‘If you have travelled to Esfahan, you have seen Half of the World’. It is easy to agree with this famous 16th century proverb seeing the beauty and grandeur of the city Esfahan, one of the places I have visited during a trip to Iran. Its glory, architectural masterpieces and magic views are indeed stunning. The domes which dominate the skyline of the city look like glittering gems reflecting the sunlight. Palaces, mosques, bridges, bazaars and gardens are a pleasure for the eye; a paradise for photographers interested in Persian architecture. Besides Iran’s masterpiece, the jewel of ancient Persia, Iran has many other places where architectural wonders can be admired and photographed.
The surviving sites from the Achaemenid Era include the magnificent ceremonial palace complexes and royal tombs at Pasargadae, Nasqh-é Rostam, Persepolis and Shush.
These are decorated with bas-reliefs of kings, soldiers, supplicants, animals and the winged figure of the Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda.
The first capital of the Achaemenid Empire was at Pasargadae but Darius I started to construct Persepolis, magnificent palace complex to serve as the summer capital. It was completed by a host of kings including Xerxes I, and II and Artaxerxes I, II and III over a period of 150 years. The ancient city was lost for centuries, totally covered by dust and sand, before extensive evocations began in the 1930s, revealing the glory of the city once more.
Iranian architecture reached a peak in its development during the Sassanid era (224-651 CE). 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.
The fall of the Persian empire to invading Islamic forces led to the creation of remarkable religious buildings in Iran . Arts such as stucco work, calligraphy, mirror work and mosaic work have been closely tied with architecture in the new era. The period of Persian architecture from the 15th through 17th centuries is believed by many experts to be the most brilliant of the post-Islamic era. Various structures such as mosques, mausoleums, bazaars, bridges and different palaces have survived this era.
Unique elements of Persian architecture
Iranian architecture makes use of abundant symbolic geometry, using pure forms such as the circle and square and plans are based on often symmetrical layouts featuring rectangular courtyards and halls. Its monumental simplicity combined with its lavish use of surface ornamentation and colour makes Persian architecture so unique. Standard elements are a courtyard, arcades, lofty entrance porticoes and four iwans (barrel-vaulted halls opening onto the courtyard. The decorations are geometric, floral or calligraphic.
Persian gardens, qanats and windtowers
Other elements of Persian architecture and civilizations developed for hot climates are the gardens, qanats (Kariz) and windtowers (Badgirs). A qanat is water management system used to provide supply of water to human settlements.
Windtowers and Badgirs were invented in Yazd to cool the residences many centuries ago.
Contemporary and Present Day Architecture
Contemporary Architecture in Iran begins in the early 1920s. Some merge traditional elements with modern design. Others tried to create original works independent of precedential influences.
The endless variety of architecture in Iran includes also interior and exterior of houses, shrines and monuments, historical baths, caravanserais, madrasas, towers and tombs, other places of worship such as cathedrals, churches and synagogues. To continue this visual journey please visit the collection Architectural Wonders of Iran
I invite the readers of this blog to send me pictures which deserve to be part of this collection.