GONBAD-E QĀBUS (KĀVUS), city and sub-province in the Golestān Province.

i. Geography.

ii. Population.

iii. Monument.



The city of Gonbad-e Qābus (now referred to officially as Gonbad-e Kāvus) is the administrative center of the sub-province (šahrestān) of the same name and the urban center of the Turkman tribal area in northern Persia. This sub-province is located in the eastern part of the province of Golestān and is bounded by the Republic of Turkmenistan in the north, the Alborz mountains and the province of Semnān in the south, the sub-province of Minu-dašt (a district, baḵš, of the Gonbad-e Qābus sub-province until 1997, when the Golestān Province was formed) in the east, and the sub-province of ʿAliābād in the west.

The sub-province of Gonbad-e Qābus (Map 1) covers an area of 7,795 km², which may be divided into four natural zones: (1) The northern zone, which, except for the banks of the river Atrak, almost entirely consists of barren hills and highlands; the settlements are few and far apart. The southern slopes of the highlands offer good pasture for local cattle. (2) The central zone, the eastern half of which is covered by vast rice-fields, is a barren desert in its western half. (3) The slopes of the Alborz zone, in which all the cities and most of the settlements are located, form a fertile water basin. (4) The southern zone entirely consists of mountains. In the southern part of the sub-province, up to the north of the city of Gonbad-e Qābus, winter is relatively cold and summer is warm and humid and the rainfall is much more considerable than in the northern part of the sub-province. The north and northeastern parts of the sub-province, which extend to the border of Turkmenistan, have much less rainfall, cold winters, and temperate summers (Mohandesin-e Mošāwer, II, p. 2).

The developments that occurred in the region of Gonbad-e Qābus and Dašt-e Gorgān in the Pahlavi era drastically changed the life of the people and landscape of the whole region. The Reżā Shah era (1921-41) was marked by a number of developments with significant impact on political, social, and economic life of the region in the remaining part of the 20th century. Major changes included: (1) The establishment of security, disarming the Turkman tribes and forced settlement of certain Turkaman clans in the newly reconstructed city of Gonbad-e Kāvus; (2) economic interests of the shah in the area and the appropriation of the entire region into the crown lands (Pahlavi Property Administration (PPA), Edāra-ye amlāk-e Pahlvi;); (3) the development of cash crops and mechanized farming by and (4) the development of roads and, above all, the construction of the Trans-Iranian Railway system connecting the region via Bandar-e Torkaman (then Bandar-e Šāh) to Tehran and the Persian Gulf port of Ḵorramšahr.

Mechanized farming, which was initiated in the 1930s by the Pahlavi Property Administration using some 20 tractors and combines, developed further in the 1940s-60s by dozens of large and middle-sized mechanized commercial farmers. The increasing investment and activities of modern farms and agro-industries in this period era induced drastic changes in the life of the people and turned the province into the most prosperous area in the Caspian region (Okazaki, pp. 7-51; Ashraf, pp. 7-8; for a detail account, see gorgān v ii, the Pahlavi Period).

The old city was rebuilt under Reżā Shah in a somewhat monotonous grid-scheme. At the same time, however, the reconstruction of the town marked the beginning of a steady, though modest, growth. The town had developed out of a permanently occupied post of the Ātābāy Turkman tribes, and Reżā Shah forced other Turkman tribes to settle in or near Gonbad-e Qābus. The Jaʿfarbāy tribe was the first to be settled, followed by other Turkmans such as the Yomut, Taka, etc. To this day the Turkmans constitute more than half of the city’s population. A sample survey of the ethno-linguistic distribution of the families living in the city quarters in 1983, showed that the Turkmans constituted 52 percent of the sample, Persian speaking residents 31 percent, Azeri speaking people 9 percent, Sistānis approximately 4 percent, and others the remaining 4 percent (Naẓari, p. 30).

The present urban structure of Gonbad-e Qābus with its distinct ethnic quarters is indicative of the ethnic configuration of its population. The first quarter, consisting of a strait extending from the northwestern corner of the city to its southwestern, is inhabited primarily by Sunnis of Turkish, Afghan, Cossack, and Zāboli descent. The structure of this neighborhood is urban-rural with low density buildings. The second quarter is located in the northeast of the town with primarily Shiʿite inhabitants. The low-income inhabitants of this section of the town are mainly Azerbaijanis who work as laborers in the local industries, small shops, and low-ranking government jobs. The third quarter is located in the southeastern part of the city. The inhabitants are primarily Persian speaking and work as high ranking government employees, merchants, army officers, professionals, and landowners. The urban structure of this quarter is well arranged. The fourth quarter is located in the center of the town and constitutes its oldest quarter. Inhabitants of this quarter have lived there for generations, with over one-half being Turkman. The plan of this quarter is of a checkerboard pattern (Mošāwerān-e ṭarḥ o ebdāʿ, VIII, p. 20).

Due to its location on the banks of the Gorgānrud River and the construction of the Vošmgir Dam (named after the Ziyarid ruler Qābus b. Vošmgir), irrigating approximately 20,000 hectares of fertile land in the Dašt-e Gorgān, Gonbad-e Qābus has turned into a major development center for agricultural production in northern Persia. Its population has increased greatly since the Revolution of 1978-79. Present-day Gonbad-e Qābus is a thriving city with special importance as an administrative and educational center for the Turkman population as well as an industrial center, focusing on the processing of agricultural products, and containing large cotton mills and a big flour-factory. Turkman carpet manufacturing and trading is also a major activity in the city. In 1986 there were thirty-seven industrial establishments in the town with over ten employees.


Ahmad Ashraf, Neẓāmhā-ye bahra-bardāri-e kešāvarzi dar Irān, a monograph, Plan and Budget Organization, Institute for Regional Planning and Training, Tehran, 1353 Š./1974.

Eckard Ehlers, “Die Turkmenesteppe in Nordpersien und ihre Umrandung: Eine landeskundliche Skizze,” in Strukturwandlungen im nomadisch-bäurlichen Lengensraum des Orients, erdkundliches Wissen, Geogrrafische Zeitschrift 26, Wiesbaden, 1970, pp. 1-51.

Manṣur Gorgāni, Eqteṣād-e Gorgān o Gonbad o Dašt, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971.

Horst Kopp, Städte im östlichen iranischen Kaspitiefland, Erlanger Geographische Arbeiten 33, Erlangen 1973.

Mohandesin-e mošāwer-e ṭarḥ o meʿmāri, Ṭarḥ-e jāmeʿ-e šahrestān-e Gonbad-e Kāvus, Tehran, 1375 Š./1996.

ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid Naẓari, “Maḥalla-bandi-e qawmi-e šahr-e Gonbad-e Kāvus,” Rošd-e āmuzeš-e joḡrāfiā 11/43, 1997, pp. 29-34.

Shoko Okazaki, The Development of Large Scale Farming in Iran: The Case of Gorgan, The Institute of Asian Economic Affair, Tokyo, 1968.

(E. Ehlers, M. Momeni, and EIr.)



Because of changes to the boundaries of the sub-province (šahrestān) of Gonbad-e Qābus (Kāvus) and its constituent rural districts, which culminated in the separation of the district of Minu-Dašt, the sub-province’s population data for the census years are not comparable. Comparable data are, however, available for the city of Gonbad-e Kāvus (Table 1).

The high rate of growth in the period 1956-1966 is partly explained by an influx of immigrants from the province of Sistān. This was brought about by the push factor of drought in Sistān and the need for manpower in the rapid expansion of cotton cultivation, a highly labor-intensive crop, in the region. As a result, a plantation-like organization of agricultural production emerged in the region with a fairly large number of immigrant cultivators who lived on the cultivation site. Furthermore, the development of related industries such as cotton seed oil processing in the city attracted more immigrant workers to the region. Large scale immigration to Gonbad-e Qābus from other provinces continued, and between 1986 and 1996 over one-third of the immigrants of this sub-province, as well as the immigrants to its urban areas, were born in other provinces. Of the immigrants to the urban areas in this period, women accounted for only 22 percent. The population of other cities of the sub-province in 1996 were as follows: Āzādšahr, 33,000; Rāmiān, 11,000; Ḵānbeben, 10,000; Daland, 7,000.

Economic and social characteristics. In 1996, over 85 percent (90 percent for men and 80 percent for women) of the 6-years-old and over population in the city of Gonbad-e Qābus were literate; 45 percent of this figure was composed of students, of which 3 percent (1,173 persons) pursued higher education. In that year, 65 percent of men in the age group of 15 years old and over and 51 percent of the women in the age group of 10 years old and over were married; 95 percent of women 10 years old and over were married before the age of 35, which shows the high incidence of marriage among them.

In 1996, 34 percent of the city population in the age group of 10 years old and over were active, of which 89 percent were employed and 11 percent unemployed. Of the employed, 65 percent were engaged in services, 27 percent in industry, just over 7 percent in agriculture, and the rest in unclassified activities. Of the 11 percent unemployed, 15 percent were women and 85 percent men.

The distribution of household amenities and utilities in 1966 were as follows: 98 percent of the households had electricity and were supplied with pipelined water, and 75 percent were supplied with pipelined gas. Over one-third of the households had telephones. Over 69 percent of the households were owner-occupiers, 19 percent were tenants, and 13 percent occupied their dwellings under other conditions.


Mohandesin-e mošāwer-e ṭarḥ o meʿmāri, Ṭarḥ-e jāmeʿ-e šahrestān-e Gonbad-e Kāvus II, Tehran, 1996.

National Census, 1956, 1966, 1976, 1986, 1996.

Ḥabib-Allāh Zanjāni, Rāhnemā-ye jamʿiyat-e šahrhā-ye Irān, 1956-1370, Tehran, 1378 Š./1999.

(Habib-Allāh Zanjāni)



Gonbad-e Qābus is a tall tower that marks the grave of the Ziyarid ruler Qābus b. Vošmgir (r. 978-1012). It is the major monument (Iranian National Monument no. 86) of the town of Gonbad-e Qābus after which the town itself is named.

Figure 1. Plan of the Gonbad-e Qābus.

Plate I. View of the tomb.

In plan, the building is a flanged circle, with an interior diameter of 9.67 meters at the base and three-meter walls articulated with ten right-angled buttresses spaced regularly around the exterior. The single entrance doorway, set between two buttresses on the southeast, is surmounted by trilobed niches, some of the earliest evidence for the development of the moqarnas, or stalactite vaulting, in Persia. Formally, the building is therefore a simple and logical variant of the type of cylindrical tomb tower found along the Caspian littoral at sites such as Rādkān and Lājim.

What sets the Gonbad-e Qābus apart from its contemporaries is its extraordinary height: including the conical roof, it measures 52 meters, some three times its diameter. The verticality is enhanced by its position on a 10-meter artificial hillock. Like a skyscraper, the tower thus dominates the surrounding plain and can be seen as far away as 30 kilometers.

The tomb is entirely constructed of fine-quality baked brick whose pale yellow color has been turned golden by the sun. The technical quality of the construction is clear from its almost perfect survival despite the ravages of time, climate, and even reported shelling by the Russians. The only decoration comprises two inscription bands which ring the building above the doorway and below the roof. Each band is divided into ten panels, one set between each pair of buttresses. The text, which is repeated in the two bands, states that the amir Qābus b. Vošmgir ordered the building during his lifetime in the lunar year 397 (27 September 1006-16 September 1007) and the solar year 375 (15 March 1006-14 March 1007). The two dates allow us to bracket the date of commissioning between late September 1006 and mid-March 1007.

The patron was the fourth ruler of the local Ziyarid line which controlled Tabarestān and Gorgān during the so-called “Daylamite interlude” in the 10th and 11th centuries. Qābus, though reportedly a bloodthirsty tyrant, was also a noted patron of the arts. The philosopher and physician Ebn Sina (q.v. Avicenna) took refuge at his court; so did the scholar and polymath Biruni (q.v.), who wrote his first and best-known work, the calendrical treatise entitled Aṯar al-bāqīa (q.v.) there. Qābus himself was a poet and proponent of the new type of rhymed prose. His interests and talents are clear from the foundation inscription, which is composed in rhymed prose and uses two calendars, the Muslim lunar and Iranian solar. The sober style of the script—tall angular letters formed of cut bricks once covered with a plaster slip—contrasts with the decorative style found on many contemporary buildings and shows that the inscription, like the building itself, was designed to stand out from afar. The carefully planned text combines with the tower’s formal purity and soaring verticality to make it one of the most famous and memorable monuments in all of Iranian architecture.


Sheila S. Blair, The Monumental Inscriptions from Early Islamic Iran and Transoxiana, Leiden, 1992, no. 19, pp. 63-65.

C. Edmund Bosworth, “Kabus b. Wushmagir b. Ziyar,” EI2 III, pp. 357-58.

Ernst Diez, Churasanische Baudenkmäler, Berlin, 1918, pp. 39-43; 100-106.

André Godard, “Gunbad-i-Qabus,”in Survey of Persian Art, pp. 970-74.

(E. Ehlers, M. Momeni, and EIr, Habib-Allāh Zanjāni, Sheila S. Blair)

Originally Published: December 15, 2002

Last Updated: February 14, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XI, Fasc. 2, pp. 126-129