Built in 1147-8/542 AH, this monument's architect is believed to be Bakr Muhammad.
Gunbad-i Surkh is the oldest of the five tomb towers in the city of Maragha. A free-standing structure, this monument has a square chamber covered with what is thought to have been an eight-sided pyramidal dome atop an octagonal drum. The chamber of the monument sits on a stone base that includes a low-ceilinged basement space. The main façade of the chamber, which includes the entrance, is located on the north side, while the entrance to the sub-level basement space is on the east side of the monument. Seven steps devise the transition from the ground level to the main level of the tomb. On the exterior, Four engaged pilasters, capped by plain stone capitals, articulate the corners of the monument.
The side and rear walls are decorated with two decorative niches flanked by protruding pilasters. Between the engaged pilasters, each niche has been decorated with a pointed arch, bordered by a narrow band of Arabic inscriptions in Kufic. Above each niche on all three walls are decorative panels containing a line of Arabic inscriptions topped by geometric patterns in brick.
The decoration at the entrance façade has received a more elaborate treatment. Above the door, framed by an arch, is a geometric panel. The central part of the panel has been filled by an interlaced geometric brick pattern bordered by Arabic writing, also in Kufic characters. There is a second line of inscriptions at the top of a rectangular frame that incorporates both the framing arch and the main door of the chamber. The interior chamber is a simple square whose dome is placed on top of stalactite squinches.
As in all the tomb towers belonging to the later period of the Saljuq's reign in Iran, the main material used is brick. The use of stone has been limited to minor decorative details such as the embedded capitals. Brick has been applied in its raw red colour with only a few spots highlighted with turquoise blue glaze. As at the earlier towers of the Kharraqan, the brick pattern has been emphasized by recessed mortar joints. In this manner the role of the individual brick unit, as the main constructive constituent of the surface pattern, is highlighted. In the Gundad-i Surkh, brick has been used to create a rich variety of brick weaves, applied in patches to highlight and differentiate between the architectural elements and details in the monument.
The appearance of mosaic faience in details, such as the tympanum of the door, marks an important point of transition in the development of decorative styles in Iran and central Asia. Faience is seen as narrow strips, in a field where other terracotta member are inserted in hard plaster. Gunbad-i Surkh is one of the earliest monuments in which mosaic faience is employed in the decorative theme.
Hoag, John D. Islamic Architecture. New York: Rizzoli. 1987.
Godard, Andre. The Art of Iran, 301-3. Translated by Michael Heron. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1965.