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Nasir-Al-Molk Mosque in Iran

Iran Architecture’s Tale, Told in 6 Chapters

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For eons, Iran has been the hospitable land that connected the East and West together; tribes would pass through and were treated gently but sometimes they plundered and scorch the land for revenge or mere avarice. Fathers and sons have witnessed different dynasties rise and then get overthrown through the millennia while they restlessly passed on their rich traditions to the next generation. A resourceful tradition like any other old civilization which includes Iran architecture too.

Different kinds of arts like poetry, dance, sculpture, painting, calligraphy, music, and architecture are all mirrors of the same spirit. This is true for every civilization and ancient Persian architecture is not an exception.

We are here to talk about the fundamental links that make Iran architecture’s gleaming necklace.

We are talking about a long period that spans over 2500 years. Roughly starting from 500 BC and stretching all the way to the mid-20th century.

Talking about the ancient Persian architecture, of course, couldn’t overlook other facets of the Iranian art. So, as we meander across pillars of Iran architecture we might stumble upon other forms of art along the way.

Nasir-ol-molk Mosque in Shiraz

Here are the main principles that build the Iran architecture’s charm.

1. Come in! All the fun is Inside

a central Iran architecture courtyard in Yazd, Iran

Regardless of when and where it’s built, life in every type of Iran architecture building stems from inside. Everything’s huddled around a yard.

As opposed to the famous principle of modern architecture that says “Form Follows Function”, form in ancient Persian Architecture Follows the central yard or the so-called “Hayat”.

You can access all the surrounding rooms only through Hayat. All the rooms get their share of slanted sunlight beams through Hayat and each room’s position around Hayat shows its importance.

Hayat is the main hub in any house, mosque, inn, school, or urban square. The glue that holds Iran architecture together.

No matter the scale or proportions, Hayat is the crown of pretty much every building you see when you walk through a historic borough in the country.

It’s like the building throws its arms around you and gives you a hug. Contrary to, say the Greek or Egyptian architecture where you behold and experience architecture from the outside; quite like a sculpture.

An ancient Iranian house in yazd, Iran

All the genius and intricate work of the architect is meticulously rationed across Hayat and the building’s outer crust is pretty much left with nothing but a simple clay film rubbed over a brick wall.

The reason? It’s pretty obvious if you ask me! As it is located in an arid or semi-arid climate in most parts, Iran architecture has to deal with harsh worm and mostly dry weather. They’ve had to make their own little heaven amid the ruthless incessant hot breezes of the dessert.

That’s why most Hayats are fashioned with different types of domestic plants and to top it all off, a pond at the center.

Water has been this elusive pearl! They’ve had to hold it dearly with both hands!

2. Order, All the Way to Perfection

This goes to the architecture as a whole, all the way down to its tiniest elements. Take any angle you want! You’ll see a robust order and geometry all over what you see in Iran architecture.

You could even have the building cut in half on its axes if you like! You’ll still see the same familiar geometry.

The main principles of this order could be characterized in 6 types: Central and axial order, symmetry, repeat, and rhythm.

Amir Chaqmaq in Yazd. Iran

Here it goes!

- Centered Order

This principle is best exhibited by the central yard or Hayat. The bolder the main part of the ancient Persian architecture, the more solid and united it is.

The beholder always navigates herself with Hayat; The central element of the Iran architecture.

- The Role of Axis and Direction

Axes invite a sense of symmetry and repeat. It’s not like they are visibly built into the building; but the invisible line, drawn between bold elements across the architecture, vividly livens their presence.

- Intersecting Axes and Quadruple Orientations

Two perpendicular intersecting axes is one of the most basic ingredients of ancient Persian architecture. It is implicitly in keeping with the central order as the first principle discussed above.

The sight of four big arches that stand out in the middle of each wall of the central yard is a known display of this principle in Iranian Hayats.

- Symmetry

Odd numbers of identical elements repeating on, pave the way for symmetrical facades. That’s why we see odd numbers of openings, arches and basically everything across the Iran architecture.

The invisible line, drawn between bold elements across the architecture and identical rhythms of elements on either side, made the Iran architecture symmetrical, both as whole and within each segment.

- Repeat

The title’s pretty self-explanatory! No need for further explanation! Just one example:

Where you really see this dance of repeated elements in a nice perspective, are the extensive and rather short halls that are impaled with columns lined up in two directions.

the entrance of an Iran architecture portico

- Emphasis through Distinction

Repeating elements are the backdrop for putting up an eye-catching show of important bits of the Iran architecture like entry arches or master windows.

3. Look Up! And Let the Constellations Hypnotize You

We talked about how different rooms of a house, a mosque or a school, huddle around the central yard or Hayat.

The sky is the limit when you stand in Hayat. But what about when you get inside?

A Muqarnas Ceiling

One would say the indoor walls of any building are rather dull comparing to the ceiling when you are indoors.

The architect has spent all his prowess and passion in geometry and construction in the ceiling. It is sort of the embodiment of the third dimension in space in Iran architecture.

It includes all the stalactite-looking sculptures that you see inside the arches or indoor ceilings called “Muqarnas” or the flatter ones beautifully drawing geometric lines that goes by the name “Rasmi”.

Taj-al-Molk dome in Isfahan, Iran

4. Perplexing Patterns at Every Corner

There’s a theory that attributes flourishing such patterns all over the Iran architecture to the fact that Islam doesn’t sanction portraying countenance.

That might be the case but some say these fabulous patterns root back to the architects’ belief and not simply because they weren’t allowed otherwise.

- Floral Patterns

Aside from harboring all the order principles mentioned earlier in the ancient Persian architecture, they are such strong and sturdy compositions that you probably couldn’t think of any modifications to make it more perfect!

They are a symbol of change where stems freely wander around in a loose yet deliberate way.

Floral Patterns at Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque

- Geometric Patterns

All the principles about the order we talked about earlier, have handsomely taken shape here!

There’s a bright and bold circle at the center called “Shamseh” which translates for the Sun. Shamseh is one among the myriad of the surrounding shapes and lines. All closed poly-lines.

Geometric Patterns on an Indoor Ceiling

The genius about these pallets of geometric patterns in Iran architecture is that their frame lines up with the pattern inside and not the other way around!

It’s like the pattern is a timeless, cross-language truth and the frame is a window to look at it!

5. The Story of Mingling Colors

geometric and floral patterns on ceiling in Isfahan, Iran

Colors mostly couple with patterns or calligraphy frames in ancient Persian architecture. It could mostly be characterized by a dominating shade of blue.

Although slivers of other shades were added to the canvas over the centuries, the overall characteristic of colors brushed on the face of the architecture has had a cold blueish hue.

Dominating shades of blue under a tiled dome - Architecture Iran

The ochre color of the masonry is highlighted next to patches of colored tiles or plaster that gradually entered and dominated the Iran architecture since 1000 BC.

It could be counted as the most significant shift over the course of 1400 years of post-Islamic it Iran architecture.

Interesting to know that an identical cold shade of blue would be used by the architects, almost across the country that given the complications of color production and baking, seems like a spectacular feat.

Colors were mostly brushed on tiles rather than sheer plaster or clay. There were two major types of tiles.

Swanky tiles used to be cut, painted, and then baked in line with the pattern they were meant to be a part of. They were called “Moaraq”.

6. The Magical Stroke

The title means to say the use and variety of calligraphy across Iran architecture are immersive and awe-inspiring! This is where architecture, calligraphy, painting, and poetry blend in.

As we go further along the history toward mid 20th century, calligraphy styles which were mostly consisted of straight strokes morph into more curved forms.

So you could make an educated guess about a building’s historic period based on how much its calligraphy style is curved or straight!

It’s important to know that calligraphy is a well-established art in Iran architecture and history and it wasn’t just a dependent constituent of architecture.

Calligraphic Tiles at Jameh Mosque of Isfahan


We saw six major fundamental principles of Iran architecture that build such a marvelous art and transcends you to a better world with its awe-inspiring charm.

Things like being inward-looking and aligned with various orders and geometry-oriented, having ornamental ceilings, floral and geometric patterns all across, and using color and calligraphy across the space.

Like any other great ancient civilization, Persian art and Iran architecture in particular cannot be wrung into a single article. But our intention has been introducing its essence; some of which are still employed in the modern architecture in Iran.

What other examples and aspects of the Iran architecture do you admire? Tell us about them in the comments section below.

Mitchel Sardy
Author: Mitchel Sardy
I am a Computer Engineer and an architecture enthusiast, graduated on both majors up to the master's degree from the University of Washington; I'm an advisor to early-stage architecture startups all around the globe; the ones using computer-based solutions to design in architecture.

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