Soltaniyeh is one of the architectural gems of Iran that has been added to UNESCO heritage sites. This magnificent monument was built during the reign of Sultan Mohammad Khodabandeh who is mostly known by the name of Olijeitu. It’s located in the historical city of Soltaniyeh which was the capital of Ilkhanid dynasty since 1302 to 1312. It’s located in Zanjan province in northwest of Iran and is one of the most prominent tourist attractions of that area. Want to know why Soltaniyeh is such an admired monument? Read on.
It’s the largest brick dome in the world
A spectacular building with the main elements of Seljuk style of architecture, Soltaniyeh is a large brick dome that leaves the observer speechless with its simple yet gorgeous appearance. It presents some of the best examples of wall paintings, plaster decorations, brick muqarnas, wooden and stony decorations of Ilkhanid dynasty.
It’s noteworthy that the Soltaniyeh Brick Dome is the third tall dome in the world with Santa Maria Cathedral of Florence and Hagia Sophia of Istanbul being the first and the second.
As Soltaniyeh Dome is often referred to as one of the best examples of post-Islamic architecture in Iran, visiting this adorable monument must be part of your itinerary especially if you are an architecture enthusiast.
History of Soltaniyeh Dome
The starting point of building this dome was at 1302 and finishing the construction took 10 years. Olijeitu, the king of Mongols in Iran converted to Islam during the construction process of the dome. After becoming a devout Muslim, he wanted to move the grave of Imam Ali (a highly respected character for Shia Muslims) from Najaf to this building but as the Shia scholars didn’t agree, he decided to use the soil of Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf – which is regarded as a sacred soil for Shia people – for constructing Soltaniyeh and decided that this building must be used as his mausoleum.
After the death of King Olijeitu, Soltaniyeh and Zanjan Province were never the capital cities of Iran again. But this gorgeous monument is enough for many tourists to choose Zanjan as one of their destinations while traveling in Iran.
The Architectural Characteristics
This dome is a three story building as most Seljuk architectural structures. The first story of it features a quadrilateral shape while the second and third levels of the building are octagonal. The dome displays eight minarets that have added to the glory of the whole monument and help protect the dome when earthquakes happen. It’s said that the number of eight for the minarets and porches of this building were originally inspired by the idea of “eight doors of heaven”. Although the dome of Soltaniyeh is made of brick, its turquoise mosaic tiled cover has given a delicate look to it. The decorations of the building reflect two different styles in a way that scholars believe it to have been ornamented in two different times and with two distinct artistic tastes. Apparently, this change of taste was a result of different political and religious preferences that had led to change in the interior design of Soltaniyeh. The building is divided to sections with different functions. Let’s find out about them.
One of the most interesting sections of Soltaniyeh Dome is Torbat Khaneh which is located on the southern side of it. Torbat means holy soil in Farsi and this name is given to this section since the wall of its Mihrab (Prayer Niche) is scripted with soil of Imam Hossein Shrine which is very sacred for Shias.
Located on the southern side of the building and right under the Torbat Khaneh, Sardabeh is where Olijeitu was buried. Low height of the entrance of this section makes you bow inevitably as a display of respect to the deceased king of Ilkhanid dynasty.
This section is the interior part where the dome is placed. Here you can see a double shelled dome which is 50 meters high and is resistant to earthquake. This section of the building has several windows that let light in and used to work as a clock.
When the sunshine could enter the building through the main hole of the dome, it meant that it was time for the prayer of the noon. The light that shone through the large windows displayed the hour and the light shone through the smaller windows displayed the minutes. This genius characteristic of Soltaniyeh Dome is one of the many reasons that you should plan to visit it before leaving Zanjan.
Exquisite Inscriptions of the Dome
As you enter the Soltaniyeh Dome, you get astonished by the wall decorations and inscriptions that have made it look like a piece of turquoise glowing in the heart of a vast land. Aside from all of the beautiful delicate decorations of the building, Quranic inscriptions of the walls of this monument are just mesmerizing. All of the walls of the dome and the walls of the first level of the building are covered by Sura of Al-Fat-h (one of the chapters of Quran). The entrance of the mausoleum of the king is artistically decorated by another chapter of Quran known as Ayat-al-Korsi. In addition, if you enter the porch of the first floor you’ll see it’s decorated by Sura of Tohid.
Other parts of Soltaniyeh monument are covered by Sura of Al-Anbia, Al-Momenoun and Al-Molk, names of Prophet Muhammad, Imam Ali and several religious phrases.
It’s not surprising that almost every traveler who visits this UNESCO heritage site feels the spiritual aura of Soltaniyeh Dome at the first moment of entering it. It’s undoubtedly one of the most admired architectural structures of post- Islamic Iran.
In the entrance of Soltaniyeh monument, you can see an archeological museum that can be visited during the weekdays. Plates, coins, tiles and other goods from the Ilkhanid era that have been found from Soltaniyeh historic site are displayed in this museum.
How to reach?
For visiting Soltaniyeh Dome, you have to travel to Zanjan province and make your way to Soltaniyeh city which is such a lovely and humble town. Simply ask the locals and they’ll show you which street you need to reach in order to find Soltaniyeh dome. Entering the monument is possible every day of the week except the official mourning days of the country.