The city of Yazd is located in the center of Iran, in a vast dry rain shadow desert valley overlooked by the Shir Kuh, Iran's highest mountain range. Yazd was probably founded by the Sassanids, and grew in eminence as a junction of trade routes linking the cities of Isfahan, Kerman and Neyshabur. It has, since the Arab conquest in 642, continued to be an urban settlement shaped and characterized by mud domes and wind tower architectural forms, extensive subterranean canal systems (qanats) and quarters of Zoroastrian and Jewish minorities. The earliest known descriptions, dating from the tenth century describe a well-built, fortified city with iron gates, then known as Kathah in the larger province of Yazd.
The Kakuyids established a series of villages and reinforced the network of qanats around Yazd. Hence greatly contributing to the rapid urbanization of the region in the eleventh century. Yazd under the subsequent rule of the Atabegs survived the Mongol invasion of Persia in 1220 to later become a refuge for Islamic culture and learning. The Il-Khanid rule under Sayyid Rukn al Din in the fourteenth century witnessed an increase in construction with the use of the waqf as an instrument for urban development. The Muzaffarid conquest in 1313 ushered in an era of prosperity and development as Yazd became capital to the provinces of Kerman, Fars and Shiraz.
Large urban design projects were initiated and the city walls were rebuilt in 1346-7, nearly doubling the size of the city. The complex of Vaqt va Sat comprising of a shrine, library, college and observatory was constructed next to the Atabeg Friday mosque, which was itself reconstructed half a century later in 1375.The Timurid conquest reinforced Yazd's status as an important military stronghold in central Iran when defense walls and fortifications were added to the city's southern limits in 1395. Yazd became a center of religious education under the reign of the Timurid governor, Amir Chaqmaq. Yazd passed into Safavid control in the early sixteenth century, as a city of little importance and alternately part of the provinces of Fars, Kerman and Khurasan. The invasion and unstable rule by the Ghalzai Afghans in the 1720s furthered the city's deterioration with little new development till 1747. A succession of able governors beginning with Mohammad Taqi Khan (1747-1798) partially restored the city's lost glory with construction and repair of qanats, villages, gardens, caravan-serais and defense outposts.
Yazd's existence in an arid region was made possible by an extensive system of sloping subterranean man made infiltration tunnels which conduit fresh water from the surrounding highlands. Some of these conduits, called qanats are as long as 50 kilometres in length, though the most do not exceed five kilometres. The extreme climate also evolved architecture obsessed with insulation by mud bricks and thick walls as well as cooling by ventilation structures called badgirs. A badgir is a vertical wind catching structure on the roof that directs and cools trapped wind over small water pools within the building.
Bonine, Michael Edward. "Yazd and its Hinterland: A central place system of dominance in the central Iranian plateau." Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 1975.
Lockhardt, Laurence. Persian Cities. London: Luzac & Company, 1960.
Yazd Province." Iran Travel and Tourism Organization. http://www.yazdcity.com/english/indexen.htm [Site inaccessible as of 11 August, 2016]
"Iranian Architecture." http://www.irania.tv/city/yazd/ [Site inaccessible as of 11 August, 2016]
This monumental domed chamber, known locally as Zindan-i Iskandar (Alexander’s Prison), is situated at the center of the old city of Yazd, in the historical Fahadan neighborhood and in the vicinity of the eleventh-century Davazdeh Imam Shrine. The Zindan-i Iskandar takes its name from the legend that Alexander built a castle in this region as a prison for captive princes. In some literary works, the city of Yazd is also referred to as "Zindan-i Iskandar".
Historical sources suggest that the mausoleum and its adjoining structure are the remains of Madarasa Ziaiyya, a religious school patronized by Ziya' al-Din Husayn-i Razi and his sons, scions of a local notable family, in the second half of the thirteenth century (the Il-Khanid period). In the compendium Tarikh-i Jadid-i Yazd (The New History of Yazd), a ninth-century author relates that the madrasa had a high portal with tall minarets and was surrounded by prodigious mansions with tall wind-catchers (badgirs), all built by the members of the same family. Nevertheless, as Iraj Afshar has pointed out, the identification of the building as the Madrasa Ziyaiyya is not utterly verifiable, as there is no epigraphic evidence in the building to support this proposition.
Similar to the typical plan of the madrasas of the thirteenth and fourteenth century, the existing building consists of a rectangular courtyard surrounded on three sides by elevations containing iwans; probably the now-vanished eastern elevation had an iwan that has not survived. The western iwan is larger than the northern and southern ones, which are similar in size and flanked by rectilinear cells of different depths. The discrepancy in the shapes and sizes of the rooms surrounding the courtyard is probably the result of later modifications. At the center of the courtyard is a payab, an underground chamber that gave access to the qanat (underground water channel) that passed beneath the building.
The mausoleum is located at the southeast corner of the building, connected through two doorways to the courtyard and the main iwan. Square in plan (8.8 meters per side) and erected atop thick walls in order to support its eighteen-meter-high dome, the domed mausoleum dominates the courtyard as well as the skyline of the surrounding area.
The structure is built of mud brick, with baked brick used exclusively in the outer shell of the dome of the mausoleum. The upper part of the octagonal zone of transition is decorated with a three-tier muqarnas cornice. Unlike the courtyard and its surrounding spaces that bear no decoration, the interior of the tomb chamber is ornamented with floriated Kufic inscriptions and vegetal motifs in painted plaster, similar to other surviving tomb chambers from the Muzaffarid period.
The Zindan-i Iskandar was used for oil production until the 1970s and was in a dilapidated condition until its restoration by the National Heritage Organization of Iran, estimated to have taken place in the 1980s. Post-restoration, the building has become a major tourist destination.