Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Kordasht Bath

The Kordasht Bath (حمام کردشت) is a historical structure located in the central section of Jolfa in East Azerbaijan province. The Bath and Kordasht Village that it’s situated in are on the southern banks of the Aras River . It is bordered by peaks of Armenia on the northern side and the Kamtal Mountains in the south. Its geographic location enables it to have mild winters and warm summers. Annually the Bath and Village are host to thousands of visitors and tourists.

The Bath was constructed in the midst of a large garden during the Safavid Era during the reign of Shah Abbas. It was built upon Shah Abbas’s orders and originally it was considered a royal bath for use only by royalty. Commissioned by Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar, it underwent some renovation during the Qajar Era which transformed it into its current form. Its appearance aside, one of the changes that Agha Mohammad Khan declaring it open for use by the public. Throughout the years not much maintenance was carried out for the Bath and it ultimately went through natural deterioration. Such was the level of such deterioration that people stopped using the facility and it in effect became an abandoned relic of the past. Following this phase the Kordasht Bath became recognized as one of Azerbaijan ’s historical structures and began attracting visitors.

The Bath has some impressive interior carvings, adding to its charm. From the point of view of internal arrangement and wall paintings it is simply spectacular. Upon entrance a first set of stairs lead to an initial sitting area. A further eight stairs brings you to an octagonal shaped changing room. The changing room has a domed roof which is supported by eight decorated columns. A hallway connects the changing room to another octagonal shaped room that contains the main pool. To its left are two toilets and a smaller pool. This room which is supported by four columns has a waterway that directs hot water into the pool. The room receives natural light via intentional ducts scattered throughout the ceiling.

While the Bath is not currently functional, however, officials from the Cultural Organization of East Azerbaijan are in the process of renovating and upkeeping the Bath to boost tourism.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Soltanieh Dome

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The Soltanieh Dome was erected between 1302 to 1312 and is located in Zanjan province. It is the earliest existing example of the double-shelled dome in Iran and the third largest dome in the world after domes of Florence Cathedral and Hagia Sophia. Much of its exterior decoration has been lost, but the interior retains superb mosaics, faience, and murals. People have described the architecture of the building as “anticipating the Taj Mahal.” It is outstanding by virtue of its innovative engineering structure, spatial proportions, architectural forms and the decorative patterns and techniques. It has 8 elevated porticos and approximately 50 chambers.

The Soltanieh Dome stands in the middle of a rural settlement, surrounded by fertile meadows. The building is octagonal in form, rising to a stunning high-profile dome 50 meters high and covered with turquoise-blue faience tiles. The dome, consisting of two parallel and separate brick layers, is surrounded by eight slender minarets as a decorative feature. A wide band of square Kufic around the drum makes a transition between the light blue and the lapis lazuli blue of the main stalactite cornice. The interior walls were originally adorned with light golden-toned bricks and dark blue faience tiles to form large inscriptions in Kufic. However, in 1313, it was redecorated with plaster, using a rich variety of fine ornaments, often worked in low relief. The second phase of the decoration belongs to the period when the use of the monument as a shia shrine was given up. The decoration of the exterior belongs to the first phase.

Sultan Muhammad Khodabandeh of the Ilkhanid dynasty came to power in 1304 and decided to enlarge the area and make it his capital, naming it Soltanieh. Soltanieh became a major trading center on the route between Asia and Europe in the 14th century. Originally the Soltanieh Dome was meant to house the relics of Imam Ali and his son, Hussein, from Baghdad to Soltanieh. This never happened, though, and the shrine became the mausoleum of Muhammad Khodabandeh instead. After the death of Khodabandeh in 1316, the city started losing in importance, and later it fell in the hands of small local dynasties. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Soltanieh gradually declined and remained in ruins. Some restoration was undertaken in the Soltanieh Dome in the 19th century.

The Soltanieh Dome has been undergoing extensive renovation periodically. In 2008 Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization (ICHTO) refurbished the brick structure's exterior with azure tiles made in traditional kilns over a four-year period. Some 100,000 tiles were used to restore the structure.

In 2005 the World Heritage Committee approved to include the Soltanieh Dome in its list of World Heritage.