The four Iwans of the Jameh Mosque of Esfahan

Jameh Mosque of Isfahan
South, East and West Iwans in the Jameh or Friday Mosque in Esfahan

At the first encounter, there is a courtyard of the Friday Mosque in Esfahan is composed of four prayer halls or Iwans, the east and west are similar in hight and frame but the west is more colorful. The north and south are much larger and both compete for who is fairest.  Each iwan design reflects the time when it was constructed.  The north and south iwns contain some of the original pre-11th century  mosque.  The other two brick domed chambers were included when the Seljuks began embellishing the mosque.  The rebuilding and enhancements commenced in the 17th century and today the mosque is a standing and lovely visual history of the Iranian Architecture.

IMG_5137
Detailed Tiles of the Jameh Mosque in Esfahan

The Jameh Mosque or Masjed-e Jāmeʿ is one of two great congregational hypostyle mosques in the ancient Persian center of Esfahan.   Esfahan continued to expand and grow as a city of commerce and trade continued to flow into the city from the Silk Road.  The first mosque was thought to have held up to 5,ooo friday afternoon worshipers.   This original mosque was thought to be burnt to the ground leaving only some of the south and north Iwans intact.  Some historians say that the fire was actually not a fire but just people being ordered to take away pieces of the mosque and use it for wood when the Seljuks first captured the city under Tughril Beg.  Other historians argue that the mosque was in perfect condition in 1052 when the Tughril Beg took the city.  Either way, the original didn’t survive and what stands here today is the largest and oldest mosques in Iran.

The Seljuk invaded and made Esfahan its capital with the Friday Mosque at its center.  It’s admiration and prestige in Persia grew as both its royal and common patrons built and embellished the structure during the Seljuk period.  It’s beauty and geometric precision in design make this mosque one of the best examples of Persian architecture .  It’s hypostyle design became a blueprint for future construction of mosques and buildings in Persia and the rest of the Islamic world.

This grand mosque was originally built around the same time as the Jameh Mosque in Na’in. Today, very little remains that reflects the time connection.   They both contain alabaster lighting systems for prayer chambers below ground,  have similarly designed wooden carved minbar and they were both though to be built on grounds that used to be Zoroastrian Fire Temples.

Jameh Mosque of Isfahan copy
The alabaster ceiling windows of the lower prayer room of the Friday Mosque in Esfahan
Jameh Mosque of Isfahan
Wood carved minbar in the 14th Century Room of Sultan Uljaitu of the Jameh/Friday Mosque in Esfahan

Each leader and conqueror left their mark on the this richly diverse structure of beauty.  The mosque was the first to have a four iwans which all face the central courtyard and built at various stages during the Seljuks period. Further modifications and additions to the Iwans and the surrounding interiors reflected the times and ambitions of each patron.  The Mongols, Muzzafarids, Timur’s and Safavids all left their mark on the walls of the Jameh Mosque. It was the Muzaffarid ruler who get credit for most of the more decorative pieces. The central ablutions fountain is a replica of the Kabba in Mecca. It is used for would-be haij pilgrim to practice the rituals performed there.

Jameh Mosque of Isfahan
Jameh Mosque of Isfahan

The east and west brick dome were added on during the Seljuk Period. They were originally unimpressive brick and tile domes but both we decorated with tiled mosaics and geometric patterns by the Safavids These iwan are simple and appears to balance the rest. Behind them lie many prayer halls, finely decorated rooms and corridors connecting them. These are all later additions but the highlights are the north and south iwans which contain some of what remained after the original mosque was destroyed by fire.

Jameh Mosque of Isfahan
South or the Qibla Iwan in the Jameh Mosque in Esfahan

The South Dome or Qibla Iwan

This massive and striking iwan was the first the Seljuks constructed some time in the years 1086-87. It was built by Nizam al-Mulk, the famous vizier of Malik Shah, and it contained the mihrab which is the niche cut out of a wall in the center of the Qibla wall which points to Mecca. It’s dome was the largest at its time and was built by Safavid architect Ebrahim B. Esmail. Inside the dome has been adored with Mongol-era stalactite mouldings and two minerats.

The North Dome

Jameh Mosque of Isfahan copy
The North Dome at the Jameh Mosque in Esfahan

It is known to be “the most brilliant examples of what could may have said to be a Seljuk specialty in Iranian architecture.” The North Dome is more elegant and lighter architecturally to the southern dome across from it. It was constructed a year after it by Nizam al-Mulk’s rival Taj al-Mulk and thought to have a royal function. Inside it is filled with massive cursive Qurʾanic inscriptions beautiful to look at even if you can’t read them.

On this very cold friday I had a visit to a piece of Isfahan.  The Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan has put up it’s collection of Islamic Art which includes pieces of the Great Mosque in Esfahan.  There’s a few pictures of details of the Mihrab on display.

Great Mosque of Isfahan's Mihrab at the MET in NYC
Great Mosque of Isfahan’s Mihrab at the MET in NYC
Great Mosque of Isfahan's Mihrab at the MET in NYC
Great Mosque of Isfahan’s Mihrab at the MET in NYC

Kharanaq: Please don’t shake the Minerat

Ruined city of Kharanaq
Ruined city of Kharanaq

Ancient Kharanaq is like a scene out of an old western with tumbleweed and the only signs of life are  some lonely donkeys and feral kitties.  The townspeople have moved into new housing just meters away.

Kharanaq
Kharanaq

The town itself is filled with winding covered passageways with rooms branching off of them. It’s easy to lose your sense of direction while venturing around.  The maze of passages deters thieves since it is difficult to make a quick getaway here.  I imagine that it also helps with keeping spaces inside warm in the winter since there isn’t a direct cross breeze to push warm air out of the interior space.

Ruined city of Kharanaq
Inside the labyrinth of passageways of Kharanaq
Shaking Mineret of Kharanaq
Roof of Kharanaq and it’s shaking minerat

The buildings themselves are basically made of mud and straw and are in a bad state.  Some renovations are going on now but I imagine that there is little funding and the process is slow.  Visitors are allowed to roam freely about the place.   Some visitors have actually fallen through the ceilings since they are naturally unaware of how fragile this place is.   The central minerat used to be open to visitors but it’s been damaged due to visitors carelessness.  This minerat is not flexible and isn’t meant to be shaken.  It’s just as fragile as the rest of the place so resist the temptation while visiting.

Ruined city of Kharanaq
View from the roof of Kharanaq
Ruined city of Kharanaq
Mosque in renovation inside Kharanaq
Ruined city of Kharanaq
Graffiti inside the Mosque – Kharanaq
Ruined city of Kharanaq
View of the hillsides next to Kharanaq

First visit to a real Zoroastrian Fire temple in Yazd (Part 2)

The next stop was a short one to see a flame that burns in the honor of the highest deity in the Zoroastrian religion Ahura Mazda – the lord of Light and Wisdom

Fire Temple Atash Behram
Fire Temple Atash Behram

The fire found inside this temple in Yazd has been burning continuously since 470 AD.  It came to this simple building in 1932.  The fire is of the highest grade and is referred to as the Atash Behram or Fire of victory.  The flame is composed of fire from 16 different sources which have been collected from various flames.  This massive flame continues to burn behind the glass for us all to see.

Atash Behram
Sneakin’ a peek at the Atash Behram, “Fire of victory in Yazd

When visiting this site it is more for seeing the modern-day impact of Zoroastrian faith in Iran.  There is nothing more here then a simple building with signage only in Persian – this is where Mahmoud – our wonderful guide- came in very handy.  The purpose of our visit was to both pay homage to those who still practice this ancient faith and show support for the community.  Of course, this encouraged me to learn more about something I knew little about before our visit to Iran. Yazd has many of the few surviving followers of the ancient religious practices of Zoroastrianism in a country dominated by Islam.  I wish them well and hope their faith continues to prosper in the days ahead.

First visit to a real Zoroastrian Tower of Silence in Yazd (Part 1)

View from the top of the Towers of Silence in Yazd
View from the top of the Towers of Silence in Yazd

It was hard leaving the chill environment of the Zein-o-din but the journey north continued. Our next destination was Yazd known to be the center of Zoroastrianism. We of course had a few Zorastrian highlights to see before the end of the day. These included the ancient burial platform called the Tower of Silence on the southern end of town; the Yezd Atash Behram; and the Dowlat-abad Windtower was our last stop before checking in to our hotel – the Orient Hotel.

Dakhmeh in Yazd
Dakhmeh in Yazd

Tower of Silence or Dakhma – Yazd

The  Sassanid era was were the practice of placing the dead on top of the the Tower of Silence began in 3rd — 7th century BC

The dead body was thought unclean and to bury it or burn it would pollute the earth either way.  The body was instead placed high on top of the tower and left to the elements until all that was left were bleached bones of the departed.    The remaining bleached bones were placed in a center well which contained lime and phosphorus.  The bones then turn to dust.

Platform of the Towers of Silence
Platform of the Towers of Silence
Zoroastrian Tower of Silence in Yazd
Zoroastrian Tower of Silence in Yazd

Today, this practice in Iran has been abandoned due to the shortage of vultures, population growth in the areas close to the towers themselves and falling out of favor with modern Zoroastrian followers.  The burial ceremony is quite elaborate and for more details check out this link.

Zoroastrian Cemetary
Modern Zoroastrian Cematary
Orient Hotel in Yazd
Orient Hotel in Yazd
View from the roof of the Orient Hotel in Yazd
View from the roof of the Orient Hotel in Yazd

A few stops along the roadway to the Zein-o-din

This was our first day on the road since my husband and I landed in Shiraz just four days prior.  We had visited Persepolis and now we were heading to Cyrus the Great’s burial site and his capital Pasargadae.  After that, we continued on to see the Beehive Ice House structure that was once a common fixture to the landscape in this area.  Very few still remain intact today given that they are pretty fragile.  The last stop of the day is to see the 4000 year old Cypress tree.  It’s located behind the Ice House so if you are in the hood stop by for a look. Try to make a donation to the nice people who are looking after it’s well-being. I say quick stops not because I don’t want to spend more time looking around but the visa time is ticking.

Pasargadae

Tomb of Cyrus the Great
Me at the Tomb of Cyrus the Great

It’s a place not to be missed.  Pasargadae  is an amazing site.  The Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization (ICHO) the UN and a number of individuals recently saved it and Persepolis from being submerged under water. The work on the Sivand Dam has been delayed for the time being.  This has given some skilled archeologists and scientist time to explore the area.  Some amazing things like a cave believed to be occupied 7000 years ago and 9-mile dirt road believed to be the Royal Passage of the Achaemenids – to name a couple – have been discovered.  More clues on what the

The garden of gravel was once a true Persian garden called the Chaharbagh. Modern examples of this four-sided style is seen at the Taj Mahal, the Fin Garden in Kashan and Amir Chakmaq Complex in Yazd – to name a few.  Cyrus’ tomb was once surrounded with streams of running water, tall cypress trees and flowering plants like those seen in those gardens today.  Many other travelers say that it’s not worth the visit but my visit gave me inspiration to learn more about Cyrus the Great. The site itself is more than a pile of cut rock but a place where huge amounts of history took place.  Here’s more information about early excavations of the site.

Dutch Artist sketch of Cyrus’ Tomb in 1672

Abrkouh: Beehive Ice House

Yakh-chal
Yakh-chal or Ice House in Abarkuh

The Beehive-shaped tall abobe Ice Houses for desert climates like those found in Iran around 400 BC. Water collects in the shallow trenches that collect water over time. The ice was later broken up before spring and stored deep inside the interior of the dome. The Ice House is then sealed off until the hot summer months when the ice was needed to make a drink cold, preserve food or make rosewater flavored faloodeh.

.   For further explanation about these structures and others like them in the Middle East, check out this link.

These were used through out the middle east and today are used for storage or living quarters like these smaller Beehive houses in Syria.

Beehive houses
Beehive storage houses in Syria
4,000-year-old Iranian cypress
4,000-year-old Iranian cypress

The 4000 year old Cypress Tree

The cypress tree plays a significant role in Persian culture and influenced the design of famous Persian Gardens in both the past and present.  It’s likeness is carved on the walls of Persepolis, referred to in many Persian poems, woven into carpets and common motif found in decorative tile works inside mosques and homes of Iran.   It stands for many things including longevity, strength, freedom and the state of mourning.

I began noticing the presence of the cypress tree everywhere in my travels.  In the center of miniature paintings, woven in countless rugs in shops and in about every garden visited.  This tree today is in danger of being destroyed by modern man.  The root system of this 33 meter tall tree extends as much as a mile from it’s center – local undertaker mentioned this when we visited.  This means many roots lie underneath some near by farms and newly built roads.

The local Department of Environment of Yazd Province is trying to raise money to buy land near by so that they can ensure the future safety to the oldest living Persian.   It is also listed on the UNESCO world heritage, so please visit have a look if you are near.

4,000-year-old Iranian cypress
4,000-year-old Iranian cypress

Good times…when the Zand Dynasty made Shiraz Persia’s Capital

The fortress known as Karim Khani Citadel today shows signs of age.  There’s a tilting tower, missing columns and a Qu’ran missing.  It’s almost 300 years old so all of this isn’t unexpected.  The structure was the main residential palace of Karim Khan-e-Zand and his dynasty and later in the mid 20th century home to prisoners beginning in 1936.  It closed in 1971 and is slowly getting much needed repairs after centuries of misuse and vandalism.

Arg of Karim Khan
Friendly locals we met outside the Arg…the statue looks like a Brit but not sure who it represents

The Citadel was looks like a medieval castle complete with a dry mount surrounding the tall thick outer walls.  The outside is simple but the inside contains traditional Persian gardens and rooms enclosed with colorful red, blue, yellow and green pained windows. Karim Khan-e-Zand made Persia’s capital Shiraz and built this complex for himself and his militia in 1766-7 AD. The humble leader decided to loose the title of king and decided to be known as a regent or Vakil in Farsi.  He hired the best designers and builders to make his fortress and they used the highest quality materials.

Arg of Karim Khan
Simple exterior walls of the Arg Karim Khan..easy to see additions made in both high and design
Arg of Karim Khan
The leaning tower of Arg of Karim Khan up close
Arg of Karim Khan
Large tile image of the killing of the white devil by Rustam made during Qajar dynasty

When the Qajars gained power over the weaken Zand dynasty the capital and most of it’s Notice the columns made of wood that support one end of the inside pavilion. The originals were made of marble and were stolen. They were at least replaced with the simple wooden ones that remain here today.

The elephant in the room of this castle is the noticeable leaning in the tower at the far southeastern corner. The Khan constructed an underground septic system and his bathhouse resided inside this 14 meters tall tower.

Bath inside the Arg of Karim Khan
Bath inside the leaning tower of the Arg of Karim Khan

The water table has lowered substantially over the decades and hopefully something will be done about the obvious separation of it and the supporting walls attached to it.  It will probably just take a minor earthquake to release the tower from the rest of the fortress.  Let’s hope this doesn’t happen before it’s given a proper patch job.  Right now, it looks as if someone just took a bit of gum and filled in the open wedge.

Arg of Karim Khan
Southwestern observation tower which contains bath house responsable for the lean

Inside the Arg of Karim Khan is simple because much of its treasures were stolen or removed after the Zand Dynasty was conquered by the Qajar. The marble pillars were removed by the Qajar conquers and brought to Tehran where they made the new capital of Persia.

Wooden Columns of Arg of Karim Khan
Wooden Columns left behind by the Qajars after the Zand Dynasty was sacked

The floor of the inner courtyard is made of large stones brought in from the surrounding mountains of Shiraz. The workers were paid for the amount of stone they laid down. The way that they kept track of which stones the individual brought in was by a symbol that was carved into the top of the stone. These can still be seen today if you look at the stones on the near right corner of the main entrance.  This information can’t be confirmed online and is something our guide pointed out to us when we entered the courtyard.  I was too much in awe of the interior that I forgot to get a picture of it. I guess you’ll have to see for yourselves.

Ancient Persian Propaganda at Bishapur

The Shapur City or Bishapur is a city built by a defeated Roman Army and their Emperor Valerian. Shapur had many reliefs carved depicting his greatest victories in the battlefield and can still be seen along the sides of the Tang-e Chowgan gorge and under the graves entrances at Naqsh-e Rustam. Shapur is easy to spot since he is the largest and grandest figure in the scenes. The defeated are usually found decapitated with what remains lying under the hooves of horses and the living bowing down to the Persian mounted victors.  Unfortunately, an aqueduct built along the gorge in the 1960’s and later removed in the later 1970’s made a distinct mark along the reliefs seen below.

Reliefs along the water in Bishapur and in the hillside at Naqsh-e Rostam have managed to stay well-preserved considering this was an area where many battles were fought, earthquakes frequent the area and citizens have put there immediate needs before maintainance and preservation of its ancient past.

Reliefs at Tang-e Chowgan gorge showing victories of Shapur I over Roman troops
Bishapur: Relief (similar to older relief of Ardasir I at Naqsh-e Rostam below) depicting King Bahram I and supreme god Ahura Mazda
Reliefs at Tang-e Chowgan gorge showing victories of Shapur I over Roman troops
Reliefs near Bishapur along the Tang-e Chowgan gorge showing victories of Shapur I over Roman troops
Reliefs at Tang-e Chowgan gorge showing victories of Shapur I over Roman troops
Reliefs at Tang-e Chowgan gorge showing victories of Shapur I over Roman troops
Reliefs at Tang-e Chowgan gorge showing victories of Shapur I over Roman troops
Enemies of Shapur I pay tribute to the King

Down the street at Naqsh-e Rustam…

Naqsh-e Rostam
The oldest relief (left) of Naqsh-e Rostam of Ardašir I and (right) first relief of Bahram II
Naqsh-e Rostam
Investiture Relief of the Sasanian king Ardašir I (224-241) is the oldest Sasanian monument at Naqš-i Rustam on the left
Naqsh-e Rostam
Bahram II with his relatives Bahram I, Shapur I, and Ardašir, the founder of the dynasty standing to his left but right of Ardasir’s relief
Naqsh-e Rostam
Rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rustam of Shapur (on horseback) with Philip the Arab made Emperor of Rome and defeated Emperor Valerian.

Shapir I and his army defeated the Romans in the battle of Edessa – seen here in animated form.  The romans captured Emperor Valerian  and took the remaining warriors back to build the city of Shapur. Valerian spent the rest of his life being constantly humiliated and tortured here. Legend even states he was used as a stepping stool by Shapur when he needed to mount his horse.

Naqsh-e Rostam:  Shapur (on horseback) with Philip the Arab and Emperor Valerian
Shapur, newly appointed Roman Emperor Philip the Arab and defeated Valerian along with relief of equestrian battle between Bahram II and Roman Ruler Carus

Pasargadae: How Alexander the Great and UNESCO saved it

Tomb of Cyrus the Great copy
Road to Cyrus the Great
Tomb of Cyrus the Great
Passer-by, I am Cyrus, who gave the Persians an empire, and was king of Asia.Grudge me not therefore this monument.

Pasargadae looks pretty barren today and its simple remains says nothing of how great of a leader Cyprus was to Persia.  The limestone tomb contained a golden coffin which rested on top of a table also made of gold.   Tall trees, flower beds, pools and waterways encircled the resting place of Cyprus the Great.  It’s called the “Four Garden”  style today is still the prototype for Western Asian architecture and design

When Alexander the Great arrived in 334 BC, the tomb had been destroyed by those who wanted it’s treasures.  Cyrus bones were scattered around outside of the tomb and thieves carried away treasures found inside.  Alexander was outraged and ordered the thieves to be prosecuted and had the tomb restored.

More is still be discovered today at the site.   Iran had announced that it intended to make the a dam near the site.  The dam could have caused the area to flood and the dampness created by the water would accelerate the deterioration of the fragile limestone.  The UN encouraged Iran to allow a team of architects from around the world excavate what they could before the dam became fully operational.  They  scrabbled for a bit in 2004 and uncovered many sites including a road that linked Pasargadae and Persepolis and caves believed to be inhabited 7000 years ago.   The site became a UNESCO site in 2004 and things are looking pretty good for this site and many others waiting to be discovered in the area.

The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace and the Zagroes Mountains
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Audience Hall of the Pasargadae Palace
The Citadel to the right and the Prison of Soloman to the Left
Prison of Solomon
Prison of Solomon

Persepolis and a few “Great” Leaders

Persepolis
Perspolis (Old Persian 𐎱𐎠𐎼𐎿 Pārsa, Takht-e Jamshid or Chehel Minar) was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550-330 BC)

Persepolis is an amazing vision and one has to imagine what it must have looked like before Alexander the Great buried most of it to the ground. There are many theories Alexander did this despite the fact that he did admire Cyrus the Great and didn’t destroy his burial grounds. He even went so far to find out who looted Cyrus’ tomb and even rebuilt parts that had been destroyed by thieves. Maybe he taking order and was acting in revenge since Xerxes did invade and destroy much of Greece – including Athens. Xerxes did complete his father Darius’ grand palaces, Treasury and gates at Persepolis. Other accounts say that it wasn’t planned but an unfortunate accident caused by overzealous and very drunk soldiers and entertainers.  Historian Diodorus Siculus (90-21 BCE) who gives the following account of the destruction of the city:

“Alexander held games to celebrate his victories; he offered magnificent sacrifices to the gods and entertained his friends lavishly. One day when the Companions were feasting, and intoxication was growing as the drinking went on, a violent madness took hold of these drunken men. One of the women presents, Thais, the Athenian lover of the Macedonian commander Ptolemy, declared that it would be Alexander’s greatest achievement in Asia to join in their procession and set fire to the royal palace, allowing women’s hands to destroy in an instant what had been the pride of the Persians.”

Today there’s very little left but still what remains is a small slice of one of the grandest cities of the Persian Empire.  Here’s a link to a great site which puts all the pieces together in 3-D renderings of what Persepolis did look like before it fell.

Here’s some more pictures of what remains today:

Gate of All Nations
Gate of All Nations at Persepolis
Bride and Groom at Persepolis
Bride and Groom at Persepolis
Persepolis
Offerings procession at the Apadana in Persepolis
Persepolis
Inside Persepolis

Hidden away in the mountains of southern Iran pics: Shapur City

Yeah…not what the Fox News is going to show you but here’s what really is found near the Zagroes mountains in south central Iran.

Bishapur aka Shapur City

Bishapur ritual alter
Bishapur ritual alter
Shapur City
Shapur City
Shapir City
Shapur City Madresa or what remains after the 10th Century
Temple of Anahita
Temple of Anahita
Ruins at Bishapur
Ruins of Bishapur with the Zagroes Mountains to the West
The last cell of the Roman Emperor Valerian
The last cell of the Roman Emperor Valerian