areas to the curved surfaces of the most complicated stalactites. Moreover the domes, which the Timurids as a rule embellished with simple geometrical motifs, limiting the meandering script to the plain surfaces of the drums, were now covered with immense arabesques, giving them a rhythm of incredible complexity and refinement.
The art of architectural polychromy in Iran was a distant derivation from the mosaics of Rome and Byzantium, though those were limited to the pavement and the interior surfaces of the buildings. Under the Safavids it flourished as never before. The Mosque of the Shah, and the Shaykh Lutf Allah Mosque before it. Show hardly a square foot of visible surface that is not covered with a brightly coloured glaze. But Shah Abbas was in so great a hurry to terminate his colossal monument that he did not employ for its facing the mosaic technique which he had used with splendid results in the smaller edifice and the porch of the larger one. instead of minute pieces of coloured material cut out by hand in shapes that were often extremely complicated he had square faience tiles made, on which the motifs were painted. This solution had been discovered by the Ottoman Turks, though they used tiles exclusively to decorate the interior of their mosques. The method had the advantage of speeding up the job enormously.
From now on, colour covers all the surface, both inside and out, of the brick buildings erected by the Safavids at Isfahan. Only the areas not intended to be seen were left unglazed. No architectural style in the whole history of art can rival with the Persian where polychromy is concerned. In this respect, as in many others, the city of Isfahan displays the final result of fruitful, innovative research.

Chapter V
From the Secular Monument to the Baroquization of Safavid Art

Chehel Sotoon Palace
Chehel Sotoon Palace

Arthur de Gobineau, who visited the capital of the Safavids in 1855, wrote: "Isfahan might have been conceived and realized by kings and architects who spent their days and nights listening to wonderful fairy tales. "The fact is that the monarchs of that dynasty lived in a voluptuous setting that reminds one of the thousand and One Nights. In their palaces they developed an extremely refined way of life which inspired a style of architecture totally different from that of the sanctuaries. Their frail wooden pavilions are reflected in pools of placid water in whose centre fountains play. The inner walls are embellished with decorations in painted stucco, and the verandahs are supported on tall timber pillars whose slender elegance seems to be a reminiscence of the Achaemenid era. But the building is merely the heart of a complex scheme in which gardens and landscape are closely integrated. Indeed these palaces are so closely linked with their environment that it would be impossible to study the first without considering the second. The Persian master builders were unrivalled in contriving ingenious transitions between exterior and interior spaces.
The palace of Hasht Bihisht, for instance—its name means "Eight Paradises '—is a two-storey rectangular building. On its four sides, pillared verandahs subdivide the apartments into four groups around a vast central hall, whose dome in painted wood is topped by a lantern. This reception room is entered from the exterior through great arches that open onto the garden; in its centre an octagonal pool fed by a fountain reflects the painted dome. There is another fountain in the middle of the largest of the four verandahs. The entire palace is ringed around by a canal broken here and there by still pools and murmuring fountains. All this is linked up with the water system of the city. This type of garden divided into four parts by pools and canals is called a Chahar Bagh. The ingenious arrangement is a feature of the Persian pleasure grounds in which the Grand Moguls of India found their inspiration.

Chahar Bagh Boulevard
Chahar Bagh St

it must be remembered, in this context, that in the days of Shah Abbas, Isfahan was a city where every little street and alleyway had a canal overshadowed by tall and leafy trees, and the high walls that separated the family homes hid from view not only dwelling houses but also formal gardens whose splashing fountains cooled the air. Another palace, the Chehel Sutun or "Pavilion of the Forty Columns" --actually there are only twenty, but they are mirrored in a vast pool—is particularly interesting from the architectural point of view. The tall, slender columns support the roof of the verandah, in the centre of which is a jasper pool fed by a fountain. Behind the verandah rises an ivan built of wood, whose stalactites are entirely covered with fragments of glittering silvered glass that reflect the light in all directions, and create a mysterious atmosphere.
This art of charm and joy may seem light-hearted and unconcerned, but it is founded on carefully thought-out techniques. On all sides the light is reflected by pools and mirrors, and fountains play even on the highest terrace of the All Qapu. But to raise the water under pressure to the upper storeys of the palaces required hydraulic machines powered by oxen.

Arches under the Khaju Bridge
Kadju Bridge

In the field of hydraulic engineering the Safavid epoch has left some interesting achievements. One is the Kadju Bridge on the Zayinda Rud, which also serves as a darn. it was built by Shah Abbas II (1641-1666) This bridge stands on the outskirts of Isfahan on the old road to Shiraz. To prevent their being undermined by water, its 24 arches rest on a thick slab of masonry. They are arranged in two tiers. The lower ones have sluice-gates that make it possible to accumulate a reserve of water for supplying the city, besides regulating the flow of the river. The upper part of the bridge forms a high parapet on each side, whose weight serves to give the piers greater stability. The entire structure is traversed lengthways by a series of arches that support the road. This complicated design results in a vaulting of great complexity and elegance still further enhanced by three pleasure pavilions, one in the middle and one at either end.
Another important bridge, that of Allahvardi Khan, has 33 arches and is over 300 yards long. This makes it bigger than the Khadju, but the latter is more complex because of the sluice-gates. However, it is based on the same principle and the high vaulted parapets of the second stage help to consolidate the piers.

Allahvardi Khan, has 33 arches

The long list of public works for which Shah Abbas was responsible would not be complete without mention of the vast highway system that criss-crossed his immense empire. What is more, the monarch took the trouble to build a chain of caravanserais 20 to 25 miles apart along all the major roads. Many caravanserais of this famous network were simple brick forts built to a square plan with four corner towers and a centre court surrounded by stables and common rooms. But on occasion the layout was far more complicated, and some of the Safavid inns displayed considerable refinement.

The Complex Built by Shah Sultan Husayn
An example of this is the great royal caravanserai at Isfahan, part of which has been transformed into an ultra-modern hotel. The complex occupies a vast quadrilateral which also comprises a madrassa and a bazaar and was the work of Shah Sultan Husayn, the last monarch of the Safavid dynasty, who reigned from 1694 to 1722. His architects succeeded in

Chaharbagh mosque
Chaharbagh mosque

reproducing a truly organic ensemble that offered travellers a wide range of amenities. In addition to the sumptuous common rooms and the private apartments of the caravanserai, there were shady gardens, gay with fountains and ivans, where travellers could talk far into the night, or listen to storytellers or soft music in the dim light of oil lamps. There was also an immense vaulted bazaar with forty booths on either side of the central axis, over 230 yards long. Where supplies for the journey could be purchased. Last but not least, the mosque of the madrassa served pilgrims as a restful place of meditation and prayer this last grandiose achievement, which covers an area of over 200,000 square feet. Displays considerable differences of style as compared to the classical edifices of Shah Abbas. The madrassa in particular, named Madrassa Madir-i-Shah (Madrassa of the Shah's Mother), built between 1706 and 1714, is a very handsome edifice characterized by a number of important innovations. These may escape notice when one first enters the building but are obvious when one studies the plans in detail and devotes some care to an analysis of the vaulting techniques. For instance, the ivans are far more complex than those of the Mosque of the Shah. These latter, in the sober simplicity of their forms, involve on lyrectangular, or very occasionally, triangular bases, and result in pure, well-balanced elevations with broad expanses of well. Decorated only by panels of enamelled ceramic tiles. While the Mosque of the Shah displays smooth, restful rectangular planes, the Madrassa Madir-i-Shah has canted angles and recesses that form small ivans inside the big ones. Every space is subdivided into an infinity of little panels. The niches comprise what might be termed transepts, in the corners of which are smaller niches surmounted by separate vaults that are divided into stalactites, networks, pendentives and facets.
This abundance of detail is always controlled by rigorous logic. There is nothing arbitrary in the multiple articulations of these spaces unless. perhaps, it is a tendency to carry to an extreme the principles formulated during the classical Safavid period.
The ornamentation, too, has a certain calligraphic dryness that breaks up the networks with dark bands that follow the lines of force. Their purpose, however, is purely visual, not structural, because the vaulting techniques have become so highly developed that the pendentives and facets are virtually without relief and therefore do not perform any load-bearing function. The stalactites no longer obey a technological need. They are simply attached to the smooth surface of the vaulting by means of wooden frameworks covered with stucco panels that support the faience mosaics.
Thus. a trend that could already be observed during the reign of Shah Abbas in a few buildings, has now become generalized. The same lack, of relief can be noted in the pendentives and networks of the load-bearing structures of the domes. These latter do not necessarily present the typical profile of the Persian arch inscribed in a semicircle, which we have already discussed and which has been defined with remarkable clarity by Auguste Choisy following in the footsteps of Dieulafoy. They are flatter by as much as one third of their height. This trend towards "flat" domes with very taut profiles is still more in evidence under the Moguls in India. There too, decoration lost almost every trace of relief, leaving only the painted design to occasionally suggest the structural the members that no longer exist.
Nevertheless, the vaulting of domes and ivans continues to be the object of interesting research. Thus the great niche that frames the mihrab in the Mosque of the Madrassa Madir-i-Shah incorporates the very same solution as was adopted in the great south ivan of the Mesjid-i-Shah. The two corners are limited by squinches that form a square in plan, whereas the peak of the half-dome has a network derived from half a twenty-point star based on angles of 18 degrees. Further, if one still finds forms based on the octagon derived from two interwoven squares of which one is rotated through an angle of 45 degrees, the ivan to which they are applied no longer consists of a simple rectangle. It is a canted structure that forms a semi-octagon and permits the complete elimination of the squinches.

Chaharbagh mosque Tile work

Lastly, unlike the networks, the system of stalactites assumes a far bolder plasticity than in the past. The pendent knob-bosses project boldly, and frame deep cells. The arcades that surround the great court are no longer covered with pointed vaults, as in the Mosque of the Shah, but are roofed over with half-domes adorned with decorative networks in very low relief.
One also observes, in the matter of ornamentation, a decided regression to geometrical designs executed in a new type of mosaic, whose elements are simplified and consist exclusively of pieces moulded in simple geometrical shapes, such as squares, rectangles, triangles, hexagons and octagons. In this way production was standardized to some extent and a new style in the interior facing of domes, stalactite niches and ivans was developed. This sometimes resulted in a certain dryness in the motifs but also presented a calligraphic severity, contrasting the decorative panels which still display the sinuous, intricate vine-tendril tracery that adorns the frames of the great ivans. True, in the square faience tiles decorated with these motifs, the sober tints and the forceful classical designs have given way to a certain affected daintiness. But, though little bunches of pastel-tinted flowers have replaced the vast compositions in three or at most four colours, the faience decoration can in no way be said to render mawkish this last example of Safavid architecture.
What we witness in the lavish abundance of the public buildings erected by the last sovereign of the dynasty is the swan song of Safavid art. The creative, authoritarian phase of the Seljuk are, which displays all the force of ancient art, was followed by the splendid, stately classicism of Shah Abbas. In the early years of the eighteenth century that grand, controlled mastery developed into baroque virtuosity under Shah Sultan Husayn.
The cycle is brought to a close by the last magnificent examples of an architecture which was still in full possession of its faculties, but displayed a weakness for airs and graces that was a symptom of decadence. In fact, much of the sobriety, purity and simplicity of the classical style was abandoned in favour of a mannerism which, though perhaps not lacking in charm, engendered a certain confusion. But if art for art's sake sometimes made them lose sight of functional requirements, the Persian architects never lost the feeling for logical articulation and spatial inventiveness that were the fruits of their rich imagination.
Thus, right up to the end of the Safavid period, Isfahan never ceased to be the source of an architecture that spread throughout the Orient and above all to India, which was conquered by Nader Shah in 1737. There, the evolution of Persian forms continued under the last descendants of the Great Mogul until its final extinction in the mid-nineteenth century.

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Iran History The Pahlavi Dynasty

Written by Super User. Posted in History

The Pahlavi Dynasty and the Fall of the Monarchy


Reza Shah Pahlavi
Reza Shah Pahlavi

At the end of the First World War, the British attempted to extend their control over southern Iran at a time when the Soviet troops were moving from the north. In February 1921, Sayyed Ziya od-Din and Reza Kban, a colonel of the Persian army, organized a coup to make Ziya od-Din Prime Minister. In October, Reza Khan took over the Premiership and in December 1925, Shah of Iran proclaimed himself and founded the Pahlavi dynasty.
Although Reza Shah reign (1925-1941) brought a certain economy development to the country and saw the repeal of the privileges granted to the foreign Powers, it was also marked by a tightening of police control of the people.
During the Second World War, Iran, which was officially adopted in 1934, declared itself neutral. After the Shah refusal to expel German nationals, British and Soviet troops entered the country in August 1941. A month later, Reza shah was forced to abdicate in favor of his son Mohammed Reza, but even at the end of the war, the problem of foreign intervention in Iran was far from solved. In 1951. Doctor Mossadegh, elected to the post of Prime Minister, decided to nationalize the oil industry The increasing popularity of his nationalist movement concerned not only the monarchists but also foreign powers with oil interests in Iran.In 1953 the government was overthrown by a coup d'etat. Nevertheless, the nationalization of oil became a symbol for the resumption of Iranian control over its own economy. In 1962, the Shah launched a series of reforms, called the White Revolution, mainly to the rural population, which formed the majority of the country, but the redistribution of land and the reforms in relation to the position of women aroused the rage of the great Owners and religious circles. The unrest broke out in 1963, and in November 1964 the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had become more and more critical of the government, was exiled to Turkey and then to Najaf in Iraq. The Savak, the political police, intensifies its activities, especially by clinging to the left, intellectuals and students.
The economic success shifted the domestic political problems facing the country to a secondary position: the huge revenues from the oil industry of 1973 allowed the Shah to carry out a huge program of industrial expansion, but this was criticized for being bad on extravagant and costly projects Concentrated on the immediate needs of the country Social issues were hardly addressed and the massive land runoff of the 19705 weakened the population in the poorer areas of large cities where unemployment was chronic.

Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and his wife  Farah Diba upon his proclamation as the  Shhanshh of Iran.

In 1977, Iran had to face a sudden deterioration in the economic situation. The cost of living was dramatic, while a drop in oil sales between 1975 and 1977 forced the government to finance further social spending to finance construction projects and the purchase of armaments Situation benefited the opposition and demonstrations were organized in large cities, openly calling for the return from the exile of Ayatollah Khomeini. 1978 was marked by violent riots, especially in Tabriz, Qom and Tehran.On 7 September, in the month of Ramadan, there were calls for the abolition of the monarchy at a demonstration in Tehran, in which over a million people participated. Starting in October, strikes broke out across the country, crippled the administration and industry, and even exported oil exports, which was essential for the country's economy as a whole. In December, the Shah tried to save the situation by calling Shapur Bakhtiari Prime Minister On January 16, 1979, he was forced to flee with his family to Egypt. His departure was taken as an abdication from the crowds in the streets and greeted with great rejoicing.

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Iran History Qajar Dynasty

Written by Super User. Posted in History

Qajar Dynasty

Mohammad Khan Qajar
Mohammad Khan Qajar


Qajar Dynasty (1794-1925)
 After Karim Khan's death, Agha Mohammad Qajar, who was brought up at the Zand court,  gathered a large force of his Qajar tribesmen and embarked upon a war of conquest. He defeated the last Zand ruler and in the same year took Mashhad, which was at the time the residence of the last Afsharid king. In this way, he made himself master of the country and founder of the Qajar dynasty. Under his successors - Fathali Shah, Mohammad Shah, and Naser al-Din Shah - a degree of order and stability returned to the country. However, from the early 19th century, the Qajars began to face pressure from two great world powers, Russia and Britain. Britain's interest in Iran arose from the need to protect trade routes to India, while Russia's came from a desire to expand into Iranian territory from the north. In two disastrous wars with Russia, which ended with the Treaty of Golestan and the Treaty of Turkmanchay, Iran lost all its territories in the Caucasus north of the Aras River. Then, in the second half of the 19th century, Russia forced the Qajars to give up all claims to territories in Central Asia. Meanwhile, Britain twice landed troops in Iran to prevent the Qajars from reasserting a claim to Herat, which had been lost after the fall of the Safavids. Under the Treaty of Paris, Iran surrendered to Britain all claims to the territories in present-day Afghanistan. The two great powers also controlled Iran's trade and its internal affairs.
Naser al-Din Shah was the most capable of Qajar kings. He had a long reign, characterized by peace, progress, and prosperity. Many of his reforms were carried out on the initiative of his efficient prime minister, Amir Kabir, Naser al-Din Shah was assassinated in 1896 by a religious fanatic. His son, Mozaffar al-Din Shah, amiable but afflicted by poor health, is famous for granting to his subjects the first Constitution in the Middle East. Upon Mozaffar al-Din's death, his son, Mohammad Ali Shah, ascended the throne of Persia. Displeased with the curtailment of his powers by the Majles (Parliament), he took the extreme step of bombing it out of existence. As a result, the important commercial city of Tabriz repudiated its allegiance to the shah and, under the leadership of Sattar Khan, initiated the Constitutional Revolution. TI1e Parliament was restored, and Mohammad Ali was dethroned. In 1909, his son Ahmad, a boy of 11, was crowned. Meanwhile, Reza Khan staged a coup d'etat and took control of all the foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran.


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Iran History Nader Shah Dynasty

Written by Super User. Posted in History

Nader Shah Dynasty (1794-1925)

Portrait of Nader Shah
Portrait of Nader Shah

Afsharid and Zand Dynasties (1736-1779)
After a disastrous but brief Afghan occupation, the country was united under the power of Tahmasb Qoli, a chief of the Afshar tribe. He expelled the Afghans in the name of surviving Safavid members, but soon dethroned them and was himself crowned as Nader Shah. He chose Mashhad as his capital. Nader's ultimate goal was to restore the glory and prestige of his country by regaining its former territories and wealth. He drove the Ottomans from Georgia and Armenia and the Russians from the Iranian coast on the Caspian Sea, and restored Iranian sovereignty over Afghanistan. He also took his army on several campaigns into India, bringing back fabulous treasures. Among them were two of the world's largest diamonds, the Mountain of Light (now part of .W the British Crown Jewels) and the Sea of Light (now in the , Jewelry Museum in Tehran). His Indian expedition solved the problem of how to make his empire financially viable. Too powerful and ambitious in the view of some of its neighbors, Nader Shah seemed to have posed a threat to their imperialistic plans. Perhaps a victim to their conspiracy, Nader died from the hands of his own tribesmen, assisted by some Qajar chiefs.
Almost immediately after Nader's murder, the country fell into anarchy. Afshar, Qajar, Afghan, and Zand chieftains struggled for supremacy, until finally Karim Khan Zand defeated his rivals and unified the country (except for Khorasan) under a loose form of central control. Karim Khan's geniality and common sense inaugurated a period of peace and popular contentment. He refused to assume the title of shah and ruled as Vakil al-Roaya ("Deputy of the Subjects"). Shiraz was made the capital city under his rule.

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