Architecture in Iran









 Art &  letteratura



Architectural derivatives are seen as an indigenous phenomenon borne by the mind and having extended bonds with the cultural basics of the mainland in which they are born. They are neither static nor changeless.
They revolve through the course of the history. Otherwise, they will certainly abolish.
Architecture is recognisable in Iran, a territory carrying a long civilization and antique culture--and witnessing prosperity. Although the role of climate has remained effective in the course of the history, other elements such as the exchange of thoughts and cultures have at some occasions left a decisive impact on the Iranian architecture. The productive changes in the past created superb works of architecture. The negative reforms have not only deviated the traditional architecture but also, due to their wrong approach, overshadowed the climatic elements and the native construction materials used in the present architecture.
The trend of architecture should be traced in the native and popular sites, or as put by Bernardo Rudofsky, in an architecture without an architect. But as the works which have remained as a result of the constant use of the users and have turned in to a major branch of principled architecture, the only way is to review the architecture of the past centuries based on their remains such as temples, mosques, passages and palaces.
In this regard, we will make references to some native Iranian monuments such as caravanserais, w.ater cisterns, ice-houses, pigeon towers and wind-catchers.

Early Architecture (before the 7th century BC)
The Elamite architecture is typical of the semi-desert environment of the Middle Eastern lowlands. In an area where wood is in short supply and the timber available adequate for spanning roofs, but not really tall or strong enough for columns, and too expensive to be wasted in firing brick kilns, sun dried mud-brick is the universal building material.
The Ziggurat, pyramidical tower, at Choqa Zanbil, is by far the best preserved and the most dramatic example of the Elamite architecture and so far there are similar Iranian parallels.
The main compound of Ziggurat Choqa Zanbil is a clear instance of the Elamite architecture, which has remained almost intact compared to other monuments. Such architectural style cannot be seen anywhere else. Laid in four floors in a tapering shape, the mud-brick monument looks like boxes arranged on each other according to size. In the ground floor lies a paved courtyard one hundred meters in length and width..Surviving tile fragments from neo-Elamite temples at Susa show  polychrome pictures featuring the usual Elamite repertoire of demons and mythical animals, while later Achaemenid practice is fore-shadowed when a design is repeated with variations over the faces of a group of bricks to form a mural.
The tribes, who began pushing into the north in the second half of the second millennium, transformed the architecture by producing wooden columns as an integral part of their buildings, thus widening the roof spans beyond limit of a few meters imposed by the length of the average tree trunk. The focal point of these residences was a columned hall, either free standing or surrounded by lower living rooms of loggias.It has been argued that the ancestors of these halls lie in the Megara of Bronze Age Anatolia, but whatever their immediate antecedents, it is logical to build columned halls in the hilly wooded areas like Anatolia or at the Zagros, just as a treeless plain encourages the construction of domes and vaults

Achaemenid Architecture

Nothing is known of pre-Achaemenid architecture in the province of Fars, the homeland of the Achaemenid dynasty. The earliest of Achaemenid buildings which have survived are those at Pasargade, some two days' journey on horseback to the north of Persepolis (48 Km). Here a huge terrace platform, a sacred precinct with two stepped stone plinths, an enigmatic stone tower called the Prison of Solomon, a number of small communed buildings, and a gabled tomb are scattered over the plain. The disposition of these buildings has been compared to that of the tents of nomads' encampment, but a closer examination shows that although the buildings are widely separated, they are by no means haphazardly placed in the plain but conform to an exact
scheme carefully planned and executed. Clearly the architects and builders of these exquisite structures had had careful training and experiences. Studies of the stoneworking techniques suggest that the masons were brought from the Greek world, in all probability from the kingdom of Lydia which Cyrus conquered in 547 BC.
For the architectural aspiration of theses buildings one has to look outside Iran to Lydia. But, although in the East Greek temples one can find exact parallels for the stone-working techniques and for some elements of the architectural decoration such as the form of the column bases and shafts, the designs are by no means copies: in particular by roofing the hall with timber beams the Achaemenid architect was able to make the columns much thinner and taller than what was normal in Greece.
Following the death of Cyrus which seemed to halt the construction activities at Pasargade, Darius I, chose to.initiate his own building operations at new sites rather than to continue projects started by his predecessors.
Early in his reign, he ordered the building of a vast palace at Susa which was to serve as the administrative capital of the empire.
Later in his reign, Darius decided to build a palace in the center of Persian homeland, on the eastern edge of Marv Dasht plain. In the cuneiform inscriptions, the site was known as Parsa, which was also the name of the country of province of Persia itself, but the Greeks later called it Persepolis. The palace area at Persepolis has resisted the ravages of time far better than the Susa palace, partly because much of it was built of stone rather than the mud-brick of Susa and partly because Persepolis was abandoned after its sack by Alexander and was not used as a quarry by later inhabitants. According to Diodorus Siculus, Persepolis, the capital of the Persian kingdom, was the richest city under the sun. But of this great city, only the palace area and the royal necropolis at Naqsh-e Rostam have survived. Such, however, is the wealth of the remains that Persepolis is the primary source of the art and architecture of the Achaemenid kings.
The palace area is divided into three parts: the citadel terrace itself, now called Takht-e Jamshid, the Shah Kuh, or royal hill above the terrace, and the buildings in the plain to the south and west of the terrace. The plain of the citadel terrace has now been almost completely recovered in excavations carried out by the Oriental Institute of Chicago and the Archaeological Institute of Iran. About a dozen single-storey buildings were constructed in the terrace platform. Some of these were built on their own stone platforms, and their door jambs, lintels, and window frames were made of carefully worked stone. Their walls were of mud-bricks, often with stone socles, and their roofs were supported on wooden stone columns. Although none of the buildings have identical plans, most of them follow a similar layout, consisting of a central columned hall with a portico of two rows at the front. There are either subsidiary rooms or columned porticoes on the sides, and there are often further rooms at the back. Most of the palaces face north, but Darius' palace and the palace of
Artaxerxes III face south, perhaps because they were intended for use in winter rather than in summer.
Each building was carefully designated, and it is probable that plans were drawn with the dimensions labelled
in exact numbers of units. From marks on the platforms of Darius' and Xerxes' palace, and from
measurements on the other buildings we know that the units used were of roughly 52.1 centimeters, a foot of
roughly 34.8 centimetres, and a palm of roughly 8.7 centimetres, in the ratio of 6:4:1, a system of
measurement which may have been borrowed from Mesopotamia.
The majority of buildings on the terrace were constructed in the reigns of Darius I, his son Xerxes I, and his.grandson Artaxerxes I. Thereafter, only minor additions were made during the reign of Artaxerxes III.
The debt, owed by Persian to other cultures is very evident in the architecture of Persepolis. The plans of the
building are a development of those already used at Susa and Pasargad, and their decoration shows the
direct adoption of motifs from all over the empire. At first sight, the borrowings appear haphazard: huge
guardian winged bulls imitating Assyrian patterns were carved on the door jambs of the Gate of All Lands, the
lintel was a fluted Egyptian cavetto cornice, and this in turn was adorned with a bead and reel moulding which
must have been taken from the Greek world. The columns of the massive halls have composite capitals with
Egyptian inspired floral elements, Ionian inspired vaults, and a double bull or lion bust, which are one of the
few features of arch architecture for foreign forerunners that have not been convincingly demonstrated. A
closer examination, however, does suggest that there was some kind of logical scheme behind the choice.
Clearly the assumption that there was no indigenous Persian artistic traditions, satisfactorily explains why
they borrowed from other cultures, and, as Herodotus wrote of them, "No nation has been more receptive to
admit foreign customs". But perhaps more important is the attempt to create a suitably awesome and
impressive setting for the king and his court, and this explains some of the architectural preferences and much
of the iconography of the sculpture of the Achaemenid palaces.
As has been noted, the king is the focus of almost every scene at Persepolis: he is seen on tombs in the
attitude of worship before the sacred fire in the presence of Ahura Mazda, who is represented as a human
figure in a winged disc; on the doors he is shown in procession underneath the royal parasol; on the Apadana,
he was originally shown seated on his throne receiving the audience delegations of subject peoples from all
over the empire.
The inscriptions found at Persepolis give little information about the function of the palace area, but Diodorus
described it as follows: "Scattered about the royal terrace were residences of the king and members of the
royal family as well as quarters for the great nobles, all luxuriously furnished, and buildings suitably made for
guarding the royal treasure." This emphasis on the role of the king is seen in the architecture and in the reliefs.
As Lord Curzon wrote, "Everything is devoted, with unashamed repetition, to a single purpose, viz. the
delineation of majesty in its most imperial guise and pomp of him who was well styled, the Great King."
In recent years, the theory that Persepolis was built and used for the audience ceremonies which took place at
Nowruz--the Persian New Year--has received wide support, but there is in fact no evidence that an annual
festival was held at Persepolis or indeed that the Achaemenians ever celebrated Nowruz. It is simpler to think.of the citadel of Persepolis as a royal residence and treasury built in the vicinity of the burial places of the
Briefly speaking, the Achaemenid architecture art which was a manifestation of glorious festivities held in the
best possible manner in Persepolis palaces were a combination of ancient rites and concepts originating from
other resorts of the empire. Such concepts, along with the skills of sculptures, designing, painting and other
shapes of art created a seemingly inseparable oneness.
With the dismemberment of the empire, this artificial hybrid did not survive and left behind no more than the
few stark columns and eroded reliefs at Persepolis. These mute memorials to the ancient Persian glory,
however, remained visible and were a vivid inspiration of succeeding dynasties--Sassanid, Buyid, Qajar and
Pahlavi--each of which represented itself of the legitimate heir of the first great Persian empire.
Parthian Architecture
The Parthians ruled the realm of the greater Iran nominally, at least, for nearly four hundred and seventy
years(250 BC-226 AD).Yet, their history we know relatively little.
Notwithstanding the lack of systematic dynastic control over the territory, the later Parthian centuries were
artistically very glorious. In the early period, before the capture of Seleucia, buildings erected reflected the
Hellenistic practices in effect elsewhere, through examples can be pointed out where the architects have
strayed from the classical norm in their use of a particular order or the positioning of a column. Towards the
first century AD, buildings were produced with a variety of ground plans and wall decorations, in a mix that
tends to thwart any attempt to define the nature of Parthian art. One may argue, however, that the variety
reflects lively experiment, and the outcome was the emergence of artistic norms that lasted well into the
Islamic period.
The issue is complex, and the facts are few, but there can be no denying that, from the mid-first century
onwards, artistic expressions no longer near the same kind of relationship to Hellenistic models as they did
before. Two new expressions illustrate this most effectively. These were the emergence of a concept for
creating a dramatic focal point in buildings through the use of a vaulted, open-ended hall facing a court (ivan),
and the adoption of an imposing way of depicting human figures facing the observer directly from the front. We
know the court mostly from Mesopotamia.
The change is all the more significant because the frequent contacts with Rome through trade of war made it.quite possible for it to have increased western influence in the arts. Yet, while there may be details which are
clearly borrowed from the West, the overall effect of the finished product is definitely Parthian.
Decorative stuccoes in buildings enjoyed a tremendous vogue under the Parthians. Readily available as a
resource and easily worked, stucco became the standard ornament for buildings constructed from the variety
of vase materials.
The liberties which artists took with motifs can be seen as a harbinger of some of the things that were to
happen in the Islamic art. An indiscriminate use of architecture devices was very characteristic of Parthian art.
The merlon (stepped crenellation with arrow slot) was a traditional element surrounding the parapets of
ancient Middle Eastern buildings. Used as full-scale military devices as long as the Assyrian period, these
forms had become architectonic by Parthian times, and appear extensively in a variety of ways in the
Yazdgerd Castle stuccoes.
Strange beasts reflect the ancient Mesopotamian fondness for hybrid monsters. Here, again, one can use the
analogy of the Yazdgerd Castle stuccoes to show how Parthian art served as the intermediary for the transfer
of imagery from the ancient world to that of Islam.
Sassanid Architecture
Claiming to share commonality with the Achaemenid art, the Sassanid art knowingly discarded the Greek and
Roman values. Yet, the Greek art retained its influence on the Persian art, resulting in a combination of
ancient Far Eastern traditions and values with those of the Greek and Roman, yet, showily representing an
emerging stubborn Iranian shape. Ardeshir probably already built his magnificent fortress palace, Dokhtar
Castle (Qaleh-e Dokhtar) or the Maiden Castle, before he defeated the last Parthian king, Artabanus. It is built
on a spur of mountain overlooking the road which leads from Shiraz to the Persian Gulf via Firuz Abad. It was
in the nearby Firuz Abad Plain that he founded his great circular city, which he called Ardeshir Khurra (the
glory of Ardeshir). Like so much of Ardeshir's oeuvre, the plan of this city, with its concentric and radiating
layout extending beyond the city walls into the plain, is exceptional. Surveys have revealed twenty sectors,
precisely laid out, around an inner core which probably continued official buildings.
The plan of Dokhtar Castle is logical and symmetrical. Making use of the contours of the site, it is built on three
levels, with the entrance via a tramp on the lowest, a courtyard with a range of rooms probably serving as a
barracks on the second, and another courtyard on the highest terrace leading to the imposing palace unit. palace Ardeshir built in the Firuz Abad Plain, known today as the Fire Temple, is similar in character.
It is divided into two parts: the public rooms at the front looking out over spacious gardens and a spring-fed
circular lake, at behind a typical Iranian courtyard house, probably serving as the king's residence. The public
rooms, truly monumental in scale, consist of the same units as that seen at Dokhtar Castle, that is a long court
leading into a square chamber. However, at the Fire Temple, there are three domed audience chambers, set
side by side, which run across the width of the building, and there is also a secondary storey.
To complete these enormous structures within a reasonable time span, Ardeshir used the material most
readily to hand, loose stones held together by a quick setting gypsum mortar. The mortar sets so fast that it
holds bricks or stones almost as soon as they are placed in positions. Its application as a building mortar (it
was previously used for stucco) had revolutionised Parthian building techniques and the development of the
huge barrel vaulted courts, which was built without scaffolding. However, while Sassanid rubble walls were
economical and quick to build, their surface was rough and requited finishing in some other medium. Here
again, as in the plan of his building, Ardeshir decisively changed the standard schemes of palace decorations
from that current in the late Parthian period. As has been shown in Parthian levels at Assur and more recently
at the mountain stronghold of Yazdgerd Castle, Parthian architectural decoration was ornate and gaudy.
Ardeshir's performance for relative austerity--also evident in his rock reliefs--is shown by the decoration he
chose to cover the walls. The long expanses of the external walls are broken up by a regular series of
buttresses, the changing shadows of which make attractive patterns in the strong light, a tradition long
followed in the Near East. The internal walls are left plain except for a series of deep, arched niches above
which were placed cavetto cornices, moulded in stucco. These had been copied from the door and window
lintels of the Achaemenid palaces at Persepolis, whose huge stone ruins were, of course, familiar to
Ardeshir--they are close to his home town of Istakhr--and their use was, doubtless, a subtle reminder of his
claim of Achaemenid descent.
The ruins of the largest Sassanid court still stand at Ctesiphon and almost certainly once formed part of the
most famous Sassanid building of all time, the mighty palace of Khosrow I. Originally two huge courts faced
each other across an enormous courtyard, but today only half the face of one of them remains although as late
as 1888 the complete face was preserved. The court, known as the Arch of Kasra (Taq-e Kasra), is nearly
twice as large as those Ardeshir built at Firuz Abad and is one of the largest arches ever built without
scaffolding, measuring some 35 meters in height, 25 meters in width and 50 meters in length..The last and most glorious reminder of the Sassanid dynasty is the great cave of Taq Bostan, which is in fact a
court in the heart of a body of stones of the mountain. The cave has three walls, entrance facade, and the
backspace ornaments featured by engravings.
The Sassanid architecture carried so great aesthetic values favoured and admitted by all, and remained long
after the escape of Yazdgerd III (the last Sassanid king) and the collapse of the dynasty.
Islamic Architecture
The vital role of Persia in later Islamic architecture makes it peculiarly frustrating that so little survives from
the early Islamic centuries, although Persian elements bulk large in Umayyid and early Abbasid architecture.
The first substantial body of surviving monuments dates from 11th century AD, and by that time the transition
from Sassanid to Islamic modes was nearly complete. As well as the sheer lack of buildings, their destruction
presents difficulties. Each standing structure naturally acquires a significance out of all proportion to its
original importance in the wider context of its times. Yet virtually all of these early buildings are found in small
towns or villages off the beaten track: Damqan, Sidih, Fahraj, Naeen and Neiriz. They owe their survival to
their remoteness. Those provincial buildings offer no clue to the vanished architectural splendours of the great
contemporary Persian cities we know of from literary sources.
None of the Persian examples, however, can rival the standard Arab mosque for size--perhaps because the
Arab mosques were located in the cities and the Persian ones usually in smaller settlements. Larger mosque
were built but are either entirely lost (Neishabur, Muttaris Mosque) or irretrievably denatured (Shiraz Jami).
The Esfahan congregational mosque is the best surviving example.
In Transoxiana, the 10th century AD saw a growing fashion for mausoleums of domed square type. Amongst
these, the masterpieces in the Tomb of Samanids at Bukhara, datable to before 943 AD, and possibly the
most epoch-making building in Persian Islamic architecture. This tomb looks backward as well as forward. Its
domed square form, its arched opening on each side, its lack of directional emphasis and the presence of an
upper gallery with corner domes are all features with Sassanid antecedents. But the Islamic detailing
completely transforms the model while retaining its monumentality. It is a triumph of balance. Baked brick
made this possible. No earlier Islamic or Sassanid building exploits the decorative potential of the medium
with each splendid assurance. Every surface of the dome is decorated. Deep shadow lines are allowed to.highlight key elements of the design.
The domed squares were soon supplemented by another kind of mausoleum--the tomb tower, mostly existing
in Tashkent, presently in Uzbekistan. Pre-eminent in this category is the Gonbad-e Kabus of 1006 AD, a
building of uncompromising severity whose cleanlines and location on a steppe seem to magnify still further
its already gigantic size. No subsequent tomb tower approaches the scale of this, the earliest surviving of the
The tower tombs were mainly the burial site of monarchs and rulers not Imamzadehs. Inscriptions in Pahlavi,
put on the portal of some, demonstrate the memorials of the Sassanid era.
Seleucid Architecture
The bulk of pre-Seleucid architecture consists of mosques. In the Seleucid period--like Ilkhanid, a convenient
dynastic lable only--this is far from the case, for the mausoleums and minarets survive in far greater numbers.
Nevertheless, mosques were still the major focus of architectural activity and the form for experiment. The
Seleucids quickly broke the grip of their hypostyle plan on eastern Islamic architecture. Henceforth such
mosques were supplemented by single dome chambers, arcaded courtyard mosques with two axial courts or
with a qibla court only and completely enclosed hypostyle mosques with no courtyard and a roof carried either
on columns or on vaults. Local preferences assert themselves (for instance the prevalence of two-court
mosques in Khorasan and four-court mosques in the Isfahan area) and the principle that mosques perform
different functions from one center to the next, dependent--if on nothing else--on the size of the community,
seems to be accepted.
But the main change in a new fusion of four basic features hitherto is used singly or in partial combination but
never all together: covered areas with regular supports; domes; courts; and courtyards. The result was the
classical four-court plan which were henceforth indispensable in the Persian architecture. It is essentially an
inward-looking layout and its independence of the external setting meant that it could be used in crowded
cities as well as in the open country. Its nucleus is an open courtyard bordered by arcades whose repetitive
rhythm is broken by four courts in cuneiform disposition. In mosques, the qibla courts would act as the portal
to a domed chamber. The four-court arrangement is already found in Parthian times but the marked symmetry
of the Seleucid examples, and the domed chamber itself, are absent. The same refinement of existing forms
made baked brick undressed stone, and mud-brick as the preferred medium of construction, again with.revolutionary effect.
In these various dome chambers, whether in mosques or in mausoleums like the Jabal-e Sang, Kerman, new
methods of articulating an interior, and of relating interior and exterior, are explored. Ornament, whether
applied of intrinsically structural, is reserved for the interior, although Seleucid minarets and mausoleums
illustrate an entirely contrary concern. In domes mosques, the emphasis shifted to the squinch zone, which in
Sassanid buildings had been insignificantly small and had only gradually expanded.
Brickwork now extended its range beyond structure to become the prime vehicle for decoration. Once again,
the seeds of this development, as of the domed mosque, the four-court plan, tomb towers, cylindrical minarets
and the squinch, can be traced in the Iranian renaissance of the two centuries proceeding the Seleucids. But
in this case too, the Seleucid period was a time of consolidation, when the potential of these novel elements
was explored. The use of brick allowed architects to devise decorative schemes that harmonised with the
structure itself.
The main historical monuments of this era are the antique congregational mosque of Esfahan, Ardestan
Mosque and the Forty-Stone (Chehel Sang) Cemetery in Kerman.
Ilkhanid Architecture
The traumatic impact of successive Mongol invasions by the descendants of Genghis, and the successors of
Holaku Khan from 1220 AD caused an 80-year hiatus in serious building activity, yet the legacy of Seleucid
architecture was preserved intact into the Ilkhanid period. Some 150 Ilkhanid buildings have so far been
recorded, no doubt a mere fraction of the original output of the period. As always in Persia, religious buildings
dominate in the surviving architecture, accounting as they do for perhaps 90 per cent of it. Virtually no
domestic or vernacular buildings remain, and the sole palace, Takht-e Soleiman, is badly ruined. Moreover, of
the exceptionally splendid but necessarily ephemeral tented architecture which flourished in this period only
ambiguous reflections survive in contemporary book painting. The high percentage of religious buildings of
the Ilkhanid era is hard to parallel in other Islamic periods. But it scarcely seems to reflect any marked
increase in religiosity. Almost half of these structures are tombs. A round dozen are schools, monasteries or
shrines. The remainder are mosques or the remains of mosques--minarets, courts, praying domes or perhaps
only new tiles or inscriptions.
Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the Ilkhanid architecture is the readiness to copy Seleucid forms,.whether these are flanged tomb towers (Varamin, Bastam), two-minaret facades (Esfahan)and domed
square mausoleums (Maraqeh), isolated domed squares (Kaj, Aziran and Dasht) or numerous stucco praying
domes. As in so many cases of stylistic dependence on earlier work, fidelity to the broad outlines of Seleucid
style coexists with a tendency to refine or complicate the details of that style.
Truly progressive Ilkhanid architecture can best be studied at Tabriz and Soltaniyeh, two of the most gigantic
projects of town planning known in the Islamic world, where the architects were working to a full extent of their
capacity, and indeed at times trespassed beyond them.
Sheer size also marks the two great royal mausoleums of the period. In Tabriz the now vanished Tomb of
Ghazan, admiringly described by contemporary historians was remarkable not only for its loftiness (some 45
meters high) but for its unusual plan and decoration: a twelve-sided domed tower, its walls decorated with
sculptures of the zodiacal signs and with apparently the most developed scheme of glazed tilework yet used in
the country. Quite possibly this building was intended as the crowning achievement in the early long-popular
genre of the tomb tower.
Similarly, the new contemporary tomb of Oljaitu at Soltaniyeh may well have been conceived from the outset
deliberately to eclipse its predecessors among the centralised mausoleums normally of domed square type. It
too was of marked originality: a gigantic octagon--instead of the usual square--in which the bearing walls,
pierced by niches and reveals and a matchless vaulted gallery, were parted with the minimum requirements
of stability. The pointed, egg-shaped dome provides a smooth culmination to the complex architectural
Basically, the Ilkhanid architecture in Iran was marked by bewitching eye sights and magnificent decorations
such as stucco, glazed colourful tiles and cuneiform inscriptions. In fact, the Ilkhanid architecture retained the
Seleucid style and only added trickle changes to it. Such continuity facilitated the transition to the
characteristics of the Timurid architecture.
Timurid Architecture
Hence, for all the superficial similarities between the establishment of the Mongol and the Timurid empires, it
is hard to identify the genesis of the Timurid architecture style. The pace of building activity did not slacken
markedly as a result of Timur's campaigns, which were less destructive than the Mongol ones, sparing for
example the Muzaffarid territories in central and southern Persia. As usual, the areas favoured by the court.flourished. The imperial Timurid style developed especially in Khorasan, fusing the very different traditions of
southern Persia and Transoxiana. Nevertheless, the imperial capital of Samarqand and later Herat arguably
contain more Timurid architecture of the first rank than does the whole of Persia proper, and to ignore this
material would result in a very one-sided view of the Timurid architecture.
Apart from vaulting, the key to Timurid architecture lies in its decoration. Materialism is deliberately varied and
contrasted. Brick is now used as a smooth decorative skin to frame the tilework--the bannaii technique.
Marble slabs form dados. Carved stucco of remarkably Ilkhanid type occurs at Varamin, Qom and especially
Mashhad. In the early long familiar technique of glazed tilework of craftsmen ceaselessly searched for new
ideas and combinations. Influences from bookbinding and manuscript illumination may explain the new
popularity of medallion forms and certain arabesque borders. Carpet design, itself possibly derived from
these sources, may have played a mediating role, perhaps introducing such features as multiple
superimposed patterns of several colours. Chinese influence is marked: in square Kufic resembling seal
script, ju-yi heads and polylobed halved or quartered medallions. Small polygonal panels in high relief
originally found in carved stucco or terracotta were translated into tilework and set against tiled backgrounds,
a technique found in Transoxiana. They have a double function: to variegate the colour scheme and to impose
bold geometric forms onto minute, potentially finicky designs. A sense of spatial interaction dictates this
combination. Dado of hexagonal tiles in a glowing lustrous green, occasionally heightened by gilding,
replaced either star and cross designs. Marble was interspersed with small polygons of tile mosaic. In
bastions and minarets in particular an overall network of brick facing was punctuated with inset panels of tile
mosaic and underglaze-painted tiles. Huge surfaces are uninterruptedly covered with tilework, not only walls
many meters long but also round and angular columns, niches, arcades, stalactite vaulting and the interior of
the domes, while their exteriors were covered with floral, epigraphic geometric designs.
The most celebrated masterpieces of the Timurid architecture are the Gohar Shad Mosque in Mashhad and
the Blue Mosque in Tabriz.
Safavid and Zand Architectures
Vast quantities of admittedly lesser buildings were erected through the country and these permit a balanced
judgement of the Safavid style. Shrines and secular architecture, rather than large mosques, monopolised the
energies of architects. A few provincial cities, notably Mashhad, Shiraz and Kerman, produced major.architecture but elsewhere the most characteristic activity was repair work. Inscriptions often
mis-represented such repairs and greedily arrogated the entire building to the Safavid patron. The emphasis
on repairs may well explain the occasional excellent pastiches of earlier styles. Here the most striking matter
is the construction of a network of caravanserays across the country to spur trade and transport.
It is therefore not surprising that Safavid architecture should lack the dynamic tension of earlier periods. The
focus of attention shifted from structure to ornament. Instead of outright innovation, the Safavid architect
preferred to refine the relationship between the constituent parts of the building. Here the Shah Mosque in
Esfahan and the Imam Reza (AS) Shrine in Mashhad stand out. The radius symmetric styles in construction
were markedly applied in the Shah Abbas' Farah Abad Palace in Sari, and in Hasht Behesht (eight paradises)
Palace and Khajeh Rabie Mausoleum in Mashhad.
On the other hand, the grandeur of the structure made the architects proffer varied plans based on different
bodies. So, to avert glaring ornaments in the exterior, they combined hollow and full spaces matching with
every site: some were embellished with pools and wooded areas (Mahan Mosque), some with deep inlaid
niches (Khajeh Rabie Mausoleum) and some with deep portals (Shah Mosque and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque).
The splendid twists of the belt of Ali Qapu Compound and its connection to the upper chamber are another
clear example.
Safavid buildings are sometimes dismissed as facade architecture. Certainly many of the major monuments
are intended to be seen principally from one side, for the other sides are largely or entirely undecorated. This
could only lessen the three-dimensional quality of the building. At this juncture, the architects resorted to plans
generally interchangeable; so it is not easy to draw fine lines between mosques, schools, tombs and
caravanserays. Tombs and palaces both share an identical china house (Ali Qapu Palace and Sheikh
Lotfollah Mausoleum).
In secular architecture, the emphases are nautili somewhat different, but some of the underlying concerns
already discussed, especially the interest in scale and spatial diversity, may also be detected here. Two
categories dominate: palaces and utility structures. In the first category, several typological subdivisions
suggest themselves. The conception of a palace as a full-scale garden garnished with buildings is found at
Farah Abad Palace, Sari, and in the gardens adjoining the Shah Mosque. Here the designer has articulated
space by only a few elements: seried domes, awnings, courtyards, corridors, trees and water. Ample spatial
diversity is packed into a limited area; thus at Esfahan, a palace is transposed on to the Khaju Bridge. Most of.these palaces affect a deliberate insubstantiality. In virtually all of them the natural surroundings are brought
into play, and indeed are often suggested in the figural tilework of these buildings, in which schemes of
hunting and banqueting predominate.
It is often said that the Madar-e Shah School (completed in 1714 AD was the last great building to be erected
in Persia. Some would energetically dispute this judgement, but it contains more than a grain of truth. Safavid
architecture had wrung the best out of the traditional forms. This left their successors the choice either of
imitation or of seeking fresh inspiration from entirely different sources. In the event, from 18th century AD
through 19th century AD, architecture in Persia generally continues to use established forms and when it
departs from these, the new elements are usually of European origin.
Post-Safavid Architecture
The principal relic of Nader Shah rule in the early 18th century AD, his gigantic tomb at Kalat-e Naderi, defies
this rule. It recreates a long obsolete form--the polygonal tomb tower with engaged columns--but its carved
stone orthostats with floral reliefs have a flavour entirely appropriate to the tomb of the conqueror of Delhi.
Contemporary mosques at Kerman, Rasht and Qom survive, and Nader added a gilded dome and minaret to
the Mashhad shrine.
Shiraz under Zand rule produced fundamentally retrospective architecture drawing on Safavid, Seleucid and
pre-Islamic sources as well as others from India and Europe. The town itself was laid out as a miniature of
Esfahan. The massive bastions of the Arg ape Seleucid brickwork. Other buildings bore bas-reliefs and later
tiles with legendary scenes of crypto-Sassanid inspiration. The hypostyle Vakil Mosque (completed in 1773-4
AD) copies the lateral halls of the Shah Mosque and has bastardised Sassanid capitals, while its courtyard
courts have corner turrets of Indian type serving as surrogate minarets. More innovatory are the Zand
underglaze-painted square tiles, with a new colour range favouring pink.
The next major patron of architecture, Fath Ali Shah Qajar, founded a series of mosques scattered throughout
the country--at Qazvin (completed in 1808 AD). All bear the name of Shah Mosque and feature a large
surface area with four court plans incorporating broad qibla courts. A network of small domes and windows
ensures that their already spacious interiors are flooded with light. This emphasis on scale naturally recalls
Safavid work; indeed, the Qajars frequently expanded Safavid buildings (for instance Qom and Mahan,
Kerman) or imitated their decoration, sometimes quite shamelessly (for instance golden courts or domes at.\~Mashhad~\~Rey~\~Qom~\~Safavid~\~Qazvin~\~Kerman~\~Kerman~\~Esfahan~\~Safavid~
Some forms, however, were new in Persia, like the deep sunken courtyard of the Aqa Bozorg Mosque in
Kashan, or the exaggeratedly bulbous shape of certain Shirazi domes. Quintessentially Qajar are the
decorative gateways used as entrances to cities (Tehran and Qazvin), bazaars and military installations (
Semnan). Most have a central semi-circular arch framed by engaged columns or articulated by minarets, and
they are always gaudily tiled. Minarets frequently function as decorative accessories in shrines (Qazvin, Qom
and Mahan) or bazaar entrances (Yazd).
Apart from the huge and decorative Sepah Salar Mosque-School in Tehran (built between 1878 and 1890
AD), most important Qajar buildings are palaces, from Fath Ali Shah's hunting box at Soltaniyeh to the
Golestan Palace in Tehran, a city within a city. Immediately ancient forms were preferred to be built. Easily the
finest surviving combination of gardens and architecture, the whole shot with tiny waterfalls, fountains, pools
and canals, is the originally Safavid Fin Garden near Kashan.
Military architecture including barracks, attains a new level of importance under the Qajars and owes much to
French influence (Tehran, Tup Khaneh Square). Traditional forms of architecture, such as bazaars,
wind-catchers, mourning mosques (Huseiniyehs), public baths and caravanserais (notably those on the
Damqan-Mashhad Road) maintained high technical standards though their inherent austerity was sometimes
garnished with tilework.
Qajar decoration is usually unmistakable. Simple, rather strident geometric patterns of chevrons, lozenges
and various stepped or epigraphic designs in small glazed bricks were especially popular. The repertory of so
called cuerda seca tiles now included episodes from the epic and legendary past, portraits of Europeans,
scenes from modern and the country's heraldic blazon of the lion and the sun. Pavilions and palaces bore
figural painting magazines or painted postcards depicting landscapes and tourist sports. A few European
architectural forms, such as steeply pitched roofs, decorative fenestration, classical capitals and
pediments--and probably rounded arches--were also imported, occasionally with absurd results. European
influences mingle with Sassanid and neo-Achaemenid themes in the carved figural stucco of this period (as in
many houses in Kashan). But the Qajar technique par excellence--again triggered by European influences, in
this case Venetian glass--was mirrorwork. Muqarnas cells (stalactite or honeycomb like vaulting made up of
small concave forms) faced with mirrors yielded an original and spectacular effect, as may be seen in the
Golestan Palace of the Hall of Mirrors in the Mashhad shrine. Thus at the very end of its creative development,.indeed in its decadence, Persian architecture was able to reaffirm its perennial fascination with surface
Vernacular Buildings
The architectural language of any country probably owes as much, if not more, to its vernacular tradition as it
does to a consciously imposed developed style. But a style of architecture with a capital A, often imported by
conquering invaders, may gradually influence the humbler buildings which make up the vernacular. This
chicken-and-egg situation gives limitless scope for speculation which cannot be developed here. However, it
is intriguing to recognise the strong affinities which exist between the vernacular and the high both in the
realms of planning and in the more obvious similarities of form which must result from the use of similar
materials in a similar climate.
Such affinities may spring from spiritual and intellectual as well as practical sources. The three are
inextricably integrated. Take, for example, the entrance to the great mosque and that of the humble water
cisterns. The relationship of the court to the domed space which shelters the praying dome bears an uncanny
likeness to that of the porch at the top of the flight of steps which leads down to the domed water cistern found
in so many villages. True, there is a similarity of function.
The different climatic and geographical conditions of different parts of the Iranian territory have led to the
formation of a distinct style of architecture; the most visible instance of this is the architecture of the Caspian
Sea shores where houses are put up with timber scaffolding and covered with wooden coatings. There, the
houses are generally equipped with steep double-sided slope roofs.
Pigeon Towers
Pigeon towers were the only vernacular building which aroused the interest of the majority of travellers, like
James Morrier in the early 19th century AD. Indeed it would have been as hard for them to be missed then, as
now. In the late 17th century AD, there were reported to be over three thousand towers in the Esfahan area
where several hundred ruined towers still stand. Surprisingly, their purpose was the collection of dung which
was particularly good for the melon fields and which was also used in the manufacture of gun-powder.
Astonishing inventiveness has gone into the solution of the basic problems: the provision of the maximum.number of pigeon-holes with a minimum amount of building material. Since that material is unbaked
mud-brick and cob, plastered with mud, the whole structure must be in compression (timber is little used). The
resulting vaults and domes are individually works of art, but built as they are on ingenious ground plans, their
rhythm and the sequence of solid and void which they produce is comparable with the most sophisticated
architecture. The typical tower is circular although rectangular fort-like structures are found in some districts.
Basically the towers consist of an upper drum, battered from stability and buttressed internally to prevent the
collapse and to support the inner drum which rises perhaps a third as high again. Galleries are supported by
arches, barrel vaults and saucer domes. These domes have holes in their crowns to allow the birds to fly up
and down, the top-most being crowned by the pepper-pet like cupolas through which the birds enter.
The common use by the Persians of ice and snow for cooling drinks and food was also reported in the 17th
century AD by Dr John Fryer: "They mightily covet cool things to the Palat. Wherefore they mix snow, or
dissolve ice in their water or sherbets." And later he wrote, "The poor, have they but a penny in the world, the
one half will go for bread, the dried grapes, and the other for snow and tobacco." Outside Shiraz he saw that
ice was stored in "repositors" which he tantalisingly describes only as fine buildings but it seems likely that
they were similar to the huge domed structure still to be seen in parts of Iran. By Fryer's time the practice of
storing ice was already long established, possibly having been introduced by the Mongols. Incidentally the
ice-house of the great 18th century AD estate in Britain is as a bantam's egg to an eagle's when compared
with those of the Iranian plateau, where the great demand led to buildings of monumental scale and size.
However, the principles governing the design of each are the same: the ice has to be insulated and kept dry.
The differing climates make insulation a greater problem in Iran, and drainage of prime importance in damp,
temperate Britain. Obtaining the ice was another matter. Persia is not only largely desert, but fresh water is
rare and even in winter, when the temperature falls to freezing at night, the midday sun is hot. Huge quantities
of ice would be needed to fill these vase domed wells. Some was brought as blocks of snow from the
mountains, but the Persians had an imaginative and simpler answer. Alongside the ice-house is a shallow
channel, about 100 x 10 meters and 40-50 centimeters deep, which is entirely shaded by a great wall, longer
than the pool and as much as 12 meters high; the wall is constructed of rammed earth and mud-bricks made
from the earth which was excavated to form the channel. Most spectacular perhaps was the pair of ice-houses.on the outskirts of Sirjan. The ice-walls which linked them are curved to give extra shade, giving a plan like the
outline of some huge winged creatures.
Persian imagination and ingenuity is unrivalled in making the best use of water in the desert and in this the
country's contribution to the world's technology is unique; it has been pointed out that other areas such as
Central Australia or the deserts of the United States with similar climatic conditions have no agriculture
whatsoever. Both water collection and storage are based on long experience. Indeed, the qanat (underground
irrigation channel) system was recorded during the reign of Darius
A wind-catcher is simply a ventilating shaft which projects above the roof of a building and provides it with
air-conditioning of a most effective kind. Wind-catchers are among the most spectacular and best-known
elements of the Persian architecture, yet it is surprising how little information exists about the detail of their
interior design. The wealth of local knowledge is chiefly empirical. For instance, two wind-catchers of a simple
village cistern which appear to be similar to one another may have been constructed by different internal plans
at ventilator level--an indication of their complexity. Similarly, a low plain-looking tower examined in a ruined
house revealed an extraordinary intricate interior with a variety of partitions and baffles in its short height. This
has led to a thorough examination of other towers, particularly those attached to cisterns.
The Fate of Vernacular Monuments
Soon, alas, it may be too late to look for many of these structures. The extraordinary shapes of eroding
mud-brick buildings have long been part of plateau landscape and they have been replaced by others built in
the same tradition. This no longer happens so unless positive action is taken to conserve or build at least one
example of each kind in the simple vernacular tradition, they will soon have vanished for ever.
Their rapid disappearance derives from a variety of good reasons.
First, few people have had time or inclination to look at these buildings, partly because the huge number which
survived until comparatively recently has made them seem commonplace, but also because Iran has such a
wealth of archaeological, architectural and artistic treasure which naturally enough, most visitors want to see.first. So until recently the vernacular has not been much prized. There is little new in this. From the
seventeenth century on, only a few of travellers have been sufficiently interested to record the vernacular
buildings. They wanted ruins of spectacles. Now, the technological innovations of the first half of this century
are the root cause of the redundancy of many buildings. Modern refrigeration, new sources of power, the
internal combustion engine and the use of chemical fertilisers have overtaken such buildings as ice-houses,
mills, caravanserays and pigeon towers, and many delightful landlords' houses and hunting lodges have
been abandoned. Nor will they survive as ruins. A redundant building constructed of stone may survive for
years as a ruin, but buildings of unbaked mud-brick of cob will not: inherent in their design is the necessity of
constant maintenance. So firmness, Sir Henry Wotton's first condition, is as much as a matter of maintenance
as of sound construction in Iran, and maintenance inevitably ceases once a building ceases to be useful.
The Arts of Persia
Yale University Press 1989
Articles by E. Beazley & R. Hillenbrand
Persia,Bridge of Light, Shygun System Co., 1998Music
Designs, masonries and miniatures belonging to the pre-Islamic history of Iran all indicate Iranians' interest
and taste in music. In the post-islamic era, too, despite some opposition which made music lose its former
success, this art survived. The survival of music in the Safavid era can be found in Chehel Sotun palace and
the music chamber of Ali Qapu Monument in Isfahan.
Iran's music is an amalgamation of tunes and melodies which have been created in the course of centuries in
Iran and have evolved along with other aspects of the Iranian life. They refelct the moral characteristics, as
well as political, social events and geographical features of a country with an ancient history. The subtlety and
profundity of Iranian music leads man to reflection and deep thought and takes him to a celestial world.
Iranian music includes the following branches:
1- The pre-islamic music (the music of ancient Iranian tribes such as, Bakhtyari, Kordi, Lori, etc.)
2- The post-Islamic music:a)Maghami (mystic) music; This music includes epic music, lyric music for
marriage, birthday and other happy occasions, and elegiac music for mournful occasions.
b) Radif music which includes the Dastgahs(modes) of Traditional music.
In the contemporary era, Iranian music includes three branches; the two above-mentioned groups in addition
to a third one which is Iran's national music. This branch covers the traditional melodies of the two above
groups, but with a classic rendition.
According to the new classiffication of Iranian Awaz (songs) and modes, which has been set since a century
ago, Iran's traditional singing and music has been divided into 12 groups. The seven groups which are wider
and more independent are called Dastgah (mode) and the other five groups which are not independent and
have been derived from the Dastgahs or modes are called Awaz (a group of melodies with the same gamut.)
So, Iran's present traditional music is only a remainder of the former 12 Maghams (modes) and what we have
today is a very small part of the Iranian traditional music. The seven main Dastgahs (modes) and the five
Awaz groups have several pieces (gushe) which are now the models of the contemporary musicians and
singers. The number of these pieces (gushes) is said to be 228. The varoius and well-known Radifs (Iranian
classical music) of the masters of the 100-year old Iranian traditional music such as Agha Hosein Gholi, Mirza
Abdollah, Darvish Khan, and Saba follow the same order.
The Dastgahs (modes) and Awazes (melodies) in Iran's Traditional Music.
The seven main Dastgahs or modes are: Shoor, Mahoor, Homayoon, Segah, Chahargah, Nava, and Rast.Panjgah. The five Awazes or melodies are: Isfahan, Abou Ata, Bayat-e-Tork, Afshari and Dashti.
The Components of Dastgah and Awaz
In order to perform a Dastgah or Awaz, a special order must be followed and that is; prelude, Awaz, Tasnif
(song) and Reng (dance tune). The late Darvish Khan innovated and added Pishdaramad (what comes before
the prelude) and Chahar Mezrab to this order.
Iran's Folklore Melodies
The late Khaleghi said in this regard, " One of the valuable sources of music in every country is the music and
melodies played and sung by the rural people who live in villages far from the cities. And since their music and
songs have been less influenced by the urban people, they are more natural and original and are closer to the
country's ancient and authentic music. Collecting such music not only preserves it, but also gives us more
information about a country and the way its people live." As Iran has different tribes with different cultures, its
folklore music enjoys a vast variety, both in the songs and the music. For instance, the music of Gilan,
Azarbaijan, Khorasan, Kordestan, Shiraz, and Baluchistan have different melodies and accents. Iran's
folklore music has two forms: 1)- Local melodies which are sung by one person or by a group. 2)- Local
dances which are accompanied by native musical instruments.
Iran's local melodies are one of the richest, most beautiful and most various among the folklore melodies in
the world. These melodies reflect the thoughts, lives, and nature of the people who have created them. They
are one of the rich cultural sources of Iran and can be the best inspiration for our musicians to compose
scientific music.
Some Samples Iran's folklore Melodies :
Gilan and Talesh Music.
Kurdistan Music.
The music of the South Coast of Iran.
Lorestan, Bakhtiari & Fars Music.
Sistan va Balouchestan Music.
Khorasan Music.
Turkmen Music.
Azarbaijan Music..Musical Instruments
Iran's musical instruments have been of immense importance since ancient times.
Around a hundred years ago, Iran's music was gradually separated from songs and followed its own way
Iranian musicians and composers masterted the Iranian music and made innovations in this regard but, on the
whole, Iran's instrumental music, has two main parts: 1)- solo which is based on traditional music and
2)- Group playing, either small or large groups with solo or chorus.
Solo is highly significant in oriental music and this can be related to the eastern philosophy and mysticism and
making a connection with the spiritual world. The eastern musician, in his own sense, is engaged in some sort
of worship, especially in his solitude.
Group Playing
Group playing became more common in Iran since the time of Nasereddin Shah the Qajar king. It was both in
the form of traditional music and instruments and martial music and western instruments which were
introduced in Iran by Monsieur Loumer (the French music teacher who had been invited to Iran to teach at
Darolphonoon school) later, group playing became more common and with western musical instruments
joining the Iranian ones and the playing of Iranian pieces on western instruments, it further prospered.
The oldest Iranian musical instruments are the ney (the Iranian flute) and the tambourine. The following are
the different kinds of Iranian musical instruments generally classified:
Wind Instruments
The ney is the oldest instrument in this group. It is a tube made of cane with seven joints and six knots. The
ney is among Iran's rural instruments and is usually played in all parts of Iran.
Another Iranian wind instrument is Sorna (an oboe-like Iranian instrument) which is common all over Iran of two types:Bakhtyari and Azarbaijani. In Iran, the Sorna is usually accompanied by the Dohol or the
naghareh (a drum-like Iranian instrument). This instrument is played at different occasions according to the
particular region of the country. In Iran's Kordestan, the dohol and the sorna are played at mourning
ceremonies while in the north, the sorna is played along with the performance of ropewalkers and in West
Azarbaijan, the villagers play the Sorna in their marriage ceremonies along with wood dancing.
The Korna is an ancient and historical instrument which is made and played differently in various provinces of
Iran. The main types of the Korna (an Iranian instrument of the sorna family) are those in the north of Iran,
Gilan and Mashhad. The Korna is mostly played in Kordestan and Azarbaijan.
The Bagpipe: It is mostly used in the south of Iran. In some parts of Iran, it is called "Khiknai". It is also played
in some parts of Azarbaijan.
String Instruments
One of the oldest string instruments is Kamancheh (an Iranian violin-like instrument resting on the ground
during the performance). This instrument can be used well both in solo and in group performance.
Kamancheh is a national musical instrument which is played in all the provinces of Iran, but is mostly common
among Turkmen and Turk tribes.
- The barbat (a harp-like Iranian instrument): this is an instrument from the family of limited string instruments.
It is also called Al-e-Oud or Lout. Its body is like a pear divided lengthwise into two parts. It has a big body and
a short neck which, in earlier times, used to have three strings.
The rabab: This instrument has four parts: a melon-shaped body, middle, neck, and head. The strings of the
rabab used to be made of the sheep bowel, but now they are made of nylon threads. Its plectrum is made of
chicken feather. This instrument is mainly rural and is mostly played in Khorasan and also in some parts of
Baluchistan and Sistan.
The tar: It is one of the original Iranian string instruments. It has a multi-part body and six strings. Other
musical instruments of the tar family are the Dotar and the Setar. The dotar is usually played in Turkmen
Sahra and Khorasan.
Musical Percussion Instruments.The famous Iranian percussion instruments are the dohol, the dayereh, the drum and the Tonbak.
Dohol: It is a musical percussion instrument consisting of a hollow cylindrical body with a diameter of around
one meter and a height of 25 to 30 centimeters. Both ends of the cylinder are covered with a tightly stretched
skin. the dohol is played with two sticks, one of which is like a walking stick and the other one is a thin twig. The
dohol is a rural instrument which usually accompanies the sorna and is mostly played in Fars, Baluchistan and
Kordestan province.
Dayereh(Tambourine): This percussion instrument consists of a wooden circle on one side of which, there is a
tightly strectched skin. It is struck with fingers of the two hands. The Dayereh is commonly used in urban
areas rather than rural and usually accompanies another musical instrument. Presently, the Dayereh is
mostly played in Azarbaijan.
Drum: It is another percussion instrument which is smaller than the dohol and is played with two sticks. In
most parts of Iran, it is usually used in mourning ceremonies.
Tonbak: The tonbak is a percussion instrument made of wood (usually walnut wood). It consists of two parts:
the upper part is a cylinder covered by skin and the lower part is the neck of the tonbak which has a wide, open
mouth. It is played by the fingers and the skillful player performs artistic subtleties on it.
String Percussion Instruments
The unique Iranian musical instrument in this group is the santir. It consists of a trapezoid wooden box over
which 72 white (high) and yellow (bass) strings have been stretched. It has two wooden plectrums. The santir
is an instrument which can be played both solo and in group and it is played in all parts of Iran
Persia,Bridge of Light, Shygun System Co., 1998
Cinema & Theater
The background of Iran's dramatic arts goes back to holy religious plays or Ta'zieh as well as Roohozi play
which is a kind of farce, the performance of a racounteur who usually narrated the stories of Shahnameh and
the performance of a Morshed whose remarks were usually sarcastic and critical of the government and the
social problems.
Ta'zieh, the most comprehensive form of play in Iran, has a religious content which deals with the martyrdom
of Imam Hussein (PBUH), the third Imam of the world's Shiites and its related events in Karbala. This play is
usually in the form of a discourse or sometimes narration. In Ta'zieh, the two forces of good and evil are
always engaged in a struggle which apparently ends in the favor of the evil side but the real winners, from the
spiritual aspect, are the good who are the party of God's saints.
The history of Ta'zieh dates back to the Safavid era when Shiism became official in Iran. With passage of time,
the content of Ta'zieh has remained intact but its form and music have undergone some change. Ta'zieh is
usually played at a square-like place encircled by the audience. Among other traditional Iranian plays which
are usually based on Iran's folkloric tales, myths, or historical texts like Shahnameh and involve one actor or
two, we can name imitation, jugglery, and plays in which the actors blacken their faces (known as the
Blackplay). In most of these plays, there is no written scenario or certain director, but the play is performed
according to the actor's experience. In Iran's traditional plays, the actor's feeling, his power of discrimination
and imagination, good memory, speedy transfer of emotions and thoughts to acts, and good voice have the
shares in the performance.
The European form of theater entered Iran in early 20th century when some European-trained Iranians
returned to Iran and introduced Europe's dramatic literature. One of the first European plays translated into
Farsi was Moliere's " Misanthrope" and then, some works of Shakespeare were translated.
With the constitutional revolution and the spread of political activities in Iran, the Iranian society gradually
became more familiar with the western civilization and its trademarks, so theater received more attention. It
was then that the first theater school was set up in Iran. The formation of theatrical groups in Tehran and the
cities of Tabriz, Rasht, Mashhad and Isfahan brought more prosperity to Iran's theater. Some of those groups
were the Farhang company, the company of Iran's comedy, the company of Iranians' play,the.Omid-e-taragghi company and the culture Association. In 1921, with the formation of " The Society of Women
Knowledge Seekers", for the first time in Iran's history, women entered the theater and performed some plays.
In the years that followed, due to a change in the country's political atmosphere which imposed more
censorship on theater and literature and the growth of cinema which lured some theater actors to itself, the
newly-born theatre Iran came to a virtual stalemate. Some people who were influential in the formation of
Iran's theater were Mirzadeh Eshghi, Esmail Mehrtash, Ardashes Nazarian, Seyyed Ali Nasr and Ali Naghi
Vaziri who mingled theatre with music by founding the first music club in Iran.
The introduction of the first cinematograph in Iran in 1900 by Mozaffar-ed-Din Shah is considered as the start
of cinema in Iran, although the first cinema halls were not built untill 1'912. By the year 1929, no Iranian film
had been made, so the few established cinemas showed foreign movies which sometimes had Farsi subtitles.
The first long Iranian movie entitled " Abi and Rabi" was directed by Avans Ooganians and fimled by Khan
Baba Mo'tazedi in 1929.
In 1932, the first Iranian talkie named " The Lor girl" was made by Abdolhosein Sepanta in Bombay. The warm
welcome given to this film in Iran encouraged the production of several other Iranian films. With the change in
Iran's political atmosphere from 1936 to 1948, which imposed tough censorship on art and the eruption of the
Second World War, Iran's cinema stagnated. Although, it is to be noted that till then, Iran's cinema was not so
popular and the few cinemas in Tehran and other major cities just served the aristocrasy and some particular
classes of the society. Moreover, Iranian filmmakers had no clear line of thought and except for Sepanta who,
because of having certain cultural characteristics, used the elements of Iran's ancient literature in his works,
others made films which had been adopted from foreign movies.
After 1953, with the establishment of several companies by some investors and cinema's further publicity,
cinematic activities flourished in Iran. However,unfortunately, the focus on gaining profit from investment in
cinema and the political situation of Iran's post-coup d'etat soceity in which freedom, the main factor of cultural
growth, was limited, the Iranian cinema mainly produced commonplace and cheep movies which became part
of Iran's filmmaking tradition in those days. But, happily, in the later years, some filmmakers such as Samuel
Khachikian, Hooshang Kavoosi, Farrokh Ghaffari, Ebrahim Golestan, Masuod Kimiaie, Dariush Mehrjooie,
Fereidoon Rahnama and Ali Hatami inspired a fresh cultural trend in Iran's cinema which was somehow away.from the common popular tradition of movies in Iran.
Also, the establishment of the Center for the Intellectual Training of Children and Young Adults in 1969 was a
good opportunity to mould Iran's cultural cinema. The cooperation of UNESCO with this center as the
distributor of children's movies in Iran which started with the trip of Nooroddin Zarrinkelk to Belgium, left a
significant impact on the elevation of the center's cultural level.
The cultural trend formed by the above-mentioned filmmakers, the establishment of the cultural center for
Children and Young Adults and the fading public interest in cheap entertainment elements such as violence,
sex, and the roughneck, especially among the youth all joined hands to produce a new, constructive current in
Iran's cinema between 1971 to 1978.
Bahram Beyzaie, Abbas Kiarostami, Khosrow Sinaie, Kamran Shirdel, Dariush Mehrjooie, Naser Taghvaie,
Ali Hatami, Amir Naderi, and some others were those who, having non-material motives, played a major role
in forming the new wave and prepared the grounds for Iran's cinema to take more creditable steps in the later
After the Islamic revolution, between 1978 and 1983, due to lack of definite filmmaking rules, Iran's cinema
was disorganized. After 1983, when filmmaking rules were outlined according to the post-Islamic revolution
criteria, violence and sex were forced out of Iran's cinema. Moreover due to the confiscation of many cinemas
and film production companies and their control by the government, there was less concentration on
profitmaking in cinema. These factors together with the increased skill of Iranian filmmakers in the 70's like
Kiarostami, Beyzaie, Mehrjooie, etc had a positive impact on Iran's filmmaking industry. Despite the
limitations, Iranian directors made some movies which aroused the admiration of critics around the world. In
that period, young filmmakers such as Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Ebrahim Hatamikia, Ja'afar Panahi, Majid Majidi
, and Abolfazl Jalili who had entered cinema each with his own different tendencies gradually gained enough
experience and expertise to employ various elements of cinema and have their share in its development.
Another factor which enhanced the interest of the Iranian youth in cinema and helped the growth of this art
was the annual holding of an international film festival in Bahman (January) known as the International Fajr
Film Festival.
The climax of Iranian cinema's international successes was in 1997 when the Golden Palm the International
Cannes Film Festival went to Abbas Kiarostami for his " Taste of Cherry" (This award was given jointly to
Kiarostami and a Japanese director)..The following are other international successes of Iran's cinema in the post- Islamic revolution era:
- The Golden Leopard of Lucarno Festival, Switzerland, 1997, to the " Miror" by Ja'far Panahi.
- The Grand Prize for the Best Movie in the Three Continents' Film Festival, Nantes, France, 1996 to " A True
Story" by Abolfazl Jalili.
- The Golden Camera, Cannes Film Festival, France, 1995, to " The White Balloon" by Ja'far Panahi.
- Roberto Rosselini Award, Cannes Festival, France, 1992 to Abbas Kiarostami for all his works.
- Francois Troufaut Award, Jiffoni Film Festival, Italy, 1992 to Abbas Kiarostami for all his works.
- The Grand Prize for the Best Movie, The Three Continents' Film Festival, Nantes, France, 1989, to " Water,
Wind, Dust" by Naderi.
- The Grand Prize for the Best Movie, The Three Continents' Film Festival, Nantes, France, 1985, to " The
Runner" by Amir Naderi.
Persia,Bridge of Light, Shygun System Co., 1998
Calligraphy can be described as an expression of man's spiritual state, for the purity of writing proceeds from
purity of heart. The history of calligraphy in the Islamic world begins with the writing in Kufic of Qoranic verses
and the holy words of Allah, Mohammad and Ali which were put up as plaques on portals of religious
buildings. The style of Kufic which was developed in Iran was rather different from its earlier versions. In some
cases, the Kufic writings can be seen in the palace of Masoud III, the Ghaznavid ruler, in Ghazna.
The Iranian tabloids are different in writing. The morq Kufic was characterised by tiny writings among the main
lines, and the manuscripts had a closed form organised from short words such as the bird, other creatures and
the human face. The different styles of Kufic writing can be seen in the monuments dating back to the Timurid
and Safavid era. Some metalworks, pottery, inscriptions, silk and velvet textiles and the gold and silver coins
carry such writings. Persistence on the beauty of the manuscripts is a prominent characteristic of the Iranian
works of art. In truth, writing on the calf skin and paper are excessively indebted to the hard work of the Iranian
calligraphers. For the first time, it was the renowned Abbasid vizier, Ebn Maqleh died in 940 AD from Shiraz,
who set rules for calligraphic writing. His most celebrated plan was the separation of Kufic to six different
forms of writing such as: Naskh, Sols, Mohaqqaq, Reihani, Tuqi and Reqa.
The Iranian calligraphers revealed their talent in all forms of writing, whether by the large rigid Mohaqqaq pen,
or by the fine sweet Reihani pen. It is said that in the late 14th century AD, master Yaqut Mostasami with only
one hand, wrote a very small copy of Qoran for Tamerlane. The Qoran was so small that could be placed
under the stone of Tamerlane's marqueted ring. As Tamerlane saw the ring, he grew angry and said,
"According to Prophet Mohammad, the Qoran should be written in large fonts." So, the calligraphers wrote a
Qoran, the space of whose lines was as long as the distance between the elbow and the large finger of a hand.
The sons of Tamerlane such as Baysanqor Mirza (died in 1433 AD) and Ibrahim Sultan (died 1434 AD) were
both prominent calligraphers. So, under the reign of Bay sanqor in Harat, the Nastaliq style of writing markedly
Since then, the Persian manuscripts has showed a tendency to a somewhat hanging movement that goes
from the upper right to the lower left. This tendency grows out, logically, from the grammatical structure of
Persian, where long-stretched letters like Timurid, sh, st often form the endings of words. This style called
Taliq (hanging) was--at least in the 16th century AD--typical of chancellery writing. Ghazi Ahmad mentions
exclusively official scribes as masters of Taliq, the greatest authority being Khajeh Abdol Hei Astar Abadi..Shortly after 1400 AD, Mir Ali Tabrizi developed out of his style the Nastaliq, a style which most perfectly
corresponds to the character of Persian poetry and has a certain musical, almost dancing quality. Mir Ali,
surnamed Qudwat al-Kottab (model of scribes), is said to have dreamt of a flight of geese whose wings and
movements inspired the shapes of letters. Even today teachers of Nastaliq tell their pupils to shape this or that
part of a letter like a bird's wing, peak of head.
The expression Nastaliq has been interpreted in two forms: First, Naskh with its stable regulations was
merged with the Taliq to remove its status of suspension. The rule of the new writing was marked by square
pointings of bamboo pen, suspended since the time of Ebn Moqaleh. The initiative was meant to wipe off the
property of hanging. The second interpretation is that the word Naskh was added to Taliq to abolish the
property of suspension which came upon reading the word. In the short time, however, it worked.
The number of top Nastaliq calligraphers in Iran and its subordinate countries went far beyond expectations.
The Iranian style of Nastaliq even sneaked to Turkey, India and Urdu tribes. In comparison with the Kufic
writing which was closely associated with the Arabic language, the new writing sought no proximity with it.
However, there are some religious writings and supplications written in Nastaliq. Yet, rarely did calligraphers
decide to write the whole Qoran in Nastaliq. According to documents, only three calligraphers of the 16th
century AD opted to do so--and succeeded. Here, the most celebrated instance of Nastaliq is the copy of
Gnostic calligrapher Shah Mahmud Neishaburi in 1538 AD which is being kept in Istanbul . The copy received
great attention from Shah Tahmasb. Generally speaking, experts believe that a Nastaliq Qoran does not
make so much public appeal.
The new pleasant style of Nastaliq bore a fruit named Broken. Although some experts attribute the Broken
writing to Mir Shafia Harati, others ooze confidence in Ghazi Ahmad's remarks who claimed his father, Mir
Monshi Hoseini, combined the Nastaliq and Taliq to create a suitable style for the manuscript of court letters.
Shafia (died in 1674 AD) worked for governor of Herat Morteza Gholi Khan Shamlu, who was himself a skilled
calligrapher. Over a hundred years later, Darvish Abdol-Majid Taleqani (died in 1771 AD) invented a strong
Broken style of writing and established reputation as a prominent calligrapher of the new style. Taleqani also
staged an aggressive movement to spread the new writing in Iran and India. The new writing, however, had a
short span of life and abolished after a while. The manuscripts in the Broken style turned into graphic sketches
and lost identity as a readable writing. The Broken forms of the new writing contained a friendly but puzzling
spirit as of the Kufic writing. Although the writing looks unreadable at the first sight, but the aesthetic features.bewitch the onlooker.
There is no doubt that the traditional art of calligraphy has emerged in the course of the history in Iran and its
subordinate states. At occasions, one might think that the European ideals have affected the personal
concepts of some calligraphers from the 12th century AD through the 19th century AD, yet, it is certain that the
Iranian artists never abandoned creating traditional forms. What we see in the contemporary writings is rooted
in the old traditions of the past, or in the individual creations of the famous calligraphers. The works about the
present Iranian calligraphers reveal two visible facts: the genuine aesthetic ideals inside the Iranian soul and
the attempt to turn imagined forms and pictures with aesthetic purports into script. If we scroll through the
manuscripts of Afzaledin Azar Bod (born in 1870 AD) we will be able to find out this meaning more readily. The
different branches of the Persian calligraphy still bear fruits.
The Arts of Persia
Yale University Press 1984
Article by A. Schimmel
Persia,Bridge of Light, Shygun System Co., 1998
Art of Carpet Weaving in Iran
A historical Background
Carpets are among ancient products of human civilization. Aside from the Iranian civilization which probably
is the first to have created carpets, the Greeks also knew carpets since ancient times. In Aschylus's Greek
tragedy when Agamemnon, meets clytemnestra the queen, she throws a carpet under his feet so the
conquerer of Ilion will not step foot on bare ground. In the Iranian book of Artay Virapnamak which is regarded
by some as the eastern source of Dante's Divine Comedy, in his super - natural journeys in the other world,
when describing the dwelling - place of the blessed, Artay virap is rejoiced and talks of carpets that next to
perfumes, golden costumes, and gold thrones decorate the residence of the salvaged. From a historical point
of view, the Greek historian, Xenophon, is the first to speak of carpet production in ancient Persia - According
to a number of experts like A.U. Pope, the production of rugs as we know it today was established in Sassanid
Persia, 224 - 651 A.D.
Brith Place of Carpets
The brith place of the first capert or carpets is not precisely known, and researchers in this relation should
merely suffice with scattered and ambiguous historical and literary references.
Nevertheless, considering the greater production and use of carpets in Iran, Anatolia, and Central Asia plus
the traditional styles, the comparison of these styles, and the findings discovered in Pazardzhik, it is thought
that ancient nomadic Iranian tribes such as Scythians, and Massagetai had been the ones who made the first
carpets in the world. The Pazardzhik carpets which were made by Scythians are very similar in style to the
decorative designs employed in the construction of Takht - e Jamshid (Persepolis). Greek sources have
spoken of these nomadic Iranian tribes in what they call " Persia non - proper ", from China's in the east
borders to Hungary's in the west, in 7th centry B.C. . The cultural heritage of these Iranian tribes was later
absorbed by the Turkic nations who replaced them. It is very likely that the people of " Iran proper " learned the
art of carpet - weaving from their cousins who roamed around in " Iran non - proper ", and perfected and
spread it to other areas.
Oldest Carpets.The oldest carpet found so far belongs to the 3rd or 5th century B.C. This carpet which has been named
Pazardzhik was discovered in a place of the same name in southern Siberia. The carpet is 200 by 130
centimeters and was found by the Russian archaeologist, Rudenko. It is now kept in the Hermitage museum
in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The Iranian historian, Tabari, speaks about a magnificent carpet called
Baharestan which belonged to Khosrow Anooshiravan, the Sassanid king, 531 - 579 A.D. According to
Tabari, this carpet had covered the great hall at the Ctesiphon palace of the Sassanids.The silk carpet is said
to have had dimensions of 25 by 65 meters and included gold, silver, and precious gems in its warps and
woofs. Following the battle of Ghadesiah between the Muslim Arab and Sassanid armies in 634 A.D. and the
fall of Ctesiphon to Muslims, Baharestan was torn to pieces by the orders of Umar to be divided among his
victorious forces. Historical accounts say that the Arabs were not able to tear the great carpet to more than 20
Oldest Carpet named Pazardzheik
Persian Carpets
As stated before the Carpet weaving tradition in Iran is several thousand years old. Although there is little
direct historical evidence about the origin of carpets in human civilization, it is possible to draw a general
picture of the evolutionary path of carpet weaving through the use of scattered historical proofs and literary
works. Although the oldest carpet found so far, the Pazardzhik, belongs to ancient " Persia non - proper ", and
although relations between these nomodic Iranians and their cousins in " Persia proper " had been hostile,
extensive cultural relations did exist between the two sides. Based on historical records the Scythians
occupied Media for 28 years, and Cyrus the Great was killed in fighting against the Massagetae. Darius the
Great also led a huge but relatively unsuccessful expedition against Scythians north and northeast of the
Black sea. Nevertheless, in the Bistun inscription left by him, the same Scythians, a nation of outer Iran, are
counted as part of the Persian emprie. It is also believed that the Scythians had also fought along the Persian
armies of Darius III against Alexander the Macedonian in the battle of lssus in Asia Minor.
Centuries later Turkic tribes gradually replaced the Scythians in outer Pesia and borrowed much of their
traditions and customs. In addition to Xenophon who talked of Persian carpets in general terms, the Roman
historian. Polinio, has also written on the production and use of carpets in ancient Persia. During the Sassanid.period when the central government became stronger and more efficient than its predecessor, arts flourished
and expanded greatly because of more enthusiastic support by the kings. In iconography, relief works of
sculpture from this era are imitation examples of previous figurative styles. Even though few original
examples from this period exist, extant Egyptian, Byzentine, Chinese and Japanese works inspired by
Sassanid styles are many. The fabulous Baharestan Carpet of which Tabari has spoken Belongs to this same
period. In the post - Islamic era until the Mongol Ilkhan reign (1221-1353 AD), there has been left no direct
evidence on Persian rugs.
From the Seljuk period (10th to 13th century AD), however, who ruled in Asia Minor, major and highly
significant pieces have been discovered in the Ala - ed - Din Mosque in Konya. These discoveries belong to
the 13th century.
From the end of the Ilkhan to the end of the Timurid periods in the 15th century Persian rugs with miniature
designs seem to have been frequent. Since the 16th century onward we can witness and enjoy unparalleled
masterpieces of the Safavid period, 1502 - 1722. According to B. Gry, Although from the Sassanids to
Safavids there is a very long time lapse, the striking similarity between the carpet kept in the Poldi Pezzolio
museum of Milan which dates back to 1522 A.D. and the iconography of the Sassanid period, proves the
continual existence of the art of carpet weaving in Iran during this historically missing link period.
Despite the fact that there is no direct evidence to prove this hypothesis, numerous literary works testify to the
truth of the matter. In the " Boundaries of the World " a book from 993 A.D., the unknown author mentions
precious rugs produced in the Fars region in southern Iran. In the chapter on Azerbaijan, the writer speaks of a
worm from which a red dye is produced.
His description of the worm is so meticulous and specific that it can not be dismissed as something just having
been heard by the author. In his great epic, Shahnameh, Firdausi mentions carpets among gifts sent by the
king of Kabul for Sam, the grand - father of Rostam, the primary hero of that universal literary work. Saadi also
mentions rugs here and there in his literary works.
Safavid Carpets
As was said earlier, no rugs exist from the Timurid period, but it is possible that some pieces attributed to the
Safavid era actually belong to the Timurid time.
From the Safavid period many examples do exist. The carpet in the Poldi Pezzoli museum of Milan is dated.1522 - 23 A.D., and the rug known as Shaikh Safi, or Ardabil, is the work of the courtier, Maghsood - e
Kashani - and is dated 1539 - 1540.
Another important rug kept in the Los Angeles County Museum is believed to have been made by direct
orders from the Safavid king, Shah Tahmasb, himself. This piece which is considered as one of the most
important from the 16th century has 5200 knots in a square decimeter.Yet another carpet a century younger
and dated 1656-1667 is kept in the Sarajevo Museum. The dominant style around 1600s and in the first
quarter of the 17th century was what is known as the Polonaise. This is because originally such carpets were
made at the request of the Polish king of the time, Sigimund III Vasa. These rugs which are made of silk and
include warps and woofs of gold and silver were made in Esfahan and Kashan. There are similar examples of
what was just described in the San Maro Museum in Venice. These had probably been taken there as
souvenirs by tourists and travellers or been sent to the dukedom as gifts by Shah Abbas I. In many European
paintings, oriental carpets are present. Most of such cases, though, are examples of Anatolian rugs with their
geometric designs, Persian carpets are mainly seen in Dutch paintings of early 17th century. These are often
representations of Herati carpets of later times. The miniature paintings of the Safavid period show quite
developed patterns and designs. These examples are mostly of Toranj (bergamot) design, or they have
evenly spread - over pattern. Yet, because of their lack of clarity, they can not be attributed to an exact and
specific date. Therefore, in order to put a precise date in such carpets, the two well - known 1522 and 1539
rugs plus the developed style of the reign of Shah Abbas I, in early 17th century, of which the Polonaise are
good examples, should be used as reference points in time. The style of these carpets is different from the
style of those of Shah Tahmasb's reign. Also, the study of techniques and colors used in making carpets, and
their particular and special uses can help categorize these magnificent art products of the East.
There is no consensus on where carpets had been made either. Right now, the only way to determine the
production place of carpets is to study and categorize the various qualities of their specific styles. Because of
their ambiguity the existing random scripts left by the writers of the time and European travellers do not help
any in this regard. Even the writings on some of the carpets themselves are not a good aid in this relation. For
instance, the famous rug known as Ardebil or Shaik Safi which had originally been in Shaik Safi - ed - Din - e
Ardebili's hometown is the work of the carpet weaving master, Maghsood - e Kashani. But it is not clear
whether the rug itself had been made in Tabriz or Kashan. Never theless, Since such carpets were made in
royal workshops, it might be assumed that they should have been created in Tabriz, Esfahan, or Qazvin..Travellers like F.G. Schilinger and Florencio del Nino Jesus have spoken of the production and sale of
carpets in Tabriz and Qazvin respectively. Undoubtedly, there had been numerous carpet weaving
workshops in Esfahan, the last and most important capital city of the Safavids. The well - known French
Traveller, J.B. Tavernier has carefully determined and described the place of carpet making workshops in and
around the great Naghsh - e Jahan square in the center of Esfahan. In description of a celebration probably
held in Esfahan, E. Kaempfer speaks of precious rugs he had seen there. D. Garcia de Siliviay Figueroa who
had visited Kashan in 1618 says that Kashan rugs had been the best of all Persian rugs. Pedro Teixeira who
had been in Iran on his way to Europe in 1604, says that rugs from Yazd had been the best and that products
of Kerman and Khorasan came next. Chardin especially talks about workshops in Kerman and Sistan. Adam
Olearius, 1636 - 7, says that the best Persian carpets were from Herat.
With the demise of the Safavid dynasty, just like miniature painting, the carpet industry declined. In spite of
losing its royal glamor, however, it somehow managed to continue its life. Today, Persian rugs are produced,
used and exported abroad from all over Iran.
A Bakhtiari Carpet 1982
An Antique Qashqai Mille Fleurs Prayer Rug
An Antique Afshar Rug
A Fine Kashkuli Qashqai Rug 1915
A Fine Antique Sarouk Rug
A Pair of Part Silk Isfahan Dadjar Rugs
A Fine Antique Bidjar Carpet
A Magnificent Massive Silk Qum Carpet
A Kerman Prayer Carpet
An Arjuman Kerman Carpet
A Fine Large Isfahan Carpet
An Antique sSenneh hamadan Carpet
An Antiques Serapi Carpet
A Pair of Isfahan Carpets
An Antique Mahal Carpet
A Benlian Tabriz Carpet.A Heriz Carpet
A Fereghan Malayir
An Antique Yazd Carpet
An Antique Fereghan Carpet
An Antique Tabriz Carpet
A Kashan Carpet
A Fine Tabriz Carpet
A Sultanabad Carpet
A Heriz Carpet.
A Magnificent Massive Heriz Carpet
Essay by: A. Madani
Persia,Bridge of Light, Shygun System Co., 1998
Painting in Iran
Based on historical and literary evidence, independent Iranian painting goes back at least to the Sassanid
period of 4th - 7th centuries A.D. Such art work has been both monumental and used to illustrate books.
According to historians, Pre - Islamic Iranian works of imagery had also been extant a few centuries into the
Post - Islamic era. It is believed that paintings on the walls of the great Ctesiphon palace had been in place
until the 7th century A.D. The magnificent Iranian epic - writer, Firdausi, describes ceremonies from the
Sassanid period which he could not have directly seen himself. He describes Khosrow's throne over which his
crown had been hanging from above by a gold chain to be ready for use by the king.
Firdausi's sources in writing his great literary work, Shahnameh had been the various Shahnamehs and
Khodaynamaks all in prose left from the Sassanid period. To know whether such written sources had in fact
been pictorial or not helps throw light on the history of painting and sculpture in Iran. Dr. Girshman believes
that in the Sassanid period the decoration of palace walls with human images had been common since the
middle of the 4th century A.D. Before that, during he reign of the Helenistic- oriented Parthian empire, shapes
used for painting were adapted from their Greek counterparts.
In mount Khwajeh on an island in the Hamun lake in Sistan among separate rectangular houses which date
back to the 1st century B.C. acanthus leaf shapes are joined by date leaf shapes in oriental style. This dual
combination is the predecessor to patterns which later become common in the plaster works of the Sassanid
period. A winged Eros which is rising on its horse is clearly influenced by Greek concepts.
Zabol - Mount Khwajeh - Plaster works
Zabol - Mount Khwajeh - Eros on a horse
The " Sarayazd " design, which is another image of the same palace, seems to be the first effort to create
depth by overlapping shapes.
This is a definite progress and yet a single trial by itself. Another image here portrays the king and queen. In
this work the free pose and the bend in the queen's body is noteworthy because it demonstrates a human
physical condition in which movement and feeling can be seen. Generally, however, Iranian aesthetics are
manifested in immobile images, frequently ignoring human conditions and emotions. Although the parthian
artist is influenced by Greek art, he resists the vigorous and narrative Helenistic style in a way and
emphasizes the eastern Assyrian tradition: the subject matter is laid on the background, dark contour lines
designate the boundaries of the shapes, and black paint fill in some details as the hair and beard..Zabol - Mount Khwajeh - King and Princess
Although no wall imagery have remained in Bishapur, in a place called Dokhtar - e Nooshiravan (the Daughter
of Nooshiravan), in the valley of the Khelm river (Helmand), remains of Great rock paintings from the Sassanid
period can be seen. These relief works show the king sitting on his throne with a white winged crown having
pearls along with the image of a lion's head hanging above his head. In these rock paintings, colors are very
prominent. The white yellow and azure colors of images highly contrast the brown color of the rocks. The
same type of color use is also seen in the wall paintings of the Buddhist Wei kingdom in Tun Huang in Kansu,
west China, which was under Sassanid influence for some time. In Pjandjikent, 70 kilometers from
Samarghand, a major cultural center of the Iranian Soghdian civilization, paintings have been discovered part
of which match stories about Rostam, the great hero of Firdausi's Shahnameh. Coins and manuscripts found
in this place indicate that these paintings belong to early 7th century A.D.
Pjandjikent - A Religious Gathering Of Farmers
In Turfan, a major center of Manichaean activities, Le Cog's expedition discovered highly valuable remains of
the holy pictorial hand - written book brought by Mani (Manes) during the Sassanid reign. These remains
should belong to the era of the Uighur Turks' domination over the area between 750 to 850 AD. Iranian
traditions say that Mani had been a great painter and the owner of the painting book, Arzhang.
Turfan - A Manichaean Painting (9th century AD)
The prominent Christian thinker and theologian, St. Angustine of Hippo, originally a Manichaean, wrote a book
in rejection of Manichaeanism called "Quotations of Atheists"after he converted to Christianity, where some
proof for the richness of Manichaean pictures can be found. According to another source, in 923 AD., when a
huge pile of Manichaean books was burned at the orders of the Abbasid sultan, streams of gold and silver
from pictures inside them began running on the ground. Le Cog's discoveries, although only a minor part of
Manichaean works, are the lone findings through which the Sassanid style of painting can be shown. These
works are definitely Iranian. The miniatures are placed either above or on the side of the texts and related to
them. The background is blue and the various shapes in the paintings are done in red, white, gold, purple and
two variants of green. The contours of the shapes are clearly defined and flatly colored. On these shapes
simple flower designs have been added. The only stylized landscape scenes are tree and flower patterns that
fill in the empty spaces.
The proofs of the first Iranian paintings after Islam goes back to the l0th century A.D. The Abbasid dynasty of.Baghdad who were sympathetic towards Iranian culture and civilization began reviving the Iranian painting
tradition early in their reign around 750 A.D. Remains of a palace in Samarra on the Tigris, built by a1 -
Mutasam and in use from 833 to 838 AD., testifies to this historical fact. The wall paintings of this mansion
demonstrate a vast decorative treasure of Iranian origin at the access of the Abbasid House.The Abbasid
style, which can be studied in Samarra spread to the whole realm of the Abbasid domain and was even taken
to Spain and Sicily by the Fatimids. In eastern Iran, where the Iranian Samanid dynasty was ruling, the
tradition of decorating palaces continued. In Samanid paintings found in Nishabur that have been painted on
uncolored walls, horse riders are seen in life size. Although those paintings had been created during the
Samanid reign, the cavalry's costumes, their long boots decorated with flower designs, their tiger skin
saddlery, and their horse stirups are certainly Central Asian innovations which in turn depended on the
Sassanid art of horse managing themselves. In a painting from the Ghaznavid period discovered by Danial
Schlum Berger, fighters can be seen whose portaits covered all around the audience hall of the Ghaznavid
palace in Lashkari Bazaar on the Helmand banks in Afghanistan. Schlum Berger compares the hero's
costumes of this palace to those of the Sassanids found in the Chinese Turkistan and takes the palace
decoration tradition to the more ancient Achaemenid period.
In the 8th volume of Al - Tanbih, Mas'udi says that in 915 A.D. he had seen a book in a Persian aristocrat's
house in which had come the pictures of all Sassanid kings on the day of their death. The book is said to have
been very rich in color including dyes containing gold and silver. The book would also pictorially show the daily
lives of those kings among their companions. According to Mas'udi, that copy had been reproduced from an
earlier impression belonging to 181 A.D. Firdausi's Shahnameh, even though describes Sassanid traditions to
some extent, is quiet about the pictorial aspect of such traditions. Nevertheless, Estakhri and Hamzeh - ye
Esfahani say that pre - Islamic pictorial Iranian books were being kept in feudal Persian families in the l0th
century A.D. In Islamic culture and civilization, painting has had a significant role and multilateral function.
Islamic painting which is largely based on ancient Iranian painting brings to the new ages the techniques,
stylistic concepts and iconologyof the ancient world. The subject matters of this school of painting are
numerous. In the post - Islamic era, in addition to monumental painting, murals, palace decoration and
capturing the kings' private and public lives, painting in general found more common and democratic use
being widely applied to decorate and strengthen various scientific and literary books. Examples to this point
are " Wonders of Creation " by Ghazvini, " Usefulness of the Living " by Ibn - e. Bakhtishu', and the Farsi.translation of " Kelileh and Demneh ".
Ajayeb-ol-Makhluqat - Picking fruit from bean tree
Manafe-ol-Hayavan - The male and female lions
Manafe-ol-Hayavan - Chase of a mare by a stallion
Despite some controversial opinions and statements, from the spiritual and historical viewpoints, it seems that
there has really been no ban on imagery in Islam. At least, there is no such reference in the Glorious Koran.
Still, it can be understood that in an absolutely monotheistic religion like Islam, it should only be natural for
moral reservations to exist over image making and tendency to worship such images. Such a notion is not
peculiar to Islam, however. Dionigi di Fourna, a Christian monk, wrote a book in which he talked about what
images painters were allowed to make and what shapes they were not. Following the concilio of the Supreme
Christian Council held in Trento in the 16th century, Cardinal Paleotti even put down a sort of iconography
program in which he set the criteria for what icon makers could not make, and took on the undesirable
responsibility of controling the conscience of the society. In Islam, iconographers could cite the prophet's
orders which prevented the destruction of the image of Mary and her Son at the entrance of Ka'bah the day he
conquered Makkah (Mecca). On the other hand, all such traditions from the prophet and other Muslim leaders
that ban iconography seem to be rooted in their concerns about mankind's inclination towards idolatry. In the
context of the ancient classic culture which was full of iconized kings and queens and various gods and
demigods, such a concern seems to be quite reasonable. Outside such contexts, however, painting was
expanded freedly in all directions. Respecting the religious domain and leaving it to relogious authorities, the
arts of painting and sculpture began producing art works freely and extensively outside that realm. There
seems to have existed a kind of mutual respect between the spiritual and non - spiritual communities. It must
have been this respect that kept image makers from dealing with particular religious themes. The various
pictures on the Prophet's Flight to the Heaven all date after 14th century A.D. Even so, such a theme is
frequently placed among tales of the prophets, history of the world or other general topics of this kind. In any
case, in the Islamic world and in particular in the Iranian and Shi'ah (Shiite) world, opposition to iconography
never went out of proportions. On the other hand, the final decision on this issue has always rested with the
political authority of the time in the history of Islam. Except for a very short period, power has always been
exercised by those who minted coin with their own profiles on it, and decorated their palaces with paintings
and statues. In the field of literature too, the society better welcomed the free and worldly poetry of Nizami's.Khamseh, Khayyam's philosophical meditations, Firdausi's hero's human behavior in Shahnameh, Hafiz's
universal lyrics, and in general the message of tolerance of mystic Muslim poets. What has remained from the
monumental paintings of palaces is negligible today. Here, although we lay stress more on historical and
literary evidences than on direct proofs,the discovery of the 17th century palace wall paintings of Isfahan
shows that there really is no difference between monumental and miniature paintings.
On the origin and dates of the paintings of various Islamic eras there are often serious problems, and this is
because little information exists in this regard. The attribution of a miniature to its true origin is only possible in
the context of the physical environment in which it was created in the first place. Naturally, the miniaturist
could not have chosen the commissioners of his works as he wished, instead he had practically been a
member of the artistic group which included calligraphers, paper - makers, binders and others, all of whom
worked for the same king, prince, or royal court moving from a city library to another.
This kind of movements took place in such a vast land as from China's borders in the orient to Spain's in
Europe. Iranian miniature is rooted in many different painting styles of different cultures. Beside ancient
Iranian painting, ancient styles from Greece, the Roman and Bizantine empires, the great Mesopotamian
civilizations, Central Asia and especially China have been instrumental in shaping and moulding it.
Monumental painting of which very little is extant in Iran today, is a style which by borrowing from a variety of
other cultural traditions had been the symbol of the official royal art of the ruling dynasties expressing the
inclination of the dominant classes towords intimidation and showing off their power. The primary subject
matter of this kind of painting is the Shah's activities at different times and places showing him in war, hunting,
playing polo and so forth. Ibn - e Arabshah speaks of the painting on the walls of a Timur - e Lang's
(Tamerlane) palace in Samarghand which showed the great Khan sometimes among the courtiers, musicians
and dancers, sometimes war and hunting, and sometimes in receiving the rulers of conquered lands. Along
with this type of painting which is basically aimed at court life, there is another style that concentrates on
decorating hand - written books and tells stories about heros of the past. Among such copies, Shahnameh
(932 - 1026) is an outstanding one which deals with more ancient tales. Next to Shahnameh, pictorial copies
of Nizami's (1149 - 1209), Sa'dis (1213 - 1292), Hafiz's (1325 - 1389), and Jami's (1414 - 1492) works plus the
Farsi translation of Kelileh and Demneh can be named. There are also books whose miniatures belong not to
the fables and epics of the past but rather to the real world of the time. Among these Jami' - ol - Tawarikh by
Rashid - ed - Din Fazl - ol - Lah - e Hamedani (early 14th century), Majma - ol - Tawarikh by Hafiz - e Abru.(15th contury), Zafarnameh - ye Yazdi by Sharaf - ed - Din Ali - ye Yazdi which is in fact a biography of Timur -
e Lang (Tamerlane), Ajayeb - ol - Makhlughat (Wonders of creation)by Ghazvini, and the History of Prophets
which also deals with Muhammad, A.S. (peace be upon him).
A Minirature from Zafarnameh - Timurid period
A miniature from a missing Shahnameh
A Miniature of Sultan Mahmud at Hafez- Safavid era
A Miniature of Jamshid's young companion
A Miniature from Behzad in Sa'di's Gulistan
A Miniature from Jami's Haft Orang, Two Lovers
A Miniature from Kelileh And Demnah
A Miniature from Kelileh And Demnah - Timurids
Jame'-A-Tavarikh - "Buddha's Holy Tree"
Jame'-A-Tavarikh - "Sarah In Tent"
A Miniature from Majma-O-Tavarikh by Hafiz Abru
A Miniature About the reign of Yazdgerd
A Miniature from a missing book - Jalayerids
A Miniature from "Meraj-nameh"
In addition, Doost - Mohammad speaks of a Changiz - Nameh (on Genghiz the great Mongol Khan) and
abu-Sa'id-Nameh (on abu - Sa'id, the last Mongol Ilkhan king of Iran) which had been both illustrated by
Ahmad Musa, an illustration master of the Tabriz school. By all counts we can say that both palace
monumental and book miniature paintings had existed in Iran, one with the aim of strengthening the then
ruling power and the other to picture literary and mythological books of the private sector at the order of the
same dominant rulers.
Forms and Concepts
Everyone agrees that progress is not in art, but in the techniques in art. However, since the history of art is the
history of tastes, and techniques in art belong to the history of tastes, so the progress in the techniques can be
considered progress in art. As we said earlier, despite the trial by the paintings on the palace walls of Mount
Khwajeh in Sistan, dating from the 1st century A.D., to create depth and demonstrate human passion, the.animated Greco - Roman style never managed to overcome the frozen Assyrian style in the works of Iranian
artists in the next centuries to come. In the Sassanid period too, in spite of some efforts to present depth,
create movement, and express passion (mainly in sculptures), Iranian artists did not succeed to capture their
imagination in their final works in the end. In the Islamic era, only contacts with Chinese painting which was
brought about after the Mongol invasion freed Iranian painting from some previous restrictions. Nevertheless,
this same released art stayed entangled in deeper and stronger bonds. Such bonds kept Iranian painting a
prisoner of particular existential concepts. Before that, Manichaeanism had proposed an absolute, abstract
and fundamental asceticism, in contrast with the optimism advocated by Mazdayasnism, depicting the
sensual world and mundane life as the source of all sin.
In the few Manichaeen miniatures discovered by Le Cog in Turfan, Chinese Turkistan, the color of the
background is blue and this could be the sign of belief in a realistic culture. But the prominence of contour
lines, flat colors, stylized tree and flower designs to fill empty space have made these miniatures so unreal
and abstract as though coming from an unfamiliar world.
In the Iranian miniatures of the Islamic period the dominant thought is not an Iranian or a local, mystic, or even
a Shiite interpretation of the world, but a general world view. Except for the Mughal lndia, the same is true
about the rest of the Muslim world.
Turfan - A Manichaean Painting (9th century AD)
The Iranian miniatures of the Seljuk, Ilkhan, Jalayerid, Timurid, Safavid periods and of various schools of
Herat, Tabriz, Shiraz and other major cultural centers all have a general quality in common, and that is their
absolute abstractness and unrealistic spacing. Since 14th century onward, although efforts were made to
depict flowers, animals, and things more realistically in ceramics, carpets and garments, the view is still
general, the interpretation poetic and the end result unrealistic and frozen. In a world full of hopelessness,
anxiety, poverty, injustice, war, tragedy, and death, human aspirations such as love, and struggle for justice,
peace, and human values make this place balanced and beautiful. However, except for the miniatures of
Mughal lndia, such negative and positive elements do not accompany one another in Iranian - Islamic
miniature work. Unless in very rare cases, human faces are motionless and passive towards events around
them as if they are caught by a spell and condemned and frozen into absolute silence and state of
motionlessness. Individual portrayal of human beings in which they most frequently express their feelings and
emotions are almost completely absent. The world of men in Iranian miniatures is empty of life's ups and.downs and various tints and shadows of passion. There are no days and nights and there exists no variety of
different lights of day and night. There are no appropriate proportions seen and optical rules such as
perspective and various angles of view are not taken into consideration either. It seems as if the various
elements of this world are part of a general design with a complete balance. Mystic views that consider the
whole world as " the manifestation of the Truth's light " also helped the miniaturist not to deal with individual
conditions, and the imperfect and changing reality; just as Shabestari regards that ' light of the Truth ' as
unchanging and eternal.
A miniature from the book " Varagheh Va Golshah"
A miniature from a missing Shahnameh
A miniature from a missing manuscript
A miniature from Nezami's Khamseh- Safavid period
A Miniature from Baysanghari's Kelileh Va Demnah
Firdausi's Shahnameh: Death of Alexander the Great
A miniature from Sultan Abraham's Shahnameh
Instead of dealing with tangible details of existence, Iranian painters directed thier attention towards a perfect
and abstract being which preceeded the real existence of the " World of lmages " (Mundus lmaginalis) and the
" Middle World of Suspending lmages " wherein, according to Shahab - ed - Din - e Sohrawardi, all beings of
this world have their true counterparts. Also according to Sheik Najmeddin Kobra, the follower who seeks the
ultimate light is himself part of that light; the problem is that this light is imprisoned and is trying to release itself
and return to its origin. This type of thought is the one which guides the painter who has bent on his work and
closed his eyes to the world, in order to discover and depict that unchanging and eternal peace. The Shaikh
also says that glorious and Heavenly lights can be seen and received by closing the eyes.
With the fall of the Safavid dynasty, miniature painting gradually lost its previous glamor. The succeeding
Afshar and Zand rulers could not pervent its decline and help its revival. Masters like Ahmad Musa abdol -
Hayy, Shams - ed - Din Jonayed, Sadagheh - t - ibn - e abol - Ghasem, Ostad Khalil, Ghias - ed - Din Timuri,
Ostad Behzad, Sultan Mohammad, and Agha Mirak were left out alone in the wild because of changes in
historical conditions and lack of support. The Qajar dynasty which followed a cultural appeasement policy
towards the West was even a less enthusiastic supporter for the Iranian traditional painting. In the 19th
century, the introduction of lithography and later the printing press forced hand - written books into extinction.and along with it sealed the fate of book - illustration altogether.
Essay by: A. Madani
Persia,Bridge of Light, Shygun System Co., 1998

L'arte del periodo achemenide ci é nota soprattutto dagli imponenti resti dei palazzi reali di Pasargade , Susa, Persepoli e dalle tombe di Naqsh-i Rustam. Malgrado gli evidenti legami con l`arte egiziana e con quella babilonese, l'arte iranica vi si dimostra altamente originale, tutta rivolta all'esaltazione dell'autorità del re e alla creazione di forme solennemente grandiose.
Tipico carattere dei palazzi achemenidi, sorgenti su grandi terrazze artificali, è la presenza di una sala centrale col tetto sorretto da numerose file di altissime colonne, fiancheggiata da numerosi ambienti minori.
I portali di Persepoli sono decorati da grandi bassorilievi di ispirazione assiro-babilonese, raffiguranti tori alati o geni o re in lotta con belve e mostri; le rampe delle scalinate reali invece sono fiancheggiate da lastre con rilievi raffiguranti cortei di sudditi, cortigiani e soldati della guardia. In tali sculture vi è qualche traccia di influssi greci, ma il contatto più evidente è quello con l'arte assira. La tomba di Ciro a Pasargade, con una semplice cella su gradini, si ricollega forse a un antico tipo di abitazione degli Irani. Quelle rupestri di Naqsh-i Rustam, presso Persepoli, sono forse ispirate agli ipogei egiziani. Poco è rimasto delle arti minori (statuette d'oro e d'argento, piccoli bronzi, terrecotte, sigilli).

La conoscenza e l'apprezzamento dell'arte del periodo partico sono tutt'ora in corso di approfondimento. Un carattere rivelatore dell'arte partica appare la cura dei particolari, in contrasto con la visione sintetica dell'ellenismo; infatti l'arte partica insiste sui valori descrittivi della linea, portati a un punto tale da rimuovere ogni aspetto naturalistico per dare invece alla figura una fissità ieratica. Notevoli le influenze greco-romane, anzi l'arte partica è stata vista come un derivazione, sia pure trasfigurata, dell'arte greco-romana. Probabile invenzione partica è l'iwan, la sala di rappresentanza, a volta, interamente aperta da un lato.
Con i Sasanidi (sec. III-VII d.C.) si ha una nuova fioritura della tradizione iranica. I maggiori resti di architettura sasanide sono il cosiddetto Taq-i Kisra presso Baghdad, la grande sala del trono nel palazzo reale, e poi i palazzi di Firuzabad e Sarvistan nella Perside, nei quali predomina l'iwan. Assai diffusa la decorazione in stucco, con rappresentazioni figurate e ornamentali. I bassorilievi regi dei Sasanidi, spesso eseguiti accanto a monumenti achemenidi, ci confermano la loro intenzione di ricollegarsi con la più illustre tradizione nazionale. Particolare importanza ha nell'arte sasanide la toreutica, rappresentata da coppe, piatti e vasi lavorati a sbalzo e a cesello, spesso dorati.
Con la conversione all'islamismo, l'arte iranica non ruppe completamente con il passato, ma conservò nel suo ambito parte dell'antico patrimonio iconografico, che subì un processo di islamizzazione per il quale ciò che prima aveva un significato simbolico ebbe d'ora innanzi una funzione esclusivamente decorativa.
Quasi nulla rimane rimane dell'epoca omayyade. In architettura si può parlare di uno stile ufficiale abbaside (parti più antiche della moschea maggiore di Isfahan, 760 circa, e della moschea di Shiraz, 871). Le arti minori, invece, si mantennero fedeli alla tradizione sasanide, come dimostrano gli oggetti d'argento e di bronzo.
Con i Selgiuchidi (sec. XI-XIII) in architettura si svilupparono alcune tipologie iraniche tredizionali; il contributo più notevole è rappresentato dalla trasformazione della moschea ipostila nel cosiddetto tipo di moschea-madrese: primo esempio in tal senso è quello della grande moschea di Zaware (1135-36).
L'architettura civile ci è nota dai palazzi dell'Afghanistan e dai caravanserragli. Nella decorazione architettonica prevale negli esterni quella in mattone tagliato e scolpito con ornati di tipo geometrico e vegetale. Eccellente qualità raggiunsero le officine ceramiche ( Kashan e ar-Rayy) con la decorazione "a lustro metallico" e le ceramiche policrome dette mina'i.
Con i Selgiuchidi si affermò inoltre la decorazione parietale in ceramica smaltata realizzata con mattonelle.
Con i Mongoli (Ilkhan, sec.XIII-XIV) l'architettura si sviluppò in senso monumentale e grandioso e si fece largo uso della decorazione in mosaico ceramico (moschee di Tabriz, 1310-20, di Forumad, 1320, e di Varamin). Si introdussero motivi e iconografie estremo-orientali . Centro della produzione pittorica fu soprattutto Tabriz, la capitale. Con i Timuridi l'architettura non propone invenzioni nuove, ma presenta proprie variazioni dimostrando viva sensibilitá per una ricerca armonica della proporzioni pur nell'ambito del colossale cui spesso indulge. Si inventa la cupola bulbosa su un alto tamburo e i rivestimenti finiscono per fasciare i monumenti sia negli interni che negli esterni.
Particolare fortuna ebbe la miniatura. Grande sviluppo conobbe l'arte del tappeto che, a partire dal XV sec. elaborò il tipo a medaglione.

La dinastia Safavide (1502-1736) segna un periodo molto florido e l'architettura ne rappresenta uno degli aspetti più sugnificativi, anche se nel complesso non rinnova i suoi schemi (Moschea dello Shah e quella dello Sheyk Lotfollah, 1603-17 a Isfahan). Nell'edilizia palaziale si torna a un'antica concezione asiatica di tradizione nomade nella quale le funzioni sono disaggregate: il palazzo si frantuma in padiglioni distribuiti in un grande parco, come era quello di Isfahan (1588-1629). Notevolissma l'attività edilizia in campo civile, con ponti e caravanserragli. La miniatura sotto i Safavidi conobbe una grande fioritura nei centri di Tabriz (XVI sec.), nella nuova capitale Isfahan e a Shiraz. Tutti i settori delle arti minori conoscono una loro eccellenza artistica.

Con il XVIII secolo l'arte iranica entra in crisi. Tuttavia con i Qajar, anche se spesso la qualità è scadente, affiorano motivi popolareschi, sempre sdegnati dall'arte aulica, che riescono a dare una gustosa forza comunicativa a certe opere, specialmente pittoriche. Con i Pahlavi l'arte iranica viene inserita nel più vasto panorama mondiale.
Nel 1964 il Club degli Artisti, fondato nel 1946, si trasforma in ministero delle Arti e delle Culture, accogliendo artisti di tutti i settori. Al periodo pre-rivoluzionario, ispirato soprattutto alla tradizione miniaturistica, appartengono Sepehri (n. 1928), M. Oveissi (n. 1934) e F. Pilaram (n.1936).
Il periodo post-rivoluzionario è caratterizzato invece da un'arte insieme rivoluzionaria e islamica, dove prevalgono opere grafiche dedicate ai temi della guerra e del martirio, non di rado collettive ed anonime. In architettura vi è un ritorno alle tipologie classiche: moschea di al-Qadir (1977-87) a Teheran e la nuova città di Shushtar (1976-87).

La letteratura dell'Iran antico comincia con il libro sacro dello zoroastrismo, l'Avesta, le cui parti più antiche (le Gatha) risalgono a Zaratustra stesso (sec. VII-VI a.C.?). A esse si contrappongono gli Yasht, o inni, che riflettono un'elaborazione della primitiva dottrina zoroastriana, contaminata con residui della preesistente religione naturalistica iranica. Accanto all'Avesta, la letteratura dell'età achemenide ci offre le iscrizioni dei Gran Re, da Ciro il Vecchio ad Artaserse III: scolpite su roccia o su tavolette d'oro e altro materiale, esse magnificano le gesta dei sovrani o illustrano le loro opere monumentali. Il numero di tali iscrizioni, dal grande valore storico, letterario e linguistico, si è molto accresciuto negli ultimi decenni.
Il periodo arsacidico non ha lasciato tracce dirette di creazioni letterarie, ma per vari indizi la letteratura sasanide appare continuazione della fase precedente. All'età sasanide appartiene la produzione in medio-persiano o pahlavico, per la massima parte di argomento religioso zoroastriano: si hanno traduzioni e commenti dell'Avesta, e opere originali come il Denkart e il Bundahishn, specie di enciclopedie del sapere teologico di quell'età (III-VII sec. d.C.). Fra i non molti testi di argomento profano della letteratura pahlavica vi sono due piccoli romanzi epico-cavallereschi, che narrano due episodi della tradizione poi codificata nello Shahnamè: l`Ayatkar-i Zareran ("Il memoriale di Zarer"), che celebra le gesta del re Vishtasp e di suo fratello Zarer in difesa della fede zoroastriana, e il Karnamak-i Ardashir-i Papakan ("Il libro delle gesta di Ardashir figlio di Papak"), sulle avventure del fondatore della dinastia sasanide. La letteratura zoroastriana in pahlavico, come appare da recenti ricerche, continuò nei primi secoli dopo la conquista araba; ma nell'enorme maggioranza la produzione letteraria posteriore al sec.VII d.C. rispecchia, nella nuova fase linguistica del neopersiano, spiriti e forme della civiltà iranica musulmana. Le prime manifestazioni letterarie dell'Iran islamico risalgono al sec. IX, nella lirica cortigiana fiorita sotto i Tahiridi, i Saffaridi ed i Samanidi, le prime dinastie autonome sorte in margine al califfato. Specialmente sotto i Samanidi, che regnarono nel Khorasan dalla fine del sec. IX a tutto il X, la vita culturale iraniana rifiorì intensa e una pleiade di poeti aulici (Rudaghi, Daqiqi, ecc.) sollevò ad alto livello d'arte e di stile la lingua nazionale.
I germi letterari dischiusisi sotto i Samanidi ebbero la loro piena fioritura nel seguente periodo Gasnavide, illustrato da altri celebri lirici, come Farrukhi, Manoucheri, Asadi, e soprattutto dall'epico Ferdousi (m. 1020 circa). Quest'ultimo riprese un lavoro iniziato da Daqiqi, il verseggiamento delle tradizioni epiche nazionali, e creò il grandioso Shahnamè ("Libro dei Re"), rimasto ammirato modello dell'epopea persiana. Dall'età di Ferdousi a quella di Giami (sec. XI-XV) si estende l'epoca classica della letteratura persiana, ricca e varia, dall'epica eroica e cavalleresca alla lirica aulica e
filosofico-mistica, alla prosa narrativa, storica e parenetica.

L'epica romanzesca, dopo Ferdousi, fu trattata da Fakhr ad-din As'ad Gurgani (sec. XI), che verseggiò nel Vis u Ramin un'antica materia di origina partica, singolarmente affine al ciclo celtico di Tristano e Isotta. Grande artista fu Nizami (sec. XII), l'autore azerbaijano della celebre Khamsa o quintetto di poemi, che danno forma classica a popolarissime leggende arabe o iraniche (gli amori di Khusraw e Shirin, Laila e Magnun ecc.). Questa materia romanzesca fu ripresa nel XV sec. dal poligrafo Giami, che vi infuse però il proprio spirito mistico. In realtà la mistica, forse la più profonda esperienza spirituale dell'Iran islamico, colorò di sè a partire dal XII sec. quasi ogni manifestazione della poesia persiana. I maggiori classici del Medioevo iranico sono mistici, dall'autore di quartine Abu Sai'd ibn Abi l-Khair ai grandi creatori dei mathnavi (poemi) allegorici Farid ad-din 'Attar e Gialal ad-din Rumi (ambedue del XIII sec.), allo gnomico e narratore Sa'di (XIII sec.) e al maestro del ghazal amoroso, Hafez (XIV sec.). A Gialal ad-din Rumi, in particolare, si deve, tra l'altro, il Mathnavi per eccellanza, vasto complesso di meditazioni, sfoghi mistici e racconti allegorici, rimasto normativo per il più tardo sufismo persiano-turco; a Sa'di, il Bustan ("Giardino") in versi, e il Gulistan ("Roseto") in prosa e versi frammisti, breviario tipico della sapienza popolare persiana. Hafez, infine, è il perfettissimo lirico che nel breve giro del ghazal (una dozzina di distici) racchiude con insuperata versatilità ed eleganza un sospiro d'amore sacro o profano (l'ambivalenza del testo ne aumenta il fascino), che incantò non solo gli orientali ma anche Goethe e il Romanticismo. Una posizione a sè occupa come poeta 'Omar Khayyam (sec. XI-XII) misteriosa figura di scienziato, cui va attribuito un fluttuante corpus di quartine che per originalità di concetto e splendore di forma sono tra le più alte espressioni del genio orientale.
La prosa dell'epoca classica, da modesti inizi sotto i Samanidi si solleva a grande rigoglio nei secoli seguenti. Essa conta opere favolistiche (Tuti-name, Marzban-name, ecc.) che sviluppano e arricchiscono la materia di origine indiana oppure di scienza politica e di governo, e di etica e parenetica preziose come documento storico-culturale oltre che come modello di asciutta prosa antica, libri di viaggio, trattati di morale. Assai fiorente fu la storiografia, specie nell`epoca mongola (sec. XIII-XIV), cui risale, tra l'altro, la grande enciclopedia storica (Giami at-tawarikh) di Rashid ad-din Fadl Allah. Dopo l`età mongola la prosa si abbandona a un`estrema ridondanza e artificiosità di stile che finisce per rendere faticosa la lettura.

Con il sec.XVI la letteratura classica ha compiuto il suo ciclo e si adagia nella meccanica ripetizione di temi e motivi triti. Questa decadenza dura fino al XIX sec., fatta eccezione per il genere popolare del dramma sacro ta'ziya. Per quanto riguarda la letteratura di età moderna possiamo distinguere cinque periodi, legati all'evoluzione storico-politica del Paese:

1) Il periodo formativo, storicamente collocato agli inizi dell'Ottocento, significò la fine dell'isolamento dell'Iran che si aprì agli influssi europei creando così le premesse per un progressivo quanto rapido mutamento delle strutture politico-religiose della vita culturale. Letteratura e letterati uscirono allora dagli ambienti di corte e molti giovani vennero inviati a studiare in Europa (nel 1816-17 fu aperta a Tabriz la prima tipografia e nel 1834 apparve a Teheran il primo quotidiano Ruznamè-i akhbar-i wakayi "La gazzetta degli eventi"). La creazione di una sorta di università di stampo europeo (Dar al-funun "Casa delle arti"), inaugurata a Teheran nel 1852, consentì la formazione di un nuovo corpo intellettuale, oltre a favorire la nascita di un'attività traduttoria che fornì nuovi modelli letterari lontani dallo stile aulico e tradizionale. È infatti forte nel XIX sec. la tendenza a semplificare la lingua e lo stile della prosa e della poesia. Per quanto riguarda il teatro, grande attenzione fu rivolta alla ta'ziya, oltre che alla tradizione popolare del teatro delle marionette e della farsa. Il teatro tradizionale, invece, nel corso dell'ottocento, subì l'influsso del modello europeo.

2) Il periodo del risveglio, che coincide con gli anni delle prime agitazioni (1890) e con la lotta per la Costituzione (1905-11), vide la massima fioritura delle arti in generale; l'evoluzione politica pose fine alla poesia di corte, generando una letteratura vicina agli avvenimenti dell'Iran e dell'Europa. Si affermò il gusto per la rievocazione storica e per concetti in parte nuovi, quali il nazionalismo, la democrazia e le problematiche sociali, così come è testimoniato dal fiorire del genere del romanzo. Tra i primi romanzieri ricordiamo Zain al- 'Abidin (m. 1910), che nel suo romanzo Siyahat-name-i Ibrahim Beg ("Il diario di viaggio di Ibrahim Beg", 1888) descrive lo stato deplorevole dell'Iran nell'epoca dei Qajar. Si registrò inoltre lo sviluppo della pubblicistica, spesso legata a circoli politici e letterari. Gli intellettuali sostennero la lotta per la Costituzione in quotidiani e periodici. Anche la produzione poetica si piegò a nuove esperienze formali seguendo due strade: la prima vide forme classiche piegarsi a contenuti tupici dell'età moderna come nel caso di Mirza Taqi Bahar (1886-1956); la seconda, quella del rinnovamento formale, fu intrapresa da M. Reza 'Ishqi (1895-1915), autore di componimenti strofici e rime fortemente influenzate dalla poesia romantica e simbolista francese.

3) Il periodo riformistico coincide con l'ascesa al potere del primo sovrano della dinastia Pahlavi, Reza Shah (1924-1941). Nel 1921 fu pubblicata Yaki bud yaki nabud ("C'era una volta") di Giamalzade (n.1891), una raccolta di satire che segnò il primo vero successo di una nuova tecnica narrativa. Dello stesso anno è il poemetto Afsane ("La favola") di Nima Yushig (1897-1960), tra i primi tentativi di creare un genere di versi liberi da ogni canone stilistico. Ma il cammino dello sperimentalismo poetico fu ostacolato dalla continua polemica con i tradizionalisti e con gli epigoni della poesia classica. Il romanzo di contenuto sociale evolse nel romanzo di costume, connotato ora da un piglio giornalistico e impegnato con Dihati (pseudonimo di Muhammad Mas'ud, m. 1947), ora da un'impostazione garbatamente descrittiva con Muhammad Higiazi (1899-1977). Ma la propaganda nazionalistica governativa di Reza Shah, nonostante gli sforzi di numerosi riformisti, attecchì soprattutto nel filone storico: proliferarono le opere dai toni nostalgici rivolte all'esaltazione della grandezza dell'Iran preislamico. Quanto al teatro, elevato soltanto ora a genere letterario, si affermò una vena innovatrice dai toni satirici, che si esaurì tuttavia rapidamente a causa della censura governativa. È però di questi anni (1939) la nascita di una scuola di formazione per attori, Hunaristan-i hunarmadan, di cui il personaggio più rappresentativo è l'autore-attore Sayyid 'Ali Nasr (m.1961).

4) Il periodo della letteratura del neocapitalismo caratterizzò gli anni che seguirono alla seconda guerra mondiale, ma soprattutto all'estromissione dal potere del primo ministro M. H. Mossadeq (1953). S'intensificò il processo di occidentalizzazione: gli intellettuali reagirono alla convulsa corsa allo sviluppo letterario, attirando l'attenzione sui gravi squilibri sociali che ne derivavano. Il racconto, più del romanzo, meglio si prestò alla riproduzione letteraria del quotidiano: spiccano in questo senso Gulestan (n. 1922), Tunkabuni (n. 1936), Daulatabadi (n. 1940) e altri. Le novità più consistenti si ebbero sul versante della poesia, che alla fine degli anni Cinquanta vide la nascita della shi'r-i nau (la 'poesia nuova'): la struttura tradizionale del verso fu scomposta e riadattata secondo procedimenti di riduzione e ampliamento della antiche leggi formali. Precursore e caposcuola era stato Yushig, e Shamlu ne fu il più diretto erede. I poeti di questa scuola, che ebbe il momento di maggior fioritura tra gli anni Sessanta e Settanta, manifestarono molteplicità di tendenze: al lirismo d'ispirazione trdizionale, si contrappose la negligenza formale di gusto tardo-simbolista e surrealista dei poeti della naug-i nau (dal francese nouvelle vague), fra cui spicca Ahmadi (n.1940). Nel teatro il tentativo fu quello d'innestare le forme di provenienza occidentale su di un filone locale e tradizionale. Nel 1967 la televisione nazionale organizzò il primo Festival delle arti di Shiraz e nel corso del festival internazionale del cinema (1970) i film iraniani riscossero un notevole successo.

5) Il periodo post-rivoluzionario fu avviato in letteratura dall`atmosfera di aspettative e di speranza suscitate dalla rivoluzione (1979), che richiamò in patria numerosi letterati e intellettuali. In poesia grande fu l'influenza della rivoluzione islamica. la prosa, invece, non sembra discostarsi dalle tendenze dell'epoca precedente, come emerge in Salariha ("I comandi generali", 1979) di Buzurg 'Alawi, in Kelidar (1979) di Daulatabadi, in Zaminsukhte ("Terra bruciata", 1982) di Ahmad-i Mahmud.