The Gundab-i Bastam: finding inaccuracies in a description

The brickwork has a fine texture

Sometimes it is clearly visible from Byron’s writing, that The Road to Oxiana is not a travelogue compiled during the journey. This is the case with the entry dated 9th of January 1934. Under that date, Byron reports his visit to two monuments of Bastam: the Mashhad-i Bayazid Bastami, and a tomb tower. Byron, after having described the shrine, immediately starts with the description of the tomb tower:

“Near the mosque stands a grave-tower, built at the beginning of the century, whose round shell is encased by small sharp-edged buttresses. The brickwork has a fine texture, which results from the ends of the bricks, as they alternate with the sides, being stamped in a small design.”

On the stylistic point of view, the Gunbad-i Bastam displays the typical features of the tomb towers of the period: made of brick and surrounded by flanges. Byron, even if he does not write it in his travelogue, had already seen a similar construction: the Gunbad-i ‘Ala al-Din in Varamin, that he visited on the 10th of October 1933, some three months before his visit to the Gunbad-i Bastam.


Gunbad-i Bastam. Photo by Robert Byron (archnet).


The Gundab-i Bastam and the Friday Mosque of the city are not far from each other, but it is a fact that they are two separate monuments: Byron locates the two building closer than they actually are. Also, the Friday Mosque is not described, and Byron does not even mention that he visited the building. And we know that he did: he took some photos of the mihrab of the Friday Mosque of Bastam, but for some reason, he did not mention in his travelogue that he visited it.

My guess? Months after, while he was writing The Road to Oxiana, he must have thought that the Mashhad and the Friday Mosque were the same building.

Things get even more confusing (or inaccurate): Byron does not mention the name of the tomb tower he is visiting. In the annotated edition of the book I am using (which is useful, even if the notes are quite superficial), a note informs the reader that the tower Byron is describing is the tomb tower of Abu Yazid. The same label is given by the Conway collections to the two photos of the tower taken by Byron of the tower (1 and 2).

Byron never mentions the name of the tomb tower, and to my knowledge, the tower that he took pictures of, is generally known simply as Gunbad-i Bastam, literally “Tomb tower of Bastam”. The name “tomb tower of Abu Yazid” could have been given based on the proximity of the tomb tower to the shrine of the mystic. But in fact, the tomb tower has little to do with the sufi saint.

The tomb tower was built to commemorate the infant son of Uljaytu (the one of the Dome of Sultaniyya). The remains of the inscription provide the date of construction -1313 A.D.- and interestingly enough, the name of the individual that built the tomb tower: Muhammad ibn al-Husayn. He, most probably, was again part of the al-Damghani family, that took part also in the restoration and construction works in the Shrine of Bayazid Bastami in the same period.

Mihrab of the Friday Mosque of Bastam, attached to which stands the tomb tower. Photo by Robert Byron (archnet).

Further information, as always, is a source of further information and images. The references to other monuments, websites, and books can be found linked directly in the text of the post.


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