Soltaniyeh is a large ancient city in modern-day Iran. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 2005. Soltaniyeh means simply “imperial”, and served for many years as the capital of the Ilkhanid dynasty during the 14th century.
The structure itself was built as a mausoleum for Oljaytu, at the beginning of the 14th century. Oljaytu was the fourth in the dynastic Ilkhanid family to rule the region. He passed through a number of faiths in his youth, being baptized Christian, converting to Buddhism, then to Sunni Islam, and finally to Shi’a Islam. Many people believe that Olijaytu’s conversion to Shi’a helped bolster the faith, and it laid the groundworks for the Shi’a majority in Iran today.
The building consists of an enormous domed building, with six tall minarets surrounding it. It is the Dome of Soltaniyeh that makes this site so important, and so awe inspiring. The dome is over 160 feet (50m) high, and weighs some 400,000 pounds (180,000 kg). The Dome of Soltaniyeh was the world’s first double-shell dome, and was a marvel of contemporary architecture. The construction of the Dome of Soltaniyeh set the stage for other domes of similar design in the Muslim world, paving the way for future marvels such as the Mausoleum of Khoja and the Taj Mahal.
The Dome of Soltaniyeh is a thing of marvelous beauty. At one point the entire exterior was covered in ornate patterns in the Islamic style, but time and weather have worn away much of this design. Some patterns remain, however, as do the blue tile inlay on the upper levels of the structure. The sharp blue contrasting with the deep red of the stone make a beautiful contrast that stands out against the sky.
The interior of the Dome of Soltaniyeh is quite well preserved. The inside is rather sparse, but the beautiful patterning that covers many of the surfaces lends the building a quiet beauty that evokes many of the older mosques of Iran and some contemporary mausoleums of the Christian world. Because of the prohibition on graven images, there are no narrative murals or friezes on the inside, but the walls and alcoves instead boast an enormous collection of Islamic geometric art.
Over the centuries the Dome of Soltaniyeh has suffered substantial damage, mostly simply as a result of neglect. Over the past few years, however, the Iranian government has begun to invest resources in repairing the Dome of Soltaniyeh. Its inclusion in the 2005 list of World Heritage Sites has helped to bring further attention to the structure, and work continues on fixing damage and ensuring the dome lasts well into the future.