Monday, January 5, 2015

Iran | Sultaniyya | Mausoleum of Ilkhan Öljeitü

Wandered by the town of Sultaniyya, site of the mausoleum of Öljeitü (Ölziit in Mongolian), the eighth Ilkhan. Ölziit was the great-grandson of Khülegü Khan, founder of the Ilkhanate, and the great-great-great-grandson of Chingis Khan. It was Ölziit (r. 1305–1316) who had moved the capital of the Ilkhanate from Tabriz to Sultaniyya, 175 miles to the southeast. At the insistence of his mother Uruk Khatun, a Nestorian Christian, he had been baptized as a Christian and given the name Nicholas. When he was still in his teens, however, he married a Muslim girl, and apparently under her influence he converted to Islam. At first he was a Sunni Muslim, but he eventually became disillusioned by Nit-Picking Sunni Jurists and switched to Shiism. Perhaps to burnish his credentials as a Shiite he hatched a scheme to move the bodies of the two proto-martyrs of Shiism, Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, and Ali’s son Husain, from their shrines in Iraq to Sultaniyya and house them in an enormous mausoleum of his own making. It is not quite clear if he also intended the building to be a mausoleum for himself.  The mausoleum was built, but the plan to move the remains of Ali and Husain to Sultaniyya came to naught.  The building ended up as the repository for Ölziit’s own remains. 
The structure is 161 feet high, with a dome eighty-four feet in diameter, reportedly the third largest brick dome in the world. Larger are the brick domes of the Cathedral of Florence in Italy (138 feet), and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (103 feet). Apart from brick domes, the largest dome in the world is the steel dome of Cowboys Stadium in Texas, built by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the Khülegü of our age (click on photos for enlargements).
For comparison, here is the dome of Hagia Sophia
Mausoleum of Ölziit
Mausoleum of Ölziit
Mausoleum of Ölziit
Mausoleum of Ölziit
Mausoleum of Ölziit
Mausoleum of Ölziit
The vast interior of the mausoleum is undergoing renovation 
Interior of the mausoleum
The interior of the mausoleum was once covered with decoration. This eight-foot high panel is one of few surviving examples.
Catacomb under the mausoleum. This space may have been built for the remains of Ali and Husain.
The open walkway just below the dome
The open walkway just below the dome
Decoration of walkway
Decoration of walkway
Detail of decoration
View of Sultaniyya from open walkway.  Sultaniyya, once the capital of the Ilkhanate, is now a sleepy little town with a population of just over 5000. It is justly famous for its kebabs. 

27 comments:

  1. Such an amazing building! I wonder if you think the fact that it is octagonal might mean something. I mean, they must have meant to build it that way, but did eight-sidedness itself have a meaning for them? I think Oleg Grabar has written something about this in connection with the Dome of the Rock at al-Quds. He thinks the form was used in memorials, memorials in several senses... not only mausoleums for the dead, but could also be enclosing spots where significant events took place.

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  2. I have no idea why the building is octogonal. Literature on the subject is scarce. Apparently the mausoleum, including Ölziit’s tomb, was looted by Amir Timur (Tamurlane) and remained in ruins up until the current restorations.

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  3. Dear D, That's alright, never mind. I just wanted to add that I can't believe what I'm seeing when I double-click on the "Decorations in walkway" photos. Actually, I'm not sure what I *am* seeing. Is that all done with glazed bricks? Or is there some tilework there on the interior? And is any of the outside tilework original? I know Ilkhanid tiles were very popular items for foreigners to collect. I also have a weakness for them (for seeing them, not owning them). They were often done in interesting shapes, with raised designs on them making them kind of frieze-like. The brickwork in general gives an impression of being more like weaving, like very fancy cloth. How did they do that?
    -D.

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  4. I have added a photo with a little more detail. I am afraid I do not have the vocabulary to discuss the materials and design used here. But as you can the brickwork has been augments with some sort of insets. The center lozenge appears to be tile, if that is the correct name for the material. I wish I knew more about these things . . .

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  5. eight sides one for every 4 hours of the day and of the night. a window in each side.

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  6. I assume this refers to why the building is octogonal. However, if each side represent four hours, that would be 32 hours and not 24, as in one day. Could you elaborate on this thesis?

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  7. I have my own math, thank you very much. The one where each side represented 3 hours. 8 x 3 =24hrs. Oh whatever.

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  8. Feel for you . . . I was never good at Math either.

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  9. I think the eight-sidedness is elevated one stage above the "earth". The part of most buildings that connects to the earth is four-sided, but there is a problem transitioning between the square earth and the round dome of the sky (the proverbial circling of the square!). There are practical reasons behind it (lower levels have to be capable of distributing and carrying the 'load' of higher levels), but by incrementally adding more and more sides you get closer and closer to the round part at the top.

    I think this quote makes some good sense of the octagon (it's based in Christian architecture, but I don't think this matters all that much).

    "The architectural legacy of the octagon is vast, numbering baptistries, martyria, palace chapels and chapter houses in its family. Because they have so much in common with each other, both in terms of architectural form and geometric and numerological meaning, and because the octagon may be generated from the circle as well as from the square..."

    p. 200 of Nigel Hiscock, The Symbol at Your Door: Number and Geometry in Religious Architecture of the Greek and Latin Middle Ages.

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  10. Oh, guess what? The chapel at Duke University is going to allow Muslim prayers on Friday! From the tower no less! Now the rest of the students can know when it's time to knock off and drink beer.

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  11. The plan has been nixed. See http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/01/15/duke-muslim-prayers/21821535/
    Beer drinkers will need new cue.

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  12. Reply to Dan. Let’s be glad it was not build in the form of a nonagon; if it were we would have to get into the whole business of enneagrams.

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  13. Yeah, Durham is a pretty redneck town. It's not a good idea to bring all of one kind together anywhere these days. Especially, "the OTHER kind." Only 1 in 20 people have any respect for others' beliefs, as my math teacher showed me in summer school. lol
    Not to worry 4:20 still works for the majority.

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  14. Dan, I can relate to how to get a dome on top of a square, but I still think the windows at the top have something to do with letting in light at all times of the day, according to an Armenian clergyman from Yerevan. But he could have been pulling my leg.

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  15. P.S. Was Karl Lagerfeld a Scientologist?

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  16. I assume this is a continuous of the Duke meme. Thanks for sharing.

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  17. I have said it once, but I will say it again: Armenian clergy from Yerevan should refrain from leg-pulling.

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  18. It was a response to your new blog page header. If Karl thinks he's from another planet, perhaps he's a Thetan, you know? L.Ron's special planet...

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  19. Ilkahns? You know more peoples than most anthropologists!

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  20. “Kaiser Karl” is my favorite designer. Too bad he wasn’t around for the Ilkhans. They loved silk brocade more than Liberace.

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  21. Dear D, I'm in complete agreement on the idea to let light in from all sides. HERE you can see a plan of an octagonal structure at the center of a 6th century church near Antioch. The pillar of Symeon Stylites the younger was at the center of the octagon. Here, too, I think there is the idea of elevating above the earth, in quite a literal way! I saw one of these saints' pillars still standing in Jordan, but I understand there are even more to be seen in Syria. They call the octagonal part made to contain the pillar a 'martyrium,' as it surely was, since these saints lived their whole lives and died on top of the pillar... (Don't try this at home! Well, unless your home is your pillar.)

    I should go look up Oleg Grabar's discussion on octagonal architecture I read some years ago (where was it? Where's my memory?)

    Yours, D

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  22. “The octagonal shape is used as a design element in architecture. The Dome of the Rock has a characteristic octagonal plan. The Tower of the Winds in Athens is another example of an octagonal structure. The octagonal plan has also been in church architecture such as St. George's Cathedral, Addis Ababa, Basilica of San Vitale (in Ravenna), Castel del Monte (Apulia), Florence Baptistery, Zum Friedefürsten church (Germany) and a number of octagonal churches in Norway. The central space in the Aachen Cathedral, the Carolingian Palatine Chapel, has a regular octagonal floorplan. Uses of octagons in churches also include lesser design elements, such as the octagonal apse of Nidaros Cathedral.”

    Most umbrellas are also octagonal, which I am sure is no accident.

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  23. All i can think of is Kaiser Karl in a pair of Octagonal dark glasses sitting atop an ornate octagonal pillar taunting Liberace by dropping strips of silk brocade not large enough to serve as a mat for his candleabra. Oh the cruelity!

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  24. OK, I am sorry I dragged Liberace into this.

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  25. I read somewhere that Liberace had a octagon shaped bed.

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  26. That wouldn't surprise me one bit, he had his own gods!

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