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Sarvestan Monument

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Sarvestan Monument

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Sarvestan Monument

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Sarvestan Monument

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Sarvestan Monument

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Sarvestan Monument

Geographical Context and History of Researches

Sarvestan monument is located 13 km south of the city of Sarvestan on the Shiraz-Fasa road in southwest of Iran. The plain, on which the monument is located, is approximately 130 km long from the northwest to the southeast and up to 30 km wide, with a mean elevation of about 1500 m above sea level. The site is placed on a flat terrain with no remarkable geographical outcrop in the surrounding area. The only feature in the immediate vicinity with the subtatial profile is a mound some 270 meters to the north of the building and known locally as Ashpazkhaneh (kitchen). There are also the remains of a small settlement immediately to the west of the building at a distance of 150 m from it creating a slight elevation on the surface of the plain. From the aerial photos it is clear that the building has been surrounded on four sides by walls measuring 100 by 200 meters constructed at a distance of some 30 to 40 meters from it. The monument is locally called Qasr-e Sassan (Sassan’s palace) or Chahar-Taqi (the square with four arches or short barrel vaults), generally known as Sarvastan Palace.

 Sarvestan Monument was first mentioned by W. Ouseley who described it in 1810 as "a brick building constructed in the typical style of Islamic mausoleum architecture.” In 1840 E. Flandin and P. Coste visited the site and produced a plan and five drawings of the building. Comparing its construction to several char-taqs which he assumed to be fire sanctuaries of the Sassanian period, Flandin suggested that the building was actually a palace. Photographs taken by Madam Dieulafoy in 1880 are the earliest available images of the monument. In fact, Reuther's reconstruction of the building in early 20th century is based on Dieulafoy's publication.  As early as 1910, Herzfeld proposed that the building near Sarvestan, "place of cypresses," dates back to the reign of the Sassanian king Bahram V (420-438 AD). To support this position he cited Tabari, who relates that Bahram's minister, Mehr-Narseh, built a palace in a garden containing 12,000 cypress trees in the vicinity of Firuzabad. Additionally, in 1935-37 Eric F. Schmidt took valuable aerial photos of major Iranian sites including this building and its environs.The last and also the main research on Sarvestan monument was carried out in 1970s by Lionel Bier who provided a comprehensive description, comparative study and history of the monument concluding that based on its characteristic architecture, the monument must have been built as a fire temple most likely by the Zoroastrian clergy.

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General Plan of the Monument

Sarvestan monument is a rectangular building measuring approximately 45 m in length and 37.1 m in width. The entrance of the building opens towards the southwest. Despite dividing this rectangular to three ayvans, two lateral ayvans with an equal width and a wider central ayvan, the plan is not symmetrical in interior spaces. The central part of the building consists of a low depth ayvan to the front of a large domed hall leading to a square courtyard placed behind the dome. On both sides of a small ayvan behind the yard, there exist square-shaped rooms with different dimensions. The eastern part of the building is comprised of a small entrance ayvan, a long columned hall, and a high domed chamber with lateral rooms placed on the back. There is less integrity in the western quarter of the building. This part includes a small entrance from the main entrance of the building opening into a domed room. Behind the domed hall, there is a large ayvan which leads from the west side of the building to the domed hall of the central section. After this ayvan, there is a high columned hall and at the back a semi-domed chamber.

 The basic building material used for the walls of Sarvestan is rubble made from large pebbles and broken stones mixed with a generous quantity of calcareous mortar. Unlike the foundations which are unshaved, the upper walls have an external surface of large stones, fractured and roughly dressed on one side with a punch or toothed chisel laid in horizontal courses with oblong stones set either vertically or lengthwise. Joints average 8 cm in thickness.

The Main Façade of the Monument

Reconstruction of the Sarvestan monument is showing the three entrance arches of the façade as being nearly equal in height and incorporated beneath a cornice that continues uninterrupted around the entire building. Two sets of three engaged columns decorated the façade on either side of the main ayvan. The façade has fallen completely in both the western and eastern corners, but the configuration of the exposed footing suggests that engaged columns once decorated these walls.

 The main domed hall of the monument is entered from the south through a broad ayvan 10.56 m wide and 5 m deep that is extended east and west by arched alcoves 2.07 m deep and 5.10 m high. The lower walls of the ayvan terminate at 5.80 m in a stucco molding with a saw tooth (zigzag) frieze.

The Main Domed Hall

A large domed square hall measuring 156 m2 forms the core of the Sarvestan building. It extends to a cruciform plan by four arched recesses each 1.40 m deep, 5.75 m wide and 6.90 m high. Arched doorways pierce the rear wall of each recess providing access from the three adjacent rooms and the open court.The lower walls of the square terminate at a height of 7.80 m in a composite stucco molding consisting of a saw-tooth (Zigzag) frieze set between plain rectangular strips. The walls, squinches and drum are made of stones and the dome is made of bricks but the squinches are built with stones slightly smaller than those used in walls. Function of the domed hall is not clearly known but as the building most probably served as a fire temple; it seems that the hall should have been used as the main place for worshipping fire.

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Internal Courtyard

 An open courtyard was behind the large domed hall (in the north of room 1), nearly square in plan, measuring 14.50 m (east-west) by 15.10 m (north-south). Its original appearance is difficult to visualize because its western wall is completely gone. Unlike the typical intramural court of monumental buildings of the ancient and Islamic Near East, this courtyard was not designed as an entity but was simply defined by the outer walls of the surrounding rooms. These walls were pierced by five doorways of varying dimensions, which were arranged to suite the requirements of the surrounding rooms. Engaged columns, niches, and other features normally employed by builders to articulate extensive wall surfaces are absent.

 There is a staircase located near the southeastern corner of the courtyard adjacent to the doorway to eastern columned hall. It is represented today by its western wall and a portion of its vault, which are built into the exterior northeastern corner of the large domed hall. This stairway could not have served an ordinary purpose, since it begins well above the floor. In this regard, Bier states that: “It is clear, in any case, that the building had no upper story.”

The Eastern Columned Hall

 On the east side of the large domed hall there is a room with a long hall and a plan measuring 19.65 by 8.30 m. The long side walls were fronted, as in western column halls, by six sets of paired columns, which rested on extensions of the wall footing and supported engaged piers. The columns were 1.80 m in hight and stood 0.70 to 0.80 m apart from the long walls.

 The columns of each pair were set 0.08 m apart and supported a stone abacus 1.50 m wide, 0.75 m deep and 0.15 m thick, whose lower edges were roughly beveled and plastered smooth. The two surviving piers project 1.40 to 1.50 m from the wall and are 1.56 m wide, extending slightly beyond the edges of the abaci on three sides. In addition to the six sets of paired columns, four single columns were placed in the corners in line with the others and 0.78 to 0.88 m from the short end walls.

The North eastern Domed Room

 In the northeastern corner of the building is a hall measuring 8.66 m (north-south) by 8.30 m (east-west), which is covered by a brick dome on squinches. The lower walls of this room are pierced in their centers by doorways, 1.90 to 2.08 m wide and 5.70 m high, whose arches spring with slight offsets from the jambs. Four corner columns set 0.75 m from the walls support stone abaci on which rest four lateral arches 5.95 m high and 1.22 m deep. The structural role played by these arches has not been fully recognized by previous writers who see them simply as supports for the narrow gallery that runs around the room 0.85 m above the arch crowns.

The Western Columned Hall

 The main component of the western part of the Sarvestan monument is a hall 16.05 m long and 8.40 m wide. The hall takes its characteristic form from twelve squat, baseless columns arranged in pair and placed 58 m from the long side walls. On the west, four of the six columns are preserved to their full height of 2.10 m. The alcoves formed by the projecting piers were treated individually and differ from one another in width, height, and general appearance. The second alcove, 2.40 m wide, is spanned by a semi-dome 6.30 m high at the crown, built of horizontal rings of facing stones. A curving saw-tooth (zigzag) frieze set into the wall between plain stucco strips separates the semi-dome from a transition zone consisted of two small squinches.

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