New collection: Architectural wonders of Iran

‘If you have travelled to Esfahan, you have seen Half of the World’. It is easy to agree with this famous 16th century proverb seeing the beauty and grandeur of the city Esfahan, one of the places I have visited during a trip to Iran. Its glory, architectural masterpieces and magic views are indeed stunning. The domes which dominate the skyline of the city look like glittering gems reflecting the sunlight. Palaces, mosques, bridges, bazaars and gardens are a pleasure for the eye; a paradise for photographers interested in Persian architecture. Besides Iran’s masterpiece, the jewel of ancient Persia, Iran has many other places where architectural wonders can be admired and photographed.

This inspired me to create a collection of Iranian architecture of both my own images as well as my favorites of other Dreamstime Photographers, which can help customers to find images related to Iranian architecture. Please enjoy this journey into the architectural treasures of Iran.

A journey to the past and present

Iranian architecture has at least 6000 years of continuous history. Examples of Iranian architecture can also be found in Syria, borders of China, North India, the Caucasus and Zanzibar. Persian buildings vary from peasant huts to tea houses and gardens to some of the most majestic structures the world has ever seen.

Overall, the traditional Iranian architecture can be categorized in the Pre-Islamic style (Parsian and the Parthian Style) and the Islamic styles (Khorasani, Razi, Azari, Isfahani style).

Pre-Islamic architecture in Iran

Parsian style

The Parsian style comprises the Achaemenid, Median, and Elamite eras. The only substantial remains left from before the 7th century BC are those of the remarkable Elamite ziggurat (tiered temple) at Choqã Zanbìl in south-western Iran. The formation of the Achaemenid dynasty (560-330 BC) marks one of the brilliant ages in Persian architecture. Among the best architectural monuments of this period, are mausoleums, fire temples and palaces.

The surviving sites from the Achaemenid Era include the magnificent ceremonial palace complexes and royal tombs at Pasargadae, Nasqh-é Rostam, Persepolis and Shush.

These are decorated with bas-reliefs of kings, soldiers, supplicants, animals and the winged figure of the Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda.

The first capital of the Achaemenid Empire was at Pasargadae but Darius I started to construct Persepolis, magnificent palace complex to serve as the summer capital. It was completed by a host of kings including Xerxes I, and II and Artaxerxes I, II and III over a period of 150 years. The ancient city was lost for centuries, totally covered by dust and sand, before extensive evocations began in the 1930s, revealing the glory of the city once more.

The buildings at Persepolis include military quarters, the treasury, reception hall, and occasional houses for the King. Structures include the Great Stairway, the Gate of Nations (Xerxes the Great), the Apadana Palace of Darius, the Hall of a Hundred Columns, the Tripylon Hall, Tachara Palace of Darius, the Hadish Palace of Xerxes, the palace of Artaxerxes III, the Imperial Treasury, the Royal Stables and the Chariot house.

Several griffin-headed beasts stand guard over the ruins.

Parthian style

Iranian architecture reached a peak in its development during the Sassanid era (224-651 CE). With the emergence of the Parthians and Sassanids there was an appearance of new forms. Parthian innovations fully flowered during the Sassanid period with massive barrel-vaulted chambers, solid masonry domes and tall columns.

Islamic architecture

The fall of the Persian empire to invading Islamic forces led to the creation of remarkable religious buildings in Iran . Arts such as stucco work, calligraphy, mirror work and mosaic work have been closely tied with architecture in the new era. The period of Persian architecture from the 15th through 17th centuries is believed by many experts to be the most brilliant of the post-Islamic era. Various structures such as mosques, mausoleums, bazaars, bridges and different palaces have survived this era.

Majesty and splendor of the historic bridges of Isfahan are vivid manifestations of the creativity of Iranian architects. Famous examples of Safavid bridge design are the Si O Se Pol Bridge, built during the rule of Shah Abbas in 1602 and the Khaju bridge, built in about 1650.

Unique elements of Persian architecture

Iranian architecture makes use of abundant symbolic geometry, using pure forms such as the circle and square and plans are based on often symmetrical layouts featuring rectangular courtyards and halls. Its monumental simplicity combined with its lavish use of surface ornamentation and colour makes Persian architecture so unique. Standard elements are a courtyard, arcades, lofty entrance porticoes and four iwans (barrel-vaulted halls opening onto the courtyard. The decorations are geometric, floral or calligraphic.

Persian domes

The dome is a dominant element in Persian architecture. At the Sassanid Empire the construction of first large scale domes in Persia started. With the Muslim conquest of the Sassanid Empire, the Persian architectural style became a major influence on Muslim societies and the dome a feature of Muslim architecture. The distinct features of Persian domes, is the colourful tiles, with which both the exterior and interior were covered. This style of architecture was inherited from the Seljuq dynasty who for centuries had used it in their mosque building but it was perfected during the Safavids when they invented the seven colour style of tile burning which enabled them to apply more colours to each tile, creating richer patterns. Iranian domes are distinguished by their height, beauty of form, proportion of elements, roundness of dome stem.

Persian gardens, qanats and windtowers

Other elements of Persian architecture and civilizations developed for hot climates are the gardens, qanats (Kariz) and windtowers (Badgirs). A qanat is water management system used to provide supply of water to human settlements.

Windtowers and Badgirs were invented in Yazd to cool the residences many centuries ago.

Contemporary and Present Day Architecture

Contemporary Architecture in Iran begins in the early 1920s. Some merge traditional elements with modern design. Others tried to create original works independent of precedential influences.

The endless variety of architecture in Iran includes also interior and exterior of houses, shrines and monuments, historical baths, caravanserais, madrasas, towers and tombs, other places of worship such as cathedrals, churches and synagogues. To continue this visual journey please visit the collection Architectural Wonders of Iran

I invite the readers of this blog to send me pictures which deserve to be part of this collection.

Thank you,

Caroline Bomers


Photo credits: Cbomers.

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February 18, 2011


What a wonderful collection. Thanks for all the information!

February 17, 2011


Nice images and interesting info.

February 17, 2011


Amazing information, thanks for sharing... Great images.

February 17, 2011


Great images, great blog, thanks for sharing!

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