Stone artifacts and stonemasonry

Traditionally, stone-based arts in Iran have been of enormous diversity. They include items such as stone architecture, stone tools and equipments, reliefs, stone volumes and sculptures, stone stamps, stone frames, tombstone, stone mosaics, stone ornamental works, cutting jewelry and precious and semi-precious stones, stone beads and lithography. Stones are one of the most basic materials used by the man to make tools and shelters and meet his needs. Ancient Stone Age and Paleolithic periods represent periods when stoned took precedence over metal and other materials. Remains of stone-built houses in northern Iran date back to 7,000 years ago. In stone buildings, rubble stones have been used along with gypsum and lime mortars. Due to their weight and difficulty of application, rubble stones have relatively been replaced by construction materials such as bricks. However, in spite of being heavy and difficult to carry or extract, rubble stones have preserved their position in construction of heavy and hard buildings such as bridges, tunnels, avalanche barriers, separating walls and stone decorations

During the Persian Empire (sixth to seventh centuries AD), stones were the main construction materials used in the construction of large and small buildings at places of higher altitudes in Iran. These buildings include many architectural complexes and archeological sites such as Persepolis and Pasargadae constructed during the reign of the Achaemenid period. Other ancient stone buildings of Iran include Sassanid stone buildings located in the south of Iran such as the Palace of Ardashir Pāpakan, Firuzabad, Bishapur, and Qal’eh Dokhtar (Dokhtar Castle). Other examples include Takht-e Soleymān in the northern Iran as well as some mansions to the west of the country such as Arch of Ctesiphon and Khusrow Palace in Qasr Shirin County

Extensive use of stone in the historical architecture of Iranian highlands is rooted in the existence of raw materials (especially limestone and igneous rocks) in the Zagros Mountains, a long mountain range stretching from the northwestern Iran (Azerbaijan) to vast areas of southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. This mountain range crosses through Iran along its western border and finally reaches the shores of Persian Gulf

Stone-related scientific topics such as rock mining activities and studying origins of stone raw materials used in ancient constructions have widely been studied across the world. These studies comprise one of the important topics in multidisciplinary researches in the field of archeology. Researches are typically divided into two categories namely studies on the stones used in the construction of buildings and researches on decorative stones, stone tools and precious stones. With the development of advanced archaeological, geological, mineralogical and geochemical techniques used for analyzing ancient materials, archaeologists from around the world began to conduct researches on origins of stones and raw materials used in ancient buildings particularly stone and decorative blocks



Stone artifacts unearthed in Jiroft enjoy unique attractiveness and features. The study and analysis of these artifacts in terms of semantics (content) and forms (structure) is instrumental to better recognition of people, cultures and arts of the ancient civilization of Jiroft. Additionally, these studies increase our understanding of the technical knowledge of visual arts of this civilization. Images on Jiroft stone vessels express mythical and ritual beliefs and ideas used successfully by artists and craftsmen though visual elements and qualities to represent and visualize their ideas on surfaces of vessels and figurines

In the composition structures of Jiroft vessels, visual elements such as dots, lines and surfaces are used. These elements are taken from the nature and abstract ideas. Stonemasons have created images using these elements and the science of anatomy which reflect ritual and mythological beliefs of people of this region in the past. Data analysis shows that stonemasons have not used just a single visual element, rather they have used a variety of elements in different modes to create diverse combinations to convey the intended visual qualities to viewers. They have used diagonal horizontal and vertical lines to show the grandeur of palaces, temples and interior spaces. By repeating diagonal lines, they have showed the delicacy of palm leaves. Careful observance of the nature assisted them to make optimal use of visual elements and combine them with their mental perceptions in a way that they used wavy lines to design and engrave roots of old palm trees. Similarly, they used curved lines to show the softness of the lower part of snakes’ bodies. These images indicate that these artists or craftsmen have extensively avoided empty spaces as much as possible. They used the surface of vessels to express their ideas in a natural and abstract ways. The rhythm of the movement of proportion is one of the prominent visual qualities of these artifacts. For instance, the rhythm of old palm trees shows the huge groves of this region in the past

 Images on Jiroft stone vessels showcases a nature full of movement and dynamism between animals and humans as the man fights with snakes and wild animals such as tigers or images such as goats grazing in the bushes. The movement of scorpions in the reverse direction of each other prevents stillness of viewers’ eyes. Observance of balance and proportion in these images has made them attractive. These images are in harmony with shapes of the vessels


Ancient city of Susa

The stone artifacts from this period date back to 3,000 to 2,900 BC. They include a collection of vessels shaped in the forms of animals such as birds, frogs, pigs and monkeys carved from stones such as marbles


Ancient city of Elam

Significant stone objects have been unearthed in the central room of the temple of the goddess Kiririsha including a large number of marble sticks and limestones on the number of which the name of Untash-Napirisha, the king of Elam during the Middle Elamite period, were engraved. Also, a unique collection of stone objects and tools has been discovered in Haft-Tépé. In this period the art of stone sculpture was formed with an emphasis on expressing reality and far from imagination. This feature is the most visible in rock reliefs. The Elamites were skilled in the three-dimensional sculptures, too. Stone-carved heads obtained from the tombs of Susa are excellent examples of this art. These statues date back to the early second millennium BC

The Achaemenides

The most beautiful manifestation of Achaemenid art can be found in the field of architecture. The materials used in the architecture of this period are mainly stones. The most prominent stone monuments of this period include the tomb of Cyrus, which was built as a six-story stone platform. The columns of the palaces of Susa and Persepolis have been decorated with carvings and stone masonry. The whole building of Persepolis is made of stones with no mortar between stones, but in some places, the stones have been connected with iron fasteners. The inscription of Bistun which was carved during the reign of Darius I of Achaemenid is located on a rock to be seen by passing caravans. The inscriptions on this relief are in ancient Persian, Elamite and Babylonian scripts.

The Achaemenid sculptures include a lion attacking a bull, a walking lion, guards of Susa, Persian and Median servants and decorative designs representing roses, palm leaves and reeds found in Susa and Persepolis


Parthians and Sassanids

Parthian stone monuments include the historical monument of Kangāvar which ‌ evokes the grandeur of Greek buildings in terms of grandeur and the use of stones and carvings on columns and walls. The other example is the outer wall of Takht-e Soleymān which is made of stones

During the Sassanid period, architecture and plan found their own forms in a way that they can be implemented both in palaces and government mansions as well as in ordinary houses. Stones were used to cover domes of buildings, too. Sassanid carvings are beautiful examples of stonemasonry as an art. Beautiful examples of these carvings are those seen in Tāq-e Bostān of Kermanshah as well as many rocks. The stonemasonry of the Sassanid period was as marvelous as that of the Achaemenid period in terms of beauty and detail. Additionally, it continued the Parthian styles in terms of its composition with some innovations such as three-dimensional (perspective) positioning of humans and margins around designs

The first Sassanid relief to be mentioned is the victory of Ardeshir Sassanid over the Artabanus IV (also known as Ardavan IV). This scene is depicted in a huge relief on a large rock in the city of Firuzabad. In this relief, three pairs of warriors can be seen who are fighting. Their clothes, hair and beard styles indicate the official make-up of the Sassanid era

Another relief is the one indicating the coronation ceremony of Ardashir I at the site of Naqsh-e Rostam. Next to this relief, an inscription can be seen in three languages namely Greek, Sassanid Pahlavi and Parthian Pahlavi. The theme of the inscription is the name of God and the name of the king

One of the masterpieces of Sassanid sculpture is a relief indicating Bahram I, the son of Shapur I where the Sassanid king has extended his arm to take the royal crown from God. The other relief is the one known as Sar-Mashhad left from by Bahram II and his family


Islamic era

The art and craft of stonemasonry declined in the Islamic period. A few store artifacts were made during this period and they were only an imitation of the sculptures of previous periods. The reason for unpopularity of this among Muslims was their religious beliefs since they considered carving pictures on stones as a form of idolatry. Consequently, stonemasonry was in stark contrast to the monotheism as the first principle of Islam. This belief even led to destruction of stone artifacts and carvings of the Medes, Achaemenids, Parthians and Sassanids during the Islamic era. Stone decorations were presented in a different way during the Islamic era. These designs were mainly dedicated to the construction of pillar bases in some mosques, stone lattice skylights and decorative bases. In other words, from this period onwards, what became important was not the emphasis on the splendor of the stone decorations, but the emphasis on the material and durability of stone structures. Therefore, in decorations of the Islamic era, we rarely come across stone decorations whose decorative aspects supersedes other aspects especially their uses. The most prominent Islamic works that we have passed to us are mosques, schools and holy places which have been decorated by architects and other artists leading to the perfection of Iranian architecture


Qajar era

During the Qajar era, a great deal of attention was paid to the culture and history of pre-Islamic Iran and Qajar kings tried to imitate the architecture of buildings of ancient Persia. Due to this tendency, pre-Islamic artistic and cultural elements were so highlighted that the influence and modeling of pre-Islamic culture and civilization is easily noticeable in the artistic works of the Qajar period. The revival of the tradition of stonemasonry for stone columns inside religious and non-religious buildings is evident in historical cities of Iran such as Shiraz, Kermanshah, Isfahan and Sanandaj. These artistic endeavors were inspired by the columnar architecture of ancient Iran. The foundation of applying columnar stonemasonry in religious buildings in the Islamic period was laid during Timurid period, but all of these stone works were in the form of half-columns inside walls of buildings. Stonemasonry in mosques of Qajar era can be considered as the most important and prominent art of this period

The stonemasonry applied in columns of mosques are divided into four categories: geometric motifs, plant-based motifs, abstract motifs and inscription motifs. Excellent designs were applied for decorating the bases, capitals and bodies of columns. All these four categories have not been used in the stone works of Qajar columns. Abstract motifs and inscriptions are less common in these stone artifacts while plant and geometric motifs are the most common ones applied in stonemasonry of columns of mosques. In addition to their various decorations, columns of each mosque have their own unique features. Influenced by the art of the ancient Persia and the Zand periods, the artists of Qajar were inclined towards building stone columns with sculptural techniques along with original Iranian motifs in religious buildings of the Qajar era. It is noteworthy that there are no traces of western cultural themes and arts in the stonemasonry of columns in the Qajar period while the western themes and arts have left huge impacts on the Iranian art and architecture during the Qajar period