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Persian / Iranian architecture

Architecture is one of the fields in which Iranians have had a lengthy involvement in history. The major building types of this architecture are the mosque and the palace. The architecture makes use of abundant symbolic geometry, using pure forms such as the circle and square. Plans are based on often symmetrical layouts featuring rectangular courtyards and halls.

The post-Islamic architecture of Iran draws ideas from its pre-Islamic predecessor, and has geometrical and repetiitve forms, as well as surfaces that are richly decorated with glazed tiles, carved stucco, patterned brickwork, floral motifs, and calligraphy.

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

The "Elamite" style. Examples: Chogha zanbil, Sialk.
The "Parsi" style. Examples: Pasargad, Persepolis, Chogha zanbil, Sialk.
The "Parthian" style. Examples: Anahita Temple, Khorheh, Hatra.
The "Sassanid" style. Examples: the vault of Kasra in Ctesiphon, Bishapur, Palace of Ardashir in Ardeshir Khwarreh (Firouzabad).

The "Khorasani" style. Examples: Mosque of Nain, Tarikhaneh-ye Damghan [2], Congregation (Jame) mosque of Isfahan [3].
The "Razi" style. Examples: Tomb of Isma'il of Samanid [4], Gonbad-e Qabus, Kharaqan towers.
The "Azari" style. Examples: Soltaniyeh, Arg-i Alishah, Mosque of Varamin, Goharshad Mosque, Bibi Khanum mosque in Samarqand, Congregation mosque of Yazd.
The "Isfahani" style. Examples: Chehelsotoon, Agha Bozorg Mosque, Kashan, the Shah Mosque, and the Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque.
Pre-Islamic Architecture of Persia (Iran)
See also: Sassanid architecture

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

By evidence, the history of architecture and urban planning in Iran (Persia) dates back some 10 thousand years ago. Persians were among the first to use mathematics, geometry, and astronomy in architecture. Teppe Sialk, an important ziggurat near Kashan, built 7000 years ago, represents one such prehistoric site in Persia whose inhabitants were the initiators of a simple and rudimentary housing technique.

Persian (Iranian) architecture left a profound influence on the architecture of old civilizations. Professor Arthur Pope wrote: "Architecture in Iran has at least 6,000 years of continuous history, examples of which can be seen from Syria to north India and Chinese borders, and from Caucasus to Zanzibar."

Iran ranks among the top 10 nations with the most architectural ruins from antiquity and is recognized by UNESCO as being one of the cradles of civilization.

After 2500 years, the ruins of Persepolis still inspire visitors from far and near.

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

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

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

Arge Bam is a great example of Persian castles.

The roundness of the city of Baghdad in the Abbasid era for example, points to its Persian precedents such as Firouzabad in Fars.1 The two designers who were hired by al-Mansur to plan the city's design were Naubakht, a former Persian Zoroastrian who also determined that the date of the foundation of the city would be astrologically auspicious, and Mashallah, a former Jew from Khorasan.2

The ruins of Persepolis, Ctesiphon, Jiroft, Sialk, Pasargadae, Firouzabad, Arg-é Bam, and thousands of other ruins documented in only what is today Iran may give us merely a distant glimpse of what contribution Persians made to the art of building.

Post-Islamic Architecture of Persia (Iran)

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

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

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

Ali Qapu palace, was the celebrated seat of The Safavid capital in Isfahan, Iran

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

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

According to D. Huff, a German archaeologist, the dome is the dominant element in Persian architecture. Professor Arthur U. Pope, who carried out extensive studies in ancient Persian and Islamic buildings, believed: "The supreme Iranian art, in the proper meaning of the word, has always been its architecture. The supremacy of architecture applies to both pre-and post-Islamic periods."

An investigation into post-Islamic architecture in Persia reveals how architecture was in harmony with the people, their environment, and their Creator. Yet no strict rules were applied to govern Islamic architecture. The great mosques of Khorasan, Isfahan, and Tabriz each used local geometry, local materials, and local building methods to express in their own ways the order, harmony, and unity of Islamic architecture. When the major monuments of Islamic Persian architecture are examined, they reveal complex geometrical relationships, a studied hierarchy of form and ornament, and great depths of symbolic meaning.

Architecture of Bridges. Sassanid or Safavid, bridges have a Special place in Iranian architecture.

Architecture of Persian Gardens. Khalvat-i Karim-khani, in the gardens of the Golestan Palace.

Architecture of shrines and monuments. Shrine of Omar Khayam, Nishapur.

Craftsmanship in Architecture.  An excellent animation depicting the excellent details of the interiors: (click)

Architecture of Palaces. Pasargad and Persepolis.

Architecture of towers and tombs. A design of The Seljuki era. Qazvin

Architecture of Bazaars. Timcheh-e-Amin o Dowleh, Bazaar of Kashan.

Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque was built at the order of Shah Abbas over a period of 18 years by the artisan Mohammad Reza Isfahani.

UNESCO designated World Heritage Sites
The following is a list of World Heritage Sites designed or constructed by Iranians (Persians), or designed and constructed in the style of Iranian architecture:

Inside Iran:
Arg-é Bam Cultural Landscape, Kerman
Naghsh-i Jahan Square, Isfahan
Pasargadae, Fars
Persepolis, Fars
Tchogha Zanbil, Khuzestan
Takht-e Soleyman, West Azerbaijan
Dome of Soltaniyeh, Zanjan
Outside Iran:
Taj Mahal, India - designed by the Mughal Empire
Minaret of Jam, Afghanistan
Tomb of Humayun, India
Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasavi, Kazakhstan
Historic Centre of Bukhara
Historic Centre of Shahrisabz
Samarkand - Crossroads of Cultures
Citadel, Ancient City and Fortress Buildings of Darband, Daghestan

Iranian architects

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

Taj Mahal is one of the greatest examples of Persian architecture outside of Iran.
See main article: List of historical Iranian architects.

Persian architects were a highly sought after stock in the old days, before the advent of Modern Architecture. Many, such as Ostad Isa Shirazi designed global landmarks such as The Taj Mahal, Afghanistan's Minaret of Jam, The Sultaniyeh Dome, or Tamerlane's tomb in Samarkand.

A traditional pigeonhouse in Meybod, Yazd.


Islam Art and Architecture. Markus Hattstein, Peter Delius. 2000. p96. ISBN 3-8290-2558-0
Islamic Science and Engineering. Donald R. Hill. 1994. p10. ISBN 0-7486-0457-X
Sabk Shenasi Mi'mari Irani (Study of styles in Iranian architecture), M. Karim Pirnia. 2005. ISBN 964-96113-2-0
Sense of Unity. Nader Ardalan and Laleh Bakhtiar. ISBN 1-871031-78-8

the Shah Mosque (Maydan-i-Shah) in Isfahan, Iran

One of the first civilizations that Islam came into contact with during and after its birth was that of Persia. The eastern banks of the Tigris and Euphrates was where the capital of the Persian empire lay during the 7th century. Hence the proximity often led early Islamic architects to not just borrow, but adopt the traditions and ways of the fallen Persian empire.

Islamic architecture borrows heavily from Persian architecture and in many ways can be called an extension and further evolution of Persian architecture (further mixed with Byzantine influences).

Many cities such as Baghdad, for example, were based on precedents such as Firouzabad in Persia. In fact, it is now known that the two designers who were hired by al-Mansur to plan the city's design were Naubakht (نوبخت), a former Persian Zoroastrian, and Mashallah (ماشاء‌الله), a former Jew from Khorasan, Iran.