Chogha Zanbil

Chogha Zanbil is an ancient Elamite complex in the Khuzestan province of Iran. It is one of the few existent ziggurats outside of Mesopotamia. It lies approximately 42 km south-southeast of Dezful, 30 km south-east of Susa and 80 km north of Ahvaz.

Chogha in Bakhtiari means “hill”. Choga Zanbil means ‘basket mound.’ It was built about 1250 BC by the king Untash-Napirisha, mainly to honor the great god Inshushinak. Its original name was Dur Untash, which means ‘town of Untash’, but it is unlikely that many people, besides priests and servants, ever lived there. The complex is protected by three concentric walls which define the main areas of the ‘town’. The inner area is wholly taken up with a great ziggurat dedicated to the main god, which was built over an earlier square temple with storage rooms also built by Untash-Napirisha. The middle area holds eleven temples for lesser gods. It is believed that twenty-two temples were originally planned, but the king died before they could be finished, and his successors discontinued the building work. In the outer area are royal palaces, a funerary palace containing five subterranean royal tombs.

Although construction in the city abruptly ended after Untash-Napirisha’s death, the site was not abandoned, but continued to be occupied until it was destroyed by the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal in 640 BC. Some scholars speculate, based on the large number of temples and sanctuaries at Chogha Zanbil, that Untash-Napirisha attempted to create a new religious center (possibly intended to replace Susa) which would unite the gods of both highland and lowland Elam at one site.

The main building materials in Chogha Zanbil were mud bricks and occasionally baked bricks. The monuments were decorated with glazed baked bricks, gypsum and ornaments of faïence and glass. Ornamenting the most important buildings were thousands of baked bricks bearing inscriptions with cuneiform characters. Glazed terracotta statues such as bulls and winged griffins guarded the entrances to the ziggurat. Near the temples of Kiririsha and Hishmitik-Ruhuratir, kilns were found that were probably used for the production of baked bricks and decorative materials. It is believed that the ziggurat was built in two stages. It took its multi-layered form in the second phase.

The ziggurat is considered to be the best preserved example in the world.[according to whom?] In 1979, Chogha Zanbil became the first Iranian site to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Narin Castle

The Narin Qal’eh or Narin Castle is a mud-brick fort or castle in the town of Meybod, (North West of Shiraz) Iran. Structures like these constituted the government stronghold in some of the older towns of central Iran in pre-Islamic period. Some of these castles like the Nairn castle incorporate mud bricks dating to the Medes but most are from the Achaemenid and Sassanid periods.

The ruins of the structure stands 40 meters high from its base. Although built probably between 2-3,000 years ago, it contains what seems to be a type of plumbing system made out of mortar built into its massive walls. It is also peculiarly similar in design to Ali Qapu palace of Isfahan; it has a terrace high on top of the structure whose circulation is provided by two helical stairwells (whose walls have caved in, making it inaccessible). The structure also has a large underground chamber (filled now by rubble), possibly a prison. Four towers surround the entire compound, and a large gate furnishes access to a large courtyard. The structure seems to have been the victim of numerous earthquakes throughout the ages.

There are bricks from Medes period onward, although there has been suggestions that its construction like many of these old buildings went on in different phases which may have even begun before the Medes. This castle unlike all other buildings (for exp. in Susa) was built in 3 different floors, at ground level you will see common people life form, then commercial and business floor and then a royal part (the military part on the roof – No religious floor or section at all!)

The position of this city is unlike all others as you can watch over 70 kilometers in every direction from the top of the roof, yet again it is centered between mountains so for an invasion you had to climb those mountains first then go another 70 kilometres.

Although all outer gates have been destroyed the inner castle still exists. You can still see some of the outer walls.

Nush-e Jan Tepe

The ancient Iron Age settlement known as Tepe Nush-e Jan can be found 50 kilometers south of modern Hamadan (ancient Ecbatana). It is described as a Median town, and perhaps rightly so. However, so far, it has been impossible to identify the objects that represent the Median state. The empire of the Medes is not an archaeological fact (yet), but exists only as something mentioned by other sources such as Herodotus. A possible explanation for this discrepancy is that the Medians remained nomadic, and that Herodotus has projected aspects of the Achaemenid Empire – a real, fully developed state – backwards.

Yet, there must have been a Median civilization, and it must have looked like Tepe Nush-e Jan, which was excavated in 1967-1974 and has been made accessible more recently. The complex was erected out of mud brick and consisted of
1.a multi-storied fort with heavy walls and large store rooms;
2.several palace-like rooms, called the “old western building”;
3.a hall of 20×16 meter with twelve columns (which the excavators have playfully labeled “the apadana”);
4.a water tunnel that started in the hall;
5.a cross-shaped building that has been interpreted as a fire sanctuary – probably the oldest example of this type of building. A 14C-dating suggests that it was built in 723±220 BCE.

The buildings were erected in the second half of the eighth century and stood on a high, partly natural hill (not unlike contemporary Urartian Iron Age settlements, e.g., Çavustepe in Turkey or Bastam in NW-Iran). No traces of a village have been identified near Tepe Nush-e Jan, which confirms that the inhabitants were nomads; the building of the complex appears to have been something of an innovation. Assyrian pressure may have been the reason for building the fort.


Pasargadae was the capital of the Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great who had issued its construction (559–530 BC); it was also the location of his tomb. It was a city in ancient Persia, located near the city of Shiraz (in Pasargad County), and is today an archaeological site and one of Iran’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  Cyrus began building the capital in 546 BC or later; it was unfinished when he died in battle, in 530 or 529 BC. The remains of the tomb of Cyrus’ son and successor Cambyses II have been found in Pasargadae, near the fortress of Toll-e Takht, and identified in 2006.

Pasargadae remained the capital of the Achaemenid empire until Cambyses II moved it to Susa; later, Darius founded another in Persepolis. The archaeological site covers 1.6 square kilometres and includes a structure commonly believed to be the mausoleum of Cyrus, the fortress of Toll-e Takht sitting on top of a nearby hill, and the remains of two royal palaces and gardens. Pasargadae Persian Gardens provide the earliest known example of the Persian chahar bagh, or fourfold garden design.

The design of Cyrus’ tomb is credited to Mesopotamian or Elamite ziggurats, but the cella is usually attributed to Urartu tombs of an earlier period. In particular, the tomb at Pasargadae has almost exactly the same dimensions as the tomb of Alyattes II, father of the Lydian King Croesus; however, some have refused the claim (according to Herodotus, Croesus was spared by Cyrus during the conquest of Lydia, and became a member of Cyrus’ court). The main decoration on the tomb is a rosette design over the door within the gable. In general, the art and architecture found at Pasargadae exemplified the Persian synthesis of various traditions, drawing on precedents from Elam, Babylon, Assyria, and ancient Egypt, with the addition of some Anatolian influences.

Darius Palace in Susa

The Darius palace in Susa was built during the reign of Darius I. It is built on a mighty terrace and the design is closer to the palaces of Babylonia and Syria, with their numerous rooms, than to the Iranian residences. In a famous inscription discovered in the room that is known as the King’s Hall, he describes how all nations of his empire contributed to the building:

The cedar timber, this was brought from a mountain named Lebanon. The Assyrian people brought it to Babylon; from Babylon the Carians and the Yaun (Greeks) brought it to Susa. The yak-timber was brought from Gandara and from Carmania. The gold was brought from Lydia and from Bactria, which here was wrought. The precious stone lapis lazuli and carnelian which was wrought here, this was brought from Sogdia. The precious stone turquoise, this was brought from Chorasmia, which was wrought here. The silver and the ebony were brought from Egypt. The ornamentation with which the wall was adorned, that from Yaun was brought. The ivory which was wrought here, was brought from Kush and from India and from Arachosia. The stone columns which were here wrought, a village named Abiradu, in Elam – from there were brought. The stone-cutters who wrought the stone, those were Yaun and Lydians. The goldsmiths who wrought the gold, those were Medes and Egyptians. The men who wrought the wood, those were Lydians and Egyptians. The men who wrought the baked brick, those were Babylonians. The men who adorned the wall, those were Medes and Egyptians

The palace and its Apadana were destroyed by fire during the reign of Artaxerxes I (465-424/423). Inscriptions proves that he almost finished restoring the palace; the apadana took longer and was not finished until the reign of his grandson Artaxerxes II Mnemon (404-358).

The palace was usually entered from the east, where the visitors were welcomed at the Great Gate. Moving to the west, guests would pass along three or four courts. The Third Court was the largest: was larger than two first courts. It may have been used for military exercises. The Second Court is now easy to recognize because it looks much deeper than the other courts. The most famous building at Susa is probably the Apadana, the audience hall of the Palace of Darius. It was accessible from the south through the second and third courts. The hall measured 109×109 meter and had thirty-six large columns to support the roof. Three times twelve columns supported the roof of the porticos to the west, north, and east sides of the building. The apadana of Susa is larger than its counterpart in Persepolis.


As with many places and people, the ancient capital of the Achaemenian kings of Persia is known to us by it’s Greek name “Persepolis” meaning Persian City. The Persians themselves called it “Parsa” meaning the city of Persians. The remains of Persepolis are located in the Fars region of what is now southwestern Iran.. It is now called “takht-e-jamshid”.

Construction of the city was begun under Darius I (Darius the Great – reigned 522–486 B.C.). Persepolis was built in a remote and mountainous region which was quite inconvenient, making its function as the royal residence and seat of power, somewhat strange. Administration of the Achaemenian Empire was likely still carried on from the traditional power centers of Susa, Babylon, and Ecbatana.

Upon the defeat of the Persian Empire by the Macedonian King Alexander the Great in 330 B.C. Persepolis was plundered, and the palace of the then Persian King Xerxes, was burned. According to one legend, it was Thais, a Athenian courtesan who traveled with the army of Alexander, that supposedly persuaded Alexander to set fire to the Achaemenian Palace. In another version, the fire was started when a drunken Thais led a revel that got out of hand. In any event, years later Persepolis was still the capital of Persia, but now as a province of the Macedonian empire. The city gradually declined, and then fell to ruin after the Seleucid period.

Naqsh-e Rustam

Naqsh-e Rustam) “Rustam Relief”) is an ancient necropolis located about 12 km northwest of Persepolis, in Fars Province, Iran, with a group of ancient Iranian rock reliefs cut into the cliff, from both the Achaemenid and Sassanid periods. It lies a few hundred meters from Naqsh-e Rajab, with a further group of Sassanid reliefs.

The oldest relief at Naqsh-e Rustam dates back to c. 1000 BC. Though it is severely damaged, it depicts a faint image of a man with unusual head-gear, and is thought to be Elamite in origin. The depiction is part of a larger mural, most of which was removed at the command of Bahram II. The man with the unusual cap gives the site its name, Naqsh-e Rustam (“Rustam Relief”), because the relief was locally believed to be a depiction of the mythical hero Rustam.

Four tombs belonging to Achaemenid kings are carved out of the rock face at a considerable height above the ground. The tombs are locally known as the Persian crosses, after the shape of the facades of the tombs. The entrance to each tomb is at the center of each cross, which opens onto to a small chamber, where the king lay in a sarcophagus. The horizontal beam of each of the tomb’s facades is believed to be a replica of a Persepolitan entrance.

One of the tombs is explicitly identified, by an accompanying inscription, as the tomb of Darius I (c. 522-486 BC). The other three tombs are believed to be those of Xerxes I (c. 486-465 BC), Artaxerxes I (c. 465-424 BC), and Darius II (c. 423-404 BC) respectively. The order of the tombs in Naqsh-e Rustam follows (left to right): Darius II, Artaxerxes I, Darius I, Xerxes I.

A fifth unfinished one might be that of Artaxerxes III, but is more likely that of Darius III (c. 336-330 BC), the last king of the Achaemenid Dynasts. The tombs were looted following the conquest of the Achaemenid Empire by Alexander the Great.

Seven over-lifesized rock reliefs at Naqsh-e Rustam depict monarchs of the Sassanid period.

Anahita Temple

The Anahita Temple  is the name of one of two archaeological sites in Iran popularly thought to have been attributed to the ancient deity Anahita. The larger and more widely known of the two is located at Kangāvar in Kermanshah Province. The other is located at Bishapur.

The remains at Kangavar reveal an edifice that is Hellenistic in character, and yet display Persian architectural designs. The plinth’s enormous dimensions for example, which measure just over 200m on a side, and its megalithic foundations, which echo Achaemenid stone platforms, “constitute Persian elements”. This is thought to be corroborated by the “two lateral stairways that ascend the massive stone platform recalling Achaemenid traditions”, particularly that of the Apadana Palace at Persepolis.

Another Iranian construction with Hellenistic characteristics is the Khurra mausoleum in Markazi Province.

Bam Citadel

The Bam Citadel. or Arg-e Bam  was the largest adobe building in the world, located in Bam, a city in the Kermān Province of south eastern Iran. It is listed by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage Site “Bam and its Cultural Landscape”. The origin of this enormous citadel on the Silk Road can be traced back to the Achaemenid period (6th to 4th centuries BC) and even beyond. The heyday of the citadel was from the 7th to 11th centuries, being at the crossroads of important trade routes and known for the production of silk and cotton garments. The entire building was a large fortress in whose heart the citadel itself was located, but because of the impressive look of the citadel, which forms the highest point, the entire fortress is named the Bam Citadel.

On December 26, 2003, the Citadel was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake, along with much of the rest of Bam and its environs. Larger than nearby Arg-é Rayen, the area of Bam Citadel is approximately 180,000 square meters (44 acres), and it is surrounded by gigantic walls 6–7 metres (20–23 ft) high and 1,815 metres (5,955 ft) long. The citadel features two of the “stay-awake towers” for which Bam is famed – there are as many as 67 such towers scattered across the ancient city of Bam.

The planning and architecture of the citadel are thought out from different points of view. From the present form of the citadel one can see that the planner(s) had foreseen the entire final form of the building and city from the first steps in the planning process. During each phase of building development the already-built part enjoyed a complete figure, and each additional part could be “sewn” into the existing section seamlessly.

All buildings are made of non-baked clay bricks, i.e. adobes. Bam Citadel was probably, prior to the 2003 earthquake, the biggest adobe structure in the world. The Citadel was used as the major location site for Valerio Zurlini’s film of The Desert of the Tartars.

Taq Kasra

Taq Kasra is a Sassanid-era Persian monument located near the modern town of Salman Pak, Iraq. It is the only visible remaining structure of the ancient city of Ctesiphon. The archway is the largest single-span vault of unreinforced brickwork in the world.

The exact time of construction is not known with certainty. Construction possibly began during the reign of Khosrau I after a campaign against the Byzantines in 540 AD. The arched iwan hall, open on the facade side, was about 37 meters high 26 meters across and 50 meters long, the largest man-made, free standing vault constructed until modern times.

The arch was part of the imperial palace complex. The throne room—presumably under or behind the arch—was more than 30 m high and covered an area 24 m wide by 48 m long. The top of the arch is about 1 meter thick while the walls at the base are up to 7 meters thick. It is the largest vault ever constructed in the world. The catenary arch was built without centring. In order to make this possible a number of techniques were used. The bricks were laid about 18 degrees from the vertical which allowed them to be partially supported by the rear wall during construction. The quick drying cement used as mortar allowed the fresh bricks to be quickly supported by those that were previously laid.

The Taq Kasra is now all that remains above ground of a city that was, for seven centuries—from the 2nd century BC to the 7th century AD—the main capital of the Iranian successor dynasties of the Parthians and Sassanids. The structure left today was the main portico of the audience hall of the Sassanids who maintained the same site chosen by the Parthians and for the same reason, namely proximity to the Roman Empire, whose expansionist aims could be better contained at the point of contact. The structure was captured by the Arabs in AD 637. They then used it as a mosque for a while until the area was gradually abandoned.

The monument was in the process of being rebuilt by Saddam Hussein’s government in the course of the 1980s, when the fallen northern wing was partially rebuilt. All works, however, stopped after the 1991 Gulf War. The current Iraqi government is cooperating with the University of Chicago’s “Diyala Project” to restore the site.

Derbent Fortress

UNESCO’s classified the Derbent fortress as a World Heritage. The current fortification and walls were built by the Persian Sassanian Empire as a defensive structure against hostile nomadic people in the north, and continuously repaired or improved by later Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms until the early course of the 19th century, as long as its military function lasted. The fortress was built under direction of the Sassanid emperor Khosrow I.

A large portion of the walls and several watchtowers still remain in reasonable shape. The walls, reaching to the sea, date from the 6th century, Sassanid dynasty period. The city has a well-preserved citadel (Narin-kala), enclosing an area of 4.5 hectares (11 acres), enclosed by strong walls. Historical attractions include the baths, the cisterns, the old cemeteries, the caravanserai, the 18th-century Khan’s mausoleum, as well as several mosques. The oldest mosque is the Juma Mosque, built over a 6th-century Christian basilica; it has a 15th-century madrassa. Other shrines include the 17th-century Kyrhlyar mosque, the Bala mosque and the 18th-century Chertebe mosque.

Samanid Mausoleum

The Samanid mausoleum is located in a park just outside the historic urban center of Bukhara, Uzbekistan. The mausoleum is considered to be one of the most highly esteemed work of Central Asian architecture, and was built between 892 and 943 CE as the resting-place of Ismail Samani – a powerful and influential amir of the Samanid dynasty, one of the last native Persian dynasties that ruled in Central Asia in the 9th and 10th centuries, after the Samanids established virtual independence from the Abbasid Caliphate.

The fact that the religious law of orthodox Sunni Islam strictly prohibits the construction of mausoleums over burial places stresses the significance of the Samanid mausoleum, which is the most ancient monument of Islamic architecture in Central Asia and the sole monument that survived from the epoch of the Samanid Dynasty. The Samanid mausoleum might be one of the earliest departures from that orthodox religious restriction in the history of Islamic architecture.

The monument marks a new era in the development of Persian and Central Asian architecture, which was revived after the Arab conquest of the region. The overall structure is made similar to ancient persian fire temples, commonly known as chartaqi in Persian. The architects continued to use an ancient tradition of baked brick construction, but to a much higher standard than had been seen before. The site is unique for its architectural style which combines both Zoroastrian motifs from the native Sogdian and Sassanid cultures, as well as Islamic motifs introduced from Arabia and Persia.

Gonbad-e Kavus

Gonbad-e Qabus tower is a monument in Gonbad-e Qabus, Iran, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2012. The Tower in the central part of the city reaches 72 metres (236 ft). The baked-brick-built tower is an enormous decagon building with a conic roof, which forms the golden ratio Phi, that equals 1.618. The interiors contain the earliest examples of Muqarnas decorative styles. The decagon with its 3 meter-thick wall, divided into 10 sides, has a diameter of 17 m. The Tower was built on such a scientific and architectural design that at the front of the Tower, at an external circle, one can hear one’s echo.

The tower was built in 1006 AD on the orders of the Ziyarid Amir Shams ol-Ma’āli Qabus ibn Wushmgir. It is located 3 km north of the ancient city of Gorgan, from where the Ziyarid dynasty ruled. A Kufic inscription at the bottom of the tower reads in Arabic: “This tall palace for the prince Shams ul-Ma’ali, Amir Qabus ibn Wushmgir ordered to build during his life, in the year 397 the lunar Hegira, and the year 375 the solar Hegira”

Tughrul Tower

Tuğrul Tower (also transliterated Toghrul, Tughrol, or Tughrul) is a 12th-century monument, located in the city of Rey, Iran. Tuğrul Tower is near Rashkan Castle. The 20 meters tall brick tower is the tomb of Seljuk ruler Tuğrul Beg, who died in Rey in 1063. Originally, like other monuments of its time, it was capped by a conical dome, which collapsed during an earthquake.

The thickness of the walls varies from 1.75 to 2.75 meters. The inner and outer diameters are 11 and 16 meters, respectively. The exterior shape is that of a polygon with 24 angles in its design, which is thought to contribute to the structure’s stability against tremors.

At the top of the tower Kufic inscriptions were originally observable. Naser al-Din Shah ordered some restorations to be made to the top part of the tower, which was collapsing in 1884. The tower is protected by Iran’s Cultural Heritage Organization

The Kharraqan towers

The Kharraqan towers are mausoleums, built in 1067 and 1093, located on the plains in northern Iran, near Qazvin.
The brick structures stand 15 metres (49 ft) tall and 4 metres (13 ft) wide, and make extensive use of geometry. Inside the older mausoleum there is a lamp and paintings.

The eastern tower dates from 1067–68, while the western tower dates from 1093. Both towers appear to be the work of the architect, Muhammad bin Makki al-Zanjani. It is believed that the occupant of the eastern tower was Abu Sa’id Bijar and the occupant of the western tower was Abu Mansur Iltayti.

These towers are remnant examples of architecture that existed during the Seljuk period of medieval Persia.

The Minaret of Jam

The Minaret of Jam is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in western Afghanistan. It is located in a remote and nearly inaccessible region of the Shahrak District, Ghor Province, next to the Hari River. The 62-metre (203 ft) high minaret was built around 1190 entirely of baked bricks and is famous for its intricate brick, stucco and glazed tile decoration, which consists of alternating bands of kufic and naskhi calligraphy, geometric patterns, and verses from the Qur’an. As of 2013 the minaret remained on the list of World Heritage in Danger, under serious threat of erosion, and was not actively being preserved.

The circular minaret rests on an octagonal base; it had 2 wooden balconies and was topped by a lantern. Its formal presentation has a striking similarity to the minaret built by Masud III in Ghazni. It is thought to have been a direct inspiration for the Qutub Minar in Delhi, India, which was also built by the Ghurid Dynasty. After the Qutub Minar, the Minaret of Jam is the second-tallest brick minaret in the world.

The Minaret of Jam belongs to a group of around 60 minarets and towers built between the 11th and the 13th centuries in Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan, including the Kutlug Timur Minaret in Old Urgench (long considered the tallest of these still in existence) to the tower at Ghazni. The minarets are thought to have been built as symbols of Islam’s victory, while other towers were simply landmarks or watchtowers.

Tekesh Mausoleum

This structure is the presumed Tomb of Sultan Ala al-din Tekesh, the founder of the Khwarezm Empire and its ruler between 1172-1200.

The building is made of bricks and consists of a square hall with walls which are 11,45 meters high, a massive round drum and a conical roof with an inner dome hidden under it. The dome is connected to the square walls it rests upon by an octagonal belt. The structure between the dome and the octagon is decorated with 16 shallow niches. Their form is not lancet-like as those commonly found in the Islamic architecture of Central Asia, but rather semicircular. This is a motif that can be found in the marble 8th-century mihrab at the Baghdad Museum, and has seldom been used in Central Asia: another comparable case that can be found in Turkmenistan is that of the mihrab of Muhammad Ibn Zayd’s 11th-century mosque, from Merv. However, the two are located too far away to be considered prototypes.

The external conical roof is built of horizontal layers using the technique of a false vault. From the inside, it is strengthened with 12 buttresses standing upon the internal dome. Although this might seem like a risky construction technique, the roof is not in bad condition: only the top is destroyed, and the blue majolica[disambiguation needed] decoration slightly damaged. One of the special features of the building’s architecture is its façade. It presents a high portal niche with the main archway, which has now lost its original form. Interestingly, the lancet arch of the portal is filled by a complicated system of stalactite -like forms, which is a decorative motif made of terracotta and fixed on wooden sticks within the brickwork.


Dome of Soltaniyeh

The central magnet of Soltaniyeh’s several ruins is the Mausoleum of Il-khan Öljeitü also known as Muhammad Khodabandeh, traditionally known as the Dome of Soltaniyeh in Soltaniyeh city, Zanjan Province.

The structure, erected from 1302 to 1312 AD, has the oldest double-shell dome in Iran This erroneous view of the construction was made by Dieulafoy but is totally disputed by Andre Godard. In Godard’s view it is a normal, if spectacularly large dome, with a thin skin on top for the faience and is in no way a double dome. Its importance in the Muslim world may be compared to that of Brunelleschi’s cupola for Christian architecture. It is one of the largest brick domes in the world, just at the theoretical engineering limit for a brick dome and the third largest dome in the world after the domes of Florence Cathedral and Hagia Sophia. The Dome of Soltaniyeh paved the way for more daring Iranian-style cupola constructions in the Muslim world, such as the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasavi and the Taj Mahal. Much of its exterior decoration has been lost, but the interior retains superb mosaics, faience, and murals. People have described the architecture of the building as “anticipating the Taj Mahal.”

The estimated 200 ton dome stands 49 meters (161 ft) tall from its base, and is currently undergoing extensive renovation


The Gūr-i Amīr is Persian for “Tomb of the King”. It is a mausoleum of the Asian conqueror Timur (also known as Tamerlane) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. It occupies an important place in the history of Persian-Mongolian Architecture as the precursor and model for later great Mughal architecture tombs, including Gardens of Babur in Kabul, Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi and the Taj Mahal in Agra, built by Timur’s Persianised descendants, the ruling Mughal dynasty of North India. It has been heavily restored. This architectural complex with its azure dome contains the tombs of Tamerlane, his sons Shah Rukh and Miran Shah and grandsons Ulugh Beg and Muhammad Sultan. Also honoured with a place in the tomb is Timur’s teacher Sayyid Baraka.

The earliest part of the complex was built at the end of the 14th century by the orders of Muhammad Sultan. Now only the foundations of the madrasah and khanaka, the entrance portal and a part of one of four minarets remains. The construction of the mausoleum itself began in 1403 after the sudden death of Muhammad Sultan, Tamerlane’s heir apparent and his beloved grandson, for whom it was intended. Timur had built himself a smaller tomb in Shahrisabz near his Ak-Saray palace. However, when Timur died in 1405 on campaign on his military expedition to China, the passes to Shahrisabz were snowed in, so he was buried here instead. Ulugh Beg, another grandson of Tamerlane, completed the work. During his reign the mausoleum became the family crypt of the Timurid Dynasty.


Sheikh Safi al-Din Khanegah and Shrine Ensemble

Sheikh Safi al-Din Khānegāh and Shrine Ensemble is the tomb of Sheikh Safi-ad-din Ardabili located in Ardabil, Iran. In 2010, it was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Sheikh Safi, a leader of an Islamic Sufi order established by the Safavids, was born in Ardabil. The Safavids valued the tomb-mosque form, and the tomb with its mausoleum and prayer hall is located at a right angle to the mosque. The buildings in the complex surround a small inner courtyard (31 by 16 meters). The complex is entered through a long garden. The Mausoleum was first built by his son Sheikh Sadr al-Dīn Mūsā, after Sheikh Safi’s death in 1334. It was constructed between the beginning of the 16th century and the end of the 18th century. The mausoleum, a tall, domed circular tower decorated with blue tile and about 17 meters in height; beside it is the 17th-century Porcelain House preserving the sanctuary’s ceremonial wares. Also part of the complex are many sections that have served a variety of functions over the past centuries, including a library, a mosque, a school, mausolea, a cistern, a hospital, kitchens, a bakery, and some offices. It incorporates a route to reach the shrine of the sheikh divided into seven segments, which mirror the seven stages of Sufi mysticism. Various parts of the mausoleum are separated by eight gates, which represent the eight attitudes of Sufism. Several parts were gradually added to the main structure during the Safavid dynasty. A number of Safavid sheikhs and harems and victims of the Safavids’ battles, including the Battle of Chaldiran, have been buried at the site.

Naqsh-e Jahan Square

Naqsh-e Jahan Square (trans: “Image of the World Square”), is a square situated at the center of Isfahan city, Iran. Constructed between 1598 and 1629, it is now an important historical site, and one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. It is 160 metres (520 ft) wide by 560 metres (1,840 ft) long (an area of 89,600 square metres (964,000 sq ft)). It is also referred to as Shah Square or Imam Square. It is surrounded by buildings from the Safavid era. The Shah Mosque is situated on the south side of this square. On the west side is the Ali Qapu Palace. Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque is situated on the eastern side of this square and at the northern side Keisaria gate opens into the Isfahan Grand Bazaar.

In 1598, when Shah Abbas decided to move the capital of his rule from the north-western city of Qazvin to the central city of Isfahan, he initiated the complete remaking of the city. The chief architect of this colossal task of urban planning was Shaykh Bahai (Baha’ ad-Din al-`Amili), who focused the programme on two key features of Shah Abbas’s master plan: the Chahar Bagh avenue, flanked at either side by all the prominent institutions of the city, such as the residences of all foreign dignitaries, and the Naqsh-e Jahan Square. The ingenuity of the square, or Maidān, was that, by building it, Shah Abbas would gather the three main components of power in Persia in his own backyard; the power of the clergy, represented by the Masjed-e Shah, the power of the merchants, represented by the Imperial Bazaar, and of course, the power of the Shah himself, residing in the Ali Qapu Palace.

Many historians have wondered about the peculiar orientation of the maidān which does not lie in alignment with Mecca. There maybe an explanation to this; the vision of Shaykh Bahai was for the mosque to be visible wherever in the maydān a person was situated. Had the axis of the maydān coincided with the axis of Mecca, the dome of the mosque would have been concealed from view by the towering entrance-portal leading to it. By creating an angle between them, the two parts of the building, the entrance-portal and the dome, are in perfect view for everyone within the square to admire.

Ali Ghapu Palace

Ali Qapu is a grand palace in Isfahan, Iran. It is located on the western side of the Naqsh e Jahan Square, opposite to Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, and had been originally designed as a vast portal. It is forty-eight meters high and there are six floors, each accessible by a spiral staircase. In the sixth floor, Music Hall, deep circular niches are found in the walls, having not only aesthetic value, but also acoustic.

Fresco from the portico of the palace, depicting a Persian woman
The name Ali Qapu, from Arabic “Ālī” (meaning “imperial” or “great”), and Turkic “Qāpū” (meaning “gate”), was given to this place as it was right at the entrance to the Safavid palaces which stretched from the Naqsh e Jahan Square to the Chahar Baq Boulevard. The building, another wonderful Safavid edifice, was built by decree of Shah Abbas I in the early seventeenth century. Shah Abbas, here for the first time, celebrated the Nowruz (Iranian New Year) of 1006 AH / 1597 C.E.

Ali Qapu is rich in naturalistic wall paintings by Reza Abbasi, the court painter of Shah Abbas I, and his pupils. There are floral, animal, and bird motifs in his works. The highly ornamented doors and windows of the palace have almost all been pillaged. Only one window on the third floor has escaped the ravages of time. Ali Qapu was repaired and restored substantially during the reign of Shah Sultan Hussein, the last Safavid ruler, but fell into a dreadful state of dilapidation again during the short reign of invading Afghans.

The Shah Mosque

The Shah Mosque, also known as Jaame’ Abbasi Mosque or Imam Mosque after the Iranian revolution of 1979, is a mosque in Isfahan, Iran, standing in the south side of Naghsh-e Jahan Square. Built during the Safavid Empire, ordered by Shah Abbas I. It is regarded as one of the masterpieces of Iranian architecture and an excellent example of Islamic era architecture of Iran. It is registered, along with the Naghsh-e Jahan Square, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its construction began in 1611, and its splendor is mainly due to the beauty of its seven-colour mosaic tiles and calligraphic inscriptions.

In 1598, when Shah Abbas decided to move the capital of his Persian empire from the northwestern city of Qazvin to the central city of Isfahan, he initiated what would become one of the greatest programmes in Persian history; the complete remaking of this ancient city. By choosing the central city of Isfahan, fertilized by the Zāyandeh River (“The life-giving river”), lying as an oasis of intense cultivation in the midst of a vast area of arid landscape, he both distanced his capital from any future assaults by Iran’s neighboring arch rival, the Ottomans, and at the same time gained more control over the Persian Gulf, which had recently become an important trading route for the Dutch and British East India Companies.

The chief architect of this colossal task of urban planning was Shaykh Bahai (Baha’ ad-Din al-`Amili), who focused the programme on two key features of Shah Abbas’s master plan: the Chahar Bagh avenue, flanked at either side by all the prominent institutions of the city, such as the residences of all foreign dignitaries, and the Naqsh-e Jahan Square (“Exemplar of the World”). The ingenuity of the square, or Maidān, was that, by building it, Shah Abbas would gather the three main components of power in Persia in his own backyard; the power of the clergy, represented by the Masjed-e Shah, the power of the merchants, represented by the The Imperial Bazaar, and of course, the power of the Shah himself, residing in the Ali Qapu Palace.

Vakil Mosque

The Vakil Mosque is a mosque in Shiraz, southern Iran, situated to the west of the Vakil Bazaar next to its entrance. This mosque was built between 1751 and 1773, during the Zand period; however, it was restored in the 19th century during the Qajar period. Vakil means regent, which was the title used by Karim Khan, the founder of Zand Dynasty. Shiraz was the seat of Karim Khan’s government and he endowed many buildings, including this mosque.

Vakil Mosque covers an area of 8,660 square meters. It has only two iwans instead of the usual four, on the northern and southern sides of a large open court. The iwans and court are decorated with typical Shirazi haft rangi tiles, a characteristic feature of the art and industry of Shiraz during the latter half of the 18th century. Its night prayer hall (Shabestan), with an area of approximately 2,700 square meters, contains 48 monolithic pillars carved in spirals, each with a capital of acanthus leaves. The minbar in this hall is cut from a solid piece of green marble with a flight of 14 steps and is considered to be one of the master pieces of the Zand period. The exuberant floral decorative tiles largely date from the Qajar period.