A general renaissance: Iranian art and architecture under Sassanids

July 3, 2018

TEHRAN – On Sunday, UNESCO added an ensemble of Sassanian historical cities in southern Iran to its world heritage list.

The Sassanid era (224 CE–651) is of very high importance in the history of the nation, under which Persian art and architecture experienced a general renaissance.

Architecture often took grandiose proportions such as palaces at Ctesiphon, Firuzabad, and Sarvestan that are amongst highlights of the ensemble.

Crafts such as metalwork and gem-engraving grew highly sophisticated, yet scholarship was encouraged by the state. In those years, works from both the East and West were translated into Pahlavi, the language of the Sassanians.

Rock-carved sculptures and bas-reliefs on abrupt limestone cliffs are widely deemed as characteristics and striking relics of the Sassanian art, top examples of which can be traced at Bishapur, Naqsh-e Rostam and Naqsh-e Rajab in southern Iran.

A Sassanid-era sculpture of horse head

Efforts made by the Sassanids also yield a revival of Iranian nationalism took place, for example, Zoroastrianism was declared as the state religion.

The dynasty evolved by Ardashir I and destroyed by the Arabs during a period of 637 to 651. The dynasty was named after Sasan, an ancestor of Ardashir I.

Under his leadership who reigned from 224 to 241, the Sassanians overthrew the Parthians and created an empire that was constantly changing in size as it reacted to Rome and Byzantium to the west and to the Kushans and Hephthalites to the east, according to Britannica Encyclopedia.

At the time of Shapur I (reigned 241 CE–272), the empire stretched from Sogdiana and Iberia (Georgia) in the north to the Mazun region of Arabia in the south; in the east it extended to the Indus River and in the west to the upper Tigris and Euphrates river valleys.

 Bas-relief features an equestrian depiction of Sassanid king Shapur I at Naqsh-e Rajab, Fars province, southern Iran.

Titled “Sassanid Archaeological Landscape of Fars Region”, the newly UNESCO-registered ensemble is comprised of eight archaeological sites situated in three geographical parts of Firuzabad, Bishapur and Sarvestan.

The archaeological landscape reflects the optimized utilization of natural topography and bears witness to the influence of Achaemenid and Parthian cultural traditions and of Roman art, which later had a significant impact on the architecture and artistic styles of the Islamic era.

AFM/MG

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