Get to know the “Evil” – 6 must-visit traditional masterpieces in Iran
Mentioning about Iran, the first thing that comes up to your mind might be politics – the tension about Iran and the U.S, or even worse the ISIS. But don’t worry if you are looking at the title of this post, thinking “Politics? I thought I am gonna read a travel post!” Yes, you are right. This time I am going to put political issue aside. Too heavy for me~
Remember back in 2002, the former U.S. President George W. Bush has repeatedly said that Iran, Iraq and North Korea are the “axis of evil” and if you mispronounce it, it will sound like “Access of Evil”, just like what Will Ferrell did! Whether or not it is an access of evil, maybe you should hold on to your thoughts a sec as the following might change your mind as to whether it really matters.
History of Iranian high rise buildings
Before we start, let me tell you something about the history of their architecture. As everyone knows, Iran is famous for mosques and monuments. But in fact, the history of high rise buildings date back to the Median Empire which is way before the Islamic Era. From the Median Empire to the Sassanid Empire, high rise building remained to serve special purposes such as providing greater protection against hazardous incidents, serving as the seat of the government (Persepolis), a stage for making public announcements and some temples remained on the roadside.
Mosques and Minarets
Moving a bit forward comes the Islamic-era. Usually next to the mosque, there will be minarets. A minaret is a slender tower built at the side which the call to prayer is given for Muslims. This tall thin structure is built on the roadsides or near caravansaries, schools or other gathering places and are usually providing lighting for the surrounding areas. When the first minaret is built is unknown to people but it is likely to believe that their first appearance is shortly after the building of mosques in Islamic cities. Following the spread of Islam to Iran, social activities were largely interrupted for a short period before being resumed again heavily under the influence of the new culture. Before it looks like what it is now, historical yet gorgeous, it first appeared to be made with mud-bricks. It was not until the 9th century, when the first brick-made minaret was built. With estimation and presumption, the oldest rick-work minaret which remains to present is Ayaz of Arsalan Jazeb minaret, located 26km from the city of Mashhad.
Long story short, in the golden age of Iranian architectural arts, Safavids period, minarets were decorated carefully with colored “faience” and patterned title. But with the fall of the period and the emergence of the Qajar dynasty, these architecture has witnessed a decline in repairing and maintenance.
Let’s become back to the most exciting bit! I believe the following are most of the stunning places in Iran that you will definitely regret if you don’t go. But I guess solely by looking at the photos online or in this post, you will definitely be attracted.
Located at the city of Tehran, this historical monument bears a UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The spectacular architecture is a complex that consists of palaces, museums and halls, which dated back to the time of the Qajar dynasty.
Jameh Mosque – Isfahan
With the continual construction, reconstruction, additions and renovations on the site from around 771 to the end of the 20th century, the mosque forms its current shape. This Azeri style building is one of the oldest mosque still standing in Iran with four gates face to face.
The construction included the addition of two brick domed chambers, for which the mosque is renowned. The south dome housed the mihrab in 1086–87 by Nizam al-Mulk, the famous vizier of Malik Shah, which was larger than any dome known at that time; and the north dome was constructed a year later by Nizam al-Mulk’s rival Taj al-Mulk. However, the function is left uncertain. Although it was situated along the north-south axis, it was located outside the boundaries of the mosque.
The dome was built as a direct riposte to the earlier south dome, claiming its place as a masterpiece in Persian architecture for its structural clarity and geometric balance. Iwans, vaulted open rooms, were also added in stages under the Seljuqs, giving the mosque its current four-iwan form, a type which subsequently became prevalent in Iran and the rest of the Islamic world.
Ali Qapu Palace – Esfahan
The Ali Qapu Palace is located at the western side of the Naqsh e Jahan Square in Isfahan. It was designed as a vast portal which is 48 meters high with six floors that are accessible by a difficult spiral staircase. The Music Hall on the sixth floor has found to contain walls with both aesthetic and acoustic value.
The name Ali Qapu means gate in Turkic and imperial or great in Arabic. It was given this meaning as it was right at the entrance to the Safavid palaces which stretched from the Naqsh e JahanSquare to the Chahar Baq Boulevard.
The wall paintings of Ali Qapu is rich in naturalism with floral, animal and bird motifs by Reza Abbasi, a court painter of Shah Abbas I – one of the greatest rulers of the Safavid dynasty. the highly ornamented doors and windows of the palace have almost all been pillaged at time of social anarchy.
Qavam House – Shiraz
The Qavam House is a historical houses situated in the Eram Garden in Shiraz with a walking distance from the Khan Madrassa. The traditional house belongs to the Qavam family who were merchants originally from Qazvin. The house displays the elegance and refinement enjoyed by the upper-class families during the 19th century. The paintings on the low ceilings of the house are inspired by Victoria era in Europe.
Today, the house is a museum and is opened to the public.
Nasir Ol Molk Mosque – Shiraz
Known as the Pink Mosque, this traditional mosque gives no surprise to visitor from its appearance. However, the nickname has a reason for it. Locating at the district of Gowad-e-Araban in Shiraz, the mosque includes extensive radiant glass in its façade, writing a very different story from the exterior. Throughout the day, the daylight shines through the Kaleidoscope of colours created by its perfectly designed coloured glass windows emanating splendid shades of light onto the ground.
During those “golden time”, a lot of visitors rush in to capture the precious moment of the day, so be sure to prepare yourself early!!
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque – Esfahan
As one of the private mosque standing in the royal court in Esfahan, it does not contain any minarets. This masterpiece of a Persian architecture, although appears to be smaller than the public ones, one would have to walk through a passage that windows round and round, until one finally reaches the main building.
The entry gateway welcomes people with its recessed half-moon. Th lower façade of the mosque and the gateway are constructed of marble while the titles decorate the upper parts of the structure. Compared with the Shah Mosque, the design of this is quite simple, with no courtyard and interior iwans. However, the decoration of both interior and exterior uses the finest material with the employment of the best craftsmen.
Of course, there are a lot more historical monuments to share such as the Shah Mosque, but the above are some of the hidden gems (or not hidden) that I believe could be more surprising than the stereotype of Iran you might have formed in your mind.
Cherie Tam is currently in her final year reading law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and before that she was in the United Kingdom for four years. She is a frequent traveller to Japan but is now exploring all places with symbolic meaning or sites which have stories to tell, hoping that one day she could travel around the world listening and seeing them with own senses.