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Eastern Mediterranean University (2009)

An Inquiry into Iranian Architecture Manifestation of Identity, Symbolism, and Power in the Safavid’s Public Buildings

Sani, Rafooneh Mokhtar Shani

Titre : An Inquiry into Iranian Architecture Manifestation of Identity, Symbolism, and Power in the Safavid’s Public Buildings

Auteur : Sani, Rafooneh Mokhtar Shani

Université de soutenance : Eastern Mediterranean University

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy in Architecture 2009

During the last decades, many developing countries including Iran have been faced serious identity challenges in almost all socio-cultural aspects. Architecture also, which always has had the major role in maintaining cultural and/or social identity, has experienced the similar dilemma. Therefore, questing for national/cultural identity has been one of the architectural priorities at recent times in Iran. On the other hand, architecture and its national/cultural characteristics usually have been based on past and traditional factors. Since the arrival of Islam (642) in Iran, it was only during the Safavid period that a local Iranian dynasty could have control over Iranian territory. Consequently, Safavid period is significantly important in defining Iranian religious belief, language and culture. From this time onward, Shiite doctrine has been the official religious belief in Iran, as well as use of Farsi language and renewing many Persian cultural factors. The Iranian sociologist, Ali Shariati, who, nevertheless, expressed considerable criticism of the Safavids and the religious beliefs held during this period, has been one of the most popular scholars during the last decades among Iranians. In fact, Shariati’s thoughts have been used as a foundation for the Iran Islamic revolution (1978-9) and as a result of this we have the current Iranian socio-cultural environment. Thus, it appears that for the purposes of investigating the Safavids and re-reading the architectural characteristics of public buildings during this period, the Shariati view is a helpful source. On the other hand, most of the Shariati’s criticisms of the Safavaids were related to political power. In order to understand the concept of this power, the work of the French philosopher, Michel Foucault is used as a major source of this study. Foucault’s idea about power appears iv to be relevant in respect of understanding the political power structure of the Safavids. On the other hand, Foucault was familiar with Iran as is evidenced by his various writings about the Iran Islamic revolution, in addition to his admiration for the Ali Shariati. In sum, Shariati and Foucault thoughts have been used as tool to accomplish exploring the power and religious belief during the Safavid period. However, since ‘power’ and ‘religious belief’ during this period created the Iranian ‘identity’ and these three factors have been manifested in architecture through ‘symbolism’, various thoughts regarding ‘symbolism’ and ‘identity’ have been studied. The architectural study has focused on architecture of public buildings, since generally social/cultural identity and architectural characteristics have been manifested in this type of buildings. The sample study has been limited to Isfahan the capital city of Safavids and its major public buildings. Totally thirteen buildings, which have been the most important remained Safavid public buildings with almost the original layout, have been explored in the sample study. These buildings have been chosen with various functions such as palace, mosque, bridge, and madrassa to have a holistic view of Safavid public buildings. The results of this study emphasized that the architecture of public buildings during this period was highly symbolized. Symbolism was in fact the language of this architecture to reflect Safavid’s contemplation on political power, religious belief, and identity. Accordingly, as a result of analyzing the architecture of the public buildings during the Safavid period and integrating those effective factors, the architectural characteristics of this period, can be placed into five categories : “floating impression”, “horizontality through repetition”, “inward-outward flow’, “illusion”, and “contrast & dualism”.


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