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Middle East Monica Dispatch

Flowers, Words, and Shapes: Islamic Art in Iran.
April 8, 2000


Allah. Allah. Allah. The word means "God" in Islam, and it is inscribed everywhere, throughout mosques and courtyards all over Iran. It doesn't show up in a graffiti form, though, and isn't plainly written. Instead, it is hidden into graceful curves, blended into the overall design of the building as beautiful Arabic calligraphy. One aspect of Islamic
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larger view
The mosque at Omar Khayyam's tomb, near Mashhad: notice the colored tiles over the entranceway
art is that the human figure does not appear. Instead, the art is non-representational: symbols, styles and designs that swirl in upon themselves in hues of blue, aquamarine, turquoise, and gold.

Our guidebooks point out that Islamic art, and Iranian art in particular, favors "geometrical shapes and patterns...
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larger view
A cut-out wooden window facing the courtyard
An example of tile work
grapevines and other floral patterns, often very complex; and highly stylized real or imaginary creatures such as lions, elephants, peacocks, phoenixes and griffins." (Lonely Planet, Iran, p. 31) In Ghazvin we saw one of those lions over the doorway to the entrance of the Imam Hussein mausoleum, as well as a tiled, circular picture in pinks and blues.
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Detail of a lion figure over the doorway
Alcoves are spread throughout the courtyard. You can sit inside and appreciate the art around you.
Looking throughout the courtyard and mosque inside, we could see different examples of floral shapes and tiles spread out everywhere.

I tried to make sense out of the intricate design, but it was so beautiful and complex that I could only distinguish shapes and colors and come up with an overall sense of awe. The attention to detail is amazing. A few key artistic elements that seem to be repeated throughout Iran are latticed doors, arches with tile work throughout, and figures of animals and flowers. You can see some examples of beautiful Iranian art in these photos.


mosque - a Muslim house of worship
graffiti - ancient drawings or writings scratched on walls
hues - shades of color
phoenix - a mythical bird of great beauty, the only one, fabled to live 500 or 600 years in the Arabian wilderness, to burn itself in a funeral pyre, to rise from its ashes young again, and to live through another cycle of years
griffin - in Classical Mythology, a fabled monster, usually with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion
lattice - an open framework made of strips of metal, wood, or similar material overlapped or overlaid in a regular, usually crisscross, pattern

- Monica

p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Abeja - Iran: Where Houses Have No Furniture
Brian - Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Persian Architecture, And All before Dinnertime
Abeja - In the Name of Allah
Team - Turn Off That Faucet! Water Doesn't Grow on Trees, You Know

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