The Shrine of the Twelve Imams

The Shrine of the Twelve Imams, for example, has a frieze of Kufic

On the 20th of March 1934, Robert Byron visited, together with the Friday Mosque of Yazd and the Vaqt-i Sa’at, the Shrine of the Twelve Imams, located in the same city.

Byron’s mention of the monument is very brief:

“The Shrine of the Twelve Imams, for example, has a frieze of Kufic in the same style as that inside the Pir Alam Dar at Damghan, which dates from the eleventh century.”

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General view. Photo by Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan Bloom (archnet).

It is nice to notice how Byron, for once, does not compare the monument he is visiting to European monuments, as frequently happens, particularly in the first part of the travelogue. In this case, Byron compares the inscription in Kufic to another frieze he saw in an Iranian monument, the Gunbad-i Pir-i ‘Alamdar.

Before talking about the inscription, let’s see what is the Shrine of the Twelve Imams in Yazd. Its construction dates back to the Kakuyid dynasty. Much like the Buyids, the Kakuyids were of Daylamite origins and ruled the area of Yazd during the so-called Iranian intermezzo. The dynasty was shortlived and was founded by Ibn Kākūya, who died in 1041. They ruled independently at first, and afterward under the control of the Seljuks.

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Detail of the zone of transition and Kufic frieze. Photo by Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan Bloom (archnet).

The construction of the Shrine of the Twelve Imams was ordered by two military governors of the Kakuyids: Abu Said and Abu Ya’ghub. The construction began in 1036-1037 and later onthe Seljuks added sections and decorated the structure. The building is made of bricks, and inside, the decoration is carried out mainly in carved stucco.

IMG08564
Pir-i ‘Alamdar. Interior with painted inscription at the base of the dome. Photo by Robert Byron (archnet).

Around the dome’s zone of transition stands a beautiful inscription, which most probably is the one Byron is referring to. The style of the inscription clearly resembles the one running around the zone of transition of the Pir-i ‘Alamdar (1026-1027). In the case of the Pir-i ‘Alamdar, that inscription contains a Qur’anic passage and features pretty much the same level of ornamentation as this one.

Unfortunately, so far, I was not able to find a reading of the inscriptions of the Shrine of the Twelve Imams.

The main point here is to appreciate how Byron had become more and more conscious of what he was visiting, so much that he was able to draw connections between different monuments.

Sources

Arthur Upham Pope, “Architectural Ornament”, in Arthur Upham Pope and Phyllis Ackerman (eds.), A Survey of Persian Art, Soroush Press, Tehran 1977, pp. 1258-1364.

Eric Schroeder, “The Seljuk Period”, in Arthur Upham Pope and Phyllis Ackerman (eds.), A Survey of Persian Art, Soroush Press, Tehran 1977, pp. 981-1045.

Robert Hillenbrand, Islamic Architecture, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 2000, pp. 291, 294.

And, of course, archnet.org.

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