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]
The Madrasa Husayniyan was originally a funerary madrasa (a madrasa with an attached mausoleum) situated in the old city of Yazd, adjacent to the now-lost Malmir gate, one of the four gates of the city built in the eleventh century. Historical sources mention variant names for the structure; the author of Tarikh-i Yazd refers to the complex as the "the Madrasa in Husaynian Alleyway (kouche)"; in Tarikh-i Jadid-i Yazd it is called Madrasa Husayniya, and in the local dialect it is known as "Husaniya-ye Hasht" or "Gunbad-Hasht." The sources, nevertheless, concur that the madrasa was built in 1325 (726 A.H.) under the patronage of the Muzaffarid governor Amir Sharaf al-Din Husayn, a senior member of a notable family who claimed descendance from the prophet Mohammed. Of the existing complex, the domed mausoleum, mansion and water reservoir (abanbar) are datable to the fourteenth century.
Presently, the complex is embedded in a dense urban block oriented toward southwest (qibla) and composed of courtyard houses. The main components of the complex are an octagonal court (which has replaced the original courtyard of the madrasa), a square tomb chamber, and a courtyard house known as the Husayniyan mansion, which is probably the oldest surviving house in Yazd. The mausoleum (Gunbad-i Hasht) is situated to the north, on the main axis of the octagonal courtyard. Measuring 7 by 7.65 meters inside, it contains the three elements typical of domed chambers: the square base, an octagonal zone of transition, and the dome. Inside the mausoleum the patron and several members of his family were buried.
To the northwest of the tomb is the Husayniyan mansion, originally connected to the tomb chamber through a room at the southeast corner. The building comprises a large rectangular courtyard (14 by 22 meters) surrounded by iwans and rooms of varying sizes and shapes that have been modified over the centuries. The mansion is locally known as Khane-ye Bozorg (the Great House) and Khane-ye Tagh Bolandha (the House of High Vaults), referring to the now-collapsed large vault of its northern iwan.
The dome-chamber mausoleum is accessed from the south via a doorway at the southwest corner. The interior walls are divided into an array of three arched panels consisting of a central wider panel flanked by narrower ones. The zone of transition comprises a lower octagonal zone (with four simple corner arches alternating with four blind arched niches), and a sixteen-sided zone of small arched niches above which the dome rests. The interior is lit by three windows on each side, arranged vertically on the square proper, the octagonal zone and the dome.
The dome chamber is built of mud brick. In contrast to its relatively barren external surfaces, decorated only with a frieze of arched panels on the octagonal zone of transition, the interior contains remains of floriated Kufic inscriptions and vegetal ornamentations executed in painted plaster, typical of Muzaffarid buildings in Yazd. Inside the tomb chamber, there is a mihrab with muqarnas decoration in the southwest corner and an undated coffin clad with green tiles.
Despite its historical significance, the Madrasa Husayniyan complex has received little scholarly attention. It was partially restored in the 1960s.