GEREH-SĀZĪ (lit: making gereh “knot”), term used to refer to various geometric designs in woodworking and architectural decoration.

i. Woodwork.

ii. Architecture.



Gereh-sāzī refers to two related techniques of woodworking: either a lattice frame, which could be left plain or filled with wooden insets, colored glass, or other materials and was used for balustrades and window screens; or a mosaic panel, composed of hexagons, stars, and other geometric shapes and used to decorate the sides of menbars and ceilings in mosques, palaces, and private houses.

Both techniques must have been common at least from the 14th century, but due to the ravages of time, insects, and fire few early pieces have survived. One of the earliest examples of a wooden lattice to survive is the balustrade guarding the stairs and platform of the jujube menbar made by Maḥmūdšāh b. Moḥammad Naqqāš Kermānī and donated to the Friday Mosque at Nāʾīn in Rajab 711/October-November 1311 (Smith, figs. 1, 3, 4, 6). One of the earliest examples of the star-and-polygon technique is the side panels on a menbar dated 771/1369 and transferred in 1935 from the Friday Mosque in Sūrīān in Fārs to the Iran Bastan Museum (Moṣṭafawī, p. 8; Golmohammadi, p. 78). The Timurid menbar in the Gowhar-Šād Mosque (q.v.) in the sanctuary of Imam Reżā at Mašhad (see Diez, fig. 8) displays both techniques, an open lattice for the balustrade and mosaic panels for the sides.

These woodworking techniques were very popular in the Safavid period, and many fine examples survive in Safavid buildings at Isfahan, especially the Hašt Behešt and Čehel Sotūn palaces (qq.v.). For windows, the lattices were usually filled with clear or colored glass and served simultaneously as barrier and connector between interior and exterior. Rectangular grilles were surmounted by a pointed arch, and large grilles were made up of three or more moveable panels. Over time the mesh was closed up, the pieces became thinner, and denser and more complex compositions with stars and polygons were created (illustrations in Orazi). Ceilings had elaborate mosaic compositions of stars and polygons, often highlighted with paint and gilding (see, for example, the ceiling over the porch in the Čehel Sotūn; Survey of Persia Art VIII, pls. 473-74; (PLATE I). During the Qajar period, curvilinear and floral patterns became popular, and mirrored glass was added to heighthen the decorative effect.



E. Diez, “Miḥrāb,” in EI1 III, pp. 485-90.

J. Golmohammadi, “Minbar 2,” in EI2 VII, pp. 76-79.

M.-Ṭ. Moṣṭafawī, Eqlīm-e Pārs, Tehran, 1343 Š./1964.

R. Orazi, Wooden Gratings in Safavid Architecture, Rome, 1976.

M. B. Smith, “The Wood Minbar in the Masdjid-i Djāmiʿ, Nāʾīn,” Ars Islamica 5, 1938, pp. 21-35.

H. Wulff, The Traditional Crafts of Persia, Cambridge, Mass., 1966, pp. 87, 98.




The term gereh-sāzī refers to a form of geometric interlaced strapwork ornament that is commonly found in architecture and the minor arts throughout the Islamic world. In Persian Islamic architecture gereh-sāzī designs exist in a variety of media, particularly cut brickwork (bannāʾī), stucco, and cut tilework (mosaic faïence).

Perhaps the oldest reference in Persian to gereh as a mode of architectural decoration appears in Mīr Sayyed Aḥmad’s introduction to the Amīr Ḡayb Beg Album, written in 972/1564-65 (tr. in Thackston, pp. 355-56). The term gereh-sāzī (like the similar terms kār-bandī and rasmī-bandī) appears in the vocabulary of 19th to 20th-century Persian craftsmen working in both architectural decoration and woodwork (Wulff, p. 87; Neçipoğlu, p. 22). Several scrolls (ṭūmār) containing drawings of bannāʾī, gereh-sāzī, and moqarnas designs date from the late 15th to the early 20th century (Baklanov; Raʿnā-Ḥosaynī and Foṣḥatī; Neçipoğlu). In addition, it seems likely that books of practical geometry were employed when laying out these designs. Important examples of this type of text are the Ketāb fī mā yaḥtāj elayh al-ṣāneʿ men aʿmāl al-handasa of Abu’l-Wafāʾ Būzjānī (d. 388/998, q.v.) and the anonymous Fī tadāḵol al-aškāl al-motašābehāt aw al-motawāfeqa from the 11th-13th century (Neçipoğlu, pp. 167-75).

Gereh-sāzī takes the form of symmetrical geometric shapes, particularly six-, eight-, ten- or twelve-pointed star polygons combined with a range of convex polygons, and separated from one another by straps which often are given the appearance of “weaving” under and over one another. Gereh-sāzī is usually composed entirely with straight lines and angles although curvilinear elements are sometimes encountered. Like other modes of gereh, these strapwork compositions possess the potential for endless vertical and horizontal repetition over a two- or three-dimensional surface. This capacity for continual expansion is governed by strict adherence to an underlying geometric grid. The key to most gereh-sāzī designs is the employment of two-, three-, four-, or six-fold rotational symmetry around a set of regularly-spaced points (Lee, p. 183).

Sasanian architectural ornament includes repeated geometric and vegetal designs (Survey of Persian Art I, pp. 601-30, IV, pls. 171-72), but none of the surviving examples anticipate the structural complexity of gereh-sāzī. The antecedents for the sophisticated interlace patterns developed in the Islamic world may be sought in the architecture of Roman-Byzantine Syria (cf. Creswell, I, figs. 110-17, 119-26, 128). Examples of curvilinear interlaced strapwork with three-fold rotational symmetry are found in the Omayyad period in window grilles of the Damascus Great Mosque and the palace of Ḵerbat al-Mafjar (Creswell, I, pp. 202-4, figs. 118, 127, 610), but no comparable examples are attested in Persia dating to this phase. Of more direct relevance to the evolution of gereh-sāzī in Persian architecture are the geometric interlace patterns on Central Asian brick buildings such as the mausoleum of ʿArab Aṭāʾ at Tīm (367/977-78; Neçipoğlu, fig. 88) and the mausoleum of Naṣr b. ʿAlī (?) at Ūzgand (ca. 403/1012-13; Cohn-Wiener, p. 35, pl. IX). In the 10th century rectilinear geometric patterns are attested in the remaining portal of the Jūrjīr Mosque in Isfahan (built by the Buyid vizier Ebn ʿAbbād and rebuilt in 1663 by Moḥammad-Dāwūd Ḥakīm, hence Masjed-e Ḥakīm; Māfarrūḵī, pp. 85-86; Honarfar, Eṣfahān, pp. 40-43, 612-13) and the carved stucco of the columns in front of the meḥrāb in the Masjed-e Jāmeʿ in Nāʾīn (ca. 350/960; Flury, pls. 1, 2) contains an example of simple knotted strapwork, but fully-developed gereh-sāzī does not appear in Persia before the 11th century. It seems likely that Baghdad was the source for this new style along with other new types of structural ornament such as the moqarnas dome (cf. Neçipoglu, pp. 99-101). Early Persian examples of gereh-sāzī panels are attested at the two mausolea of Ḵaraqān (460-86/1067-93) southwest of Qazvīn (Varjāvand, pp. 315-49, pls. 151, 169), at the caravansary of Rebāṭ-e Māhī in Khorasan (early 12th cent.; Kleiss and Kiani, p. 96; PLATE II), and Gonbad-e Sorḵ near Marāḡa (542/1148; Maškūr, pp. 390-92, pl. 26). A carved stucco panel with geometric interlace patterns was also discovered in an excavated house at Sīrāf, which appears to have been abandoned before about 1050 (Whitehouse, p. 14, fig. XIa). Other carved stucco panels with gereh-sāzī designs dating to the 11th or early 12th century have been excavated at Termeḏ (Rogers, fig. 2), Nīšāpūr (Wilkinson, figs 1.84, 1.150, 3.42), and the madrasa at Rey (unpublished; Islamic Arts Museum, Tehran, no. 3267).

Gereh-sāzī remains an important part of the repertoire of architectural decoration during the Il-Khanid period. The mausoleum of Öljeitü in Solṭānīya (705-13/1305-13) contains numerous examples of complex strapwork designs in both bannāʾī and polychrome carved stucco. The stucco meḥrāb made for the Emāmzāda Rabīʿa Ḵātūn in ʿAštarjān near Isfahan (708/1308; Wilber, pl. 68) illustrates the way in which panels of gereh-sāzī are often integrated with other styles of ornament. In many buildings and renovations of the 14th century gereh-sāzī represents only a marginal aspect of the whole decorative scheme (PLATE III). This tendency was further accentuated during the Timurid period as elaborate vegetal compositions in cut tile and stucco became the ubiquitous mode of ornament. Fine examples of cut tile strapwork designs of this period are attested at the Gowhar-šād Mosque in Mašhad (821/1418; Golombek and Wilber, pls. 230, 234), the Ḡīāṯīya Madrasa at Ḵargerd (846-48/1442-46; O’Kane, 1987, pls. 22.9-10), as well as a series of 15th- and 16th-century menbars (cf. O’Kane, 1986). In the architecture of Safavid, Qajar, and modern Persia, gereh-sāzī continues as a minor element of the decorative vocabulary (PLATE IV), although vegetal and figural motifs predominate. Geometric strapwork remains a more significant decorative form, however, in the post-Timurid monuments in Central Asia.

The Foṣḥatī ṭūmār, dating from the 19th century, contains twenty-four gereh-sāzī designs that are identified by name: ṭabl andar ṭabl bā qofl-e yā Moḥammad; hašt zahra-ye ṭabldār bā qofl-e lā elāh ellā Allāh wa yā ʿAlī; mawj-e čahār lenga bā qofl-e lā elāh ellā Allāh wa yā Moḥammad yā ʿAlī; mūrd mawj-e moqassemī; mūrd-e panj radaʾī-e se zanjīra; mawj-e moqassemī; mūrd-e panj radaʾī-e zanjīradār-e do baḵšī/mūrd-e wakīlī-e do baḵšī; ṭabl andar ṭabl bā qofl-e Allāh o Moḥammad; mūrd-e modāḵel-e šāḵadār; hašt-čahār lenga-ye morabbaʿ; mūrd-e panj radaʾī-e yak zanjīra; modāḵel-e šāḵaʾī; ṭabl-haykalī-e zanjīra-ye do baḵšī; ṭabl-gonbadī; ṭabl-haykalī/ṭabl-gonbadī; ṭabl-e modāḵel-e šāḵaʾī; ṭabl-haykalī; mūrd-e panj radaʾī-e zanjīra-ye do baḵšī; šeš morabbaʿ; mūrd-e wakīlī-e zanjīra-ye do baḵšī; mūrd-e hašt morabbaʿ; mūrd-e haft ragī-e zanjīra-ye do baḵšī; mawj-e zanjīradār; mawj-e moqassemī-e čahār lenga-ye bāzūband.

PLATE V. Styles of gereh-sāzī according to the Foṣḥatī ṭūmār:

PLATE Va. mawj-e čahār lenga bā qofl-e lā elāh ellā Allāh wa yā Moḥammad yā ʿAlī.

PLATE Vb. mūrd-e haft rangī-e zanjīra-ye do baḵšī.

PLATE Vc. hašt-čahār lenga-ye morabbaʿ.

PLATE Vd. šeš morabbaʿ.

See also BRICK.



N. Baklanov, “Gerikh: Geometricheskii Ornament Sredneĭ Azii i metodui ego postroeniya” (Gereh: Geometrical ornament in Central Asia and the modes of its construction), Sovetskaya Arkheologiya 9, 1947, pp. 101-20.

E. Cohn-Wiener, Turan: Islamische Baukunst in Mittelasien, Berlin, 1930.

A. C. Creswell, Early Muslim Architecture, 2nd ed., 2 vols., Oxford, 1969.

M. Ferešta-nežād, ed., Gereh-sāzī wa gereh-čīnī dar honar-e meʿmārī-e Īrān, Tehran, 1977.

S. Flury, “La Mosquée de Nāyin,” Syria 11, 1930, pp. 43-58.

L. Golombek and D. Wilber, Timurid Architecture of Iran and Turan, Princeton, N. J., 1988.

W. Kleiss and M. Y. Kiani, Fehrest-e Kārvānsarāhā-ye Īrān/Iranian Caravansarais I, Tehran, 1362 Š./1984.

A. Lee, “Islamic Star Patterns,” Muqarnas 4, 1987, pp. 182-97.

M.-J. Maškūr, Naẓar-ī ba tārīḵ-e Āḏarbāyjān wa āṯār-e bāstānī wa jamʿīyat-šenāsī-e ān, Tehran, 1349 Š./1971.

Mofażżal b. Saʿd Māfarrūḵī, Ketāb maḥāsen Eṣfahān, ed. S. J. Ḥosaynī Ṭehrānī, Tehran, n.d.

G. Neçipoglu, The Topkapi Scroll: Geometry and Ornament in Islamic Architecture, Santa Monica, Calif., 1995.

B. O’Kane, “Timurid Stucco Decoration,” Annales Islamologiques 20, 1984, pp. 61-84.

Idem, “Tiled Minbars of Iran,” Annales Islamologiques 22, 1986, pp. 137-42.

Idem, Timurid Architecture in Khurasan, Costa Mesa, Calif., 1987.

A. U. Pope, “Architectural Ornament,” in Survey of Persian Art II, pp. 1258-364.

A. U. Pope and P. Ackermann, “A Survey of Persian Ornament,” in Survey of Persian Art III, pp. 2678-765.

K. Raʿnā-Ḥosaynī and M.-ʿA. Foṣḥatī, Gereh-sāzī dar honar-e meʿmārī-e Īrān, Tehran, n.d. (collection of 24 plates).

J. M. Rogers, “The 11th Century: A Turning Point in the Architecture of the Mashriq?” in D. S. Richards, ed., Islamic Civilisation, 950-1150, Papers on Islamic History 3, Oxford, 1973, pp. 211-49.

A. Šaʿrbāf, Gereh wa kār-bandī, Tehran, 1361 Š./1982.

D. Stronach and T. Cuyler Young, “Three Seljuq Tomb Towers,” Iran 4, 1966, pp. 1-20.

W. Thackston, A Century of Princes: Sources on Timurid History and Art, Cambridge, Mass., 1989.

P. Varjāvand, Sarzamīn-e Qazvīn, Tehran, 1349 Š./1970.

D. Whitehouse, “Excavations at Sīrāf: Third Interim Report,” Iran 8, 1970, pp. 1-18.

D. Wilber, The Architecture of Iran: The Il-Khānid Period, Princeton, N. J., 1955.

C. Wilkinson, Nishapur: Some Early Islamic Buildings and their Decoration, New York, 1986.

H. Wulff, The Traditional Crafts of Persia, Cambridge, Mass., 1966.


(Marcus Milwright)

Originally Published: December 15, 2001

Last Updated: February 7, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. X, Fasc. 5, pp. 500-504