Shiraz, City of Gates and Districts

December 31, 1998 - 0:0
Part 3 ---Many articles have been so far been published about the city of Shiraz and its ancient monuments. However, not much has been told about the old city of Shiraz, the architectural style applied in the old houses of the city and finally the changes which have come about in the city's appearance with the passage of time. Construction of Shiraz is attributed to the son of the second king of the mythological Pishdadian dynasty, Tahmoures. However, the popularity and importance of Shiraz reached its peak during the Islamic era.

It is narrated that the city was rebuilt by Mohammad Ben Yusef Saghafi in 693 A.H., replacing the ancient city of Estakhr. In 1766, Karim Khan Zand chose Shiraz as his capital and carried out much development in it. The old city of Shiraz was divided into eleven residential districts and since the city was surrounded by the walls, it had eight gates.

Unique architectural styles were applied in the old houses of Shiraz. Two stone platforms were installed on the sides of the entrance doorway of a house and the entrance arches were usually decorated with stucco or colored tiles. In similar cases, the entrances were decorated with a number of glazed tiles on which verses from the holy Quran, narrations from the religious leaders or men of letters were printed.

The entrance of the house would open into an aisle which would lead into the yard. There was a pond in the middle of the yard. The yards were usually covered with stones or large size bricks. The walls surrounding the yard were covered with stones up to one meter high. These stones occasionally had designs on them. The pond in the yard was built with stones decorated with blue glazed tiles.

In the center of the pond, there were a number of stone pillars which would stick out of the water. There were holes in the center of these stone pillars which were interconnected in the bottom of the pond through a channel which led to a water reservoir placed high near the water well by the side of the yard. Since the water reservoir stood at the higher level than the bottom of the pond, the water poured into the channel in the bottom of the pond and therefrom flushed into holes inside the stone and flew into the pond.

In some cases, a stone lion sculpture was used instead of pillars and water flew out of the lion's mouth. Trees and flowers were always planted round the pond either close to it, as in Eram Garden, or away from it with a narrow lane separating the garden from the pond, as in Narenjestan. These gardens were watered by the overflowing water of the pond.

The trees planted round the ponds were mainly orchard trees, especially sour orange trees. It can be claimed with certainly that a pond and orange trees were inseparable parts of a house in the old city of Shiraz. In late afternoons, the people of Shiraz used to water the garden, sit on raised wooden platforms and enjoy the aroma of flowers which filled the garden.

The exterior of a building was covered with yellow bricks and the upper sides of the building close to the rooftop were decorated with glazed tiles which were protected against the wind and rain by overhanging wooden or metal panels. The design of the tiles were different depicting heroic and epic tales taken from Shahnameh (The Tale of Kings), or scenes of displaying lions fight, lions and dragons, hunting grounds and scenes of love stories (Qavam Narenjestan, Eram Garden, Pars Museum). At Pars Museum, four such works are on disolay on the four doorways, two of which depict a hunting place and the other two prophet Solomon (AS) sitting on throne.

Stucco work was a basic ornamental means in buildings. Stucco sometimes came in the form of flowerpots with flowers growing in them. The design of the stucco applied in the ceilings included intermingled bushes, birds, angles, palm trees and vine which are masterpieces of ornamental work. These designs were sometimes colored and completed with paintings (Eram Garden). Some of the ceilings were covered with wooden panels in geometric shapes (Qavam Narenjestan). Each room in the house had a specific name used for specific purposes.

The mirror room was the most beautiful room in the house, all sides or just part of the room was covered with mirrors. Doors with beautiful inlaid work and colored glasses produced a delightful and relaxing light inside the room. Such a room was used at the wedding nights (Qavam Narenjestan). Other rooms were named Seven-Door Room, Five-Door Room, etc. These rooms were designed in a manner which faced the sun in winter and when the doors were left open in summer time, the air would begin to circulate in the rooms and would cool the rooms.

All these characteristics speak of the talent, taste and precision of the Shirazi architects who constructed the old houses.