Gunbad-i 'Ala al-Din
Varamin, Iran
The tomb tower of 'Ala ad-din, completed in 1289 under the Il Khanids, is located to the north of Varamin, a small town forty-two kilometers south of Tehran. It continues a well-established Iranian tradition of funerary architecture in the form of a tomb tower, its earliest precedent being the Seluk monument Gunbad-i Qabus (1006). This type of mausoleum began as a tall cylinder with a canonical roof, marking, through sheer verticality, the grave of its patron (often a minor dynast, amir, or isfahasalar). The tomb tower puts more emphasis on the exterior, as opposed to the interior, of the sacred space, in contrast to the domed square mausoleum, the other predominant type of mausoleum in Iran.

Thirty-two right-angled triangular flanges or columns wrap around the tower's circumference. Made of high-quality baked bricks assembled in a hazarbaf (decorative brickwork, literally meaning "thousand weaving") decorative pattern, the flanges ascend from the plinth until they meet the cornice that supports the canonical roof with corbelled groin arches. Between the upper end of the flanges and the small groin arches above them runs an inscription band paralleling the zigzag shape of the flanges. The cornice displays fine tile work alternating between unglazed and glazed terracotta in light blue. As with most tomb towers, the tomb tower of 'Ala ad-Din has a double-shell dome, canonical on the exterior and spherical on the inside, above the circular interior plan.

Recent restoration of the tomb tower has preserved the interior brick dado and floor, as well as addressing the rebuilding of the lower flanges, the canonical roof, and the restoration of the northern and southwest entrances. The main northern entrance is a semicircular arched portal embedded in a pointed arch niche whose walls merge into the flanges. The southwest portal comprises two pointed arches, one on top of the other; both are plastered and filled with stalactites.

With its decorative work comprising glazed tile mosaic and bricks juxtaposed to a substantial quantity of unglazed brickwork, the tomb tower of 'Ala ad-din is an exemplary manifestation of the more austere tilework of the period.


Blair, Sheila S. and Jonathan M. Bloom. 1994. The Art and Architecture of Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press, 8.

Hillenbrand, Robert. 1999. Islamic Architecture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 280-287.

Michell, George. 1978. Architecture of the Islamic World: Its History and Social Meaning. London: Thames and Hudson, 257.

Wilber, Donald N. 1969. The Architecture of Islamic Iran: The Il-Khanid Period. New York: Greenwood Press, 117-118.
Varamin, Iran
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Associated Names
1276-89/674-87 AH
Style Periods
Variant Names
Ala al-Din Tomb Tower
Tomb Tower of 'Ala' al-Din
Building Usages