The hidden decoration of the Vaqt-i Sa’at

The most elaborate of them

Robert Byron is impressed by the beauty of the monuments of Yazd. In the entry dated 20th March 1934 of his travelogue, he writes down how unexpected it was for him to encounter such beauty.

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Exterior view. Photo by Robert Byron (archnet).

An extraordinary series of simple, egg-domed mausoleums now lured us across the town—extraordinary in that, being built of a brick that was hardly distinguishable from mud, they might have been expected to contain nothing but wreckage. Yet one after another they revealed walls, vaults, and domes painted with bold, plaited Kufic in a style so rich, and at times so distorted, as to lack any known precedent.

And after this passage, where he talks about a series of monuments, not better identified, he mentions, in particular, the Vaqt-i Sa’at, as “the most elaborate of them”.

What is locally called today Masjid-i Vaqt-i Sa’at was originally part of a bigger complex dating back to the Muzaffarid period. It was commissioned by Sayyid Rukn al-Din and comprised a madrasa, a library, a mosque and a mausoleum. The complex, that went under the name Muasasa Vaqt u Sa’at (“The Institute of Time and Hour”), was completed in 1325. The domed building that still stands today is the mausoleum.

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Interior decoration of the dome. Photo by Robert Byron (archnet).

The interior is lavishly decorated, as Byron rightly suggested. The walls are coated in plaster and the decoration is painted, stenciled and carved in low relief. The interior of the dome is of particular interest with its foliage decoration and the inscription bands. The inscription that Byron is referring to, when he talks about “plaited Kufic in a style so rich, and at times so distorted”, is the one that runs around the transition zone of the domed chamber.

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Detail of the interior decoration. Photo Nandini Bagchee (archnet).

 

Sources

Archnet page (for images and further info on the architecture of the monument).

Arthur Upham Pope, ‘The Fourteenth Century’, in Arthur Upham Pope and Phyllis Ackerman (eds.), A Survey of Persian Art, Soroush Press, Tehran 1977, pp. 1089-1090.

Donald N. Wilber, The Architecture of Islamic Iran, Greenwood Press, New York 1969.

 

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