i. In pre-Islamic Iran.

ii. In the Islamic period.


i. In Pre-Islamic Iran

Čahārṭāq, literally “four arches,” is a modern term for an equilateral architectural unit consisting of four arches or short barrel vaults between four corner piers, with a dome on squinches over the central square; this square and the lateral bays under the arches or barrel vaults together constitute a room of cruciform ground plan. Because of its structural and aesthetic properties this unit became the most prominent element in traditional Iranian architecture after the ayvān. The term čahārṭāq probably originally became current because it seems descriptive of many ruins that can be observed in Iran. Most of these ruins are, however, only the surviving cores of more complex buildings from which surrounding walls, ambulatories, and subsidiary rooms have disappeared. As the domed unit with four axial arches has been in continuous use in both religious and secular contexts over a period of more than 1,500 years, the term cannot be considered to define a single functional building type; it must be used only in its literal sense, to identify a specific architectural form.

The origins of the čahārṭāq are still a matter of debate. It has been suggested that the dome on squinches originated in the mud-brick architecture of eastern Iran, where it may have been developed from the simple pitched-brick dome or squinch vault (Reuther, pp. 501-04; Herzfeld, 1942, pp. 17-18). The earliest definite archeological evidence of pitched-brick vaulting, however, comes from Mesopotamia in the late 3rd or early 2nd millennium b.c. (Oates, 1970, pp. 11ff.; 1973, pp. 183ff.). Although certain types of corbelled vault­ings, for instance those found above some tombs at Ur (Besenval, 1984, I, pp. 81ff.), which are dated to the 1st half of the 3rd millennium b.c., may be regarded as forerunners. In Iran there is no evidence of the čahārṭāq proper earlier than the beginning of the Sasanian period. The cruciform ground plan appears in rudimen­tary form in Parthian buildings like Qaḷʿeh Zohak (Qaḷʿa-ye Żaḥḥāk) in Azerbaijan, which were influenced by Roman architectural forms (Kleiss, 1973, pp. 171-­76; Colledge, 1977, p. 54); it was fully developed in structures roofed with pendentive domes circumscrib­ing the square, which were popular in 2nd- and early 3rd-century Roman Syria, for example, the western baths at Jerash (Gerasa) and the so-called Qasr Nuway­jis at Amman (Creswell, 1969, pp. 150; Huff, 1989).

It may be assumed that in Iran the first step in the development of the čahārṭāq was taken at Fīrūzābād (Ardašīr-Ḵorra) about the 2nd decade of a.d. the 3rd century, in buildings erected by Ardašīr before he became king in 224 (See ardašīr i pābagān; cf. Ṭabarī cited in Widengren, pp. 737, 761, 765). Both the earlier clifftop fortress of Qaḷʿeh Dukhtar (Qaḷʿa-ye Doḵtar) and the later nearby Great Palace contain domed cubes, each with four axial doors (Figure 32; Huff, 1971, pp. 136ff.; Huff and Gignoux, pp. 128f., 136ff.). This type, which is essentially a square room with plain walls, may correctly be called čahārqāpū, literally “four doors,” a term that is sometimes applied to čahārṭāq structures, as well. Although the čahārṭāq may have developed from the čahārqāpū, in the strict sense the terms are not interchangeable. But neither are they entirely antithetical, as they describe different aspects of the building: the term čahārqāpū characterizes the connective possibilities of the layout, whereas čahārṭāq primarily denotes the system of construction. Under the first aspect čahārṭāq may be called a čahārqāpū if, as is often the case, there are doors in the back walls of the four bays or in the enclosure walls. Otherwise the term čahārqāpū should be applied only to those buildings where there are comparatively small openings that justify the designation door or gate. This condition is fulfilled in the so-called čahārqāpū at Qasr-i Shirin (Figure 35), which has to be dated to the time of Ḵosrow II Parvēz (590-628; Reuther, pp. 552ff.; Schipp­mann, 1971, pp. 282ff.; see also architecture iii. sasanian, p. 331), although an early Islamic date has also been suggested (Bier, 1986, pp. 70f.). The so-called fire temple of Anāhitā at Bīšāpūr (Ghirshman, 1938, pp. 14f.) can be called a čahārqāpū as well. Its roofing, however, is debated, and there was certainly no dome (Schippmann, 1971, pp. 142ff.). The archeological evidence seems to indicate that the čahārqāpū with a simple square interior without bays was rare in monu­mental pre-Islamic architecture in Iran.

The first fully developed čahārṭāq, with arched or barrel-vaulted bays on the interior between the piers, thus with a cruciform ground plan, seems to have been the now ruined Takht-i Nishin (Taḵt-e Nešīn), probably the fire temple that Ardašīr is reported to have built in the same city (Figure 33). Archeological evidence, combined with descriptions in medieval texts (e.g., Ebn al-Balḵī, tr. in Le Strange, p. 45), permits reconstruc­tion of a cubical building with walls of cut stone, a brick dome, and an ayvān or additional chamber projecting from each side (Huff, 1972, pp. 517ff.). Ebn al-Balḵī’s Fārs-nāma (Le Strange, 1912, p. 45) and other medieval reports have confused and combined the Takht-i Nishin and the nearby tower-like minar, called Tirbal in ancient times. Herzfeld (1935, p. 90), assuming that this name belonged to the Takht-i Nishin, suggested that it was a derivation of the Greek word tetrapylon, the equivalent of Persian čahārqāpū. This unjustified hypothesis led to the erroneous reconstruction of the ruin as an open canopy, reflecting a Roman quadruple gate like the lanus Quadrifrons (Godard, 1938, pp. 19ff.; Erdmann, 1941, pp. 46ff.). Probably the largest Sasanian čahārṭāq ever built was the hall of the so-called “palace of Šāpūr I” (r. 241-72), Ardašīr’s son and successor, in Bīšāpūr (Figure 34), the dome of which spanned 22.75 m. It seems to have been the first čahārṭāq to be surrounded by an ambulatory, which separated the central cruciform unit from the other rooms of the complex, the function of which is still debated (Ghirshman, 1938, pp. 15ff.; 1956, pp. 11f.; Huff, 1972, pp. 530ff.; Sarfaraz, 1987, pp. 25ff.). From the later Sasanian period examples of the simple cruciform čahārṭāq, and the čahārṭāq surrounded by an ambulatory are all known in various permutations: for example, those excavated at Kuh-i Khwaja (Kūh-e Ḵᵛāja; Herzfeld, 1935, pp. 58ff.; 1941, pp. 301ff.; Gullini, 1964, pp. 34ff.), Takht-i Suleiman (Taḵt-e Solaymān; Naumann et al., 1965, pp. 622ff.; 1977, pp. 46ff.; Huff, 1983-84, pp. 293ff.), Qaḷʿeh-i Yazdigird (Qaḷʿa-ye Yaz­degerd; Keall, 1981, pp. 33f.; 1982, p. 59)—all with ambulatories and additional rooms, and the one at Tureng (Tūrang) Tepe (Boucharlat, 1987, pp. 51ff.)—a simple closed cube, possibly with an entrance room or shelter. Countless others have been reported from surveys (cf. Schippmann, 1971; Vanden Berghe, 1984, with further literature; Reut, 1973; de Miroschedji, 1980; Huff, 1982; Bier, 1986), but the majority are only superficially documented, and traces of enclosure walls, surrounding corridors, or adjacent rooms have fre­quently been overlooked. Furthermore, as attribution to the Sasanian period has not been confirmed by excavation or other archeological evidence and as Sasanian building techniques did not change fundamentally in Iran with the Arab conquest, dating such buildings to one period or the other is often problematic (Schipp­mann, 1971, p. 505; Huff, 1975a, pp. 247f.; 1975b, pp. 158ff.).

André Godard (1938, pp. 7ff.) and Kurt Erdmann (1941, pp. 35ff.), who misunderstood the remaining cores of ruined čahārṭāqs, suggested that the main element of the Sasanian fire sanctuary was a “canopy čahārṭāq,” a free-standing, domed baldachin with ar­ches open to the outside (see Figure 35). They assumed that the sacred flame was brought from a hypothetical repository, the ātašgāh (or ātašdān), to such a canopy structure for worship during public ceremonies; the term čahārṭāq thus became nearly synonymous with “fire temple” in the architectural and art-historical literature. There is, however, no archeological evidence that a canopy čahārṭāq existed in the Sasanian period. Furthermore, the transfer of fire does not accord with fundamental Zoroastrian ritual (Boyce, 1968; 1975, pp. 463f.). More recent research has substantiated the view of Ernst Herzfeld (1935, pp. 88ff.; 1941, pp. 301f.) and others (e.g., Monneret de Villard; Reuther, pp. 550ff.) that fire temples were always closed buildings, more complex than a simple open canopy (Huff, 1972, pp. 528ff.; 1975a, pp. 243ff.; 1975b, pp. 156ff.; 1982, pp. 197ff.; Deshayes, 1973, pp. 31ff.; Keall, 1973, pp. 16f.; Boucharlat, 1995, pp. 466ff.). Within these structures the čahārṭāq, with or without ambulatory but always surrounded by walls or adjoining rooms, served as the sanctuary where the fire altar was kept and worship took place. As the same architectural unit also appeared in various other, nonreligious contexts, however, the term cannot be used as a synonym for a Sasanian sanctuary (see ARCHITECTURE iii. Sasanian, fig. 11).

The similarity in plan between excavated fire temples and Islamic shrines (emāmzāda, gonbad) often makes it extremely difficult to determine the original function of unexcavated čahārṭāqs, especially in Fārs and Kermān, provinces where Zoroastrianism and Islam flourished side by side in the first centuries after the Arab conquest. Some presumed Sasanian buildings may thus turn out to have been either Zoroastrian or Islamic sanctuaries of the early Islamic centuries. For example, the function and date of the so-called “Sasanian palace” at Sarvistan (Sarvestān), which contains two čahārṭāqs, are still being debated (Schippmann, 1971, p. 505; Huff, 1975a, pp. 244ff.; idem, 1975b, pp. 158f.; Boucharlat, 1985, pp. 464ff.; Bier, 1986, pp. 63ff.; Figure 36; Plate xxvi).


R. Besenval, Technologie de la voûte dans l’Orient ancien, 2 vols., Paris, 1984.

L. Bier, Sarvistan. A Study in Early Iranian Architecture, University Park, Pa., 1986.

R. Boucharlat, “Chahar taq et temple du feu sasanide. Quelques remarques” in J.-L. Huot, M. Yon, and Y. Calvet, eds., De l’Indus aux Balkans. Receuil à la mémoire de Jean Deshayes, Paris, 1985, pp. 461-72.

Idem, Fouilles de Tureng Tepe I, Paris, 1987.

M. Boyce, “On the Sacred Fires of the Zoroastrians,” BSOAS 31, 1968, pp. 52-68.

Idem, “On the Zoroastrian Temple Cult of Fire,” JAOS 95, 1975, pp. 454-63.

M. Colledge, Parthian Art, London, 1977.

K. A. C. Creswell, Early Muslim Architecture, 2nd ed., I/2, Oxford, 1969.

J. Deshayes, “Un temple du feu d’époque islamique à Tureng Tépé,” in Le feu dans le Proche-Orient antique. Actes du colloque de Strasbourg (9 et 10juin 1972), Leiden, 1973, pp. 31-40.

K. Erdmann, Das iranische Feuer­heiligtum, Leipzig, 1941.

R. Ghirshman, “Les fouilles de Châpour (Iran),” RAA 12, 1938, pp. 12-19.

Idem, Bichâpour II, Paris, 1956. A. Godard et al., “Les monuments du feu,” Āthār-é Īrān 3, 1938, pp. 7-80.

G. Gullini, Architettura iranica dagli Achemenidi ai Sasanidi, Torino, 1964. E. Herzfeld, Archaeological History of Iran, London, 1935.

Idem, Iran in the Ancient East, Oxford, 1941.

Idem, “Damascus. Studies in Architecture—I,” Ars Islamica 9, 1942, pp. 1-53.

D. Huff, “Qaḷʿa-ye Dukhtar bei Firuzabad. Ein Beitrag zur sasanidischen Palastarchitektur,” AMI, N.S. 4, 1971, pp. 127-71.

Idem, “Der Takht-i Nishin in Firuzabad,” Archäologischer Anz., 1972, pp. 517-40.

Idem, “"Sasanian" Čahār Tāqs in Fārs,” in Proceedings of the 3rd Annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran, Tehran 23rd 10.-1st 11, 1974, Tehran, 1975a, pp. 243-54.

Idem, “Grabung westlich des grossen Feuertempels,” in R. Naumann et al., “Takht-i Suleiman 1965-1973,” Archäologi­scher Anz. 1975b, pp. 137ff.

Idem, “Das Imamzadeh Sayyid Husein und E. Herzfelds Theorie über den sasanidischen Feuertempel,” Stud. Ir. 11, 1982, pp. 197-212.

Idem, “Takht-i Suleiman,” Archiv für Orientforschung 29-30, 1983-84, pp. 293-95.

Idem, “The Gunbad in Islamic (Iranian) Architecture,” in Y. Kiani, Iranian Architecture in the Islamic Period, Tehran, 1987, pp. 397ff.

Idem, “Das Qasr Nuweijis bei Amman,” Istanbuler Mitteilungen 39, 1989, forthcoming.

Idem and Ph. Gignoux, “Ausgrabungen auf Qaḷʿa-ye Dukhtar bei Firuzabad 1976,” AMI 11, 1978, pp. 117-50.

E. J. Keall, “Archaeology and the Fire Temple,” in C. J. Adams, ed., Iranian Civili­zation, Montreal, 1973, pp. 15-22.

Idem, “Qaḷʿeh-i Yazdigird. An Overview of the Monumental Archi­tecture,” Iran 20, 1982, pp. 51-72.

Idem and M. J. Keall, “The Qaḷʿeh-i Yazdigird Pottery. A Statistical Approach,” Iran 19, 1981, pp. 33-80.

W. Kleiss, “Qaḷʿeh Zohak in Azerbaidjan,” AMI, N.S. 6, 1973, pp. 163-88.

G. Le Strange, “Description of the Prov­ince of Fars, in Persia, at the Beginning of the Twelfth century A.D., Translated from the MS. of Ibn-al-Balkhí in the British Museum,” JRAS, 1912, pp. 1-30, 311-39, 865-89 (printed separately as Asiatic Society Monographs 14).

P. de Miroschedji, “Un chahār ṭāq dans la plaine de Darab,” Iran 18, 1980, pp. 157-60.

U. Monneret de Villard, “The Fire Temples,” Bulletin of the American Institute for Persian Art and Archaeology 5, 1936, pp. 175ff.

R. Naumann et al., “Takht-i Suleiman und Zendan-i Suleiman. Vorläufiger Bericht über die Ausgrabun­gen in den Jahren 1963 und 1964,” Archäologischer Anz., 1965, pp. 619-802.

Idem, Die Ruinen von Tacht­-e Suleiman und Zendan-e Suleiman, Berlin, 1977.

D. Oates, “The Excavations at Tell al-Rimah,” 1968, Iraq 32, 1970, pp. 1-26.

Idem, “Early Vaulting in Mesopotamia,” in Archaeological Theory and Prac­tice, ed. D. E. Strong, London and New York, 1973, pp. 183-91.

M. Reut, “Āteškade, un nouveau site préislamique,” Stud Ir. 2, 1973, pp. 119-25.

O. Reuther, “Sāsānian Architecture. A. History,” in Survey of Persian Art I, pp. 493-578.

A. A. Sarfaraz, “Bishapur,” in M. Y. Kiani, Iranian Cities, Tehran, 1987, pp. 22-74.

K. Schippmann, Die iranischen Feuerheiligtümer, Berlin and New York, 1971.

L. Vanden Berghe, “Récentes découvertes de monu­ments sassanides dans le Fārs,” Iranica Antiqua 1, 1961, pp. 163-98.

Idem, “Nouvelles découvertes de monuments du feu d’époque sassanide,” Iranica Antiqua 5, 1965, pp. 128-47.

Idem, “Les chahar taqs du Pusht-i Kuh,” Iranica Antiqua 12, 1977, pp. 175-­77.

Idem, “Le chahār ṭāq de Qanāṭ-i Bāgh (Fārs) et l’inventaire des chahār ṭāqs en Irān,” Iranica Antiqua 29, 1984, pp. 201-20.

G. Widengren, “The Establish­ment of the Sassanian Dynasty in the Light of New Evidence,” in Atti del convegno internazionale sul tema: La Persia nel Medioevo (Roma, 31 marzo—5 aprile 1970), Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, no. 160, Rome, 1971, pp. 711-84.

(Dietrich Huff)


ii. In the Islamic Period

It is often very difficult to determine whether particular structures of the čahārṭāq type belong to the Sasanian or early Islamic period (see i, above), as the form seems to have continued in use without interruption and to have been widely adopted in the Islamic architecture of Persia. It is also difficult to separate the history of the domed chamber (gonbad) in general from that of the čahārṭāq form in particular. This continuity, however, makes it more understandable why the form should have re­mained of such importance in subsequent Islamic architecture.

The čahārṭāq can be associated in Islamic Iran with four main building types: the mosque, the mausoleum, the palace, and the garden pavilion.

The mosque. It appears that in the early Islamic period many existing buildings, both religious and secular, were converted into mosques. There is evidence to suggest that several čahārṭāqs were among them, though such a conversion has been definitely established in only one instance, the mosque at Yazd-e Ḵᵛāst (Siroux, 1947). The rough stone masonry of the lower walls, the nearly parabolic profiles of the four main arches, and the crude squinches suggest a Sasanian or early Islamic date. A similar history has been suggested for the mosques of, for instance, Kūhpāya, Qehī, and Harand (Siroux’s “Gehi and Akhand”) in the Isfahan area (Siroux, 1966; idem, 1973) and Qorva near Qazvīn (Hillenbrand, 1972). The Masjed-e Bīrūn (extramural mosque) at Abarqūh and the congregational mosque at ʿAqdā between Yazd and Nāʾīn, both in an area that had remained a stronghold of Zoroastrianism, may have been converted to mosques as late as the 9th/15th century (Shokoohy, 1985); they differ from the others mentioned in that the structures adjoining the čahārṭāqs may also date from the Sasanian or early Islamic period. A unique survival occurs in the Moṣallā-ye Jadīd at Yazd, where čahārṭāq stands alone in the center of a courtyard, now adjoining a two-story madrasa (Afšār, pp. 614-45). Inscriptions refer to con­structions of 958/1551 and 1035/1625, but it is not clear whether the mosque was completely rebuilt or simply repaired. The geographical range of these examples is sufficient to suggest that transformations of ancient čahārṭāqs were not uncommon; many more such build­ings have probably been lost.

With one exception all these mosques are in small villages; the Masjed-e Bīrūn at Abarqūh stands, as its name suggests, some distance from the town and the main mosque. In larger towns, on the other hand, small domed chambers would not have been spacious enough to accommodate the congregations during Friday prayer. Furthermore, most of the larger Persian towns had surrendered to the Muslim conquerors by treaty, which guaranteed that preexisting places of worship could continue; the Muslims thus built new mosques in those towns.

Although the surrounding ambulatories that have been postulated for the Sasanian ātaškada seem to have persisted in the examples around Yazd, in others they are absent, suggesting that many of the converted buildings were simple čahārṭāqs without ambulatories or other constructions. It is true that traces of surround­ing constructions have frequently been overlooked in reports of existing Sasanian čahārṭāqs (see i, above), but the type of Sasanian domed chamber usually incorpo­rated into Islamic structures nevertheless seems to con­firm the existence of the čahārṭāq as an independent unit in the Sasanian period. Such isolated structures could not, of course, have functioned as ātaškadas, but what their functions were has not yet been established.

A superficial resemblance to the plan of a čahārṭāq surrounded by an ambulatory may be observed in three nine-bay mosques that survive from the ʿAbbasid period in Afghanistan and Central Asia; Masjed-e Noh Gonbad at Balḵ, Masjed-e Dīggarān at Hazāra, northeast of Bukhara, and Masjed-e Čahār Sotūn at Termeḏ. The resemblance is greatest when, as in the Masjed-e Dīggarān, the central dome is taller and of greater diameter than those of the surrounding bays (for a possible medieval example near Isfahan see Siroux, 1973, fig. 14). This plan is, however, widespread in the Islamic world, and it has also been proposed that it originated in the bays preceding the meḥrāb of the Friday Mosque at Wāseṭ in Iraq (Allen, pp. 79-83). The plans of many mausoleums and even domestic buildings are closely related (see below). Mosques based on multiplication of the domed unit can also be seen as variations of this type; examples survive from the Il-­khanid period (and possibly earlier) in the Isfahan region (Šāpūrbād mosque and Masjed-e Kūča Mīr at Naṭanz; Siroux 1973, fig. 17; Kleiss, fig. 5) and from the Timurid period around Herat (the Ōba mosque; Masjed-e Ḥawž-e Karbās at Ḡalvār, and Masjed-e Čehel Sotūn at Zīāratgāh; O’Kane, 1987, nos. 11, 21, 44).

If a čahārṭāq did serve as the starting point for some small mosques, then a natural development would have been its extension along the qebla wall, as in the Masjed-e Sar-e Kūča in Moḥammadīya (with a Kufic inscription very similar to that in the Davāzdah Emām of 429/1037­-38 at Yazd), where two barrel vaults flanking the dome define a space three times as wide as the dome chamber (plan in Godard, 1965, p. 284 fig. 203). In this instance the domed chamber was not the earliest building on the site; a niche similar to a meḥrāb (prayer niche) has recently been found behind one of its piers (not yet published). The 6th/12th-century Talḵatan Bābā mosque in Turkmeni­stan (Pugachenkova, 1958, plan on p. 249) is another example of this type, though the side extensions are much narrower. Both buildings can, however, also be seen as variants of another Sasanian type, exemplified by the Ayvān-e Karḵa in Ḵūzestān, a barrel-vaulted gallery with a dome in the center.

Some early Islamic domed mosques do not appear to have been converted from Sasanian čahārṭāqs. André Godard promulgated the theory that, as many Persian domed chambers of Saljuq date are either isolated or surrounded by later elements, they must originally have been built as free-standing mosques; he referred to such domed squares as “kiosk mosques” (1936; 1965; cf. Hillenbrand, 1976, pp. 100-02; 1985, pp. 175-77; Grabar, pp. 38-39; Ettinghausen; Blair, pp. 85-86). The main difficulty with this theory is not its basic premise—­that free-standing domed squares were built to serve as mosques, possibly in imitation of čahārṭāqs—but the inappropriate examples chosen to illustrate it. Archeologists have subsequently investigated three of the mosques that Godard cited in this connection. In the case of those in Isfahan and Ardestān the domed squares were found to have been added to earlier hypostyle buildings (Galdieri; Bāqer Šīrāzī); at Naṭanz the domed chamber was originally a mausoleum (Blair). Eugenio Galdieri also referred to imminent excavations at Barsīān, another mosque mentioned by Godard; the intent was to determine whether or not traces of a preexisting ʿAbbasid mosque could be found around the Saljuq domed chamber there (p. 46). No such excavation has been published, but the presence of a minaret antedating the dome chamber by 37 years is sufficient to confirm the existence of an earlier mosque (see, e.g., Sauvaget). The first scholar to challenge the kiosk-mosque theory was Jean Sauvaget, who suggested that the domed chambers should rather be understood as maqṣūras, princely enclosures inserted in preexisting mosques. More recent studies of textual and epigraphic evidence have tended to confirm his view. For example, in contemporary sources the terms qobba “dome” and maqṣūra “enclosure” were used interchangeably to designate the domed chamber of the congregational mosque at Qazvīn (Sourdel-­Thomine, p. 34 n. 1), though the word maqṣūra does not occur in the inscriptions in the chamber itself. In the congregational mosque at Qorva the domed chamber is explicitly referred to as a maqṣūra in the inscriptions recording repairs carried out in 574/1179-80 (Hillenbrand, 1972). In addition, Sheila Blair (personal com­munication) considers the domed chamber in front of the qebla in the Great Mosque of Isfahan to have been built shortly after the repair of the maqṣūra in the Great Mosque of Damascus by Malekšāh in 475/1082-83; she argues that the Isfahan chamber was an imitation of the Damascus maqṣūra, whereas subsequent Saljuq examples were imitations of the prestigious Isfahan chamber. It could also be argued that, because of the conversions of čahārṭāqs to mosques and the presence of the kiosk mosques mentioned below, Iranian culture was more receptive to the idea of the insertion of large qebla domed chambers in mosques.

True kiosk mosques can be found, however, not as congregational mosques in the larger towns but, like the converted čahārṭāqs, in small villages, for example, the Masjed-e ʿAlī Qūndī in Fahraj (possibly ʿAbbasid and perhaps originally a mausoleum; Zipoli, pp. 51-52, pls. 14-15) and the Masjed-e Gonbad (domed mosque) in Sangān-e Pāʾīn (531/1136-37, Hillenbrand, 1971); as each village also possesses a congregational mosque, these two must have been built as neighborhood mosques. The domed chambers in the villages of Borābād and Nūk in Khorasan (Saljuq period, unpublished) and the Masjed-e Gonbad of Āzādān near Isfahan (766-67/1364-65) may also belong to this group (Wilber, cat. no. 105). The ultimate refinement of the type is the Safavid Masjed-e Šayḵ Loṭf-Allāh in Isfahan; documents published re­cently by R. D. McChesney contradict the notion that this building was originally conceived as a mausoleum (Blair, p. 93 n. 75).

The mausoleum. Instances of the conversion of čahārṭāqs into mausoleums are much less common; a rare example is the Safavid shrine of Šāhzāda Abu’l-­Qāsem (Shokoohy, 1983) at Herat. The plan of the celebrated mausoleum of the Samanids at Bukhara (before 331/943), a domed square with four axial entrances, has often been compared to that of the čahārṭāq, though it is difficult to find parallels for the fine brickwork and external gallery topped by four subsidiary domes at the corners of the square. The most impressive mausoleum of the Saljuq period, that of Sultan Sanjar at Marv (Mary), has two axial entrances and an upper gallery that may be related to that at Bukhara. The subsequent course of development of the Persian mausoleum is foreshadowed in the Arab Ata at Tīm (possibly 367/977-78), where three of the four facades are blank and the decoration is concentrated on the fourth. The entrance is framed by pīšṭāq (lit. “front arch,” a section of wall rising higher than the roof and adjacent walls, with an arched opening in the center). Although most medieval domed squares have single entrances, there are frequently recesses in the other three sides (e.g., at the 6th/12th-century mausoleum of Bābā Ḥātem near Balḵ); this design may be an echo of the čahārṭāq. In the 9th/15th century the recesses became deeper (O’Kane, 1987, nos. 13-15, 24, 25), and the plan thus more closely approximated that of the čahārṭāq, but this change is more likely to have resulted from Timurid spatial and vaulting innovations than from a revival of earlier forms.

The most distinctive feature of the čahārṭāq, the four axial entrances, persists in some other mausoleums in Turkmenistan, but their dates are uncertain: the mausoleum in the Emām Bāb cemetery at Marv, perhaps of the late 4th/10th century (Pugachenkova, 1958, p. 176), and the Aq Saray Ding mausoleum at Taḵta in Turk­menistan, with a very tall drum suggesting a date 400 or more years later than the 5-6th/11-12th-century dating proposed by G. A. Pugachenkova (1983, no. 6). Domed chambers with four axial entrances are also found in 9th/15th-century Persia in the mausoleum at Sangvar near Mašhad (O’Kane, no. 29) and, surrounded by an ambulatory (and other rooms), in the Masjed-e Šāh in Mašhad (855/1451; O’Kane, no. 26), thus recalling at a relatively late date the ancient fire temple (see i, above). In another 9th/15th-century monument, the mausoleum of the Sufi Bābā Monīr near Būšehr in Fārs (Herzfeld, p. 31 fig. 20), the plan with ambulatory and subsidiary rooms is perfectly symmetrical, a variation on the nine-bay plan used in mosques (for two related mausoleums of indeterminate date, see Siroux, 1973, figs. 12-13). Outside Persia the čahārṭāq form is found in numerous Fatimid mausoleums in Aswān and Cairo.

In several medieval texts the čahārṭāq is associated with the fourth level of heaven, the domicile of the sun and therefore the source of light, an appropriate attribute for a saintly figure (Daneshvari, pp. 22-25). In view of these associations, it is not surprising that the čahārṭāq should have been a popular form for mausoleums, especially those of saints.

The palace. As has been pointed out (see i, above), the čahārṭāq is found in the great Sasanian palaces of Fīrūzābād and Bīšāpūr. Eṣṭaḵrī (p. 259) described the Dār al-Emāra (government house) of Abū Moslem at Marv (ca. 132/750) as having a domed chamber with four doors, each leading to an ayvān. The symmetry of this plan apparently also appealed to the builders of ʿAbbasid Sāmarrā, where it appeared in the throne rooms of the Jawsaq al-Ḵāqānī (with basilical halls replacing ayvāns), the Balkowārā, the Qaṣr al-Jaṣṣ, and the Estabolāt palaces (Creswell and Allan, figs. 136, 210, 219, 221, 236). On the west bank of the Tigris, at Qaṣr al-ʿĀšeq (the lover’s palace), there was a throne room with four axial entrances, though it is unclear whether or not it was vaulted (Creswell, 1940, fig. 259). In the palace at Oḵayżer (Ukhaidir) in southwestern Iraq there is also a throne room with four entrances; it is barrel-vaulted but may originally have been intended to carry a dome (Creswell, 1940, p. 67 n. 1).

Three dwellings in the Marv region also show the influence of the čahārṭāq. The earliest, the kūšk (kiosk) at Tahmalaj, has a nine-bay plan similar to those mentioned above, though only the central čahārṭāq communicates on four axes (Pugachenkova, 1958, plan on p. 167). A Saljuq house near Marv has a čahārṭāq opening into four axial barrel vaults (p. 207), and at Bāšān west of Marv there is a Saljuq building consisting of rooms around a courtyard and an attached covered square with a čahārṭāq at its center; it has been described as a caravansary but seems more likely to have been a dwelling (p. 241).

The garden pavilion. Very little medieval garden architecture has survived (See Âčahārbāḡ; garden), probably owing to the flimsy nature of many construc­tions of this type, as well as to the abandonment and deterioration of secular structures after the demise of the dynasties that built them. The plan of one of the earliest preserved garden pavilions, that of the palace at Laškarī Bāzār (see bost) in Afghanistan, is a miniature version of the symmetrical throne rooms discussed above (Schlumberger, pl. 31). The identical plan of the so-called ḵānaqāh at Afūsta (9th/15th century) suggests that it, too, was a garden pavilion (Ferrante and Galdieri, figs. 5-16). Most later garden pavilions were polygonal, but occasionally a čahārṭāq was constructed around a square pool, as in the Safavid Bāḡ-e Fīn near Kāšān.

In summary, it may be noted that it is difficult to separate the history of the dome chamber (gonbad) in Persia from that of the čahārṭāq. While the polygonal dome chamber, in the form of the tomb tower, obviously belongs to a different tradition, the Sasanian domed square was the major prototype for the domed chambers that occurred so frequently in Islamic Persia. In parti­cular the transformation of the Arab hypostyle plan by the insertion of a qebla dome chamber (and later by the addition of courtyard ayvāns.) into the classical Persian mosque may be seen as the major legacy of the Sasanian čahārṭāq in the Islamic world.


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(Bernard O’Kane)

Figure 32. Qaḷʿeh Dukhtar (Qaḷʿa-ye Doḵtar) at Fīrūzābād (čahārqāpū). Central hall of the early palace of Ardašīr I. From Huff, 1971, figs. 5 and 6

Figure 33. Takht-i Nishin (Taḵt-e Nešīn) at Fīrūzābād (čahārṭāq). Probably the fire temple of Ardašīr I in the circular city of Ardašīr-Ḵorra. From Huff, 1972, figs. 7 and 8

Figure 34. The so-called palace of Šāpūr I at Bīšāpūr. Čahārṭāq with surrounding ambulatory. Possibly a fire temple. From Ghirshman, 1956, plan II

Figure 35. The čahārqāpū at Qasr-i Shirin (Qaṣr-e Šīrīn). Probably fire temple of Ḵosrow II Parvēz. From Reuther, pp. 553f. figs. 158 and 159, with corrections

Figure 36. Zarshir (Zaršīr). Late Sasanian or early medieval čahārṭāq southeast of Fasā in Fārs. Probably fire temple. From Huff, 1975a, p. 251, fig. 5b

Plate xxvi. Zarshir (Zaršīr) čahārṭāq. View from the east. From Huff, 1975a, p. 251, fig. 5a

(Dietrich Huff, Bernard O’Kane)

Originally Published: December 15, 1990

Last Updated: December 15, 1990

This article is available in print.
Vol. IV, Fasc. 6, pp. 634-642

Cite this entry:

Dietrich Huff, Bernard O’Kane, “ČAHĀRṬĀQ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, IV/6, pp. 634-642, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/cahartaq (accessed on 30 December 2012).