FĪRŪZKŪH,name of two towns: (1) a fortified city in the medieval Islamic province of Ḡūr in Central Afghanistan, which was the capital of the senior branch of the Ghurid sultans (see GHURIDS) for some sixty years in the later 6th/12th and 7th/13th centuries; (2) fortress and surrounding settlement in the Damāvand region of the Alborz mountains in northern Persia.

i. The Ghurid Capital.

ii. In the Alborz (History).

iii. The Modern Town.


The ruler from the Šansabānī family of local maleks in Ḡūr, ʿEzz-al-Dīn Ḥosayn (493-540/1100-1106), had his stronghold and capital at Estīa, and in a partition of the Šansabānī dominions at the accession of Sayf-al-Dīn Sūrī on ʿEzz-al-Dīn’s death, Sayf-al-Dīn retained Estīa as overlord of the family, allotting to one of his brothers, the Malek-al-Jebāl Qoṭb-al-Dīn Moḥammad, the district of Varšād/Varšār. Here, the latter is said to have founded his own fortress-city, known as Fīrūzkūh (Jūzjānī, Ṭabaqāt I, pp. 335-36, tr. Raverty, I, pp. 339-40). This was completed only after family dissension led to Qoṭb-al-Dīn’s flight to Bahrāmšāh (q.v.) at Ḡazna, his death there, and the accession in Ḡūr of Bahāʾ-al-Dīn Sām, till then the ruler (malek) of the district of Mandēš, in 544/1149. He adorned the new capital Fīrūzkūh with fine buildings and palaces, making it the key point in a network of fortresses established across his dominions (Jūzjānī, I, p. 337, tr. Raverty, I, pp. 341-42).

Over the next decades, Fīrūzkūh functioned as the capital of the main branch of the Šansabānīs, providing the base for the Ghurid attempts to expand westwards into Khorasan and northern Persia, while parallel branches made their capital at Ḡazna (after 569/1173-74) and Bāmīān (from 540/1145). The two main sources for Ghurid political and military history, Jūzjānī and Ebn-al-Aṯīr, give few details on the urban and demographic development of Fīrūzkūh, but it was there that the sultans of the senior line piled up their treasures and the spoils of battle from regions like Khorasan and India (cf. Jūzjānī, I, pp. 349-50, tr. Raverty, I, p. 364), and some of this was doubtless spent on providing the city with public religious and charitable buildings. Prisoners deported from Ḡazna after Sultan ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Ḥosayn’s sack of the Ghaznavid capital (probably in 544-45/1150) were employed on construction work there (Jūzjānī, I, p. 345, tr. Raverty, I, pp. 335-56; Ebn-al-Aṯīr, Beirut, XI, pp. 165-66; Bosworth, Later Ghaznavids, pp. 117-18). According to Jūzjānī (I, p. 367, tr. Raverty, I, p. 389), Fīrūzkūh, located deep in the heart of the mountains of Ḡūr, functioned as the sultan’s summer capital, but in winter the court moved down to the milder climate of the garmsīr of Zamīn-dāvar in what is now southeastern Afghanistan. He mentions a splendid royal palace (qaṣr) which was adorned with five pinnacles (kongera) inlaid with gold and with two effigies of the fabulous homāy bird, all these having been forwarded to the supreme sultan in Fīrūzkūh, Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn Moḥammad b. Sām, by his brother Moʿezz-al-Dīn Šehāb-al-Dīn Moḥammad from the spoils captured by the latter at Ajmer in Rajasthan in 588/1192 (Jūzjānī, I, p. 375, tr. Raverty, I, pp. 403-4; Maricq and Wiet, p. 44). During the reign of Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn Maḥmūd b. Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn Moḥammad (602-9/1206-12), elaborate public festivities were held at Fīrūzkūh, with lavish distributions of largesse (Jūzjānī, I, p. 376, tr. Raverty, I, pp. 405-6; cf. Jovaynī, ed. Qazvīnī, II, p. 62, tr. Boyle, I, p. 328). Such a highly-developed court must have attracted poets, literary men, musicians, etc., but we know virtually nothing of the cultural life there beyond Neẓāmī ʿArūżī Samarqandī’s brief mention of poets who glorified the house of Šansab (Čahārmaqāla, ed. Qazvīnī, text, p. 45, tr., E. G. Browne, London, 1921, p. 30) and the interesting mention of disputations there between local leaders of the pietistic sect of the Karrāmīya and the famed Shafiʿite scholar Faḵr-al-Dīn Moḥammad Rāzī when the latter visited Fīrūzkūh in 595/1199 (Ebn-al-Aṯīr, Beirut, XII, pp. 151-52; Maricq and Wiet, p. 50; Bosworth, 1961, pp. 131-32).

The prosperous days for Fīrūzkūh ended with the capture of the city in 607/1210-11 by Sultan ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Moḥammad Ḵᵛārazmšāh, which made Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn Maḥmūd his vassal (Jūzjānī, I, pp. 382-83, tr. Raverty, I, pp. 418-19; Jovaynī, ed. Qazvīnī, II, p. 65, 84-86, tr. Boyle, II, pp. 331-32, 352). There were a few years of Chorasmian occupation, toward the end of which ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Moḥammad’s šeḥna there, Mobārez-al-Dīn Šīrāzī (Sabzavārī?), re-fortified and enlarged the citadel (bālā ḥesār), placing a rampart around it and making an access track for mules (Jūzjānī, II, p. 112, 133, tr. Raverty, II, pp. 1004-56). However, a Mongol force appeared before Fīrūzkūh in 617/1220 and besieged it for twenty days. A certain Malek ʿEmād-al-Dīn Zangī was sent to defend the city, but in 619/1222 it fell to troops from the army of Čengīz Khan’s son Ögedey; ʿEmād-al-Dīn was killed and the populace massacred (Jūzjānī, II, pp. 113-14, 132-33, tr. Raverty, II, pp. 1007, 1055-57). The city seems to have never revived, for thereafter it disappears from historical mention, and its site was forgotten.

There has been speculation since the time of Sir Thomas Holdich (p. 223) that the name of the ancient Ghurid capital is enshrined in the name of a component tribe of the modern Čahār Aymāq, the Fīrūzkūhīs, now found in the north of the Harīrūd (see AFGHANISTAN, iv, p. 496), but a chronological gap of over seven centuries means that nothing can be proven here (cf. Leshnik, pp. 42-43).

Location. The site of the fortress-city has occasioned much discussion. Holdich (pp. 222-23, cf. Maricq and Wiet, pp. 55-56), identified it with Taywara in the upper valley of the Rūd-e Ḡōr, where he had in 1884-85 noted substantial ruins, and this was followed by M. Longworth Dames (“Fīrūzkōh,” in EI1 IIa, p. 114). Following investigations by the Afghan scholar Aḥmad ʿAlī Kohzād, André Maricq visited the upper Harīrūd region in 1957 and confidently identified the site of Fīrūzkūh with that of the free-standing minaret (or victory tower?) built by Sultan Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn Moḥammad at the confluence of a small, left-bank affluent of the Harīrūd, the Tagao Gombaz, with the main river, near the modern village of Jām and roughly halfway between Češt and Dawlatyār (Maricq and Wiet, pp. 55-64). It is true that Jūzjānī (II, p. 127, tr. Raverty, II, p. 1047) locates the Ghurid capital near the Pol-e Āhangarān (the modern Dawlatyār) in what was known at that time as the district of Darmašān (cf. Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, tr. Minorsky, comm., p. 333 and Addenda, 2nd Series, map, p. xxiv). A decade or so after Maricq, L. S. Leshnik argued against this location for Fīrūzkūh, with extensive citation of passages from Jūzjānī indicating a more southerly and central location, since the course of the Harīrūd seems to have been the northern boundary of the original Ḡūr. He further pointed out that Jām lies within a very narrow valley and that a major access route to the Ghurid capital along the Harīrūd would hardly be possible there. He therefore reverted to Holdich’s view of a more probable location near the more accessible and more central Taywara (pp. 37, 40-49). The impossibility of further exploration and archaeological investigation during the troubled last twenty-five years of Afghanistan’s history has left the question of the location of Fīrūzkūh open.

Bibliography (for cited works not given in details, see “Short References”):

C. E. Bosworth, “The Early Islamic History of Ghūr,” Central Asiatic Journal, 6, 1961, pp. 116-33.

G. Donini, L’orografia del Ghūr secondo Jūzjānī,” Annali della Facoltà di lingue e letterature straniere di Ca’ Foscari 11/3, 1972, pp. 191-95.

R. N. Frye, “Fīrūzkūh,” in EI2 II, p. 928.

Ḡ. Jīlānī Dāvarī (Davary), “Taḥqīq-e jadīd dar bāra-ye Jām wa Fīrūzkūh,” Āryānā 33/1, 1354 Š./1975, pp. 43-58.

Idem, “Jam and Feroz Koh: A New Study,” Afghanistan 30/4, 1978, pp. 69-91.

A. A. Habibi, “The City of Firuzkuh: Where Was It?” Afghanistan 33/1, 1980, pp. 34-44.

Th. Holdich, The Gates of India: Being a Historical Narrative, London, 1910.

A. Janata, “On the Origin of the Firuzkuhis in Western Afghanistan,” Archiv für Völkerkunde 25, 1971, pp. 57-65.

A. A. Kohzad, “Firoz Koh,” Afghanistan 12/4, 1957, pp. 31-34.

L. S. Leshnik, “Ghur, Firuzkuh, and the Minar-i Jam,” Central Asiatic Journal 12, 1968, pp. 36-49.

A. Maricq and G. Wiet, Le Minaret de Djam: La Découverte de la capitale des Sultans Ghorides (XIIe-XIIIe siècles), MDAFA 16, Paris, 1959.

J. Moline, “The Minaret of Jam (Afghanistan),” Kunst des Orients 9, 1975, pp. 131-48.

R. Pindar-Wilson, “Ghaznavid and Ghurid Minarets,” 1981, unpub. MS formerly kept in the British Institute of Afghan Studies, Kabul. F. Schwarz, Ġazna/Kabul XIV d Ḫurāsān IV, Sylloge numorum arabicorum Tübingen, Tübingen, 1995, pp. 70-71 and pl. 26 (on the coins minted by the later Ghurids at Fīrūzkūh).

G. Vercellin, “Sulla voce ‘Fīrūzkūh,’” Rivista degli Studi Orientali 50/3-4, 1976, pp. 319-28.

Idem, “The Identification of Firuzkuh: A Conclusive Proof,” East and West 26, 1976, pp. 337-40.




The early Islamic geographers did not mention this Fīrūzkūh as such, but they did describe the district of Vīma/Vayma (i.e., Mid. Pers. Wēm “lit. rock”), in which it lay; from the slopes of Vīma a stream flowed south to Ḵovār in Qūmes (Eṣṭaḵrī, pp. 206, 209, tr. pp. 216, 218; Ebn Ḥawqal, pp. 378-79, tr. Kramers, pp. 367, 369; Abū Dolaf, tr., p. 53; Moqaddasī/Maqdesī, pp. 51, 392 n. a; Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, ed. Sotūda, p. 147, tr. Minorsky, p. 135).

In the early 12th century, however, Fīrūzkūh was mentioned in historical sources on the Caspian region (e.g., Ebn Esfandīār, tr. Browne, pp. 165, 255) as a strong fortress (not to be identified with the Ferrīm or Perrīm of the Qarinids and then Bavandids, pace Casanova; see Jovaynī, ed. Qazvīnī, III, comm. p. 383). It was besieged by Sultan ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Tekeš Ḵᵛārazmšāh (567-96/1172-200) in 594/1198; in 624/1227 Sultan Moḥammad’s son Rokn-al-Dīn Ḡūr-Sānjī was besieged there by the Mongols; and in 654/1256 the il-khan Hülegü (Hūlāgū) passed by Fīrūzkūh in his campaign against the Ismaʿili imam Ḵoršāh and the destruction of Ismaʿili fortresses (Jovaynī, ed. Qazvīnī, I, pp. 42, II, 208-10, III, 108, tr. Boyle, I, p. 311, II, pp. 475-76, 619; Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīkò, Baku, pp. 32-33). Subsequently Fīrūzkūh became a summer pasture for the Il-khanids and Timurids; it was there, in 694/1295, that Ḡāzān Khan (694-703/1295-1304) formally became a Muslim at the hands of Shaikh Ṣadr-al-Dīn Ebrāhīm Ḥamawī Jovaynī (Rašīd-al-Dīn, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīkò, Baku, pp. 294-97; idem, Tārīḵ-e ḡāzānī, pp. 76-80; Spuler, Mongolen3, p. 185).

Bibliography (for cited works not given in detail, see “Short References”):

Abū Dolaf Mesʿar b. Mohalhel Yanbūʿī, al-Resāla al-ṯānīa, ed. and tr. V. Minorsky as Abu-Dulaf Misʿar ibn Muhalhil’s Travels in Iran (circa A.D. 950), Cairo, 1955.

Eṣṭaḵrī, tr. Moḥammad b. Saʿd Tostarī, ed. Ī. Afšār, Tehran, 1373 Š./1974.

Gazetteer of Iran I, pp. 172-73.

P. Casanova, “Les ispehbeds de Firîm,” in T. W. Arnold and R. A. Nicholson, eds., A Volume of Oriental Studies Presented to Edward G. Browne, Cambridge, 1922; repr. Amsterdam, 1973, pp. 117-26.

D. Krawulsky, Īrān, Das Reich der Īlḫāne: eine topographisch-historische Studie, Wiesbaden, 1978, p. 254.

Le Strange, Lands, p. 371.

Razmārā, Farhang I, p. 153.

Schwartz, Iran, p. 791-92.

Yāqūt, Boldān IV (Beirut), p. 284.




Fīrūzkūh is a town in the central Alborz region, situated 130 km east of Tehran (35° 45´ N, 52° 45´ E) at an altitude of over 1900 m; it is the seat of the district (baḵš) by the same name in the county of Damāvand, province of Tehran. The mountains separating Fīrūzkūh from the Māzandarān plain were the main summer quarters (yeylāq) of the Qajar tribe and became popular hunting grounds for the Qajar kings. This is commemorated in the monumental bas-relief of the Tang-e Vāšī defile northeast of the city, which depicts Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah and his court on a hunt there.

Located on a vast and bare plateau surrounded by tall mountains, and on the main and also the oldest road crossing the Alborz from Tehran to Sārī and on to Gorgān, Fīrūzkūh is more often mentioned as a stopping place for the many rulers passing through it than as a town. Shah ʿAbbās laid out a road via Damāvand, Fīrūzkūh, and the Gadūk pass, with caravansaries (Jājrūd, Amīnābād, Gadūk) at intervals along the way, linking Tehran to his summer residence at Ašraf, present-day Behšahr in Māzandarān (Eskandar Beg, II, pp. 989-91, tr. Savory, pp. 1211-12; Kleiss, pp. 301-3; Filmer, pp. 314-15). Another path, the oldest one, linked Fīrūzkūh to Garmsār on the road to Khorasan by way of the great valley of Hablarūd, which is marked by Mongol funerary towers and a Safavid bridge at Enzāhā. Those caravan routes, intersecting at Fīrūzkūh, were partly modernized by a Russian company starting in 1914, and then were rebuilt for automotive traffic under Reżā Shah, who was then able to travel to Ālāšt (q.v.), his native village, located between Sārī and Fīrūzkūh. The path of the Hablarūd road was then used by the north section of the Trans-Iranian railway. Another road, passing through the Bašm pass, links Fīrūzkūh to Semnān.

Nowadays Fīrūzkūh remains a yeylāq for the population of Sārī, and the local tongue is the Māzandarānī dialect of Sārī, which is called gīlakī here as it is in every village of this district all the way to the southern plain (see ANTI-ALBORZ). The surrounding city and mountains are also the yeylāq of the Sangsarī tribe who possess numerous businesses and land in Fīrūzkūh. The herds of the Oṣānlū and Alī Kāy nomads and those of pastoralists from villages close to Semnān, such as After and Ṭorūd, also spend summer grazing in those pasture lands.

In spite of the construction of the railway and modern roads, Fīrūzkūh has remained a small town with modest development. The town’s population was 3,041 (648 families) in 1941 (Wezārat-e kešvar, I, p. 22), 3,500 in 1956 and less than 9,000 in 1986 (National Census, 1365 Š./1986). The same is true about the villages of its four rural districts (dehestān), namelyQazqānčāʾī, Hablarūd, Pošt-e Kūh, and Fīrūzkūh. The population, smaller in winter, subsists on animal husbandry, trade, and the administration of roads, railway, and pasture lands. Crafts and agriculture (potatoes, fodder) are not very developed. Downstream, along the Hablarūd valley, orchards are especially plentiful (apples and especially apricots for drying). The region has numerous historical monuments, but the town itself, built at the bottom of the fortress ruins, presents little interest. To the south is the modern train station neighborhood, built in the 1930s, and to the north, numerous underground stables (kohol) are grouped together at a short distance from the town. Since 1985, new modern sections have been built north of the city, as well as an industrial sector. 

Bibliography (for cited works not given in detail, see “Short References”):

H. Filmer, The Pageant of Persia, Indianapolis, Ind., 1936.

Gazetteer of Iran I, p. 172.

W. Kleiss, “Karavanenwege in Iran,” AMI 10, 1977, pp. 301-3.

Razmārā, Farhang I, p. 153.

ʿA.-Ḥ. Saʿīdīān, Sarzamīn wa mardom-e Īrān, 2 vols., Tehran, 1981, s.v. “Fīrūzkūh.” Wezārat-e kešvar, Edāra-ye koll-e āmār wa ṯabt-e aḥwāl, Ketāb-e asāmī-e dehāt-e kešvar, Tehran, 1329 Š./1950.


(Bernard Hourcade)

Originally Published: December 15, 1999

Last Updated: January 26, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. IX, Fasc. 6, pp. 636-639