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Architecture - Persian Saracenic

( Originally Published 1921 )

Saracenic architecture in Persia was largely founded on that of the Sassanian dynasty (A.D. 226-642) (p. 58), whose buildings were chiefly palaces which, in their turn, indicate the influence of the older Assyrian and Persian architecture (pp. 51, 57).

Bagdad, as the capital of the Eastern Caliphate under the Abbasides dynasty, became the most important city in the East, but nothing now remains of all the splendid buildings, glowing with rich Eastern colour, which must have beautified this marvel-city on the Tigris in the proud days of Haroun-al-Raschid (A.D. 786--809) and over which has been thrown the glamour of the stories in the Arabian Nights." Only two neglected tombs still stand without the city walls as witnesses of the splendours of ancient days.

The Tomb of Zobeide, Bagdad, erected for the favourite wife of Haroun-al-Raschid, is an octagonal structure, surmounted by an unusual pyramidal roof in which Saracenic builders developed a cunning device in the use of alternating arches, carrying internally those overhanging pointed niches which were possibly the origin of stalactite vaulting, which became such a prominent feature in Saracenic decoration (p. 856).

The Tomb of Ezekiel (so-called), near Bagdad, has a somewhat similar pyramidal roof, broken by a cavetto cornice.

The Mosque, Tabreez (A.D. 1204), with its domed tomb chamber, built by Ghazan Khan, was a new departure in mosques ; for it followed the Byzantine plan and has a central dome of Sassanian type in addition to that over the Caliph's tomb ; while the stately entrance portal is dignified by a lofty semi-dome, which invests it with a grandeur hitherto unknown in mosque building. The great glory of this mosque lies, not in its plan, its domes, or its portals, but in that wonderful decoration of glowing Persian tiles with which it is clothed, both within and without. In all the range of coloured architecture there is nothing comparable to this old mosque for the brilliancy and completeness of its colour scheme.

The Tomb, Sultanieh (A.D. 1303-16), is octagonal with the small tomb chamber in the rear. It is crowned externally by an arcade of pointed arches, encircling a graceful egg-shaped dome, 8o ft. in diameter, and the beauty of the coloured tiles with which it was faced rivalled those at Tabreez.

The Great Mosque, Ispahan (A.D. 1585), erected by Shah Abbas the Great, is somewhat similar to the Mosque of Sultan Hassan, Cairo. The entrance portal, approached at an angle from the Bazaar, leads into a large open court, 225 ft. by 175 ft., with a fountain for ablutions, beyond which is the prayer chamber with the Mecca wall opposite. The open court is surrounded by arcades with semi-domed recesses in the centre of each side, which have domed compartments beyond, while on either side of the prayer chamber are two further courts with fountains. The arcaded " maidan " and mosque, with its immense pointed arches, lofty bulbous dome, and flanking minarets, make up an imposing group, homogeneous in design and enhanced in beauty by the wealth of glowing Persian tiles in which the iridescent blues and greens recall the ancient glory of Assyrian and Persian palaces at Nineveh and Persepolis.

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