Gunbad-i ‘Ala al-Din

‘This one […] was tenanted by an opium fiend who looked up from cooking his lunch to tell us that it was his home and 3000 years old.’

Gunbad Ala al-Din - Byron
The Gunbad-i ‘Ala al-Din. Photo by Robert Byron (archnet).

On the 10th of October 1933, Byron records in his travel journal three monuments: two tomb towers, and one mosque.
The first tomb tower he mentions is the 
Tughril Tower, the second is the Gunbad-i ‘Ala al’-Din. Again, Byron does not spend too many words in describing the architectural and ornamental features of the tomb tower: he simply gives the reader a funny anecdote of what happened during his visits: a weird guy, an opium addict, lives in the tower.

Apart from this, Byron provides really scant information over this tomb tower, as he did for the Tughril Tower. From his travelogue, we only know that this tower is provided with a roof, whereas the roof probably had collapsed in the Tughril Tower.
Once again, given that the author himself claims that his whole journey was inspired by a photo of the Gunbad-i Qabus, it is quite strange that he spends so few words on this tomb tower.

The Gunbad-i ‘Ala al-Din was completed in 1289, during the Ilkhanid period: the origins of its architectural features are once again the Seljuk tradition of tomb tower.
As always when it comes to tomb towers, the main features are the vertical projection and the external decoration. The height of the tower is underlined by the triangular shafts that run around the outer cylindrical surface up to the conical, external, roof. This external conical roof, in fact, covers the internal, spherical one. This is a very common feature in tomb towers, and in general in Iranian domes.

The upper part of the cylindrical shaft, Gunbad-i ‘Ala al-Din. Photo by Marie-Thérèse Ullens de Schooten (archnet).

Just below the conical roof of the tomb, we find an inscription band. Unfortunately, no much information on the inscription is to be found. From the photos of the tower, it is impossible to recognize any of the letters that composed the inscription band. Based on the period and on the similar monuments, it is probable that the inscription was realized in Kufic characters.
The exterior is totally realized in baked bricks and tiles: this juxtaposition has been praised by many authors. The tomb tower of ‘Ala al-Din is considered to display ‘the finest combination of glazed tilework and massive brickwork prior to the introduction of all-over mosaic tiles’, as George Michell in his 
Architecture of the Islamic World: Its History and Social Meaning puts it. The decoration of this tomb tower is austere and yet exemplary of its period.

Byron himself, comparing it to the Tughril Tower, describes it as ‘more graceful’, despite being ‘less monumental’.


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