Chapter 8

Safavid Iran
1502 - 1736

After Timur's destructions and the end of the Il-Khan reign, 14th to 16th century Iran, still stylistically under Seldjuk and Timurid influence, turned "Safavid" in the 16th to 17th century. The Safavid dynasty had its origin in the "Safawiyyah", a Sufi reform movement founded by Safi al-Din Abul Fath Is'haq Ardabili (1252-1334), who had ethnic Kurdish, Azeri and Greek ancestry.
In 1502 Safavid Shah Ismail I (1487-1524), an Azerii Shiite, was successful in bringing the whole of the Iranian plateau under his control and create a unified Iran as a "national state" in the modern sense of the word. His capital was in Tabriz.
The height of Safavid glory was the reign of Shah Abbas I (1571-1629) who came to power at the age of 16 in 1587. He made Isfahan his capital and with the help of “imported” Armenians embarked on an ambitious construction program..

Ardabil, Azeri-Iran
Shaykh Safi al-Din Tomb

1335-17th cent
Il-Khanid, Safavid

Shaykh Safi al-Din Ardabili (1252-1334) was the founder of the "Safawiyyah" Sufi-Order and the father of the Safavid Dynasty. His tomb in Ardabil still shows the Timurid-Il-Khan influence. Next to it stands Sha Ismail I's tomb a true 17th cent Safavid building. These two tombs are the perfect juxtaposition of Timurid and Safavid architecture. (Photo and Text

Tabriz, Iran
Masjid-i Muzaffariyya, Blue Mosque

Qara Qoyunlu

Tabris was the early capital of the Safavids until Shah Abbas I moved it to the safety of Isfahan.  The mosque, now in ruins, was once a complex which included a tomb, cistern, library and khanqah (hospitsl and mental institution). The function of the remaining building, itself in a state of ruin, has not been definitively identified (Sufi Tekke?). Named Blue Mosque for its unrivalled tile decor of which there are remnants. Both interior and exterior surfaces were once covered in a variety of tiles. The remains of tile mosaics, underglaze-painted and overglaze-painted tiles and luster tiles attest to the richness of the decorative scheme. Patterns are rendered in subtle colors with extensive use of cobalt blue as a ground for inscriptions and arabesque designs in gold and white. The dome was a deep blue, stenciled with gold patterns.  

Extensive rebuilding took place between 1950 and 1966. The dome over the central chamber dates from this period, as do the undecorated interior walls. The following photos from (1999 after the restoration) remind one in design, detail, and layout of the sophisticated tile moasics in Timur's Aq Seray in Shakh-i Zabz (around 1400) (Text and photos

Kerman, Iran
Masjid-e Jame - Friday Mosque

1349 and 1559
Muzaffarid and Safavid

North portal (14th cent) and, to the left, the tracts added in the 16th cent.
Text and photos from

Interior detail of north portal, showing tile mosaic with kufic inscriptions (1349)

Detail of the tile covering (1559)

Kerman, Iran
Ganj-i Ali Khan Caravanserai and Mosque

Architect Ustad Muhammad Yazd

Eastern tract

The caravanserai is located on the east side of the Ganj-i Ali Khan Square. Its portal bears a foundation inscription from 1598 composed by calligrapher Ali-Reza Abbasi. Its architect was Ustad Muhammad Yazd.
The plan of the caravanserai is based on the four-iwan typology, with double-story halls centered on tall iwans enveloping four sides of an open courtyard. There is an octagonal fountain at the center of the courtyard which is chamfered at the corners. The caravanserai measures 32 by 23 meters. It has a small domed mosque at one corner that measures 5.5 by 5 meters. (Text and photos from

Northern tract

Detail of tiled spandrels of the north ivan - note the figurative image of th archangel Gabriel!

Kerman, Iran
Hamam-e Ganj Ali Khan

s, Museum

Built in 1631, the Ganj-i Ali Baths are located on the southern side of Ganj-i Ali Square, off a section of Vakil Bazaar known as Bazar-i Ganj-i Ali Khan. It is composed of a disrobing room, cold room and hot room, all covered with domes carried on squinches. The baths were converted into an ethnological museum in 1971. (Text and photos from

Interior: hot room with octagonal pool. (With wax mannequins!!)

Dome of cool room

Kerman, Iran
Wind towers
Kerman Bazaar

16th cent

Towers designed to catch the evening breeze and direct it into Kerman's extensive covered bazaars (see the domed passage ways on the GE image). (Photo

Bam, Iran
Citadel, Arg-e-Bam

originally built 224-637, rebuilt 1502-1722
Mosque 866-903
Sassanid, Saffanid, Safavid

This marker is for a castle and a lost city not a religious building. The excuse for including it is that it is a formidable place - with excellent documentation in
The ruined city of Arg-e-Bam is made entirely of mud bricks, clay, straw, and the trunks of palm trees. The city was originally founded during the Sassanian period (224-637 AD) and while some of the surviving structures date from before the 12th century, most of what remains was built during the Safavid period (1502-1722).
During Safavid times, the city occupied six square kilometers and had between 9000 and 13,000 inhabitants. Bam prospered because of pilgrims visiting its Zoroastrian fire temple (dating to early Sassanian times) and as a commercial and trading center on the famous Silk Road. Upon the site of the Zoroastrian temple the Jame Mosque was built during the Saffarian period (866-903 AD). Adjacent to the mosque is the tomb of Mirza Naiim, a mystic and astronomer who lived three hundred years ago.
(Text and Photos from

Bam declined following an invasion by Afghans in 1722 and another by invaders from Shiraz in 1810. The city was used as a barracks for the army until 1932 and then completely abandoned. Intensive restoration work began in 1953 and continued through 2003.
On 26 December 2003, an 6.7 magnitude earthquake struck Bam and claimed more than 40'000 lives. Over 70% of the buildings were completely destroyed.

A model of the Safavid city

Photograph from the crenalleted mud walls into the reconstructed city (1996)

Children playing soccer in the ruins (1996)


Isfahan, Iran

A highly informative article on Isfahan's architectural history can be found in – Isfahan

Isfahan, Iran
Naghshe Jahan Square

 The Golden Age of Esfahan arrived in the 16th century under Shah Abbas I (1587-1629) who made it the new capital of the Safavid dynasty. The square is surrounded by buildings from the Safavid era. The Shah Mosque is situated on the south side of this square. On the west side you can find Ali Qapu Palace. Sheikh Lütfallah Mosque is situated on the eastern side of this square. The northern side opens into the Isfahan Grand Bazaar.  

Naghshe Jahan Square looking south towards the Shah Abbas complex. The Lütfallah Mosque is on the left,
the royal palace on the right. (Photo Wikipedia)

New Julfa, Isfahan, Iran
Armenian quarter

1606-20th cent.

New Julfa was and still is, though deminished, home to a large Armenian minority who has sad origins, but contributed much to Isfahan's architecture:
In 1605 Abbas I forcibly moved more than 150 000 Armenians from northwest Iran, i.e., Azerbaidjan, into new quarters at Isfahan, which he named New Julfa, after the city where most of them came from. The Armenians were excellent merchants, brought their knowledge of seri-culture with them, and were skilled master builders. It is probably no exaggeration to state that Shah Abbas I's ambitous urban projects in Isfahan and especially the mosques and medrese of the Safavid period were built by Armenian craftsmen.  In exchange for their services the Armenian community was given privileges which far exceeded those given to non-Islamic foreigners by the contemporary Ottoman Sultans. (Wikipedia)

Isfahan, Iran
Sheikh Lutfallah Mosque


Thought to be a palace chapel, the Mosque of Shaykh Lutfallah was built under Shah Abbas I, located slightly off axis across the maidan from the Ali Qapu, the entrance portal to the palace complex. Inscriptions identify the architect as Ustad Muhammad Riza B. Husein. Photos from

Isfahan, Iran
Shah Abbas I Mosque

photo Wikimedia

Shah Abbas, Minaret Gate, Photo

Muqarnas in the Entrance

Sha Abbas, Porch, photo blogspot80

Isfahan, Iran
Masjid-i Jami

8th - 17th cent
Buyid, Seljuk, Safavid

The southeastern arcades of the 12th-14th century

The Friday Mosque as it stands now has a long history of continual construction, reconstruction, additions and renovations on the site from around 771 to the end of the twentieth century. Archaeological excavation has determined an Abbasid hypostyle mosque in place by the 10th century.The Friday mosque of Isfahan is a prominent architectural expression of the Seljuk rule in Persia (1038-1118). In 1051, Isfahan ecame the capital of the Seljuks. Defenders of Sunnism, they aimed at the restoration of the Abbasid Caliphate. The conquest of Isfahan by Tughril Beg elevated the city's status, which was manifested in the rich architectural projects representing the Seljuk's powerful empire - the first of which was the Friday mosque. Prior to the Seljuk conquest of Isfahan, a Friday mosque of a hypostyle plan that dates back to the tenth-century Buyid period existed on the site.
The Seljuk capture of the city and religious riots between Hanafite and Shafi'ite sects under Malik Shah, and fire damaged the mosque and prompted the rebuilding of some of its old architectural elements and introducing new ones. Consequently, the mosque's plan evolved from the hypostyle plan to a four-iwan plan augmented in the 12th century after the additions of the four iwans, the southern domed chamber, the two minarets flanking it, and the northern domed chamber. Especially noticeable of all the later reconstructions and additions to the mosque is the double-story arcade surrounding the court (added around 1447). Buyid construction lined a façade around the courtyard and added two minarets that are the earliest example of the double minaret on record.

The South Iwan with its two minarets seen from the oldest gate of the mosque, photo panoramio

Construction under the Seljuks included the addition of two brick domed chambers, for which the mosque is renowned. The south dome was built to house the mihrab in 1086-87 by Nizam al-Mulk, the famous vizier of Malik Shah, and was larger than any dome known at its time. The north dome was constructed a year later by Nizam al-Mulk's rival Taj al-Mulk.
Further additions and modifications took place incorporating elements from the Mongols, Muzzafarids, Timurids and Safavids.

Isfahan, Iran
Masjid-i Hakim - Mosque of Al-Hakim


Al Hakim Mosque photos from

Northern corner of courtyard wirh screenwall of the medresa on the left.

Isometric view of the mosque from

Isfahan, Iran
Madar-i Shah Madrasa


Commissioned by the last Safavid Shah, Husayn I, the Madrasa Madar-i Shah forms the western side of a complex lying perpendicular to the Chahar Bagh. Abutting the madrasa is a caravanserai (renovated to become the Shah Abbas Hotel) beyond which lie stables. These structures are connected by a bazaar, which lines each on their northern side. All four structures exhibit a precise symmetry and are composed with a strict axial concern for the Chahar Bagh.
The tile work is not of the quality available at the time of Shah Abbas' projects; the decoration is limited to geometric patterns instead of intricate floral designs. Blair and Bloom consider the Madar-i Shah complex 'the last major architectural achievement from the Safavid period', noting that 'the expansive scale and confident massing of forms set the style for architects in the following two centuries'.

Exterior view of the dome during restoration., Text and photo from