Timeline: Safavid {1501-1722}

Dynasty of Kurdish origin which ruled Iran during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries/eleventh and twelve centuries AH

Although the founder of the dynasty was probably a Sunni, the Safavids later became Shi'a and adopted this as a state religion. Little remains of the early architecture of the Safavids who established capitals first at Tabriz and later at Qazvin. The little that does survive indicates that they continued the architectural forms established by their predecessors the Timurids. Thus the Safavids continued to use the complex vaulting forms, with networks of arches, squinches and pendentives, developed under the Timurids. An early example of a Safavid building is the tomb of Harun-i Vilayat which although Timurid in form has an emphasis on exterior tile decoration. This was a feature which was developed in later Safavid architecture where the architectural form seems to be subordinated to the tile patterns.

The most productive period of Safavid architecture began in 1598/1006 AH with Shah Tahmasp's decision to redesign Isfahan as an imperial capital. The centre of the new developments was the Maidan-i-Shah which is a rectangular square or park around which was built the palace, the principal mosques and the principal bazar of the city. The main characteristics of this architecture was the layout and planning with the mosques built at a deliberate angle to the maidan to show off both their monumental portals (pishtaq iwans) and their glazed domes. Similarly the main gate of the palace, the Ali Qapu, was made into a pavilion overlooking the Maidan-i-Shah from which the shah's palace could be seen. The emphasis on accessibility is also demonstrated in the tomb complexes, where the outside faces are pierced with arches instead of forbidding walls. This is also seen on utilitarian structures such as the famous Pol-i-Khaju bridge built in 1650/1059 AH. This bridge, which links Isfahan to the southern palace, is 110 m long and has two tiers of arcades which provide shelter from the summer heat. Another characteristic of the archithttps://archnet.org/publications/14176ecture is the use of lighter materials such as wood, stucco, paint and tiles, and an increasing emphasis on gardens. However, this may appear to be a development simply because earlier structures of this type have not survived. Outside Isfahan buildings such as caravanserais are generally larger and plainer than their predecessors indicating the growth of commercial traffic.

Source: Petersen, Andrew. Dictionary of Islamic Architecture. London and New York: Routledge, 1999.

Additional Resources:

Alemi, Mahvash. "Documents: The Safavid Royal Gardens in Sari.” In Environmental Design: Journal of the Islamic Environmental Design Research Centre 1, edited by Attilo Petruccioli, 98-103. Rome: Dell’oca Editore, 1996.

Alemi, Mahvash. 1997. "The Royal Gardens of the Safavid Period: Types and Models." In Gardens in the Time of the Great Muslim Empires: Theory and Design, edited by Attilio Petruccioli, 72-96. Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill.

Alemi, Mahvash. "Urban Spaces as the Scene for the Ceremonies and Pastimes of the Safavid Court.” In Environmental Design: Journal of the Islamic Environmental Design Research Centre 1-2, edited by Attilo Petruccioli, 98-107. Rome: Dell’oca Editore, 1991.

Crowe, Yolande. 2004. "A Late Safavid Dish: A Cluster of Exotic Trees and Foliage". In Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World, XXI, 121-128.

Emami, Farshid. "Coffeehouses, Urban Spaces, and the Formation of a Public Sphere in Safavid Isfahan.Muqarnas: An Annual On The Visual Cultures Of The Islamic World, Vol 33 (2016): 177-220.

Farhad, Massumeh and Marianna Shreve Simpson. 1993. "Sources for the Study of Safavid Painting and Patronage, or Mefiez-vous de Qazi Ahmad". In Muqarnas X: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture. Margaret B. Sevcenko, ed. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Javan, Karim. “English abstract of 'The History of Isfahan: the Volumes on Art and Artists'". Translated by Karim Javan. In Cities as Built and Lived Environments: Scholarship from Muslim Contexts, 1875 to 2011, by Aptin Khanbaghi, 139. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014. (Also in Arabic - تاريخ أصفهان: مجلد الفن و الفنانين and Turkish - İsfahan’ın Tarihi: Sanat ve Sanatçılar Üzerine Ciltler)

Kleiss, Wolfram. 1993. "Safavid Palaces". In Ars Orientalis, Vol. 23. Gülru Necipoglu, ed. Ann Arbour: Department of History, University of Michigan.

McChesney, Robert. Four Sources on Shah Abbas's Buildings of Isfahan. In Muqarnas V: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture, edited by Oleg Grabar. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1988.

Melville, Charles. "New Light on Shah ʿAbbas and the Construction of Isfahan.Muqarnas: An Annual On The Visual Cultures Of The Islamic World 33 (2016): 155-76.

Necipoglu, Gulru and David Roxburgh. “Isfahan under Shah Abbas.” Lesson 13/22 presentation developed for the Aga Khan Trust for Culture Education Programme, 2019.

Images & Videos
Parent Collections
architectural history
history of architecture
Islamic architecture