• Bangladesh!

    Bangladesh: Traditional houses. Go Now!

    This low-lying country has historic ties to India and Pakistan, but today maintains a wholly unique culture. Explore Bangladesh!

  • Indonesia!

    Indonesia: Lombok. Go Now!

    This archipelago nation is culturally diverse from big cities to isolated islands. Begin Your Journey!

  • Jordan!

    Jordan: Petra. Go Now!

    Tucked away in this Middle Eastern country, the famed city of Petra (pictured) links the past to the present culture. Explore Jordan!

  • Mongolia!

    Mongolia: Desert. Go Now!

    This vast country has a culture that spans past and present... a nomadic life shifting to a modern & sedentary society. Begin Your Journey!

  • Kyrgyzstan!

    Kyrgyzstan: Tian Shan Mountains. Go Now!

    The mountains, including the Tian Shan Mountains (pictured), give Kyrgyzstan a unique culture, partially formed from this isolation from the mountains. Go Now!

Architecture of Iran

WARNING: International disputes with Iran are ongoing, please read this travel warning before going!

Iranian Architecture - Persepolis

Iran has an incredible architectural history and much of this still stands, making the country an ideal destination for architectural buffs. This history begins with the ruins of Chogha Zanbil (near Susa), which was built in the 1200s BC; not surprisingly, there is little left from this temple, but represents the earliest piece of known architecture in the country.

The first significant architectural movement was the Median period, but little remains from this time other than scattered graves. The next great movement though, the Achaemenian period from the 700s BC has a number of standing ruins. The Achaemenian period's finest example of architecture is from the 500s-400s BC when their capital of Persepolis. Much of the architecture at these ruins appear to be similar to that of ancient Greece or Rome, however one significant difference is the use of animal sculptures, including bulls and dragons.

In the 300s, after the Greeks took the region the Seleucid period architecture was introduced. However, this period leaves little remains and what does exist are local attempts at recreating Greek architecture, which didn't always succeed. The best examples from this time are the temples at Kangavar and the one at Khurha.

The Parthian architecture period (about 100s BC - 0) followed with few great examples remaining today, but some significant changes to the style in the region that had a lasting impression. At this time the iwan was introduced, which is a three sided hall with the fourth hall consisting of an arch way. This structure was and still is commonly used in Islamic architecture. Of the ruins from this time Hatra, a fortress is the best preserved.

In the 200s AD Sassanian architecture arose and this is the base from which later Persian and much Islamic architecture was based. The town of Gur (today called Firuzabad) is perhaps the most complete city from this time. As the center of the empire, the city was also the recipient of numerous outside influences, which it adopted and changed to match the locals' tastes. More importantly, this style later lended many of its ideas and styles to what is today known as Islamic architecture in Iran. Unlike many European architectural styles, there are few large regional-wide architectural movements in Iran and in other Islamic countries. Most structures adopted a fairly standard style for Mosques and other buildings, but the decorations and details were formed from the local architecture. In this way, most early Islamic architecture in Iran has detail in the Sassanian style, but architecturally is similar to Mosques elsewhere.

Iranian Architecture - Mosque in Isfahan
Mosque in Isfahan

With the introduction of Islam to Persia architecture changed and most remaining buildings from this time, either built of stone or brick, were commonly religious buildings and many of the buildings from early Islamic history in Iran were mosques. Between the 700s and 900s this style slowly developed; the best examples from this early period are the mosques in Nishapur and Siraf.

The Seljuk period came next and as with all Islamic architecture in Iran and the Middle East this was essentially just a progression from the earlier style and few vast changes occurred, although the building structures, materials, and techniques improved making these buildings more impressive and longer lasting in most cases.

The jewel of the Seljuk period in Iran is the Great Mosque of Esfahan, which was originally built in the early 1100s. This was also one of, if not the first mosque in the region to have been built with a dome, a feature later used in many mosques and other Islamic buildings.

Beyond the Great Mosque, the rest of Esfahan is nearly as impressive and much of the city's historic heart was built during this time. It is here that some of the oldest minarets in Iran are still standing. Many of the buildings from the Seljuk period were covered with stucco or made of brick. Another important decorational aspect from this time is tile mosaics.

In about the 1300s the Il-Khanid architectural period developed and again was a style that built off of earlier structures, not creating something entirely new or unique. Despite this, the structures are still very impressive and the period's highlight is probably the Mausoleum of Oljeitu in Soltaniyeh or the Ali Shah Mosque in Tabriz. These buildings' major purpose was to define and symbolize power so are huge structures.

By the end of the century though the Timurids had arrived from Central Asia and, although they left behind few buildings in modern day Iran, the city of Tabriz has a few buildings from this time. Most of the Timurid buildings remain in Central Asia (primarily Uzbekistan), however most of them and those in other countries are heavily tiled structures in blue.

Iranian Architecture - Mosque in Yazd
Mosque in Yazd

In the 1500s the Safavid Dynasty (lasting until the 1700s) solidified power in the region and built their capital in the city of Esfahan, adding to the already great architectural history of the city. The city was built by the new rulers as hundreds of mosques and thousands of other buildings were erected. Although few buildings from this time period remain standing, the buildings surrounding Meydan-e-Shah, a large park or open square, were built during this time and this remains the heart of the city today. Only the Palace of the Forty Columns (Chehel Sotun) is original from this time. More than the buildings and facades, the square created a central theme to later Islamic architecture as it combined an open public space with religious, educational, and commercial buildings, creating a meeting place for the people of any city.

Since the 1700s few buildings on the scale of, or the ingenuity of, the Safavid Dynasty have been constructed. Numerous impressive buildings have been built during this time, but few were extraordinarily original. The National Museum of Iran, built in the 1920s is impressive as it was modeled after historic architecture, while the Tehran University is more a combination of historic style with modern building techniques.

In more recent times, Iran has received modern buildings, which are much easier to build due to the materials and machines created by the Industrial Revolution, including concrete, steel, and cranes. There are numerous modern buildings in the country, most particularly in the capital city of Tehran.

This page was last updated: March, 2013