Human intelligence and creativity have long played a pivotal role in artistic architecture to create different structures on the planet. This art is displayed in a specific way anywhere around the world in the form of a variety of buildings.
Iran is no stranger to this form of art, and in turn, there is an extraordinary and amazing work of art on display in every corner of the country. Some of these works are so diverse and unique that they attract the attention of people around the world and they are considered as a universally acclaimed work of art. Hearing the names of these works on an international level makes us proud and happy.
We want to go to a city in Iran which has one of these world-famous works and embraces an important part of Iranian culture and history. We are going to Zanjan province and we are going to visit the historic city of Soltanieh which dates back to a long time ago.
In the corner of this city lies a dome of turquoise colors, such as a glittering star drawing the attention of all that set eyes on it. Together, we will set our eyes on it and go towards the universally acclaimed Soltanieh dome.
What is the reason behind Soltanieh dome’s universal acclaim?
Soltanieh dome is considered to be the third-largest dome in the world in terms of height after and the Hagia Sophia Museum in Turkey. It is the biggest historical dome in Iran and the biggest dome in the world in terms of it being made out of bricks. Soltanieh Dome is also known on a global scale and is registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is the first example of a two shelled dome in the world. Soltanieh Dome inspired architects in the construction of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Italy and Taj Mahal in India. The dome, with a weight of 1,600 tons has been around for more than 700 years and has receded only 8 cm.
What is the story behind the Soltanieh dome?
Near the city of Soltanieh, a turquoise dome dazzles everyone and that is a prominent example of Iranian art architecture and is also considered as a major historical monument in the development of Islamic architecture. The building is called the Soltanieh Dome, which was built by the Mongols to be used as the eternal tomb of the eighth Ilkhanate Mongol named Öljaitü.
Soltanieh Dome is also famous on a universal level and is considered to be the third-largest dome in the world in terms of height after the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Italy and the Hagia Sophia Museum in Turkey. It is the biggest historical dome in Iran and the biggest dome in the world in terms of it being made out of bricks.
What is unique about the architecture of Soltanieh dome?
Soltanieh dome is a three-story building that has been built in the inspiration of Seljuq architecture. The plan of the building on the ground floor and the first floor with surrounding spaces around the dome are shaped like a rectangle and on the second and third floors, they are octagonal. The length of each side of this octagon is 17 meters.
The reason for the use of the number 8 is not yet clear since it is not considered to be holy like 7 and 12. However, some suggest that the reason behind it was the creation of Sundials, while others point to the strength of the building. On the other hand, some say that the building was built as an octagon inspired by the eight in heaven.
Soltanieh dome follows Islamic principles in terms of the number of stairs. It has 110 stars, which is synonymous with the name Ali in Abjad writing system.
The material used in the main body of the dome and all around it is brick, and only in the dome, there is the section with turquoise and azure-colored tiles used as a Mosaic. The mortar used in the building was a mixture of gypsum and a small amount of lime.
Some believe that in the construction of Soltanieh dome, the model of the Tomb of Ghazan Khan (the most famous and most powerful Ilkhanate monarch) which itself has been constructed from the monument of Sultan Sanjar, has been used. It should be noted here that the building plan of those tombs was square-shaped, while the Soltanieh dome is octagonal. It is also said that the architecture of Soltanieh dome inspired Gothic style architecture and that Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti were inspired by it in the construction of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Italy.
What are the main sections of Soltanieh dome?
In general, there are three main parts:
On the south side of the building, there is a part known as Torbat House which is about 17 meters in length, about 8 meters in width and 16 meters in height.
King Öljaitü got frustrated with the transfer of the body of his son Ali, so he ordered to bring soil from Najaf and Karbala to Soltanieh and use it to build a part of the building. On the altar walls opposite the door, Al-Mulk was written using the soil from Karbala in Thuluth and Kofi, and this is why this part is known as Torbat House.
The golden, tufted and octagonal tiles of this section of the building and its windows are amazing, fantastic and unique in terms of the art of tiling. The backing or protective cover of the wall refers to the decorative margin that covers the floor up to one meter high.
The crypt is considered as one of the lateral spaces of the dome, located on the southern side below the Torbat House, and some believe that the crypt was built before the construction of the dome. The Ilkhanate buried their dead in the crypts as their ancestors did, and placed objects and ornaments in line with the individual’s social status alongside them.
The crypt was the place where the kings and princes were buried at that time. The entrance to this part is low enough to force you to bow and respect the dead.
This section is accessible through the south Iwan of Torbat House. The grave is located in the middle of the crypt, and on the other side, there are two small spaces. Although the excavations carried out in this place did not reveal any graves in the crypt, historians and some scholars still believe that Öljaitü is buried in this cellar.
The height of the dome is about 50 meters and the central opening is 25.5 meters. This dome is the first example of a two-shell dome in the world that is 160 cm thick and has a space between two shells of 60 cm. The two-sidedness of the dome shows the architects’ intelligence about static issues which by creating a hollow space he managed to overcome and in turn the building is resistant to earthquakes.
In the dome itself, there are 8 heavy walls with a width of 78.6 m, which can transfer the weight of the dome to the foundations. The cross-section of each of these walls is at least 50 square meters and will withhold 200 tons.
What is the secret about the number of floors in the building?
In this work, architectural relationships are seen in both horizontal and vertical directions. Like many other buildings, the minarets exhibit vertical movement, and they are of two types: the hidden minaret inside the skeleton and the minarets over the building.
The horizontal movement in this building is at four levels, which is connected by the minarets. These 4 levels include:
There is a vast space in the ground floor and the place for the Shia Imams to be preserved, possibly for Tawaf and the implementation of special religious ceremonies.
The first floor is located at a height of 9.40 meters from the ground floor. In this section, we see an Iwan on each of the 8 sides that are formed inside and are connected with a covered corridor. Most likely, women were there to see religious ceremonies.
The second floor is 27.80 meters above the first floor and includes Iwans similar to the first floor, which were created on the exterior of the building and have a landscape facing the plain around the building. Tiling, Mogharnas, Embroidery, Gypsum and a combination of bricks and tiles, along with numerous inscriptions give a special effect to the Iwans and this makes for a unique view.
These Iwans were the venue for the gathering of religious scholars and then they were converted to rooms during the Safavid period and have been used to host scholars. The walls of these rooms were destroyed in the repairs to the Soltanieh dome to prevent the structure from becoming heavy. Then they were built again just as before.
The third floor is the roof of the building, with its suitable space, allowing free movement around the dome, used to repair the dome or pouring snow falling off from it.
What are the decorations in Soltanieh Dome?
The decorations are the first thing that attracts your attention to the construction of Soltanieh dome and reflects the attention to art and the concept of the use of various elements by the constructor. It’s worth noting that artists have spent three years devoting themselves to creating a unique masterpiece.
In this building, the goal has been to introduce three important concepts to the viewer using decorative lines: the words of Allah as the ultimate cause of the world, Muhammad as the founder of the school of thought and Ali as the manifestation of the rule of divine justice.
On the dome, the words of Allah, Muhammad, and Ali is written combined with Alvan tiles and cold colors, and the same is repeated in the body of the minarets. On the walls of the interior Iwan the words of Allah, Muhammad and Ali have been written using blue tiles and bricks. Some of the Islamic slogans, such as “There is no God except the true god” also appear on the building with their placement and repetition made from a series of mathematical division. In some parts, the word Ali also appears in the form of tiled art using complex math combinations.
At first, the decorations were made on bricks and tiles, and they were painted with Islamic names and the name of the king, but after a while, for an unknown reason, Öljaitü ordered to cover the tile decorations with plaster, and then write the same terms and names on them. For this reason, it is said that there are two sets of decorations inside Soltanieh Dome which include bricks, tiles, and plaster.
The blue color is the most important in the decorations, as if it was the only color used by the artists, but due to the lack of techniques for the creation of colors, a variety of blue colors such as navy blue to sky blue and even green mixed with blue is used which creates a very beautiful turquoise color outside and inside the dome.
In this building, there are also wooden lattices made of teak wood. The sticks were brought here from India and Lebanon, and they were soaked in saltwater before they were used in the building to prevent damage from termites. It is said that this wood was also used in the construction of Noah’s ship.
Why does this building have 8 minarets?
The building of Soltanieh Dome generally has eight doors, eight verandahs, and eight minarets. On each of the minarets, there was a mini minaret, but there is no trace of them in the building nowadays. These mini minarets were embedded throughout the city to play Adhan and the news because if it was only one of them, the big dome prevented the sound from reaching the whole city.
The presence of the eight minarets would curb the outgoing force from the dome and maintain its strength. Some also believe that the minarets have a sacrificial role to be destroyed first in the event of an earthquake and prevent damage to the main building.
What was the use of Sundials?
It was important for Muslims to know the time and time itself played a crucial role in their religious ceremonies. That’s why a Sundial was built in the skeleton of the building to make the city’s inhabitants time aware. If the light shines from the hole in the main dome, it indicates the time for noon prayer time. The light from the big windows worked as the big arm in this scenario and light from the small windows was the small arm. At night, the stars that were seen from these windows helped detect the time.
How strong is the base of Soltanieh Dome?
Soltanieh dome is about half a meter high, and the higher we go, as a result of weight loss and pressure on walls, troughs, and empty spaces increase. The intensive sandy stones at depths of 8 to 10 meters make up this building. The building is so strong that over time the 1,600-ton building has only receded 8 centimeters over 700 years and 33 earthquakes, the most severe of which was 6 magnitudes.
The base is made of eight large brick walls beneath the building, forming a regular octagon in the plan. The length of each side of this form is 17 meters and the area covered by each of these walls is about 50 square meters. A load of these walls and other parts of the building is on a base of only two meters, which has been created for large buildings and deep excavations. The excellent ground resistance has led to a very small and superficial base, with a depth of 50 to 60 cm, which is only 1.5 meters below the ground. The bases are made of regular stone blocks of 20 to 25 cm in size, and mortar and lime plaster.
What is in display in Soltanieh Dome Museum?
To use the space of this building, a small museum was built at the entrance to the Soltanieh dome complex, in which some photographs and some of the remaining objects from the past and the works discovered in the Soltanieh region are exhibited.
When did Soltanieh Dome’s national and global registration take place?
Soltanieh Dome, in terms of volume, architectural style, the relation of spaces, the proportions of the various components, the static and the resistance of the building, and the aesthetics and decorations, is a unique example of architecture, and a turning point in Islamic architecture. On 15th of December 1931 with the number 166, Soltanieh Dome was registered in the list of national monuments of Iran. This building has been registered as the seventh Iranian monument in the UNESCO World Heritage list since July 24, 2005. The reasons behind its global acclaim are as follows:
The exchange of human values over time, in a cultural region, in terms of progress in architecture or technology, urban planning, or landscape design.
Soltanieh Dome is an influential factor in the development of Islamic architecture in Central and Western Asia and the change in the style of architecture from the Seljuq period to the Timurid period, and this is especially evident in the structure of two shells and the elaborate use of materials and specialties for decorations.
The only reminder of a cultural or civilized tradition that is still in one piece.
Soltanieh, as the ancient capital of the Ilkhanate dynasty, is an exceptional testimony from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
A prominent example of architecture or technology that represents an important stage in human history.
Öljaitü’s Mausoleum represents an outstanding achievement in the development of Iranian architecture, especially in the Ilkhanate period, which looks very different from the other works with the innovative engineering structure, spatial ratio, architectural forms, and decorative patterns and other techniques.
When was Soltanieh dome repaired?
This valuable building was left to ruin for 25 years until it was restored in 1969 by an Italian group which continued until 1979. Experts refer to the restoration of this building as one of the most delicate and complex works of its kind that continues to this day.
Over 700 years old, this building needs care and maintenance, so that the future can also capture the glory of the architecture of bygone days.