From the humble houses to teashops, from the green gardens of villas to the most wonderful buildings you have ever seen, the influence of Iran winks at you from every corner. Many different structures that resemble glamorous women or elegant men rise up from the lands of Iran like works of art carved into stone.
Over the centuries, Iranian architecture has been influenced by traditions and culture, being transformed over time and offering a huge variety in terms of aesthetics. However, despite continual invasions throughout history and frequent changes in cultural structure, compared to other Muslim countries it has managed to retain its unique character. The wide use of geometric shapes such as circles and squares, the importance given to both proportion and form, and particularly the innovations brought to the construction of domes and arches, took Iranian architecture to new heights for centuries. It could be said that this architectural approach has brought a nobility to the most common of houses and a charm to the most humble of caravanserais.
Throughout the country, diverse examples of Iranian architecture will leave you amazed by the Iranians’ approach to art and science and by the importance given to beauty. So let’s have a look at these unique masterpieces that have settled into the lands of Iran and that keep the spirit of the past alive.
The Smell Of Spices At The Grand Bazaar
As you wander the streets of the country’s capital, Tehran, you will come across the ‘Azadi (Freedom) Tower’, which, despite having been built only recently, has become the symbol of the city and carries the characteristics of both Sasanian and Islamic architecture. The City Theatre and National Museum are other important buildings for the architecture of Tehran. These two buildings are proof that traditional architectural characteristics can be successfully used in modern constructions… With its narrow streets that, like the veins of a body, spread out in all directions before re-converging, and its mosques and fountains that appear out of nowhere, Tehran’s Grand Bazaar is like another city inside Tehran. Some of the elements that give the bazaar
its elegance are its walls joined by arches, domes on street corners that stretch toward the skies, and historical doors that alone are worth seeing. Often buzzing with bikes and motorbikes and always crowded, the Grand Bazaar is a place where you can find everything you want, while the smell of exotic spices will make your head spin.
World Heritage List: Located in the centre of Isfahan and surrounded by columned buildings, the Naqsh-e Jahan Square (Imam Khomeini Square) is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Isfahan, Half Of The World
We have heard the proverb “Esfahn nesf-e jahn ast” – Isfahan is half of the world – before even reaching the city. Stretching as far as the eye can see ‘Naqsh-e Jahan Square’, a spot visited by absolutely everyone who sets foot in Isfahan, immediately confirms everything that you have heard about the city. Naqsh-e Jahan is the life blood of the legendary Isfahan, coming to life early in the morning with horse-drawn carriages as they take their place in the square, changing colours with the hours of the day and changing the atmosphere itself with its pools and constantly gushing fountains. It is surrounded by resplendent mosques and palaces. It is almost as though it is the starting point of everything in Isfahan…
On the south side of the square stands the Imam Mosque, which was built in the 17th century for Shah Abbas. With its blue tiles that take on a particularly radiant appearance in the evenings when they gently reflect the light, this mosque captures the hearts of all who find themselves in the square. Inside the mosque, if you try out your voice just below the dome, you will hear it echo around the roof a few times before returning to you. It is impossible to be unimpressed by the perfection of Iranian architecture with such wonderful acoustics and tiles that are the product of a rare taste.
One of the three important buildings that stand on three sides of the square is the six-storey Ali Qapu Palace that spreads elegantly in both directions from a position that dominates the square. Each floor is reached by steep staircases, and each wall features different decorations, as though all the animals of the Iranian world – deer, foxes, peacocks, doves and nightingales – have struck their most ostentatious poses throughout the palace. Directly opposite the Ali Qapu Palace is another masterpiece that whispers to you enticingly: the Sheikh Lotfullah Mosque. This mosque, considered one of the masterpieces of Safavid architecture, was again built in the 17th century on the orders of Shah Abbas, and it is said that there was once a tunnel under the square that linked the mosque to the Ali Qapu Palace. The women who lived in the palace would use this tunnel when
they went to pray, keeping them hidden from any malicious gaze. Just like the Imam Mosque, the ceilings of Sheikh Lotfullah Mosque are covered in tiles of every shade of blue.
When speaking of Isfahan it is impossible not to mention the sparkling bridges that look almost like a mirage. The first of the six bridges over the Zayandeh River is called the Siosepol Bridge, which means ‘Bridge of 33 Arches’. Built at the beginning of the 17th century and now one of the symbols of Isfahan, the bridge is one of the most famous examples of Safavid architecture. The teahouses beneath the bridge are always over owing with people sipping on their delicious smelling Iranian tea by the river, while the echoing sounds of happy conversations mix with the waves. Another of the bridges over the Zayandeh is the Khaju Bridge. The Khaju Bridge was, like the Siosepol Bridge, built in the 17th century, and is formed of 23 arches. The Khaju Bridge was once used as a dam, controlling the ow of the river and providing water for surrounding areas. Life in all its forms is constantly crossing the river over the Khaju Bridge, which is always bustling. Many people sit for hours on a corner of the stone steps that lead down to the river, becoming part of the surrounding beauty. More than just a bridge, the Khaju therefore serves as a social meeting spot.
Calligraphy And Decoration: The art of calligraphy, plaster and mirror decorations, and colourful mosaics are some of the indispensable elements of Iranian architecture.
The Home of Historical Houses: Kashan
When talking about Iranian architecture we cannot fail to mention Kashan! The first stop in the city, famous for its villa-style houses, is Borujerdis House. Built in the 19th century for the bride of wealthy merchant Haji Mehdi Borujerdi, the house has a beautiful large rectangular courtyard, elegant wall paintings and 40-metre wind towers that help to keep the house cool. The Borujerdis House is known as one of the masterpieces of Iranian architecture and 150 craftsmen, architects and artists worked together on its completion for a total of 18 years.
Another place worth seeing in Kashan is the Abbasi House. This large traditional house, which now serves as a museum that is open to the public, has six courtyards and was constructed to meet the needs of more than one family. One of the chambers has a ceiling decorated with mirror pieces in order to bring the magnificence of the night sky into the room. The house’s high arches and magnificent salons are decorated with stucco relief and mirrors, and its windows are finely painted; everyone who sees this masterpiece will immediately fall under its spell.
It is also possible to visit the other houses in Kashan’s beauty competition. We highly recommend that you visit the houses of Tabatabaei, Ameri, Shari an and Al-e-Yaseen.
Beautiful Kashan: Located on the edge of Iran’s deserts on the road from Qom to Kerman, Kashan is an oasis city whose beauty comes from the contrast of the yellow of the sands and the green of the oasis.
A Glittering Shrine
Leaving behind the houses of Kashan, we reach Qom, a holy city for Shia Muslims. It is the sparkling minarets that first attract our attention. These glittering minarets belong to the Fatima Masumeh shrine that lies beneath an enormous golden dome. Construction of this first dome of the shrine began in the 12th century in honour of Fatima Masumeh – sister of Imam Reza, one of the Twelve Imams – who died in the 9th century. The shrine was extended in the 17th century on the orders of Shah Abbas, and during this period various structures were added to it. The shrine was restored at the beginning of the 19th century and the magnificent dome was added, giving it its current impressive appearance.
As you wander through the shrine’s courtyard and gaze around in the shadow of the minarets that stretch up as if to touch the sky, you will be blinded by the reflections of light from the innumerable mirrored decorations in the main room, and are overcome by a sense of peace. If rain happens to liven up your visit, you will be witness to an indescribable view. When it rains, this noble shrine of Qom looks like a painting by a talented artist.
City Of Charms: Yazd
Visitors to Yazd are greeted by sand-coloured streets that stretch between sand-coloured mud-brick houses. The streets stretch out from beneath your feet, intersecting or diverging unexpectedly or coming to a sudden dead end. In places the walls that form the streets come together in arches like yearning lovers. The narrow streets then lead you out onto bright squares, in one of which stands the Jameh Mosque, which creates a striking contrast to the sandy-yellow with its blue tile decorations. With its magnificent doorway and 47-metre-tall minarets – perhaps the tallest in Iran – the mosque leaves an unforgettable impression in all who see it. Another of Yazd’s attractions is the Amir Chakhmaq Complex, also known as the ‘Takiyeh’, is in fact a three- storey façade behind which stretches a market. With its traditional structure featuring four ‘iwans’ (rectangular halls walled on three sides) and the small domes and arches of the façade, the Amir Chakhmaq Complex is just as magnificent as the Jameh Mosque. In the Muslim month of Muharrem ‘ashura’ ceremonies are held in this complex, which was built in the 14th century for Bibi Fatima Hatun, wife of Amir Celaleddin Chakhmaq.
The Zoroastrian Fire Temple, whose flame has been kept constantly burning since 470 AD with the wood of almond and peach trees, is one site that you must absolutely visit on a trip to Yazd. The re temple is hidden behind iron gates, like a shy beauty, showing itself only to those who care enough to knock at the door. The ‘Towers of Silence’, where Zoroastrians would leave their dead to birds of prey such as eagles and vultures, are found on the slopes of the hill, awaiting those who can face the climb. Yazd, which was described by Marco Polo eight centuries ago as “a good and noble city”, still retains its elegance.
Of course we have only managed to brush the surface of Iranian architecture. Bazaars with splendid decorations, majestic mosques scattered throughout the country, caravanserais along the ancient Silk Road that offer a taste of history and palaces that retain their dignity despite having been abandoned are just some of the things you will meet on the roads of Iran… Shiraz, the city of renowned poet Hafez; Mashhad, home to the majestic shrine of Imam Reza; and Tebriz, where you will find the world’s largest bazaar are just some of Iran’s beautiful cities that would not t on these pages. What else can we say, it would seem that in order to really understand the architectural wisdom created through seven thousand years of culture, it will be necessary to visit Iran again and again.
Historical Air Conditioning: The wind towers that you often see in Yazd are one of Iran’s architectural miracles. The towers, created with the wisdom of the time as a sort of ‘air conditioning’, allow cool air to enter into the house.