Iran’s Architecture

Iran’s History of the architecture dates back to approximately 5000 B.C. and from then to the present time. A very unique form that is not limited to Iran’s political borders and distributes over a vast area from Syria to North India and the borders of China, from the Caucasus to Zanzibar. These Persian buildings are varied in many forms, from peasant huts to tea houses, and garden pavilions to some of the most majestic mansions the world has ever seen. 

Iranian architecture shows great variety, both in structural and from aesthetic aspects. Developing gradually and coherently out of prior traditions and experience, this art made its way through rough dynasties which always made it hard for the artist/designer to work. Once the very odd fact is some kings did not want the secret ways and tunnels or passages to other places from their palace to be known even by the designer himself, so they would easily kill the architect. Therefore, despite all the glory and fame that could bring upon the person who could create such a masterpiece, the job, especially at those early times, was not safe. 

However, Iran’s architecture managed to survive, renovate, and innovate itself despite the repeated trauma of invasions and cultural shocks and it has brought upon the world several paramount virtues like structural inventiveness, especially in vault and dome construction; a genius for decoration with a freedom and success not rivaled in any other architecture.

The core of Iranian architecture is religious and gnostic concepts. Despite inventing special and unique elements in this process, post-Islamic architecture continued the traditional Iranian architecture in which order, geometric composition, and symmetry of components were reflected. If we consider these elements as the external manifestation of the work, decorations such as tiling, plastering, muqarnas, sash windows, etc. are all internal arrangements and are inspired by the phenomenon closest to man, namely nature. This architecture tried to give back the peace which was stolen from him by his own actions. Whether the building designed by it was the palace of a king, the mansion of a government dignitary, traditional houses, or the architecture of mosques and gardens, the goal was to reconcile man with nature and create an environment where he could forget the chaotic outside and look inside. That is why Iranian architecture is more internal than external. Everything happens inside and every element of the architect’s art becomes more tangible once you are inside the building.

To further expand the subject above we must say that the motif of Iranian architecture has been always its cosmic symbolism of heaven. This theme, shared by virtually all Asia and persisting even into modern times, not only has given unity and continuity to the architecture of Persia but has been a primary source of its emotional characters as well. The concept of unity or the main Sufi philosophies likes “unity while plurality” is also one of the sources of inspiring some designs and builds. 

The Top Historical Architecture Sites to Visit in Iran

As the remnants of an empire that once covered almost the entire area from Greece to China, Iran is worth visiting, especially when you have a category such as historical architecture sites on your hand. As with any historical building, the sites listed here, each contains a rich background with their specific aspect. One must know that Iran’s history is exceptionally complex, layered with dynasties and rulers whose influence extended way beyond modern-day Iran and in times they had their own conflict which resulted in a gap between any artistic renovations.

These sites, therefore, are physical memories of the rich culture that could be Iranian people’s heaven today. Some sites are not for the Islamic religion members who are the largest religious group in Iran, but it is open to anyone, regardless of their religion and nationality. 

Persepolis, Shiraz

Situated 60 kilometers northeast of Shiraz, Persepolis (literally “the city of Persians” in Greek) was the ceremonial capital of Persia during the Achaemenid Empire around 550-330 BC. The archeological ruins cover a total of 1.6 square kilometers with remnants of enormous columns, two royal palaces and gardens, and two great tombs of the Achaemenid kings. One enters through the Gate of All Nations as many kings, queen, and royal ambassadors have done ages ago. Persepolis’ history is what makes it so powerful, despite the number of tourists that can now be found there. All the reason this magnificent place was built was for Darius the Great to show Persepolis as a symbol of his mighty empire. Thus, he gathered the finest of every element he could find and brought to Pars. He paid attention to the smallest details and even mentions where he has obtained the materials, some from far away, and some close. The architects were Greek for sure but the style was different and each king added something new to the site. What remains still, with a fine tour guide will take you back to the great ceremonies. 


Naqsh-e Rustam Necropolis, Shiraz

Located around 12 kilometers northwest of Persepolis are enormous monuments carved into family tombs by Achaemenid kings. Unfortunately, the tombs were raided by Alexander however, this action does not affect the majestic appearance of their exteriors in any way. The sheer size of the stone carvings is difficult to grasp, especially when after their work was done and the last person was buried, the official order was too cut all the ties with the tomb so no one could ever reach it. The tombs are in the form of a cross, something common in Mithraism. And as one could see all the 28 nations of the empire are helping the king to stand on his throne. The toms do reflect the glory of the king, and it is safe to say that the job of the architect was done.

Naqsh-e Rustam

Nasir-ol-Molk (The Pink) Mosque, Shiraz

There is a huge time difference between this Mosque and the previous ones, it’s a mosque from the contemporary time yet it has the structures of traditional architecture with a special color that was never used in Mosques before. Getting up early might work to your advantage. Because of its wonderful sash window decoration inside and seven color tiling, there are moments when the sun shines through the windows and makes perfect scenery. You feel like you are hovering in air, light, and color. Find your quiet moment there before tourists rush in. the time being. When you enter the Mosque there is a black marble stone and the architect has written a poem so humbly asking people’s blessings. 

Nasir al-mulk

Shah Mosque, Isfahan

History and architecture are sometimes so combined that you can’t recognize one without the other. This building, despite the initial idea which ordered the place to be built, was destined to be the architects’ (Ali-Akbar Isfahani) greatest achievement. The one architectural site that the vast majority of tour guide books have a space covered in beautiful blue and yellow mosaics. You could spend an entire day walking around the mosque, focusing on the details, finding little secrets, or even spin your head under the colorful superb dome. One thing you must not miss is the experience of standing under the center of the main dome, and speaking or singing just to hear how the ecosystem works. This experience is worth a visit itself.

If you look at the module from above, you see that the square of Naqshe Jahan, where the mosque is located, is in a form of rectangle and other buildings such as the Bazar and Ali-Qapo Palace are in line with the geometric shape but because of Kiblah, the Shah Mosque’s whole building is acock. One might think when they’re about to enter the Mosque they should realize that they are turning but due to the architect’s clever trick, it feels as if you are still within the coordinates of the square.

shah mosque

Ali Qapu Palace, Isfahan

Choosing Isfahan to be the capital of the great Safavid Kingdome-to be, was not an easy one. Isfahan had the elements and the potential to be the perfect capital but it required the continuator cooperation of many scientists, artists, and architects to reach that place. Luckily there was a great King to manage it all. So many beautiful architectural buildings were built during his time in Isfahan. Ali Qapo was built in stages, starting with the compact cubic entrance, and then expanding with an upper hall, adding two floors above the entrance aria. On top of this, there is the Music Hall, which is hard to reach but absolutely worth visiting, and later the large eastern porch opening up towards the square. The porch was decorated with 18 wooden columns supporting a wooden ceiling. Ali Qapo with its great details contained in every single room to create complexity and adorn decorative forms, was Shah Abbas’s favorite and glorious palace to entertain his guests during the Safavid Dynasty.

Ali Qapu

Khaju Bridge, Isfahan

Built by Shah Abbas the Great during his Safavid Dynasty around 1650, Khaju is not just a bridge, but also served as a dam for the public it was a popular meeting space. It boasts 23 arches spanning over 133 meters. It was a project that both engineers and architects came together and build up and idea for the Zayanderod River. But this unfortunate bridge is not living its glorious moments of that past, the rive no longer flows underneath and the designs and decoration have not been well protected

Khaju Bridge

Old City of Yazd

The wonderment of Yazd does not fit in words and texts. You have to be there for yourself and see how people, engineers, architects, and government officials have made a city worth living in out of the pure desert. That is why the old city which remains till now is so important in the history of architecture. The invention of windcatcher or ceilings is shapes of domes and also has a basement that in time worked as the refrigerator, all have made Yazd a wonder to all. Where you could walk all around and not notice that you’re living in the 21st century. 


Tower of Silence, Yazd

Before all the burial system of other Abrahamic religions, Zoroastrians in Iran, like many others, had their own belief system about the diseased. Once the soul leaves the body, it’s not to be touched and it will “pollute” the 4 elements. So in order to prevent that some special people from the holy office in a very low rank of service would take to the body to the highest place they could find where special caretakers would carry up the dead. In these large and exposed circular spaces, the sun and birds left behind nothing but bones that were later collected and finally disintegrated by lime and water. This high place on the mountain became the Tower of silence. The Tower hasn’t been used since the 1960s, as the Iranian government banned this practice.

tower of silence

The Dome of Soltaniyeh in Soltaniyeh city, Zanjan Province

The main building was erected between 1302 and 1312 AD during the Ilkhanate dynasty near Zanjan. It is one of the largest brick domes in the world and to make its record complete the third largest dome in the world, when you count the domes of Florence Cathedral and Hagia Sophia, first. It’s a shame that much of its exterior decoration has been lost there were so many wars and instabilities at those times, but the internal walls show excellent mosaics work, faience, and murals. The estimated 200-ton dome stands 49 meters (161 ft.) tall from its base. People have compared the architecture of the building as “the Persian Taj Mahal.”

The Dome of Soltaniyeh




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