Taq-i Kisra, which means Iwan of Khusraw, was once the palatial complex of Sasanian King Anushirvan Khusraw (531-79). The standing iwan and the façade of this palace face east.
Although it is not clear which of the Sasanian kings built this palace, two hypotheses exist. Highlighting the classical motifs used in the facade, Oscar Reuther argues for a late antique date. Herzfeld, believing that Western methodology cannot be adopted to date buildings of the East, uses historical sources to date the construction. Herzfeld points to a passage from a Sasanian Chronicle, Khudhay-Nama, translated by the great Persian translator Ibn Muqaffa (721-757/9) in which the ruins of the Taq-i Kisra have been attributed to the reign of Shapur I (241-72), the first Sasanian King. Although the destruction of the palace is blamed on different individuals by various sources, Abbasid caliph Al-Mansur (754-775) is most commonly mentioned for its ruin.
Only parts of the great iwan and the southern wing of the façade remain of this palace. On either side of the parabolic arch of the entry iwan were high brick walls divided into six stories with architraves. Of the remaining part of the facade position of the facade suggests Hellenistic and Roman influences, their strict classical principles are not fully observed.
Considering the present state of the palace, its layout can only be reconstructed based on archaeological evidence. Overall, the plan was organized symmetrically along the axis of the portal. On either side of the forty-eight meter entry iwan, were large rectangular rooms served by corridors that wrapped around the iwan. The entry iwan led, through a narrow passageway, to a central hall covered with a vault identical to that of the iwan. This hall was also served by corridors on two sides and had two large rectangular rooms on either side. A series of maze-like corridors and rooms flanked the passageway connecting the entry iwan and the central hall. A large paved court in front of the palace was used by Khusraw to address his subjects.
As the rooms within this complex are extremely large in scale, their use must have been limited to ceremonial functions, with royal residential spaces located elsewhere. Textual sources refer to the great entry iwan as the place where Khusraw's throne was placed. According to Tabari, Khusraw's crown had been so heavy that it had to be suspended from the vault of the iwan. A large curtain was also used to separate the space of the iwan from the court in front.
In Sasanian architecture, vaults could be built either with or without centering devices. In Taq-i Kisra, the iwan vault was constructed without the use of any centering devices. Famous for being the largest vaulted space ever built, this iwan was constructed by slanting the walls until they met at a point. This type of construction, where no scaffolding was used to generate a well-rounded shape, produced a parabolic arch.
Like most other monuments in the Mesopotamian region, Taq-i Kisra was built primarily in brick. Shards of glass mosaic found in the vicinity suggest that mosaics were used for decoration. Arab historian, Qazwini also refers to an illustration of Khusraw mounted on a yellow horse, now lost, on the wall of the throne room, in the entry iwan. Marble was also used on interior surfaces. All the decorative elements for the palace were imported from Syria.
Godard, Andre. 1965. The Art of Iran. (Translated by Michael Heron). London: Allen and Unwin.
Herzfeld, Ernst. 1943. "Damascus: Studies in Architecture - II." Ars Islamica. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 10: 59-61.
Reuther, Oscar. 1964. "Sasanian Architecture." In A Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present. Pope, Arthur U. and Phyllis Ackerman (ed). London, New York: Oxford University Press, 515- 517, 543-544.
Noldeke, Theodor. 1879. Geschichte der Perser und Araber zur Zeit der Sasaniden: Aus der arabischen Chronik des Tabari, Leyden: Brill.