Calligraphy in architecture is a unique Iranian approach to architectural embellishment.
Iranians’ passion for using script as an artistic impression goes back to pre-Islamic times but it is the work of Islamic era calligraphers and illuminators that elevated its use into the high art we appreciate today. Encouraged by the Islamic preference for the art of calligraphy over representational arts, it developed from epoch to epoch and from style to style.
Its incorporation as an architectural component, being decorative, informative or educative has created unique expressions. Many different styles, techniques, glazes and textures are explored to give maximum impact. Often depicting the word of God, these decorative panels have been designed to enhance the spiritual air of mosques and prayer halls as well as giving them a distinctively Iranian architectural scale and style. There are very many exquisite examples, here we introduce you to some of our favourites, each with their own inimitable approaches and characters.
Tomb of Qabus, Gonbad e Qabus, Golestan Province. This unusual mausoleum, some 55m high and on a complicated decagon plan, dates from the 11th century. The external Cufic script friezes, realised in brickwork, announce the name of the interned poet-artist-prince Qabus ibn Voshmgir.
The Oljeito Mihrab, Jameh Mosque, Isfahan. A gorgeous carved plaster mihrab with Quranic verses and delicate floral design from the 14th century. It was a dedication from the Sultan Uljetu, a Mongol ruler who converted to Islam.
Natanz Jameh Mosque, Natanz. This early example of Ilkhanid architecture dates from the 14th century and has exquisite turquoise, blue and white tiled calligraphy friezes of Quranic text.
The dome of Gohar Shad Mosque, Mashhad. A magnificent simple turquoise dome from the 15th century, with elegant and minimal Cufic lettering proclaiming the singularity of God. It is a timeless beauty and an essay in the splendour of simplicity.
Abassi Jameh Mosque, Isfahan. This majestic mosque complex (dating from the 17th century) is sited on the south side of the Nagsh e Jahan Square and is home to some of the most elaborate and intricate uses of stylised and decorated calligraphy in Iran. The mosque and its iwans are richly decorated in exquisite glazed tiles enhanced by religious texts and Quranic verses.
Tehran University Mosque, Tehran. The first of many modern mosques in Iran and completed in the 1960s, the mosque’s design draws on both modern and traditional styles. It is distinguished from other modern structures by its innovative use of calligraphy. Realised in glazed tiles using traditional techniques, the religious texts are scribed in a contemporary manner with modern stylisation.