GONBAD-E SORḴ, the “Red Tomb” (also known as Gonbad-e Qermez) is the earliest of five medieval mausolea located in Marāḡa in Azerbaijan (Figure 1). The others are an unnamed circular tomb (563/1168-69), Gonbad-e Kabud (593/1196), Gonbad-e Ḡaffāriya (ca. 728/1328), and Joi Borj (ca. 730/1330). An inscription on the north side around the tympanum records that the tomb (referred to as both qobba and mašhad) was ordered by Abu’l-ʿEzz ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz b. Maḥmud b. Saʿd, known by the title of Qawām-e Āḏarbāyjān, and possibly a member of the Aḥmadili dynasty. The building was completed on 11 Šawwāl 542/4 March 1148. A further inscription on the east side names the builder as Abu Bakr Moḥammad b. Bandān Bannāʾ b. Moḥassen [or Moḥsen] Meʿmār (Godard, 1934, p. 4; idem, 1936, pp. 133-34; Herzfeld, pp. 91-92; Combé, Sauvaget, and Wiet, nos. 3135-36; Mayer, p. 94; Hillenbrand, 1974, II, p. 94).

Gonbad-e Sorḵ is constructed of brick on a base of cut stone, with additional decorative details in glazed tile (kāši), terracotta, stucco, and carved stone. The structure is divided into a crypt and an upper chamber. Accessed by a small arched entrance on the east side, the crypt is roofed with a diagonal cross vault. The upper chamber, reached via a set of steps on the north side, comprises a square-planned lower section rising to an octagonal drum which originally supported an eight-sided pyramidal roof (now replaced by a low dome). Triangular buttresses are attached to the exterior of the octagonal drum.

The external facades on the south, west, and east sides are decorated with pairs of blank niches. The arches of the niches are supported by engaged colonettes with stone capitals, each of which carries a simple inscription. Above the niches is a zone of carved terracotta and stucco comprising a lower inscription band and an upper band of gereh-sāzi (q.v.). The corners of the building are marked by engaged columns topped with carved stone capitals. Although geometric brick patterns are attested throughout the exterior, the most complex arrangement is encountered in the engaged columns on the northeast and northwest corners flanking the entrance. These columns employ twelve different types of curved and rectangular brick (Hillenbrand, 1974, II, p. 91). The north side is articulated by a series of rectangular or arched frames around the central doorway. In the spandrels and the tympanum, the decoration is formed of glazed tile and carved stucco. Additional accents are provided by the use of carved brick plugs, some incised with the word Allāh, on the soffits of the six arches framing the tympanum. Aside from the dark blue glazed boss in the center of the tympanum, turquoise is the only glaze colour employed on the building.

The interior is less elaborate than that of the exterior, with a layer of plaster covering the walls. Paired blind niches on the south, west, and east sides echo those of the exterior. The low brick benches around the walls are probably not original. The octagonal zone of transition comprises alternated broken-headed arches (each pierced by a window) and squinches. The squinches are formed of two intersecting arches framed by a third, a composition possibly originating from here. This form of squinch is known in 7th/13th- and 8th/14th-century buildings in Azerbaijan such as the mosques at Marand and Reżāʾiya/Urmia (Schroeder, p. 1035, pl. 412A; Hillenbrand, 1974, II, p. 91).

Gonbad-e Sorḵ stands at an important point in the evolution of the monumental mausolea. With its square plan and octagonal pyramidal roof, Gonbad-e Sorḵ combines elements of the two common forms of Islamic Iranian monumental tomb, the domed cube, and the conically-roofed circular or polygonal tower. While the majority of the structural and decorative components such as the engaged columns at “Tomb of the Samanids” in Bukhara (295/907), the combination of multiple types of geometric pattern in the two mausolea of Ḵaraqān (460-86/1067-93; Stronach and Young), and the use of glazed tile in a gereh-sāzi design in the Kalyān mosque in Bukhara (515/1121; Pickett, p. 29) can be traced back to earlier buildings, it is in the subtle modulation of both the masses and the ornament that Gonbad-e Sorḵ represents a significant advance. The building illustrates the increasingly confident use of colored glaze to provide decorative accents. Glazed tiles are employed to varied effect in the tympanum, the spandrels, the engaged columns, and the soffits of the blind niches (Seherr-Thoss, pls. 31, 32). Many of the themes developed at Gonbad-e Sorḵ were taken up and elaborated upon in later mausolea of the Saljuq and Il-Khanid periods.



Leonid S. Bretanitskiĭ, Zodchestvo Azerbaidzhana XII-XV vv. i ego mesto v. arkhitekture Perednego Vostoka (The Architecture of Azerbaijan 12th-15th centuries and its place in the architecture of the Near East), Moscow, 1966, pp. 101-3, figs. 33-35.

Étienne Combé, Jean Sauvaget, and Gaston Wiet, eds., Répertoire chronologique d’épigraphie arabe VIII, Cairo, 1938, p. 245, no. 3135; p. 246 no. 3136.

Esmāʿil Dibāj, Rāhnemā-ye āṯār-e tāriḵi-e Āḏarbāyjān-e šarqi wa Āḏarbāyjān-e ḡarbi, Tabriz, 1339 Š./1960, pp. 36-38.

André Godard, Les Monuments de Marāgha, Publications de la Société des Études Iraniennes et de l’Art Persan 9, Paris, 1934.

Idem, “Notes complémentaires sur les tombeaux de Marāgha,” Atòhòār-é Īrān 1, 1936, pp. 125-60.

Ernst Herzfeld, “Arabische Inschriften aus Iran und Syrien,” AMI 8, 1936, pp. 78-102.

Donald Hill and Oleg Grabar, Islamic Architecture and its Decoration, 2nd ed., London, 1967, p. 60, fig. 223.

Robert Hillenbrand, “The Tomb Towers of Iran to 1550,” Ph.D. diss., 4 vols., Oxford, 1974, II, pp. 89-86, III, figs. 51-58; IV, pls. 67-73.

Idem, “Saljuq Monuments of Iran: II. The ‘Pir’ Mausoleum at Tākistān,” Iran 10, 1972, pp. 45-55.

Muhammad Yusuf Kiani, ed., Iranian Architecture of the Islamic Period II: A List of Monuments, Tehran, 1368 Š./1989, p. 121.

Moḥammad-Jawād Maškur, Naẓar-i ba tāriḵ-e Āḏarbāyjān wa āṯār-e bāstāni wa jamʿiyat-šenāsi-e ān, Tehran, 1349 Š./1970, pp. 390-92.

Leo Ary Mayer, Islamic Architects and Their Works, Geneva, 1956.

Vladimir Minorsky, “Marāġa,” in EI2 VI, pp. 498-503.

Douglas Pickett, Early Persian Tilework: The Medieval Flowering of “Kāshi,” London, 1997.

Eric Schroeder, “Islamic Architecture. F: Seljuq Period,” in Survey of Persian Art II, pp. 981-1045.

Sonia P. Seherr-Thoss, Design and Color in Islamic Architecture: Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Washington, D.C., 1968.

R. Stevens, “The Tomb Towers of Persia,” Geographical Magazine 31/5, September 1958, pp. 251-59.

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

Mikael Useinov, Leonid Bretanitskiĭ, and A. V. Salamzade, Istoriya arkhitektury Azerbaidzhana (History of architecture in Azerbaijan), Moscow, 1963, pp. 83-85, fig. 64.

Donald Wilber, “The Development of Mosaic Faience in Islamic Architecture in Iran,” Ars Islamica 6/1, 1939, pp. 16-47.

(Marcus Milwright)

Originally Published: December 15, 2002

Last Updated: February 14, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XI, Fasc. 2, pp. 130-131