Iran Arts and Literature


By Iranian literature in a broad sense is meant texts in the various Iranian languages during their more than 2,500-year history, in the narrower sense only literature in the currently dominant Iranian writing language, Nypersian (even Persian). Here, this Persian literature and its historical background are dealt with in Avestian, Ancient Persian and Middle Persian literature. Persian literature was created in the Iranian cultural sphere, which, in past historical stages, extended far beyond present-day Iran. In addition, until the 19th century, Persian was a favored literary language in Turkey and India.

Iran Population Pyramid

  • Countryaah: Population and demographics of Iran, including population pyramid, density map, projection, data, and distribution.

The roots of an Iranian mythology and a yet-to-be-lived historical epic can be found in the sacred texts of the Zoroastrian religion, Avesta, which date from about 1000 BC. Especially in the Yashts there are fragments of ancient myths about ancient heros and kings, which were further developed during the Parthian and Sasanidic times and recorded in the medieval Persian chronicle “Khvatai-namak”. This is not preserved, but was used by both early Arab historians and the Persian writers who created the national epic “Shah-name” (“The Book of Kings”). Despite the uncertainty about the metric principles, it is clear that parts of Avesta are written in verse, especially the Gatha songs, attributed to Zarathustra, and parts of the Yashts. The verse is syllable or accented.

The few preserved writing monuments in ancient Persian are of historical character and of minor importance for literary development. Most important is the acemenidic great king Dareio’s Iran’s Bisutun inscription. It describes in a dualistic perspective how one’s own power defends what is right against the evil of the adversary, with expressions that remained in later literature. After the fall of the Akemeni Empire (331 BC), Iran was strongly influenced by Hellenistic influence. Some minor Greek inscriptions have been preserved; more important was that the Greek heritage was integrated into the pre-Oriental cultural traditions that became a basis for Iranian culture during the following eras, the Parthian and the Sasanidic. Nor has any written literature preserved from the Parthian period (250 BC – 225 AD). but in the later Middle and Nepali literature there are many traces of a rich oral poetry of this time and in the following centuries also a significant religious, Manic literature in Parthian and Middle Persian, of which only fragments were preserved in Turfan, Xinjiang. The Manik谷s had hymn poetry in bound form, probably based on a regular accent pattern.

The literary heritage from the era of the Sasanids (225-651) is also largely lost. A small number of preserved royal inscriptions mainly derive from Shapur I and glorify the ruler’s holdings in forms similar to those of the acemenids. Furthermore, there are inscriptions from the twentieth century by the Zoroastrian leader Karter, which describes a journey during the trans companies to the realm of death, a theme that reappears in various forms in Nypersian literature and which has touch points with Dante’s “Divina Commedia”. During the Sasanids, Iran received cultural and literary impulses from India, which then reached Europe through Syrian, Hebrew and Arabic mediation. This includes the fabled collection “Kalila and Dimna” and the stories in “Thousand Fairy Tales”, one of the main sources for “Thousand and One Nights”. These Middle Persian collections are lost. Most of the preserved Middle Persian book literature created during the Sasanidic period is compiled first during the Islamic era, e.g. theological compilations such as “Denkard”, “Bundahishn” and “Datistan in Denik” but also minor profane fragments such as “Ayyatkar in Zareran”, with material from Iran’s legendary history, and a depiction of how the chess game was introduced from India in the 500’s.

After Iran began to Islamize, it took a few hundred years before a new Persian literary language was created, written in Arabic script and in literary forms that followed Arabic patterns. The first prose is dominated by translations from Arabic, and poetry has been adapted to the quantitative Arabic verse and the strict final rhyme of Bedouin poetry. The poetry genres follow Arabic models, although pre-Islamic influences are discerned. Early on are the four genres that dominated up to our days; qasida, ghasel, robai and masnavi. All have quantitative verse measurements; masnavine, with paired rhymed half-verses, is especially suited for epic poetry.

The first named poems can be found in the 9th century at the Sami court in Samarkand and Bukhara, far beyond the borders of present-day Iran. The language of literature was already well developed and the poetic forms established. Portal figure Rudaki was written in the four main genres. Some of his ghazels are still read, while only fragments are preserved by his epic poetry in masnavi form. At the same court appeared a generation later Daqiqi, who laid the foundation for “Shah-name”. At the same time, the prose was developed; Mansur I, in 931, gave his vesir Balami the assignment to transfer parts of at-Tabari’s world history from Arabic to Persian, and a group of scholars translated the same author’s Quranic commentary. These still preserved translations became the starting point for a rich historical and theological literature in Persian.

The historical epic reached its peak when Ferdawsi completed “Shah-name” (c. 1000), a poem that merges mythological, legendary and historical fabric into a national chronicle that shaped Iranian national consciousness up to our days. The subsequent Ghaznavidian dynasty was of Turkish origin, but nevertheless Persian poetry and science flourished at its court in Ghazna. There, poets who developed the panegyric qaside and the lyrical gazelle gathered and laid the foundations for the use of the masnavi form for romantic epics, including Mahmud Ghaznavi’s principal poet Onsori (died about 1040)). Only fragments are preserved by his three romantic epics. A preserved example of this early Eastern romance poem is “Varqa and Golshah” by the otherwise unknown Ayyuqi, a simply told story of two lovers who are separated and driven to death by their love. More significant is the romantic epic “Vis and Ramin” (c. 1048) by Fakhr ad-Din Asad Gorgani. The intrigue of love is complicated and erotically outspoken, strangely similar to the triangle drama in “Tristan and Isolde”, and seems to go back to an ancient Parthian story. The romantic epic peaked with Nezami from Ganja. His five Masnavi poems are written in different verse sizes and are second to none in his refined, multilayered symbolism. Successful successors include India’s resident Amir Khosraw and Nureddin Jami from Herat.

From the 11th century, Sufism, Islamic mysticism, became increasingly influential in Persian poetry, first in eastern Iran. Sufi Sheikhs like Abu Said ibn Abil-Kheyr (d. C. 1049) and Ansari (1006-88) took up profane poems in their spiritual exercises. Masnavin was adapted for didactic-religious use, first by the Shiite propagandist Naser-e Khosraw and then by Sanai, whose “Hadiqat ol-haqiqa” (1928; “The Garden of Truth”) is considered the first Sufi scholarly poem. The genre reached perfection through Attar from Nishapur in the 12th century and the unmatched master Jalal ad-Din Rumi in the 13th century and his “Masnavi-ye manavi” (“Masnavi of the true meaning”). An early thriving genre was robin, called “four-row” after its four half-verses, originally used for aphoristic poetry, similar to the epigram. The quadruplets attributed to astronomer and mathematician Omar Khayyam have reached world renown through Edward Fitzgerald’s free English interpretations (“Rub芍iy芍t of Omar Khayy芍m”, 1859).

The main poetry remained significant until the end of the 19th century. The chief poets’ special form was the qasidan, mainly used to sing princes and great men, but also for satire directed at the enemies of the prince. In addition to Onsori, at the ghaznavidian court, Farrokhi (died about 1038) and Manuchihri. During the following Seljuq dynasty, the qas side was brought to blossom also in central and western Iran. There, Moezzi (dead about 1125) appeared under Malek Shah and Anvari (dead 1170) under Sultan Sanjar as well as the learned Azarbayan poet Khaqani and the famous Rashid ad-Din Vatvat, especially for his sharp satires. In recent times, Qaani from Shiraz (1808-54) achieved fame.

The most characteristic creation of Persian literature is the lyrical poem form ghasel, which probably has a legacy of pre-Islamic love and wine songs and which from the 1100’s also had to express religious and mysterious experiences. Most of the poets mentioned created ghasel. Some, e.g. Khaqani, preferably dealt with worldly themes, while others, e.g. Jalal ad-Din Rumi and Fakhr ad-Din Iraqi delivered purely Sufisian messages. Soon, however, a lyric emerged that balanced literal-erotic to symbolic-mysterious content, without differing interpretations from one another. The norm-forming 13th century poet Sadi from Shiraz developed this type of ghazel, which was then perfected by his compatriot Hafez. Its gazelle poetry, in its subtle versatility, captivates readers of our time and has had significance for poets like Goethe. After Hafez, a more complicated style developed in the Gaza poetry, the so-called Indian; many Persian poets worked in India. Leading was Saib (1601-77) and the one in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan still read Bidil (died 1720).

The classic Persian poetry written over 400 years, from Ferdawsi to Hafez, belongs to world literature. Its prestige in Iran was so great that artistic prose came to play a stealth role. The latter was mainly used in history, theology and philosophy. In doing so, it was embellished with style features borrowed from poetry and gradually became more and more artificial. Here are philosophers such as Avicenna, historians like Bayhaqi (died 1078) and Rashid ad-Din Fazlollah, cinemas like Nezami from Ganja and literary historians like Dawlatshah (14th century). The Sufic prose literature is of great scope, especially treaties and saints. Sadi founded a special prose style with his artful anecdotes in the collection “Golestan” (‘Blomstergården’).

During the 19th century, Western influence began to influence Persian literature. for a simplification of the traditionally ornate prose style. Shahen Naser ad-Din published e.g. travelogues in a simple language. Letterpress art was introduced, and towards the end of the century newspapers and magazines began to be published. Translations, especially from French were published, e.g. Dumas, Moli豕re and Voltaire. From the beginning of the 20th century, a number of journals, often published abroad for reasons of censorship, took a lively part in the political movement that led to Iran obtaining a constitution in 1906. During the so-called constitutional revolution, Persian literature developed rapidly from a concentration on classic, world-used themes. to address current issues. It first affected the prose, who introduced Western forms such as the novel and the novel. Especially the short story was successful, beginning with the collection “It Was Once” by Mohammad Ali Jamalzade and reached something of a highlight already with Sadeq Hedayat, who published a series of short stories and the remarkable short novel “The blind owl” (1936). Heirs to Hedayat include Sadeq Chubak and Jalal-e Ahmad (1923-69). In recent years, Roman art has also evolved, and as perhaps its foremost practitioner, Mahmud Dawlatabadi (born 1940) is counted, among others. the romance suite “Kelidar” (1-5; not in Swedish translation).

Iran’s traditional literary form, poetry, has also changed under the influence of an increasingly read and translated world literature. The poet who especially detached poetry from the classical forms was Nima Yushij. He has been followed by a long line of poets who use more or less free verses. the female poet Forugh Farrokhzad and Ahmad Shamlu.

Drama and theater

Western sense theater is a relatively late art form in Iran. Traditionally, there were religious passion plays on verses called ta’ziye, known from the 16th century onwards, and different types of comic and satirical folk performances. Ta’ziye addresses the traumatic massacre of the Shiite’s third imam, Husaeyn, and his companion, which took place at Karbala 680. The popular theater consisted of commedia dell’arte-like acting, puppet shows and shadow theater, which were improvised around fixed roles.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Western theater was introduced, mainly through translation of French drama. Several of the enlightenment writers active around the turn of the century also launched the Western type of theater as a means of reaching out with socially critical messages. An early forerunner was Mirza Fath Akhondzade (1812-78), who wrote drama on the Turkish Azeri dialect (Azerbaijani). A national theater was established in Tehran in 1911. However, translated drama remained long dominant, e.g. by Moli豕re, Shakespeare, Chekhov, Shaw, Ibsen and Strindberg. Leading Persian writers also began writing theater, e.g. poet Eshqi (1893-1925)) and novelist Hedayat. During the later Pahlavi era a number of playwrights with rich production appeared. Among the leaders are Gholâm-Hosey Sa’edi (1935-85), Bahram Beyza’i (born 1938) and Akbar Radi (born 1939). The social-critical tradition continued, often with a strong element of religious criticism.

After the Islamic revolution, many dramatists were affected by the new order, and several went into exile, including Sa’edi. Others, after some difficulties, continued to operate in Iran (eg Beyza’i and Radi). Persian drama has continued to develop also during the Islamic Republic, partly in line with official policy and partly with more or less coded regime-critical orientation.


The first Persian film was made as early as 1901 by Shah’s chief photographer Mirza Ebrahim Khan Akkas Bashi (1874-1915). But it would take until 1930 before the first feature film was produced: “Avi va Rabi”, by Avaness Obanian (1896-1960). Obanian also started the first film school with the aim of founding an Iranian film industry. Among other prominent directors during the early audio film of the 1930’s is Abdolhussein Sepenta (1907-69), known among others. for “Ferdowsi” (1934). Both Obanian and Sepenta also made several films in India with actors recruited among the press in Bombay.

The Second World War meant a stagnation period for Iranian film, but then gained international attention with, among other things, Mohammad Ali Daryabegi’s “The Fear of Life” (1948). In 1949, a national film organization was founded which, among other things. ran a cinema business. One of the founders was the critic and later director Farroukh Ghaffari (1921-2006), who also became one of the leaders of a neorealistic trend in Iranian film in the late 1950’s with films such as “Jonoub-e Shahr” (1958). However, because of its harsh depiction of Iranian working class, it was immediately banned.

During the 1960’s, production increased from 25 to about 65 films per year, mostly melodrams and thrillers. Two notable films during the decade were Siamak Yasami’s “Ganj-e-Quarun” (1965), a portrayal of class differences Iran, and “Qeysar” (1969), a social gangster drama by Masoud Kimay (born 1941).

In the 1970’s, the social-critical tendency was reinforced by a new generation of directors, while domestic filmmakers gained important impetus through the annual International Film Festival in Tehran 1972-79. Dariush Mehrjui (born 1939; “Gaav”, 1969), Bahram Beyazi (born 1938; “Ragbar, 1972), Parviz Kimiavi (born 1939;” Mogholha “, 1973), and Sohrab included Shahid Saless (1944-98; ※Tabiat-e-Bijan§, 1975).

The Islamic Revolution of 1979 drove several leading directors on the run and inhibited production dramatically. In 1983, the Farabi Film Foundation was established to finance film projects and to export, import and distribute films. In time, the foundation caused the domestic film industry to recover in part because it excluded Western film. However, the Islamist regime has placed Iranian film under both moral and political censorship of moody and changing harshness, which has forced filmmakers into symbolic rewrites and allegories in social criticism.

The best-known post-revolutionary director is Abbas Kiarostami, with films such as “Under the Olive Trees” (1994), “Taste of Cherry” (1997) – which won the Gold Palm at Cannes – and “Shirin” (2008). Another prominent name is former Revolutionary Guardian Moshen Makhmalbaf (born 1957), who, however, soon came on edge with the regime with titles such as “Gabbeh” (1996) and started his own film school in 1996. He and his family, among others. wife Marzieh Makhmalbaf (born 1969; “The day I became a woman”, 2000) and daughters Samira Makhmalbaf (born 1980; “The Apple”, 1998) and Hana Makhmalbaf (born 1988, “Buddha fell from shame”, 2008) over the last 20 years has become something of a separate film industry. Asghar Farhadi won an Oscar for best foreign film and a Gold Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for “Nader and Simin – A Separation” (2011). His “The Salesman” (2016) was also awarded with an Oscar for best foreign film.

Other directors who work in strong opposition to the regime include Jafar Panahi (born 1960) with films such as “The Circle” (2000), awarded with the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, “Women offside” (2006) and the documentary “This Is Not a Film” §(2011). The latter film was made in collaboration with director colleague Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (born 1971).



In present-day Iran, many cultures have worked through the millennia. However, two fundamental trends in both art and architecture can be discerned: the urban tradition, founded in the Mesopotamian-influenced Elam in western Iran, and the nomadic, whose parameters were the campfire, tent and mobility.

Imaging art can first be said to appear in the Neolithic settlements, e.g. Ganj Dareh in western Iran (c. 8400-6800 BC), where figurines of unburned clay representing animals and humans were found. The production of decorated ceramics provided new opportunities for individual expression: from Tepe Hissar in northern Iran and from Susa in Elam, geometrically decorated vessels originate from stylized animal representations, which exhibit both their own stylistic qualities and influence from Mesopotamia.

Through the distance trade of lapis lazuli and carnelian during the 3000-2000 BC. Elam’s influence grew, and new cities emerged along the trade routes. In the Shahdad oasis in eastern Iran, a number of portrait statues of unburned clay of almost natural size have been found. To the south, Tepe Yahya was a major production center for steatite vessels. During the third millennium BC the metal craft also spread throughout Iran; Through grave plundering and illegal export, the bronze objects from Luristan have come to pay particular attention. From the Iron Age (c. 1350-500 BC) comes a series of treasure finds with rich goldsmiths’ work, often with figural decor. Among the most important places are Marlik, Hasanlu, Ziwiye and Nush-i Djan.

Under the Persian great kings, elements from the urban and nomadic traditions were united, largely due to the highly diversified corps of craftsmen at the disposal of the rulers. The Akemenids, especially Dareios I (dead 486 BC), completed the Mesopotamian tradition of using art as propagandistic means of rock reliefs at Naqsh-i Rustam. Other important examples of depicting art are the glazed brick mosaics from Susa and the large column halls’ figure capitals, often with grab and bull head motifs. Exquisite specimens of acemenidic jewelry, also characterized by intricate animal ornaments, can be found in the Oxus tax. The magnificent refined tribal scenes from Persepolis, sculpted in low relief, show the influence of Greek plastic.

During the master’s rule, Iranian art gradually deviated from the Hellenistic ideals that characterized the Seleucid era and assumed a pronounced frontal character, as evidenced by numerous sculptural finds (Marv, Hatra, Shami). In the Sasanid court art, the pursuit of Iranian continuity continued. of the rock reliefs at Naqsh-i Rustam and Taq-i Bostan. The gold and silver forging was characterized by a highly driven sense of form and technical skill. Examples of this are the so-called “Solomon’s beaker” in gold and engraved rock crystal (now in the Biblioth豕que Nationale in Paris) as well as barrels, beaker and jugs in repouss谷, with hunting and fighting motifs. For the auditorium in the palace in Ktesifon, one of the legendary works of textile art was produced: the so-called “Khusrovs spring mat” of silk, gold and precious stones. The carpet has not been preserved,

Islamic art

The Islamic art of Iran has its origins largely in a court culture and is characterized by a refined and poetic character in the visual arts and in a high quality craftsmanship. Despite repeated invasions, Iran has a long and unbroken art tradition, which also affected the surrounding areas.

In the oldest Islamic art, there is a lingering Sasanid character. During the early independent dynasties (eg buyids and Sami times), a strong ceramic tradition was created, especially in northeastern Iran (Khorasan) and the metal crafts and textile arts were developed. In the ceramics, influences from China in the 900’s are marked by objects with white bottom glaze, powerfully painted, sometimes carved decor (sgraffito) with arabesques, calligraphy and figures in mainly dark brown and red on white bottom or a combination of green, brown and yellow. Manufacturing sites were mainly Nishapur and Samarkand, later also eg. Sari and Amol in northeastern Iran. Bronze metal objects (jugs, incense burners and other utensils) were decorated with molded and engraved ornaments and calligraphic inscriptions.

Recurring influences from Central Asia (the Seljuqs) and China (Mongols and Timurids) brought art to the eastern style, e.g. a Mongolian beauty ideal in figure making, Chinese cloudbands, lotus, peacocks and dragons in the decor.

During the Seljuqs and the Mongolian Ilkhan dynasty, the ceramic crafts were mainly developed in Gorgan, Rayy and Kashan in central Iran with a wide variety of glazes and decor forms, often figurative motifs as in the so-called mini- ceramics, and metallic gloss glaze glaze on white or cobalt blue base, underglaze decor and polychrome decor. A thinner and stronger cargo allowed lighter shapes. In the 1300’s, blue-white decorations also came with a Chinese design language (Sultanabad). In the metal art a new technique was introduced with inlaid decor of silver and brass in bronze with figurative scenes and ornaments.

From the 1300’s, Iran became the center for the development of miniature painting. The influence of Chinese painting is noticeable, for example. in the illustrations to Jami al-Tawarikh by Rashid ad-Din, painted in Tabriz 1306. During the timurides, the Persian miniature was designed in its classic form, mainly in Shiraz and Herat, with motifs from classical Persian poetry (eg Ferdawsi, Nezami also Hafez). The miniatures, which were originally illustrations only in books but also became independent works of art from the 17th century, were painted with watercolor on paper and depict scenery in landscapes or richly decorated interiors in an idealized, stylized reproduction. The composition is built on the game between surfaces and lines without light or shadow action or a realistic perspective presentation. The colors are clear and brilliant, enhanced with gold and silver.

Under the safavids came a new, pleasing character in the art and a new fluid line game in figure drawing and motifs. Pattern woven silk and velvet fabrics and knotted rugs of high quality were manufactured, among other things. in Kashan and Esfahan, e.g. The “hunting mat” of silk in the Royal. House of Commons, Stockholm, from the 16th century. In the miniature art, a thin ink drawing with sparse coloring is now often used as at Riza Abbasi (died 1635) in Esfahan.

A European influence is evident from the 18th century in both the craftsmanship and the visual arts and is reinforced during the Qajar dynasty (19th century) in the glass art, enamel and lacquer works, in the miniature painting and in a new large-scale oil painting, mainly full-portrait.



The oldest reconstructed buildings date from Neolithic settlements (from the 8th century BC). They include both semi-permanent wooden cabins (Tepe Guran) and rectangular two-story clay houses (Ganj Dareh and Ali Kosh). Rectangular multi-room buildings also appeared early (around 5000 BC) in other parts of Iran, such as in Tepe Sialk on the central high plateau and Tall-i Bakun in the south. The wooden house architecture in the largely ancient wooded mountain areas has almost completely been lost. Clay tile remained the dominant building material until modern times.

The urbanization process in Elam developed under close contact with Mesopotamia. Remains from the time around 3000-1200 BC has been found in the main cities of Susa and Tchogha-Zambil; the latter was provided with an original approx. 60 m high zigqurate. Among the cities that emerged along the trade routes to the east, in particular, Shahr-e Sokhta (c. 3300-1800 BC) contributed examples of well-planned and spatial storage, production and administration buildings.

The immigrant Iranians (Medes and Persians) were affected early by the traits of the established civilizations, such as stone work from Urartu and the Assyrian palace buildings, but at the same time maintained contacts with the nomadic culture from which they originated. There is very little preserved of medical architecture; Excavations, however, have shown that later fundamentally Iranian forms, such as richly decorated columns and auditoriums and podium-lined fire temples, already existed in the 7th century BC. According to Herodotus, the people’s capital Ekbatana had a circular floor plan. Although the claim has so far not been substantiated, circular city plans – perhaps reminiscences of nomadic tent camps and / or expressions of a systematic hierarchical cosmology – are a recurring feature of ancient architecture. Significant examples are Darabjird (near the current Darab),

The extent of the Persian Empire allowed the Akemenid kings to use specialists from widely diverse geographical areas. This provided unique expression possibilities: Egyptian and Phoenician wood and ivory carvers, medical goldsmiths, Babylonian bricklayers and others. contributed to the construction of the royal palace. The eclectic feature was further enhanced by the use of ionic architects and stone carvers. The palace is characterized by tall, platform-like foundations and large column halls. Clear examples can be found in the old capital Pasargadae and in Persepolis, with Dareios I’s apadana(Audience Hall), and Artaxerxes I’s gigantic (70 m ℅ 70 m) throne room. The appearance of the palace facades can also be studied in the rock tombs that the Akemenids had carved at Naqsh-i Rustam.

The earliest examples of Parthian building art are mainly located outside Iran, particularly in Hatra and Mithridakirt (now Nisa in Turkmenistan). Characteristic was the use of domes and large arched, three-tiered entrance halls. These elements were further developed during the Sasanids, in order to finally be included in the Islamic architectural tradition (compare iwan). Significant examples of Sasanian building art are the remains of the royal palace Taq-i Kisra in Ktesiphon, with an approximately 30 m high thin arch in burnt brick, and the large fire shrine in Takht-i Suleiman.

Islamic time

The Iranian architecture, which has been stylistic for large parts of the eastern Islamic area, is characterized by clarity in pure architectural forms such as the pointed arch, the iwan, the open portal room, the slightly bulbous domes, high round minarets and interconnecting facade surfaces. The building material is a burnt, gray-yellow brick with decorative surface-covering multicolored glazed tile. The central monumental building is the mosque but monumental character also has madrasas (theological schools), tombs, caravans serials, bridges and palace and garden facilities in recent centuries.

Among the oldest preserved mosques are the T芋rik Kh芋na Mosque in Damghan (7th century), erected in the Arab Oriental tradition, and the Friday mosque in Nayin (9th century). The heavy, low walls and columns are covered by richly sculpted stucco ornaments. Of greatest interest from the early period is the Sabbath’s tomb monument in Buchara from the first half of the 9th century, erected in patterned brick partially imitating basket braid. The dome over the cubic building body is carried by trumps. During the Seljuq dynasty (the 11th-11th centuries), the Iranian-style open square four-iwan courtyard was developed with portico in one or two floors with a high pointed arch towards an interior open space on each side. The Seljuqs also introduced the decorative use of polychrome tiles, mainly in blue shades, sometimes with luster glaze, which came to cover increasingly large areas of the underlying brick both in the interiors and on facades, domes and minarets. The shiny tile concealed the construction and gave a new emphasis on surfaces and facades. During this time, the so-called stalactite vault also developed,muqarnas. The main building of the period is Masjid-i-Jami in Esfahan, erected in the 11th century (later added). During seljuqerna also introduced madrassah with four-iwan-yard, representing four theological directions in Islam. The oldest of more than fifty preserved high tombs from the Ghaznavid and Seljuq era is Gunbad-e Qabus in northern Iran from 1006.

The Mongols further developed the Seljuq traditions with high dome-covered central spaces, e.g. in Uljaitus mausoleum in Sultaniye, erected 1302-12 with double dome. The architecture of the Timurids during the 1400’s was characterized by the increased use of surface-covering tiles and the large screen facades, pishtaq, around the opening of the ivan. The Gauhar-e-Shad mosque in Mashad (1419) and the so-called Blue Mosque in Tabriz (1465) are examples of the Timurids’ consummation of the design and use of the tile as decorative material. The main monumental buildings of the Timurids are located in present-day Uzbekistan, such as Timur’s tomb, Gur-e Mir, in Samarkand.

The same design language, but with further emphasis on monumentality, was continued in the Safavidian (16th-16th century) architecture, especially in Esfahan, which in its grandness was called nesf-e-jahan, ‘half the world’. The architecture of the Qadjar rulers during the 19th century has a more intimate character with pavilions in large garden plants, such as Hasht-i-Behest (The Eight Paradise) in Esfahan and Naranjestan (Orange Garden) in Shiraz. The modern architecture of Iran is built in the Western style with individual monumental buildings inspired by older Iranian traditions. See also Islamic architecture and Islamic garden art.


Contemporary Greek writings mention the presence of hymns and military music in the ancient Persian Empire, and archaeological finds show that instruments such as trumpet, lute, harp and drum were used. During the centuries before the Arab conquest, music was of high status, and a system of mode was in use. Since Iran was incorporated into the Muslim world in the 600’s, Persian musicians and scholars (including Avicenna) came to play an important role in music throughout the Islamic cultural field for many centuries.

In the 19th century, a distinctive design of the Middle Eastern maqam musicization (see Arabic music) was developed in Iran. A classical repertoire (radif) of 300-400 gushe (musical pieces) was arranged in twelve parent groups, dastgah, where a performance took the form of a suite. Since different gushe within the same dastgah have different tonal materials, modulations (while maintaining basic tone but between different scales and tonal centers) are an essential part of the dastgah concept. A common cadence formula (prec) leads back to the basic tonality. A gushe has no definitive melodic and rhythmic form but is embodied by an improvising soloist (singer or instrumentalist). In the latter 19th century, people became increasingly interested in ensemble playing by European model. In addition to solo designs by daramad (an introductory presentation of a dastgah’s melodic basic material) and by various gushe, the dastgah performance now also included composed pieces for small ensemble or soloist: pishdaramad (overture which opens the suite), chaharmezrab (virtuoso soloist piece), tasnif (song) and pure (dance piece with which the performance ends). Among the instruments are marked long neck closures (sets and tar), chopping board (santur), flute (nay) and vase-shaped drum (tombak). The classic dastgah music has always been a concern for a small crowd of musicians and connoisseurs. With the events of 1979, Shia, with its restrictive attitude to musical activity, has had a stronger impact, and many dastgah musicians now act in exile.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, especially in Tehran, Western influence was strong; Western classical music and Western-influenced popular music were entertained. In addition, in the rich flora of various popular forms of music, there were styles closely related to those in the Arab Middle East, with native classical music and with various indigenous folk traditions.

The different folk music traditions in Iran reflect ethnic and regional diversity (compare Kurdish music). Among the vocal forms of music is the recitation of the Qur’an, but also of religious and narrative verses, often performed by semi-professional specialists. Furthermore, there are banknotes, heroic and lyrical songs as well as love songs. Lutes are often used for singing accompaniment and for religious ceremonies. The instruments also include strings, shells, double clarinets, cymbals and various types of drums. At weddings and other social events, dances and entertainment occur as well as songs as well as instrumental music, soloist or in small ensembles. The music work is of low status and is often practiced by non-Muslims.

Iran Arts and Literature