Persian Architecture - Remnants of the Greatest Empire in History 

When someone mentions Persian architecture, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

The intricate turquoise tiles? 

The complex geometrical shapes of colorful mosaics?

The vast stone pillars that hold up magnificent mosques and a thousand years of history?

Persian Architecture Illustration form How to Rhino
Persian Architecture

Since antiquity, Persian, or Iranian, architecture has been influencing other cultures of Asia, from India and Syria, all the way to China. It marked an empire so colossal, that its traces are still visible in today’s modern society.

But what exactly can be characterized as Persian architecture? When did it begin and who started it? If you are interested in learning more about Persian architecture, then stick around.

The ancient Persian empire - beginnings of Persian Architecture

The ancient Persian empire

Photo Credit: Bernard Gagnon / CC BY-SA 4.0

In school we learn about the Roman empire and the ancient Greeks in great detail, but how much do we know about the Persian empire?

Well, for starters, it was one of the greatest and mightiest empires in history. In fact, during the reign of Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great, it occupied 40% of the world population. To be more precise, the Persian empire encompassed parts of Asia, Africa and Europe.

The name “Persia” was more frequently used until the first half of the 20th century. In 1935, the country started to be known as Iran. 

Persian Ruins

Believe it or not, Persia is actually one of the oldest occupied territories on the entire planet. It comprises a history of great proportions, spanning areas from Egypt and Greece, to India and Turkey.

The most prominent era of the Persian empire, otherwise known as the Achaemenid empire, began in the 6th century BCE. It was established by Cyrus the Great, who made it the vastest realm in history up to that point.

But prior to this period of prosperity, Persia was actually just a vassal state, under the rule of a much larger power- Media. When Cyrus the Great took control of Media, he formed a new immense kingdom, with the ancient city of Persis (Persepolis) as its capital. This long forgotten city was once known as the richest city under the sun. 

Persian Empire Map

Another powerful ruler of Persia was Darius I, otherwise known as Darius the Great. Along with making some significant changes to the political system, he also started the Greco-Persian War, resulting in 50 years of conflict. Darius the Great was also known as the Shahanshah, which basically meant “the King of Kings.”

His son, Xerxes also had a futile attempt of defeating the Greeks. His failure signified the end of the Achaemenid empire. The kingdom was ultimately conquered by Alexander the Great, who triumphed over Darius III in battle.

What succeeded was the Selucid, Parthian and finally the Sasanian era, which was the final Persian power before the Muslim Arab conquest that began in the 7th century.

Different styles of Persian Architecture throughout history

One can say that Persian architecture is the perfect blend of simplicity and symmetry.

Through its rich and diverse course of history, and varying political and cultural variations, Persian architecture holds a track record for some of the most remarkable and detailed artwork the world has ever known. 

Persian Styles in Architecture

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Zoroastrian style - ancient Persian architecture

The Parsian style includes three phases:

  • Pre-Parsian style

This is the earliest phase of the Parsian style and it lasted until the 18th century BCE. Some of the oldest preserved structures of this era are the Teppe Zagheh, Chogha Zanbil, Sialk, Shahr-i Sokhta…

Pre-Parsian style

Photo Credit: Mobina Ghanbaryan / CC BY-SA 4.0  /  Chogha Zanbil

  • Median style

It flourished during the Median Empire, from the 8th to the 6th century BCE. Some discoveries of the Median Empire that were made are Tepe Nush-i Jan, Godin Tepe, Babajan, etc.

Median style

Photo Credit: Alborzagros  / CC BY-SA 3.0 /Gate of all Nations

  • Achaemenid style 

Instances of this architectural style belong to the period from the 6th to the 4th century BCE. Most common structures were temples, mausoleums and other religious buildings.

Achaemenid style

Photo Credit: Ahura / CC BY 3.0 / The Tomb of Cyrus the Great

The Parthian style includes three phases:

  • Seleucid style

This period spread from 819 to 999 BC, and it belongs to the period of Iranian renaissance.

Seleucid style

Photo Credit: Ali Matin / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Anahita Temple

  • Parthian style

Otherwise known as the Arsacid Empire, the Patrian empire endured in ancient Iran from 247 BC to 224 AD.

Parthian style

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Hetra, the royal compounds at Nysa

  • Sasanian style

The Sasanian empire was the final Persian royal dynasty that came before the Muslim conquest of Persia. It progressed from 224 to 651 AD. 

Sasanian style

Photo Credit: Zereshk / Ghal'eh Dokhtar

Islamic style - the “new” architectural style

  • The Khorasani style

This architectural style was the first following the arrival of Muslims, comprising the period from the late 7th to the end of the 10th century. 

The Khorasani style

Naein Jaame Mosque

  • The Razi style

This style can be divided into three periods: the Samanid period, the Ziyarid period and the Seljukid period, and it lasted from the 11th century to the invasions of the Mongols.

The Razi style in persian architecture

Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Samanid Mausoleum

  • The Azari style

It spans from the 13th to the 16th century. It is also known as the "Azerbaijani style."

The Azari style in Persian Architecture

Photo Credit: Bobyrr / CC BY-SA 4.0 Bibi-Khanym Mosque

  • The Isfahani style

This architectural style comprises four dynasties (Safavid, Afsharid, Zand, and Qajarid) and it began in the 16th century.

The Isfahani style in Persian Architecture

Photo Credit: Diego Delso / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Agha Bozorg Mosque

Culture of the Persian world and it's influence on Persian Architecture



The official religion of the ancient Persian empire was called Zoroastrianism. It was a religion popularized by Cyrus the Great and it’s one of the oldest religions in the world. It was practiced all over Persia, until the introduction of Islam in the 7th century. But, it is still a living religion, as around 120,000 people still practice it today, mainly in India and in the US.

It’s considered to be one of the first monotheistic religions, revolving around the principle that there is only one true god. It celebrates the divine entity called Ahura Mazda, who wasn’t believed to have a human form. Zoroastrianism is also a dualistic fate, meaning that it revolves around a strong counter-balance between good and evil.

What’s also interesting is that Zoroastrianism influenced many of today’s more traditional religions, such as Christianity, Judaism and of course Islam. What followed was the Muslim conquest of Persia, which led to the waning of Zoroastrianism. 


Mythology in Persian Architecture

No different from other cultures, Persian mythology reflected the empire’s history, religion and culture. Myths and legends play an important part in Persian national identity. Among other things, Persia’s geography also had an influence on its mythology.

The main motive in these ancient tales was the familiar yet universal battle of good and evil, where good must always prevail. Some other elements of Persian mythology are gods. In the Achaemenid empire, the myths narrated the tales of Ahura Mazda, the creator of the world, and his battle against Angra Mainyu, the god of evil.

Naturally, other Persian folklore incorporated supernatural beings, renowned heroes, wars and battles… One of the most famous figures of Persian mythology was Rostam, a famous hero of many myths and legends. 


Art in Persian Architecture

Photo Credit: Fabienkhan / CC BY-SA 2.5

The Persian empire had an opulent and versatile collection of art that spanned across different eras and dynasties, which also influenced other cultures.

The Persians were renowned for their architecture, paintings, pottery, tilework, sculptures, and much more. Some of the most prominent forms of art in Persia were calligraphy, mosaics, mirror and stucco work, and so on.

  • Miniatures
Miniatures in Persian Architecture

Photo Credit: WikiArt

A Persian miniature is a small painting. A great number of preserved miniatures can be found in Western or Turkish museums. This style of painting became popular in the 15th and 16th century. They were usually painted for illustrated manuscripts.

  • Carpets
Carpets in Persian Architecture

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The tradition of weaving carpets and rugs was considered to be very significant in the Persian empire. Persian carpets are famous for their high quality, elaborate color palette and beautiful patterns. The most valued carpets are kept in museums, such as the Coronation Carpet and the Ardabil Carpet.

  • Calligraphy
Calligraphy in Persian Architecture

The calligraphy of the Persian language is considered a vital and complex form of art. The decorative characters can often be seen on walls of mosques, and the exterior and interior of imperial buildings. It’s viewed as a great treasure of the Perisan nation.

  • Tiles
Tiles in Persian Architecture

The tradition of tilework dates back to the pre-Islamic era of the Persian empire. They were mainly used for waterproofing purposes, as well as to decorate both the outside and inside of domes. They are famous for their marvelous geometric design, interlacing patterns and multicolored motifs.

Elements of Persian Architecture

Even after its disintegration, the Persian Empire left behind a deep print on the modern world. Distinctive elements of Persian architecture can be found in different countries all around the Middle East even today. We can find characteristics of Persian architecture in mosques, temples, brick or adobe domes, arches and ornamental entrances.


Domes in Persian architecture

Domes are one of the most common distinguishing features of Persian architecture. What makes Persian domes different from others is the colorful tilework and the fact that both the inside and the outside are decorative. The round shape of a dome actually signifies perpetual perfection.


Iwans in Persian Architecture

An iwan is a rectangular opening usually found on pre-Islamic religious buildings. It is greatly representative of Persian architecture, since its usage can be traced back to the Parthian era. It is usually embellished by intricate design, calligraphy and detailed mosaics.


Arches in Persian Architecture

The four-centered arch, otherwise known as the Persian arch, is yet another quite frequent feature of Persian architecture, and it can be directly connected to the recurring usage of iwans. It is mainly used for decorative purposes, as well as to minimize light coming from outside.


Geometry of Persian Architecture

One of the most captivating elements of Persian architecture are the geometrical wonders coating the walls and tiles. Mosques, temples, royal residencies tend to be covered with complex yet symbolic layouts of circles, squares, rectangles, and so on.



This feature of Persian architecture is a type of oriel window that is used to catch and cool the wind. It is usually made of carved wood as well as latticework, and it is commonly found on upper floors of buildings.

Marvels of the Persian world and Persian Architecture

Shah Mosque

Shah Mosque and Grand Persian Architecture

Considered to be one of the most beautiful gems of Persian architecture, Shah Mosque is also known as Imam Mosque. It was constructed during the Safavid dynasty and you can find it in the city of Isfahan. 

Golestan Palace

Golestan Palace

Also known as the palace of flowers, this divine masterpiece used to be the royal residence for the Qajar dynasty. It can be found in the capital city of Tehran, where it was built in the 19th century. 

Grand Mosque of Isfahan

Grand Mosque of Isfahan

Photo Credit: Diego Delso

Also named the Jamee’ Mosque of Isfahan, the Grand Mosque is the congregational mosque of Isfahan. Prior to this, it used to be a house of worship for Zoroastrians. 

Ali Qapu

Ali Qapu Persian Architecture

This royal palace of the city of Isfahan was originally created as gates that lead to the vast palace that spread from the Naqsh-e Jahan Square to the Chahar Baq Boulevard.

Allāhverdi Khan Bridge

Allāhverdi Khan Bridge - Persian Architecture

Photo Credit: Reza Haji-pour / CC BY 3.0

Otherwise called the Bridge of 33 Spans, is the longest and largest bridge on the Zayandeh River, which is the biggest river on the Iranian Plateau. 

Abbasi House, Kashan

Abbasi House, Kashan, Persian architecture

This used to be a house of a glass merchant, before it was turned into a museum, as well as a tea house, an Iranian restaurant and a shop. 

UNESCO designated World Heritage Sites

Arg-é Bam Cultural Landscape

Arg-é Bam Cultural Landscape Persian Architecture

Photo Credit: Diego Delso

This medieval town was built during the Achaemenid period, and it was situated at the crossroads of various trade roads. It is also the world’s greatest adobe building structure.

Naghsh-i Jahan Square

Naghsh-i Jahan Square Persian Architecture Building

This picturesque square is located in the center of Isfahan and it is full of breathtaking instances of Persian architecture, such as the Shah Mosque, Ali Qapu Palace, and the Isfahan Grand Bazaar. Most of these buildings are from the Safavid era.

Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi

Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi

Although not entirely completed, this structure is one of the biggest preserved mausoleums. It was built in the 12th century, in the Timurid period in southern Kazakhstan.

Samarkand - Crossroads of Cultures

Samarkand - Crossroads of Cultures Persian Architecture

This remarkable complex is viewed as the crossroads of world cultures and history. Built in the 7th century BC in Uzbekistan, it is home to some of the most beautiful architecture of the Persian world, such as Registan Mosque and madrasas, Bibi-Khanum Mosque, the Shakhi-Zinda compound, etc.

Baha'i Gardens

Baha'i Gardens Persian Architecture

Photo Credit: Arash Hashemi / CC BY-SA 2.5

One of the most attractive and visited places in the Middle East, the Baha’i Gardens are a sight to see. These gardens are considered to be a holy place, and you can find them in Israel. 

Modern Persian Architecture

Modern Persian Architecture Villa

Contemporary Persian or Iranian architecture started in the 1920s. Some architectural moments that marked the beginning of this period were the construction of the National Museum of Iran, the Tehran University, and the Milad Tower, which is the tallest tower in Iran. Modern Persian architecture captures the new and innovative tendencies, all the while preserving the traditional vernacular. 

Persian Architecture Houses

Persian Architecture Houses Modern
Persian Architecture Houses Interior
Persian Architecture House Facade

Persian Architecture Buildings

Persian Architecture Building Concept
Persian Architecture Project
Persian Architecture Building
 Modern Persian Architecture Building

As we can see, Persian architecture has gone through different changes over the course of history, but it has never failed to capture our attention with its beauty and authenticity. With its mesmerizing tilework, concrete calligraphy and colorful mosaics, it reminds us of thousands of years of history of one of the oldest and greatest empires there ever was.

About the Author

Dušan Cvetković is a professional architect from Serbia with international experience in the industry. Collaborated with numerous clients all around the world in the field of architecture design, 3D modeling and software education. He's been teaching Rhinoceros3D to thousands of architects through How to Rhino community and various social media channels.