Saturday, July 20, 2019

Iran | Sultaniyya | Mausoleum of Ilkhan Ölziit

Wandered by the town of Sultaniyya, site of the mausoleum of Öljeitü (Ölziit in Mongolian), the eighth Ilkhan. Ölziit was the great-grandson 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. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

Universe | H. P. Lovecraft

After a hard day of playing the role of Flâneur in Venice I have been spending my evenings dipping into the new Library of America edition of H. P. Lovecraft: Tales.  Here is the inimitable Lovecraft on New York City:

“a tangle of material and spiritual putrescence from which the blasphemies of a hundred dialects assail the sky . . . I saw the yellow, squint-eyed people of that city, robed horribly in orange and red, and dancing insanely to the pounding of fevered kettle-drums, and the clatter of obscene crotala, and the maniacal moaning of muted horns whose ceaseless dirges rose and fell undulantly like the waves of an unhallowed ocean of bitumen.”
I am willing to bet you do not know what a “crotala" is. I had to go the 20-plus volume Oxford Unabridged Dictionary to find out. A “crotale” is “A type of castanet used mainly in Latin-American music.” And far be it from me to quibble with Lovecraft, but the plural of crotale would appear to be crotalum, and not crotala, as he has it. But why, I must ask, is a crotale “obscene”? And how about that “unhallowed ocean of bitumen”? A ocean of bitumen is scary enough, but an “unhallowed” ocean of bitumen? That is really, really frightening. 

Of course it was just not New York that Lovecraft could not stomach:
"I hated the mocking moon, the hypocritical plain, the festering mountain . . . Everything seemed to me tainted with a loathsome contagion, and inspired by a noxious alliance with distorted hidden powers."
My feelings exactly. In particular the hypocritical plain, just pretending to be flat and even, has always annoyed me. And in fact, it was not just the Earth that Lovecraft was revolted by. He also loathed:
“unknown spheres and powers . . . the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe's utmost rim.”
I had hoped that this new edition would shed some light on that much-reviled occult text the Necronomicon, which Lovecraft used as source material, but it now appears its author, the unspeakably vile Abdul Alhazred, was devoured by a flesh-eating demon in broad daylight in the copper-ware market of Damascus and is thus no longer available for interviews. I might add that Abdul Alhazred was not, repeat not, a follower of the Greek neoplatonist philosopher Proclus (410 - 485 A.D.), despite what some woefully misinformed people may have claimed. For a thorough demolition of this absurd assertion see Fragments of the Lost Writings of Proclus.