Iranian architecture

معماری ایران

ID:11048 Section: Arts

Updated:Monday 13th October 2014

Iranian architecture Definition

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Iranian architecture or Persian architecture is the architecture of contemporary Iran and the Iranian Cultural Continent. It has a continuous history from at least 5000 BCE to the present, with characteristic examples distributed over a vast area from Turkey and Iraq to Northern India and Tajikistan, and from the Caucasus to Zanzibar. Persian buildings vary from peasant huts to tea houses and garden, pavilions to "some of the most majestic structures the world has ever seen".

Iranian architecture generally displays great variety, both structural and aesthetic, developing gradually and coherently out of earlier traditions and experience. Without sudden innovations, and despite the repeated trauma of invasions and cultural shocks, it has achieved "an individuality distinct from that of other Muslim countries". Its paramount virtues are several: "a marked feeling for form and scale; structural inventiveness, especially in vault and dome construction; a genius for decoration with a freedom and success not rivaled in any other architecture".

Traditionally, the guiding formative motif of Iranian architecture has been its cosmic symbolism "by which man is brought into communication and participation with the powers of heaven". This theme has not only given unity and continuity to the architecture of Persia, but has been a primary source of its emotional character as well.

According to Persian historian and archaeologist Arthur Pope, 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.

  • 1 Fundamental principles
    • 1.1 Categorization of styles
    • 1.2 Materials
    • 1.3 Geometry
    • 1.4 Design
  • 2 Pre-Islamic architecture of Persia
  • 3 Islamic architecture of Persia
  • 4 Persian Domes
  • 5 Contemporary Iranian architecture in and outside Iran
  • 6 Future architecture in Iran
  • 7 Iranian architects
  • 8 UNESCO designated World Heritage Sites
  • 9 Awards
  • 10 See also
  • 11 References
  • 12 Further reading
  • 13 External links

Fundamental principlesSi-o-se Pol

Traditional Persian architecture has maintained a continuity that, although temporarily distracted by internal political conflicts or foreign invasion, nonetheless has achieved an unmistakable style.

In this architecture, "there are no trivial buildings; even garden pavilions have nobility and dignity, and the humblest caravanserais generally have charm. In expressiveness and communicativity, most Persian buildings are lucid - even eloquent. The combination of intensity and simplicity of form provides immediacy, while ornament and, often, subtle proportions reward sustained observation."

Categorization of stylesThe Eram Garden in Shiraz is an 18th-century building and a legacy of the Zand Dynasty.

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

  • Zoroastrian:
    • The Parsian style (up until the third century BCE) including:
      • Pre-Parsian style (up until the eighth century BCE) e.g. Chogha Zanbil,
      • Median style (from the eighth to the sixth century BCE),
      • Achaemenid style (from the sixth to the fourth century BCE) manifesting in construction of spectacular cities used for governance and inhabitation (such as Persepolis, Susa, Ecbatana), temples made for worship and social gatherings (such as Zoroastrian temples), and mausoleums erected in honor of fallen kings (such as the burial tomb of Cyrus the Great),
    • The Parthian style includes designs from the following eras:
  • Islamic:

Available building materials dictate major forms in traditional Iranian architecture. Heavy clays, readily available at various places throughout the plateau, have encouraged the development of the most primitive of all building techniques, molded mud, compressed as solidly as possible, and allowed to dry. This technique, used in Iran from ancient times, has never been completely abandoned. The abundance of heavy plastic earth, in conjunction with a tenacious lime mortar, also facilitated the development and use of brick.


Iranian architecture makes use of abundant symbolic geometry, using pure forms such as circles and squares, and plans are based on often symmetrical layouts featuring rectangular courtyards and halls.


Certain design elements of Persian architecture have persisted throughout the history of Iran. The most striking are a marked feeling for scale and a discerning use of simple and massive forms. The consistency of decorative preferences, the high-arched portal set within a recess, columns with bracket capitals, and recurrent types of plan and elevation can also be mentioned. Through the ages these elements have recurred in completely different types of buildings, constructed for various programs and under the patronage of a long succession of rulers.

Persian-style column, as seen in Persepolis.

The columned porch, or talar, seen in the rock-cut tombs near Persepolis, reappear in Sassanid temples, and in late Islamic times it was used as the portico of a palace or mosque, and adapted even to the architecture of roadside tea-houses. Similarly, the gonbad on four arches, so characteristic of Sassanid times, is a still to be found in many cemeteries and Imamzadehs across Iran today. The notion of earthly towers reaching up toward the sky to mingle with the divine towers of heaven lasted into the 19th century, while the interior court and pool, the angled entrance and extensive decoration are ancient, but still common, features of Iranian architecture.

Pre-Islamic architecture of PersiaHatra in Iraq. In the 3rd to 1st century BCE, during the Parthian Empire, Hatra was a religious and trading center. Today it is a World heritage site, protected by UNESCO.Main articles: Achaemenid architecture and Sassanid architecture

The pre-Islamic styles draw on 3000 to 4000 years of architectural development from various civilizations of the Iranian plateau. The post-Islamic architecture of Iran in turn, draws ideas from its pre-Islamic predecessor, and has geometrical and repetitive forms, as well as surfaces that are richly decorated with glazed tiles, carved stucco, patterned brickwork, floral motifs, and calligraphy.

Iran is recognized by UNESCO as being one of the cradles of civilization.

The ruins of Persepolis, built 2500 years ago during the reign of the Achaemenid Empire. (see 3D modeling)

Each of the periods of Elamites, Achaemenids, Parthians and Sassanids were creators of great architecture that, over the ages, spread far and wide far to other cultures. 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 in 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 expressed the authority of The King of Kings, the staircases of the latter recording in relief sculpture the vast extent of the imperial frontier.Davazdah Cheshmeh Bridge Amol, Old city Iran architectur, Kamboj,Shekleh Shah.

With the emergence of the Parthians and Sassanids new forms appeared. 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.

For example, the roundness of the city of Baghdad in the Abbasid era, points to its Persian precedents, such as Firouzabad in Fars. Al-Mansur hired two designers to plan the city''s design: Naubakht, a former Persian Zoroastrian who also determined that the date of the foundation of the city should be astrologically significant, and Mashallah ibn Athari, a former Jew from Khorasan.

The ruins of Persepolis, Ctesiphon, Jiroft, Sialk, Pasargadae, Firouzabad, and Arg-é Bam give us a distant glimpse of what contributions Persians made to the art of building.

  • Dej-e Shaapour-khaast

  • Sassanid fortress in Derbent, modern-day Russia.

  • Pasargad

  • Arg-e Bam

Panoramic view of the Naqsh-e Rustam. This site contains the tombs of four Achaemenid kings, including those of Darius I and Xerxes.Islamic architecture of Persia Islamic culture Architecture Art Dress Holidays Literature Music Theatre
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The fall of the Sassanian dynasty by the invading Muslim Arabs led to the adaptation of the remarkable Persian architectures for Islamic religious buildings in Iran. Arts such as calligraphy, stucco work, mirror work and mosaics became closely tied with the architecture of Mosques in Persia (Iran) specially with the round domed rooftops which roots its origin back to the Parthian (Ashkanid) dynasty of Greater Iran.

Archaeological excavations have provided much evidence supporting the impact of Sassanid architecture on the architecture of the Islamic world.

Timcheh-e-Aminoddowleh, Bazaar of Kashan

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

Safavid Isfahan tried to achieve grandeur in scale (Isfahan''s Naghsh-i Jahan Square is the sixth largest square worldwide), knowing how to build tall buildings with vast inner spaces. However, the quality of ornaments was less compared to those of the 14th and 15th centuries.

Another aspect of this architecture was the harmony with the people, their environment and their beliefs it presented and manifested. At the same time no strict rules were applied to govern this form of Islamic architecture.

The great mosques of Khorasan, Isfahan and Tabriz each used local geometry, local materials and local building methods to express, each in their own way, 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.

In the words of Arthur U. Pope, who carried out extensive studies in ancient Persian and Islamic buildings:

"The meaningful Impact of Persian architecture is versatile. Not overwhelming but dignified, magnificent and impressive."

However, Pope''s approach toward Qajar art and architecture is quite negative.

Naqshe Jahan square in Isfahan is the epitome of 16th century Iranian architecture. See 360°viewPersian DomesThe Palace of Ardashir, constructed in AD 224 during the Sassanid Dynasty. The building has three large domes, among the oldest examples of such large-scale domes in the World.

The Sassanid Empire initiated the construction of the first large-scale domes in Persia A.K.A Iran, with such royal buildings as the Palace of Ardashir and Dezh Dokhtar. After the Muslim conquest of the Sassanid Empire, the Persian architectural style became a major influence on Muslim societies and the dome also became a feature of Muslim architecture (see gonbad).

The Il-Khanate period provided several innovations to dome-building that eventually enabled the Persians to construct much taller structures. These changes later paved the way for Safavid architecture. The pinnacle of Il-Khanate architecture was reached with the construction of the Soltaniyeh Dome (1302–1312) in Zanjan, Iran, which measures 50 m in height and 25 m in diameter, making it the 3rd largest and the tallest masonry dome ever erected. The thin, double-shelled dome was reinforced by arches between the layers.

The renaissance in Persian mosque and dome building came during the Safavid dynasty, when Shah Abbas, in 1598, initiated the reconstruction of Isfahan, with the Naqsh-e Jahan Square as the centerpiece of his new capital. Architecturally they borrowed heavily from Il-Khanate designs, but artistically they elevated the designs to a new level. The distinct feature of Persian domes, which separates them from those domes created in the Christian world or the Ottoman and Mughal empires, was the use of colourful tiles, with which the exterior of domes are covered much like the interior. These domes soon numbered dozens in Isfahan and the distinct blue shape would dominate the skyline of the city. Reflecting the light of the sun, these domes appeared like glittering turquoise gems and could be seen from miles away by travelers following the Silk road through Persia.

This very distinct style of architecture was inherited from the Seljuq dynasty, who for centuries had used it in their mosque building, but it was perfected during the Safavids when they invented the haft- rangi, or seven colour style of tile burning, a process that enabled them to apply more colours to each tile, creating richer patterns, sweeter to the eye. The colours that the Persians favoured where gold, white and turquoise patterns on a dark-blue background. The extensive inscription bands of calligraphy and arabesque on most of the major buildings where carefully planned and executed by Ali Reza Abbasi, who was appointed head of the royal library and Master calligrapher at the Shah''s court in 1598, while Shaykh Bahai oversaw the construction projects. Reaching 53 meters in height, the dome of Masjed-e Shah (Shah Mosque) would become the tallest in the city when it was finished in 1629. It was built as a double-shelled dome, spanning 14 m between the two layers and resting on an octagonal dome chamber.

See also: Gonbad
  • Architecture of Persian Gardens. Khalvat-i Karim-khani, in the gardens of the Golestan Palace.

  • Architecture of shrines and monuments. Shrine of Omar Khayyám, Nishapur.

  • Architecture of houses: The 18th century Abbasian House, Kashan.

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

  • Places of worship: mosques and cathedrals. Thaddeus Monastery, 68CE, West Azarbaijan province.

  • Jamkaran

Contemporary Iranian architecture in and outside Iran

Contemporary architecture in Iran begins with the advent of the first Pahlavi period in the early 1920s. Some designers, such as Andre Godard, created works such as the National Museum of Iran that were reminiscent of Iran''s historical architectural heritage. Others made an effort to merge the traditional elements with modern designs in their works. The Tehran University main campus is one such example. Others, such as Heydar Ghiai and Houshang Seyhoun, have tried to create completely original works, independent of prior influences. Borj-e Milad (or Milad Tower) is the tallest tower in Iran and is the fourth tallest tower in the world.

  • Iran Senate House Traditional Persian mythology such as the chains of justice of Nowshiravan and essences of Iranian architecture have been incorporated by Heydar Ghiai to create a new modern Iranian architecture.

  • Tehran City Theater, Pahlavi period.

  • The Lotus Temple in Delhi, by Bahai architect Fariborz Sahba

  • Tehran''s Museum of Contemporary Arts designed by Kamran Diba is based on traditional Iranian elements such as Badgirs, and yet has a spiraling interior reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright''s Guggenheim.

  • Tehran University College of Social Sciences shows obvious traces of architecture from Persepolis.

Future architecture in IranIsfahan City Center conceptIsfahan City Center at night

Major construction projects are undergoing all around Iran. The Prestige Land of Iran is developing Isfahan City Center Which is the largest mall in Iran and the largest mall with a museum in the world which includes hotel, indoor amusement park, food court,etc and the Flower of the East Development Project is another biggest project on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf. The project, includes a ''7-star'' and two ''5-star'' hotels, three residential areas, villas and apartment complexes, coffee shops, luxury showrooms and stores, sports facilities and a marina.

Iranian architectsSee main articles: List of historical Iranian architects and List of Iranian architects

Persian architects were highly sought in the old days, before the advent of Modern Architecture. For example, Ostad Isa Shirazi is most often credited as the chief architect (or plan drawer) of the Taj Mahal. These artisans were also highly instrumental in the designs of such edifices as Afghanistan''s Minaret of Jam, The Sultaniyeh Dome, or Tamerlane''s tomb in Samarkand, among many others.

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

  • The medieval royal courtyard and its Chahar Bagh garden in Samarkand.

UNESCO designated World Heritage SitesZiggurats such as the UNESCO designated World Heritage Site of Chogha Zanbil, which relieved the flat monotony of the southern Khuzestan plane, were but "ritual imitations of the familiar sacred mountains which ring the Iranian plateau".

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:
  • 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
    • Baha''i Gardens
  • Mirmiran Architecture Award
Click here for animation of Iranian architecture.
  • The Memar Award: An award set for the best Architectural designs of the year in Iran
  • Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
    • Winners:
      • Bagh-e-Ferdowsi, Tehran. 1999-2001
      • New Life for Old Structures, Various locations. 1999-2001
      • Shushtar New Town, Shushtar. 1984-1986
      • Ali Qapu, Chehel Sutun, and Hasht Behesht, Isfahan. 1978-1980

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