Cover photo by Nematollah Shojaie

From the preface of the book:

The fourth volume of the Ganjnameh series introduces some mansions of Esfahan. Presented here are but a few among the numerous traditional houses of Esfahan—a city where fortunately, numerous valuable houses have been preserved, although their number is decreasing daily. The buildings introduced, except some Safavid-period houses, belong to the Qajar era. Thus, the evolution of architectural design during the long Qajar period can also be traced in their architecture. Yet, regardless of the differences these buildings have, common principles and themes are discernible in their architecture and spatial organization.

Most conspicuous in these houses are the large courtyards and lush flowerbeds, around which large and small spaces are disposed. In plan view, these courtyards are crowned by large, ostentatious reception halls which constitute the most important spaces of the ensemble. Reception halls (talars) strongly affect the overall spatial composition, form and details of the facades, and the constituent elements of the courtyards. These reception halls overlook the courtyard on the front, and open to adjacent spaces from their sides. Another important space in most houses is the tall and profusely decorated howz-khaneh, located behind the spaces overlooking the courtyard— removed from the center of the house—and generally, roof-lit. Besides these, mention should be made of identical rooms, different-shaped eivans, elaborate entrances, wide terraces, secondfloor courtyards, penthouses, and antechambers flanking the reception halls.

The particular quality of these houses must not be assessed in terms of absence or existence of the above-mentioned spaces. Rather, it should be evaluated as the outcome of an order and balance pervading the design and composition of all constituent elements. All the spaces and facades have regular forms and proportionate dimensions and have been designed in full soundness and purity—just like a crystal formation. Their architectural compositions follow a predominantly symmetrical, balanced geometry. While similar, their spaces and arrangements  are varied. They all look alike, nevertheless, are different entities. The spaces of the house are placed encircling each other facing the courtyard, as though to turn away from aliens and create a serene, private harbor.

Thus, the impression these houses elicit is one of safety and tranquility, of a harmonious and congruous world, and of infinity in finiteness. The agreeable and delightful central courtyard where the heart of the house beats depicts a refined, charming universe. A universe filled with light, water, freshness, sense, and life. Rather than material dwellings, these houses are abodes of the soul, and secure harbors commensurate with it. In this way, everything within them has its own impression. No wall or door, nor pane or window is left unadorned. No space is without moqarnas works, rasmi-bandi trimmings, frescoes, stucco carvings, high and low ledges, tessellated tilework, or orosi windows all combined with color and pattern and in perfect harmony and balance. All are made of earth and mud, stone, wood, and plaster—but not of the kind we know.

Kambiz Haji Qassemi
Winter 1997

Note on the Second Edition

Mansions in Iranian historic cities are representative of the humane, pleasing, and beautiful architecture which was home to our forefathers. It is our responsibility today to take care and conserve these monuments that still brighten up our spirits. This responsibility is not only because we can then find out about the culture and lifestyles of the past, but also because the architecture serves us a way to learn for our future designs. These mansions were built with way simpler materials, more basic technology, and with much less information at hand than today. But how is it that they immediately engage our heart and soul and induce peace and delight? What are the secrets and symbols in the architecture? How did the creators of those buildings think, and what principles did they apply in their designs? What were their thought-out methods and procedures in creating such works and such spaces?

The context of these buildings is complimentary to architecture, although it may seem that their design is introvert and does not deal with the exterior. In other words, architecture and its context are both incomplete and meaningless without one another. In this regard, a historic monument located inside a fragmented, modified, or even erased town fabric poses as an incomplete, ambiguous architectural work—and this is a fundamental issue facing our historic towns and buildings, among them those of Esfahan. If we ignore this ongoing process, it would be no long that our cities lose their original form and our historic monuments be deprived of their architectural integrity and legibility. This would either impede or even bar further study of our urban and architectural history, burying with it the rich, cultural and artistic backbone in the works which can lead our designs today and in the future.

There are twenty-one mansions introduced in the fourth volume of the Ganjnameh series, representing a handful of myriad traditional houses in Esfahan—we know little about how many have remained. In the sixteen years since the first edition of the volume, most of the houses have suffered from more damage and deterioration, and their surroundings have also been extensively transformed. In this edition, the text has been revised, the drawings reviewed and more accurately redrawn and digitized, and new photographs have been taken of the monuments in order to represent them more comprehensively in a refined, high-quality publication. “Let us see into what acceptance will fall; and, into vision, what will come” [Hāfiz].

Kambiz Haji-Qassemi
Spring 2014

The photography of this volume’s new edition was done by Hossein Farahani with the highest number of photos and the other members of Ganjnameh’s photography team in 2008 and 2009. The photos were taken digitally. Some photos of the previous publication of the book which were slid films were reused for the recent one due to the buildings’ destruction and substandard reconstruction. Nematollah Shojaee, Khashayar Niroumand and Amir Hasan Beigi are the other members of the re-photographing team. Behnam Qelich-Khani, Asad Naghshbandi and Dokhi Afshar, Moe’in Mohammadi and Navid Mardoukhi Rowhani were analogue photographers of the book.

Some pages of volume four; Mansions of Esfahan