The idea of high buildings can be traced to many centuries ago when monarchs built, fortresses on elevated hill-tops, from where they could keep the surrounding areas under surveillance. Such a building was also useful for the deference of the city. Ancient fortresses overlooking a vast expanse of land are historical examples that are found in abundance in most countries.
High Buildings in Pre-Islamic Period
One of the most glamorous citadels still extant in the south-west of present-day Iran (Province of Khouzestan) is Ziggurat "Chogha Zanbil" which was built by the Elamite Empire in 1250 BCE. This temple was built in the shape of a stepped pyramid, originally having five stories.
The Ziggurat of Chogha Zanbil, Elamite Empire 1250 BCE
The remains of the building in its present shape has a high of 25 meters though it is believed that the building was initially 50 meters high.
During the Median Empire which followed the rule of Elamites residential houses were often built in the low lands whereas the uplands were designated for the royal palaces.
The most notable among high buildings remaining from that period are the ones situated on hill-tops in an ancient town called Noushijan. Other specimens belonging to that era are the tombs of the famous persons built on top of "Davood Akhtar" mountains. During the rule of the Achaemenids Empire, despite a strong central government and the division of the country into a number of authoritative governorships, roads and road-side resting houses gained increasing importance necessitating greater protection against hazardous incidents. This era gave rise to newer forms of high buildings such as Pasargad and Persepolis (which served as the seat of the government), Zoroasstrian temples and some kinds of minarets that were erected for the purpose of making public announcements. In the Parthian Empire (or Arsacides), which followed the Achaemenids attempts were made to revive the architectural glamour of the latter dynasty. Roadside minarets, firealtars, Zahak citadel, Anahita temple are among the major buildings remaining from the Parthian period.
Parthians were succeeded by the Sassanid Empire. During the Sassanid era Iran was actively involved in regional trade and the famous Silk Road which extended eastward as far as the China Wall Linked Persia to Central Asia and eastern regions of the continent.
Among the Sassanid high buildings Taqe-Kasra stands out as most notable. In addition, a large number of fire-temples built during the Sassanid rule are still extant in the provinces of Khorasan, Esfahan, and Azarbaijan.
Fortresses constructed on hill-tops are among other examples of the Sassanid era buildings.
Basically, a minaret is a slender tower built at the side of a mosque from which the call to prayer is given for Muslims. The tall structures built on roadsides or near caravansaries, schools, or other gathering places were originally watch-towers that also provided lighting for the surrounding areas. The word minaret is a derivative of noor meaning light referring to a place from where light is emitted. Thus minarets were initially light-towers purported to guide travelers during the day and in the night time.
When exactly the first minaret was built in the Islamic era is not known to us. It is believed, however, that minarets made their first appearance shortly after the building of mosques in Islamic cities.
Until then, the "muezzins" or criers used the highest roof in the city to call the people to worship or to make their proclamations.
The construction of minaret in its present form was first introduced during the reign of the Ommayad caliphs. The earliest minaret is thought to have been built in late 7th century CE.
Minarets in Iran
Mil-e Gonbad 1012 CE, mausoleum of Qabous ibn Woshmgir local Ziyarid ruler of Gorgan; the highest brick tower in the world, which rises 55m.
Following the spread of Islam to Iran, social activities were largely interrupted for a short period before being resumed again heavily under the influence of the new culture. Minarets first appeared in the form of simple guiding poles near the mosques before being developed into elaborate structures flanking mosques and the entrance of monumental buildings. The minaret of Shoushtar Jame mosque built in the early 8th century CE is among the first minarets erected in Iran following the advent of Islam. In the 8th century CE minarets were made with mud-bricks. It was not until the 9th century CE that the first brick-made minaret was built.
It is likely that the earliest brick-made minaret remaining from the late 9th Century CE is the single minaret built during the rule of Yaha-bin-Ishaq between the new and old city of Qom so that the call of the "muezzins" could be heard in both cities. In addition to the minarets of Shoush (Susa), Damghan, and Qom, we may make a mention of Esfahan's Jourjir mosque minaret which was built in the late 10th century CE.
Presumably, the oldest brick-work minaret is the one made 26 Km from the city of Mashhad during the rule of Soltan Mahmoud Ghaznavi (998–1030 CE) and called Ayaz of Arsalan Jazeb minaret alternately.
11th and 12th Century CE Minarets
The Seljuk period is particularly noteworthy in the development of architectural arts in Iran, specially with respect to minarets. Aside from the reputed minarets constructed in the cities of Qom, Semnan and Damghan, the minarets raised in this period at the sides of government building in the city of Kashan may be cited as outstanding examples. The sides of these minarets were plain without ornamental patterns. The oldest and the most reputed minaret in Iran is that of the Red mosque in Saveh built in 1087 CE and regarded as a Seljuk monumental building. Two other outstanding minarets of the Seljuk period are the Pamenar - Zavareh Minaret of the Jame Mosque of Kashan and the Barsian minaret built in 1088 and 1093 CE respectively.
Gaz minaret (1165-1171 CE), Ben mosque minaret, Ali mosque minaret, Sareban mosque minaret, Ziar village minaret and Hervan minaret (1173 CE) are among other listed mosque minarets of the Seljuk period.
The Mogul, Timurid and Safavid era minarets
Although Iran underwent a sweeping destruction by the invasion of Moguls and Timurids, the later kings of those dynasties aided by able ministers gave rise to mosques and shrines with towering minarets in large numbers. The difference evidenced in this period, however, is that the minarets came in pairs. The minarets of the Ashtarjan's Jami mosques, Esfahan's Sultan Taht-Agha mosque, and Kerman's Jame mosque are among well-known Ilkhanids minarets. There is a famous minaret in Mashhad's Goharshad mosque which belongs to the Timurid period.
The twin minarets of the Shah Mosque in Esfahan
During the Safavids period which is known as the golden age of Iranian architectural arts, minarets were decorated with coloured "faience" and patterned tiles. The Imam (Shah) mosque, Chahar Bagh building and Shah mosque in Esfahan display the most elegant minarets of the era. With the fall of the Safavids and the emergence of the Qajar dynasty Iranian architecture witnessed a decline and the number of minarets built or repaired in that period is insignificant.
Architectural Structure of Minarets
Minarets basically consist of three parts:
1- Base: Characterized by an elongated and slender body minarets impose a high bearing pressure on their foundations. A poor foundation and loose subsoil will result in the collapse of the structure. Safety precautions require that the ground be excavated deep enough until hard soil is reached. Then, the excavated trench should be filled with gravel, and other hardening material before the main base is built. It sometimes happens that a minaret is mounted right on the ground level without being supported by a base in subsoil.
2- Shaft: The size and contour of a minaret may vary from one Islamic country to another. Iranian minarets may be grouped in two categories: single and twin.
Single minarets usually have a more elongated body and come in three types: cylindrical, conic (tapering toward the top) and polygonal. The shaft, whether cylindrical or polygonal, forms the main part of a minaret and is encircled by a spiraling set of stairs running anti-clock- wise all the way round the shaft up to the gallery. It is said that the spiraling stairs provide a greater resistance against tremor and that the rounded shape of the shaft staves off the impacts of strong winds. Light ducts are openings along the sides of the shaft that let in natural light for inside stairs.
3- Gallery: A set of protruding cornices around the upper section of the trunk makes up a balcony, circular or polygonal in shape from where the call to prayer is given by the "muezzins". This balcony is covered by a roof-like canopyoften made in different styles. Ornaments: In the first years of Islam minarets were explicitly plain, but later with the advance of building techniques minarets became taller, more stylish and elaborately decorated.
The ornaments used in the construction of minarets included decorative brickwork, tile-work, cornices, arches and inscriptions.