Study – Islamic Domes ; Persian and Central Asian Domes

The Islamic civilization reached and conquered the Persian Achaemenid Empire in the Seventh Century. Naturally, as Muslims spread, they needed to build infrastructures on the newly conquered lands and build their homes, palaces, public buildings and mosques. As such, the Muslim architects adopted the existing Persian architecture and traditions. So in sense, the Muslim architects carried on the Persian architecture and created some sort of extention and evolution to the architectural form.

Masjid-I-Shah, Isfahan, Iran. The main dome features the characteristics of Persian Domes.

Domes are utilized in Persian Muslim architecture, with heavy influence from the past Persian civilization’s art and architecture. Certain features in the  Persian architecture before the arrival of Islam helped forming the characteristics of the Persian domes  – semi-circular and oval shaped vaults are a very much used element in old Persian architecture, and due to the strength of the vaults that can accommodate domes above it,  lead to Muslim architects to create massive domes for their buildings.

Persian (and subsequently, Central and South Asian, since Persian architects often venture out of Central Asian) domes have quite distinct features. Due to the extensive usage of vaults for building the structures, Persian architects are able to create bigger, larger and higher domes than its Middle-Eastern counterparts. The domes have a circular ‘drum’ like feature underneath the domes, and on top the oval, rounder on the bottom and tapers towards the end.

The materials used are usually brick or mosaic on the outside – preferences shows that blue and green coloured bricks or tiles are favoured. The bricks and/or tiles are arranged in an artistic way – Kufic calligraphy, geometric designs and Arabesques are the motifs commonly used in arranging the materials. Sometimes gold coloured bricks are used as well, especially for shrines that are dedicated to Shia’ saints. However, it is not a common feature in Persian Muslim architecture.

Repairs to the golden domes of Kadhimayn Mosque in 2008.(Shrine of the 7th and 9th Shia Imams: Musa al-Kadhim & Muhammad at-Taqi, in Baghdad, Iraq. Golden domes are most common feature used in the shrines of Shia’ sect of Islam saints.

On the inside of the domes, it is usually decorated with grandeur. Many materials and mediums are used from paints to mosaics to even mirror-glasses that reflect lights from chandeliers to all of the building’s corners. Floral Arabesques or geometric patterns are most commonly used, as well as abstract designs and calligraphy. Sacred texts writ in the Nasakh, Thuluth or Kufic scripts, especially in religious buildings such as mosques or mausoleums, are often used as bordering in the drum part of the dome, as well as pierced screen windows (Mashyrabia)

Photo courtesy of Iranian Cultural & Information Center

the view inside Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque’s Dome. The interior of the dome is very heavily decorated with mosaics and calligraphy.


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