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Architecture in Iran; first Part
The new chapter which was opened in the Islamic period led to the creation of remarkable religious buildingIranian arts such as calligraphy, stucco, mirror work, and mosaic work, became closely tied together in this new era.
 

The new chapter which was opened in the Islamic period led to the creation of remarkable religious buildingIranian arts such as calligraphy, stucco, mirror work, and mosaic work, became closely tied together in this new era. Islamic architecture and building decoration are among the most beautiful means of expression. Decoration does not play such an important role in any other type of architecture.

The archaeological excavations have provided sufficient documents in support of the impacts of Sasanian architecture on the architecture of Islamic period.According to a classification suggested by Zaki Mohammad Hossain, the fourth period of Iranian architecture (from 15 through 17 Centuries) is the most brilliant period. Various structures such as mosques, mausoleums, bazaars, bridges, and different palaces have mainly survived from this period. In the old Iranian architecture, semi-circular and oval-shaped vaults appeared and Iranians showed their extraordinary skill in making massive domes. Domes can be seen mainly in the structure of bazaars and mosques, and particularly in the historic buildings of Isfahan. Iranian domes are distinguished for their height, proportion of elements, beauty of form, and roundness of the dome stem. The outer surfaces of the domes are mostly mosaic faced, and create a magical view.

According to Dr. D. Huff, a German archaeologist, the dome, similar to Iran itself, is the dominant element in Persian architecture. This statement, applies fully to Iranian architecture; because when one looks at lrano-lslamic buildings, huge halls and massive domes are the first elements which immediately attract one's attention. The art of tile work used to decorate all sorts of ivans, domes, and portals, is so interesting that each part of it seems, to be a magnificent piece of painting.

Professor A.U. Pope, who had carried out extensive studies in ancient Iranian and Islamic buildings, believed: "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.

Islamic architectural monuments of Iran are extremely versatile. Different valuable samples of such monuments are already surviving in smaller and larger towns of Iran. One of the richest artistic centers of Iran is the city of Isfahan. In some art works created in Isfahan, such doors, seven famous arts of joinery, gold beating, embossing, lattice work, inlay, raised work, and painting are used at once. Extremely fine doors are decorating various religious buildings in Iran, Najaf, Karbala, Damascus, and other sacred towns of the Islamic world. Even some of these doors are kept in major local and foreign museums because of their high artistic values and decorative arts used in them. Shrine of Imam Reza, 8th Shi'ite Imam at Mashhad, Shrine of Fatemeh the Immaculate (Hazrat-i-Ma'sumeh) at Qum, Shrine of Shah Abdul Azim at Shahr-i-Rey, and Shah-iCheraq Shrine at Shiraz, as well as numerous splendid mosques, open up new vistas of the Islamic art of Iran to the visitors.

Shrine of Imam Reza consists of 33 buildings embodying Iranian Islamic architecture through 5 continuous centuries. Halls, porticos, ivans, minarets, and belfries of religious buildings and mosques have been decorated with a great number of arts such as tile work, inlay, mirror work, stucco carving, stone carving, painting, illumination and muqarnas (honey comb work). Muqarnas is a sort of stalactite work, and an original Islamic design involving various combinations of three-dimensional shapes, corbeling, etc. which was used for the decoration of mosque portals. It can be of terra-cotta, plaster, or tiles.

The value and respect given by Iranians to their religious leaders, have deeply penetrated in their traditional and Islamic architecture. The Iranian Muslim artists have decorated the interior and exterior surfaces of religious buildings, domes, belfries, and mosque minarets with the most beautiful tiles in terms of color and design. During the Islamic period, several palaces, bridges, avenues, and gardens were either built or reconstructed in various towns of Iran, particularly in Isfahan. Historic monuments of the latter town are so numerous that nowadays it is compared to huge museum of art works. Foreign travelers called it "Half of the World". Sir Jean Chardin (161713) a dependable observer and a French traveler who made journeys to Persia and visited Isfahan during Safavid period, said in 1666 that the town had 164 mosques, 48 madrasas (schools), 182 caravanserais, and 373 baths.

The great maydan (square) at Isfahan called Naqsh-i-Jahan (world image) contains a galaxy of excellent architectural works of Iran. The square is situated in the center of the present city of Isfahan, and has been described as unique by world archaeologists in terms of architectural style, dimensions, and splendor.
No doubt, by the end of 16th century, no such maydan had been constructed neither in Iran, nor in other countries of the world. This unique phenomenon of art and architecture is a creation of experienced and creative Iranian architects.

The most famous architectural works of Maydan Naqsh-i-Jahan are Masjid-i-Shah (now Imam Mosque),. Shaykh Lutf' Allah mosque, and the Al Qapu Palace - seat of government - situated in their full splendor at the north end, east and west of maydan, respectively.
The southern side of maydan leads to the great bazaar of Isfahan, which is one of the most attractive and beautiful bazaars of the east, representing the great era of Islamic architecture with its buildings, the maydan and its historic monuments during the Safavid period (1491-1722).

Architectural monuments of Isfahan are known for better in western countries compared to other architectural masterpieces of Iran. They enjoyed a legendary fame in European countries at the time of their construction. Foreign merchants, travelers, and ambassadors have appreciated the beauties of Isfahan in their own languages. During the recent centuries, too, many famous Iranologists and archaeologists have traveled to Iran from all over the world and carried out deeper studies concerning the architectural monuments of Isfahan. As the result of such- studies, numerous books and articles have appeared in connection with the Islamic art of Iran, particularly its architecture.

The Masjid-i-Shah (Imam Mosque), begun in 1612, and, despite Shah Abbas' impatience, under construction until 1638, represents the culmination of a thousand years of mosque building in Persia, with a majesty and splendor which places it among the world's greatest buildings.
In designing and constructing domes, minarets, ivans, halls, Shabistans, and Mihrabs of this mosque, Iranian architects have made use of their utmost degree of taste and artistry. Inscriptions of the mosque have been written on colored tiles by the most famous calligraphers of Safavid period. The massive dome of the mosque is of double shell type, the highest exterior point of which rises 54m above ground. Its interior and exterior facings are decorated as beautifully as possible with plain and patterned tiles.

The mosque of Shaykh Lutf Allah (1601-28), one of the most beautiful architectural monuments of Iran, is situated on the east side of the Naqsh-i-Jahan square. Designs and colors used in the dome mosaics are among the most elegant designs and colors existing in Iranian architecture.

According to A.U. Pope, there is no weak point in this building. Its plan and design are so strong and attractive. It is a combination of excitement and passion, glorious calm and rest which originates but from religious faith and divine inspiration.
Masjid-i-Jameh (Friday Mosque) is another valuable architectural work of Islamic period displaying experiences of more than nine hundred years of creativity. Thirty various historical inscriptions give details on different architectural structures of the mosque.

Apart from Iranian archaeologists, some European archaeologists like All A.U. Pope, Andre Godard, Myron Smith, etc., have made extensive studies about various architectural aspects and decorations of Masjid-i-Jameh at Isfahan. The result has been several books and specialized scientific articles dealing with the marvelous architecture of this mosque.

The mosque has been restored and changed several times and by several generations of artists and architects. Skillful Iranian tile makers have embellished its walls and vaults with astonishingly beautiful tiles and mosaics. The tiles are decorated with floral designs in arabesque style and phrases from the Holy Quran.
The splendor and architectural beauty of the Iranian mosques belongs to their tile work and artistry of tile workers. Tile making and tile working are among the most spectacular Iranian arts which culminate in the tile work of mosques and historical structures of Iran.
The tile makers of Isfahan, Kashan, and Rey used to be unique master of their trade. Tiles were designed, painted and decorated in various types. Various tiles were used in the embellishment of mosques. Tiles contained floral designs in Arabesque and phrases of the Holy Quran in different Arabian calligraphy known as Sols, Nastaliq, Kufic, etc., all on tiles of deep azure blue or other colors. Tiles used in non-religious buildings were designed and painted with brighter floral and animal, and sometimes human images.

Development of Iranian architecture can be traced also in mosques of other towns such as Masjid-i-Jameh Nayin (mid-tenth century), Masjid-i-Jameh Ardistan (circa 1180), Masjid-i-Jameh Zawareh (1153), Masjid-i-Jameh Golpayegan (12th century), and historical mosques of Tabriz and Yazd.

Stucco is another decorative art of Iranian architecture. The Islamic period architects were unparalleled in the art of stucco.

An outstanding example of stucco fulfilled with extraordinary precision, is observed in the mihrab of Nayin Mosque. The stucco belongs to tenth century A.D. During the 1h century (Seljoogh period: 1000-1157) A.D., majority of mihrabs were decorated with the most beautiful stuccos.
Stone and stucco carvings have played a significant role in the internal and external decorations of Seljoogh buildings, the most remarkable examples of which are the magnificent inscriptions in kufic and nastaliq calligraphy as well as stucco carvings of mosques. The stucco and stone carving techniques of Seljoogh architecture can be observed in the majority of 12th century buildings and monuments. Mihrabs of Masjid-i-Jameh Qazvin (1116 A.D.) and Masjid-i-Jameh Ardistan (1160 A.D.) are extremely valuable examples of stucco carving art. During Seljoogh period, stucco carving was used not only for the decoration of mosques but also for palaces and houses of the nobility, with themes varying from landscapes or hunting scenes of kings accompanied by their courtiers and princes.

Seljoogh decoration techniques was carried further until a certain time when it was replaced by a new technique during Mongol period (1211334 A.D.). The Mongol technique of decoration can be observed in some structures of Azarbaijan. A good sample of Mongol stucco carving is surviving at Hedariya Madrasa (mosque), Qazvin (early twelfth century).
The power and nobility of Mongol stucco carving is probably best exemplified by the mihrab of Masjid-i-Jameh Isfahan built in 1310 AD. during the reign of Ulyaitu and known as the Uljaitu Mihrab with the archaeologists.

In addition to religious structures, there are a number of old houses in various towns of Iran which were decorated with unique stucco carvings, already being preserved as historic buildings.
Suitability of brick for plaster facing, had been the main reason for the spread of the finest stucco carvings in the decoration of Iranian architectural buildings.
Stuccos using carving, molding and painting, constitute one of the main decorative elements of Iranian architecture, and have a long history of development. Types of stucco decoration have been tested by Iranian architects since approximately 2000 years ago.
Mirror work is another decorative element of Iranian structures during Islamic period. The finest examples of skillfully fulfilled mirror work can be seen in the religious buildings of Mashhad, Shiraz, Qum, and Rey. The technique has been used in palaces and magnificent traditional houses as well, and follows architectural elements such as domes, minarets, and towers in terms of significance.
 

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