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]
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The mosque of Mir Chaqmaq, also referred to as the Masjid-e Nau, was one of the first constructions in a larger institutional complex consisting of a madrasa (theological school), khanqah (a hostel for sufis or dervishes), caravanserai (travelers inn), qanat and ab anbars (subterranean canal and water cistern), public baths, maidan or public square and bazaar sharing the name. It was built outside Yazd's fourteenth century city walls in the Dehkok quarter, which has since transformed from a suburban garden to a dense residential and commercial district. Today only the mosque, maidan and a few hydraulic structures exist from the original complex. The mosque is noted for the excellence of decorative craftsmanship on its marble mihrab (niche marking the direction of prayer in a mosque) and its portal's tile mosaic calligraphic panels.
Construction of the mosque was begun by Jalal Al-din Chaqmaq Shami, the governor of Yazd under Timurid ruler Shah Rukh in 1436-7, and was completed some years later, with a number of subsidiary structures through the active patronage of Bibi Fatima Khatun, wife of Mir Chaqmaq. Built soon after additions to the Masjid-i Jami or cathedral mosque of Yazd by the same patrons, the Masjid-i Mir Chaqmaq was built in a period of great economic prosperity. Large urban design projects were ordered after Timur's conquest in 1393, funded by revenues made possible by the Timurid policy of retaining the Muzaffarid provincial capital of Kerman, Fars and Shiraz in Yazd. The masjid represents for Yazd, a larger phenomenon of Timurid patronage of madrasa-khanqah complexes as a unifying and propagandistic strategy to control a large and diverse empire. Parallels can also be seen in the Timurid nobleman-noblewoman character of this patronage as reflected in Timur and his wife, Saray Mulk Khanum's commission of Bibi Khanum mosque in Samarkand or Shah Rukh and his wife Gawharshad's patronage of complexes in Mashhad and Herat.
The mosque is built of mud brick finished with white washed with plaster, along the traditional Iranian four-iwan structure around a square courtyard with no minarets. The stepped screens of the qibla (direction towards Mecca, and hence Muslim prayers) and the tunnel-vaulted bays of the court's internal facades appear to dominate the court's modest proportions. The great central dome, the primary iwan, and the qibla screen, together form the major architectural feature of the complex. Aesthetic traditions from the Masjid-i Jami and the Masjid of Pir Husayn Damghani of Yazd are continued in this masjid, with the use of niches, windows and galleries to relieve the visually dominant supporting members of the dome and iwan. The central mihrab consists of marble with decorative mosaic tile borders and Quranic inscriptions. The celebrated portal is ornamented with masterfully executed stucco and calligraphic friezes in Naskh and Thulth scripts, one of which reveals details of the institution's Waqf or endowment. Panels of faience mosaic or glazed tile mosaic in blue, yellow, white and black colors are interspersed within patterned brickwork facades, as is typical of early Timurid decorative art. The slightly pyramidical dome springs from large squinches in a two-tiered circular drum, embellished with bands of mosaic tile inscriptions in Kufic script. Unlike other Timurid works, the mosque does not feature complex decorative vaults. However, the brilliance of its outer dome's lotus petal gores in turquoise blue tile work defines Yazd's skyline with the similar dome of the Masjid-i-Jami.
The mosque influences subsequent Islamic architecture of central Iran with its introduction of a shorter iwan covered with a cloister vault. The mosque also features a novel innovation in incorporating a wind tower within the mihrab, a feature later seen in the Masjid-i Sar-i Rik of Yazd. The mosque today is identified with a later nineteenth century addition to the complex, the Takieh-ye Mir Chaqmaq. The site has in recent times been the focus of intense conservation efforts and public concern to revive the historic complex and the adjacent Haji Qanbar bazaar.
Golombek, Lisa & Wilber, Donald. 1988. The Timurid Architecture of Iran and Turan, Volume I. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 421, 422, 423.
Hillenbrand, Robert. 2000. Islamic Architecture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 110.
Hutt, Anthony & Harrow, Leonard. 1978. Islam architecture: Iran 2. London: Scorpion Publishers, 161.
Lockhardt, Laurence. 1960. Persian Cities. London: Luzac & Company, 109.