You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
Mount Sabalan (4,811 m / 15,784 ft) seen from a Teheran-Istanbul flight
Ardevil is of a moderate bigness,
and seated in a lovely opening of the Mountains. The next to the City, which is
call'd Sevalan, is the highest in all Media (the ancient name of Azerbaijan).
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier - Travels through Turkey and Persia (1630s-1650s)
We crossed an undulating plain, the Savalaun Daugh being close on our right. The weather, which was dark and lowering, cleared a little, and gave us a momentary peep at the snow-clad summit of this magnificent mountain, but the mist rolling on immediately covered it again. (..) The climate is cold and healthy. The Savalaun Daugh bears north-west of the town, and is a magnificent mountain.
William Richard Holmes - Sketches on the Shores of the Caspian - 1845
Mi'rza Hashim then told us of the severity of the winters at Ardabil, and showed us a woollen cap with coverings for the ears, admirably adapted for a protection against severe cold.
Edward Granville Brown - A Year amongst the Persians - 1893
In the Bazaar
Ardebil is famous (..) for the Caravans of Silk, which sometimes consist of eight or
nine hundred Camels, (and) add very much to its Grandeur. For being near to Guilan and Shamaqui, from whence those vast quantities of Silk come; and for that the Road from both those places, to Constantinople and Smyrna, lyes through this City,
there is a continual confluence of Merchants, and all sorts of Merchandizes are here
to be had as well as at Tauris (Tabriz). Tavernier
A tradition exists that this part of the country was formerly a lake, and that Solomon commanded two deeves or genii, named Ard and Beel, to turn off the water into the Caspian, which they effected by cutting a passage through the mountains; and a city, erected in the newly formed plain, was named after them Ard-u-beel. (..) The plain of Ardebeel is situated high, and the fruits common to the warmer parts of Persia are not produced here. (..) In outward appearance it differs in no respects from most of the large villages of Upper Persia. I expected to see a superior place, as it is denominated a city, and is the capital of a province. It contains about three thousand houses, built in the usual way, of mud, or mud bricks, with flat roofs. The bazars are neither extensive, nor anyway striking in their appearance, and I only observed one good caravanserai; there may be more, but the shortness of our stay prevented my seeing much of the town. Holmes
This City is famous, as well for being
the first Market of Silks that come from Guilan, from which it is not far off as also
for the Sepulcher of Sha-Sefi, the first of that Name (Safavid) (..) the Entry whereof faces the Meydan (main square), to which
it is joyn'd upon the South-side with a large Portal. The Gate is chain'd with
Chains fasten'd a-cross with great Rings, which if any Criminal Offender can but
touch, and enter into the first Court, he is safe, for no person can apprehend him. Tavernier
We proceeded to visit the tombs of the Sheik Suffee-u-deen, and of his descendant Shah Ismael, the founder of the Suffavean dynasty. We entered a long narrow court, by a ruined gateway, once covered with beautiful lacquered tiles, some of which remained in patches on the wall, still retaining their brilliant colouring. Holmes
In the XIXth century the gate described by Tavernier was almost a ruin and in 1942 it was replaced by a new one.
The Safavi family had been settled at Ardebil for many generations and was highly esteemed, especially one member called Safi-u-Din, or the "Purity of the Faith", a title from which the dynasty took its name. In equal esteem was his son Sadr-u-Din, who received a visit from Tamerlane (aka Timur), and on being offered a boon asked the release of Turkish prisoners brought from Diarbekir. Tamerlane acceded to the request, and the captives, after recovering their liberty, declared themselves the disciples of the Shaykh of Ardebil.
Sir Percy Molesworth Sykes - A History of Persia - 1915
Main Courtyard, Jannat Sara Mosque and on the right side Dar al-Hefaz (library/prayer room) which leads to the mausoleums of Sheikh Safi al-Din (1252-1334) and of Shah Ismail (1487-1524)
In that place you must leave your Stick and your Sword,
before you go any farther; and give something besides to a Moullah , who is always
attending there with Books. (..) On the
right hand appears a little Mosquee (Dar al-Hefaz), where are the Tombs of several Persian Princes
of the Blood Royal. Tavernier
We proceeded into another court-yard, in the shape of a parallelogram, lying at right angles to the two already described. (..) On the left-hand side of this court is a door leading into a large, circular brick building, once perhaps a mosque, the walls alone of which are now standing, the roof having probably fallen in. (..) (Adjoining it) is the anti-chamber to the principal tombs, entered by a door in the left-hand corner. Holmes
The circular structure with a reconstructed dome was most likely part of a khanegah, a complex of buildings used for gatherings of a Sufi brotherhood (learn more about such a brotherhood at Konya). Dar al-Hefaz was originally intended for the reading of the Quran as a pious act at the tomb of Sheikh Safi al-Din.
Highly restored western side of the Main Courtyard
right of the court is a dead wall, exhibiting remains
of the same lacquered tile-work before mentioned. Holmes
Sheikh Safi al-Din Khanegah and Shrine Ensemble was built as a small microcosmic city with bazaars, public baths, squares, religious buildings, houses, and offices. It was the largest and most complete khanegah and the most prominent Sufi shrine since it also hosts the tomb of the founder of the Safavid Dynasty. For these reasons, it has evolved into a display of sacred works of art and architecture from the 14th to the 18th century and a centre of Sufi religious pilgrimage. As the shrine of a prominent Sufi master (..) the property has remained sacred in Iran up to the present day. (..) Most of the elements of the property are in good condition and, despite several transformations, the site continues to present an image of harmonious composition. (..) It is, however, important to reduce the tendency to go too far in conservation work.
From the UNESCO synthesis of the universal value of the Sheikh Safi al-Din Khanegah and Shrine Ensemble of Ardabil which in 2010 was included in the World Heritage List.
Nader Shah, who ruled Persia in 1736-1747 and put an end to the Safavid dynasty, expropriated the shrine endowments at Ardabil; the daily feeding of pilgrims had to be discontinued and this caused the decline of the shrine and the ruin of some of its ancillary facilities. By and large all the brilliant tile decoration of the complex is due to restoration.
(left) Sheikh Safi al-Din mausoleum (other images can be seen in the introductory page); (right) Haramkhane (Tomb of the Harem), probably the oldest building of the complex, and the small dome/turret of Shah Ismail mausoleum behind it
Ilkhanid and Timurid architectural languages, influenced by Sufi philosophy, have created new spatial forms and decorative patterns. UNESCO
The Ilkhanids, i.e. the Mongol rulers of Persia between 1250 and 1350, introduced the use of glazed tiles in the decoration of buildings; the use of turquoise tiles to form Kufic letters can be seen at the Ilkhanid Mausoleum of Oljeitu at Soltaniyeh. The design of the mausoleums (of a very small size) is very similar to that of the Timurid ones at Shah-e Zinda in Samarcand (these too were too much restored). The Kufic letters which decorate the shaft of Sheikh Safi al-Din mausoleum are much the same as those which can be seen at Chakhrisabz, the hometown of Timur.
(left) Dar al-Hefaz; (right) Shahneshin, its southern end leading to the tomb of Sheikh Safi al-Din; "shahneshin" usually indicates the most important room of a Persian house
You come into the Body of the Mosquee, richly
hung with Tapestry, and set about with high Desks, where lye a great many Books,
wherein the Mollahs, or Doctors of the Law read continually, having Stipends
to Officiate. At the end of the Body of the Mosquee, is a little
Ottagonal Monument, like the Choir of a Church, in the midst whereof stands the
Monument of Sha-Sefi. Tavernier
Leaving this chamber, we proceeded to the tomb of the Sheik, situated at the end of the anti-chamber, and separated from it by two rows of railings, about eight feet and a-half high, and six yards apart, the one of silver, and the other of gold. Along the centre of the apartment on the floor were several old candlesticks with branches, and here and there wooden stools, on which lay copies of the Koran. The tomb is a small but lofty circular chamber; lined with old and faded velvets, and surmounted by a dome, from which depend several lamps of gold and silver. Holmes
Dar al-Hefaz was known for its many books which were taken by the Russians in 1827 and are now part of the Asian Collection of the National Library of Russia at St. Petersburg.
The Roof of the Mosquee is adorn'd within with a Painting of Gold
and Azure, a la Moresque; on the outside, with a fair Varnish of several Colours,
like the stately Mosquee at Tauris. Tavernier
The conception of the entire ensemble layout, the proportions of the internal and external spaces and of the buildings, their design and refined decoration, together with the climax created by the sequenced path to Sheikh Safi al-Din's shrine, all combined, have concurred to create a unique complex in which aesthetics and spirituality are in a harmonious dialogue. UNESCO
The restoration/reconstruction of Dar al-Hefaz which was roofless at the end of the XIXth century owes a lot to its description by Tavernier and other XVIIth century European travellers.
Sheikh Safi al-Din sarcophagus; the image used as background for this page shows a relief forming Kufic letters on a marble sarcophagus in the courtyard
In the centre of the apartment repose the remains of the Sheik, enclosed in a case of dark coloured wood, having at each corner a large gold knob, roughly set with rubies, emeralds, and other stones. The whole was carefully covered with several cloths, overlaid with a coating of dust, which appeared the accumulation of a century. On the top of the case were some dilapidated representations of flowers and fruits, but it was not until this had been explained to us that we were at all conscious of their being so intended; and moreover, the room, only lighted by a small and excessively dirty window, was so obscure that objects could with difficulty be distinguished. Holmes
To the left is a door leading into a large domed
chamber, containing the china which belonged to
Shah Ismael, or, as some said, to the Sheik, consisting principally of large dishes, vases, drinking cups,
and flagons, spread out on the floor; the numerous
recesses in the walls, originally intended for their
reception, being left empty. The walls and niches
were beautifully gilt and painted. Holmes
Over the years, the shrine was enriched by many gifts and in particular by a Chinese porcelain collection which was donated by Shah Abbas in 1608. A pre-existing structure was modified in order to properly display the porcelains. The richly decorated blue and gold interior with its multiple niches, tile work, and fine plasterwork dates from this period.
Chini-Khane-h: detail of the ceiling
A strange feeling of awe creeps over one on visiting these silent chambers of the dead: the dim lights, the faded decorations, and the air of a departed grandeur, awaken melancholy and serious reflections; and the unbroken stillness of the place, the dust and cobwebs, give the idea that one is profanely intruding on a hallowed spot, where the sound of man's voice, and the echo of his footsteps, have ceased to be heard for ages. Holmes
Chini-Khane-h: (left) XVIIth century ewer of blue and white porcelain ; (right) XVIIth century celadon (greenish) covered dish
The original gift by Shah Abbas amounted to 1,162 pieces the large majority of which were moved to Tehran in 1935. A limited number of pieces are now visible in glass cases. Porcelain was the most highly regarded import from China throughout the XVth/XVIIth centuries.
Sheikh Jebra'il Shrine
A quarter of
a League from the City stands a Mosquee, in which are the Tombs of the Father
and Mother of Sha-Sefi. It is a fair Structure, with Gardens and Courts, in one
of which there is a very clear Fountain where they keep Fish. Tavernier
In 1897 German art historian Friedrich Sarre visited the shrine which was in ruin as the drum and the dome had collapsed. The carpets, silver and gold lamps, and fine inlaid work for which the shrine was renowned had all disappeared.
Sheikh Jebra'il Shrine: restored interior
Plan of this section:
Tabriz: The Blue Mosque
Tabriz: Azerbaijan Museum
Republic of Azerbaijan:
Baku: The Old Town
Baku: The New Town
Environs of Baku
Qobustan National Park