J. Appl. Environ. Biol. Sci., 5(8S)648-662, 2015
© 2015, TextRoad Publication
Journal of Applied Environmental
and Biological Sciences
* Corresponding Author: Zahra Sadat Etezadi, BA student, Interior architecture, Isfahan Sepehr Institute of Higher Education
The methodology of Iranian curved arches (Sagh) based on their geometry
Afrooz Rahimi Ariaei1, Zahra Sadat Etezadi*2
1Academic member, Isfahan Sepehr Institute of Higher Education, PhD student of architecture, Architecture
faculty, Islamic Azad University of Sharekord
2* BA student, Interior architecture, Isfahan Sepehr Institute of Higher Education and the corresponding author
Received: March 8, 2015
Accepted: May 10, 2015
The architecture of each county is a display of its culture. So Iran’s architecture is the mirror of Iranian cultures;
the characteristics of Iranian culture could be found in its architecture and vice versa. In the meantime, arches are
one of the apparent expressions of the link between architecture and culture. Iranian coverings, over the ages, have
developed due to time requirements and innovative needs; generally speaking, coverings have two types of flat and
curved (sagh). The diversity in the geometry of Iranian arches is the result of Iranian architects’ efforts based on the
antecedent’s experiences and their own modern technical achievements. Relying on this reach background, by
reclamation and innovation, we could prevent loosing and destruction of this art. Vaults that are made with
wishbone arches would increase the height of the monument and have more static stability compared to other vaults.
The present study is an effort to assess the typology of Iranian curved coverings (except for domes) based on their
evolutionary history, geometry, and shape. This study was a historical, descriptive and analytic study on the basis of
two methods of field and library study. Results showed that there was a significant, strong and direct relation
between the culture, experiences and creativity of Iranian craftsmen and the diversity of arch’s shapes. At the end, in
addition to assessing the styles of Iranian curved arches, some recommendations for further studies would also be
KEYWORDS: Methodology, Iranian coverings, Curved arch (sagh), Geometry, Iranian architecture.
Architecture is a process combined with science, art, propensity, style, belief, faith and special skills which has
been shaped through time based on culture and civilization and is the expressive language of its era . Iranian
coverings, over the ages, have developed due to time requirements and innovative needs: generally speaking,
coverings have two types of flat and curved (sagh) (27). Tagh (vault) is an Arabic word and its Pahlavi equivalent is
Tak (vault) . Generally, vault is the covering between two walls and the shape that vault would follow based on
its composition is called arch. Therefore in another definition a vault could be defined as the continuation of the
arch; in fact if the depth of the monument would be more than its opening it would be called a vault and otherwise
would be arch (Figure 1).
Arch = B>A &Vault = B<A
Figure (1): Comparison of vault and arch (authors)
The simplest definition of arch according to architectural terms is that a vault is the movement of one or more
arches in one or more axis that is between two walls or at least four load bearing pillars. It must be mentioned that
Ghiyas-ud-din Jamshid Kashanihas used the term “azaj” instead of tagh (vault) (Azaj is the Arabic form of azag
which means curved branch) and vault instead of arch (same). Based on another definition, by expanding an arc in
space or three dimensions, a vault would be created . In terms of form, a flat covering is a plane surface and since
Ariaei and Etezadi, 2015
in this kind of covering the resultant forces on the vault are completely vertical, vault’s stagnation against them
requires usage of opposing load bearing shafts.
“To build a structure means to solve its technical stagnations issues using existing materials and considering the
desired limits of performance and also considering a shape that could define its adjunction with its environment.”
. The aim of this article is to define the methodology, introduction, historiography and documentation of Iranian
curved vaults from different aspects; since studying all of these subjects require more time, here just the
methodology of domes has been studied and other matters could be the subject for further studies. Using targeted
methods to study these factors and in fact the methodology of vaults, besides revealing the hidden value of these
monuments, would be effective in recognition of its production process and its history and also in finding
appropriate manners for preservation and restoration of historical and cultural heritage. However the architecture of
our country is so rich in valuable experiments and achievements, that it needs recognition and representation to the
Iranian and universal architectural community. Data extraction and typology of vaults are some o the important
results of this study. Also providing recommendations for further studies is another achievement of this study.
1-1- Research Methods
This is an interpretive-historical and comparative study. Therefore at the beginning information about prototypes
were defined through “direct field observation”, “interviewing masters of restoration of historical structures” and
“library research”. Then structural form of vaults was modelled using three-dimensional software. Finally, by
comparing and analyzing the results, the border differences in shape and history of each covering with others led to
finalized typology of vaults.
Coverings, due to their importance, have attracted the attention of many researchers. Most of the researchers who
have studied vault-related issues usually have studied its form and method of construction from different aspects
[6,4, 5,7]. Some researchers such as Godard 1936, Dietrich Huff 1997 and Rolan Besenval 1984 had a form aspect
toward the structure of Iranian vaults. Also some researchers have analyzed its stagnation [8,9]. In few references,
other than mentioned subjects, vaults’ constituent elements have also been reviewed[10, 7,11,12]. Although
researchers have approached this subject from different aspects, but there are some common grounds to their results.
As it is obvious from studies’ backgrounds, most of the researchers on Iranian coverings were conducted based on
their own goals to categorize these monuments; therefore, this study has tried to combine the methods of previous
studies to provide a comprehensive categorization.
2- Types of Iranian Coverings
In a general categorization, vaults could be divided into two groups of flat and curved  that would be
2-1- Flat Covering
In terms of shape, flat covering is a slick surface and since in this kind of covering the resultant forces on the
surface are completely vertical, vault’s stagnation against them requires usage of opposing load bearing shafts.
Before using iron in architecture, usually timber was used. Since in Iran available woods for structures are rare, flat
coverings have always been problematic. What made it impossible in some places to use wood was termite.
Throughout the history of Iranian architecture, alongside curved coverings (sagh), flat coverings were used for small
2-2- Sagh Covering (curved)
The terms sagh or azagh or azag are called azaj in Arabic. Azagh is usually referred to branches of vine, palm,
eglantine and jasmine which have an arcuate and curved shape. For referring to vault usually the term azag is used.
Curved (sagh) covering is actually a cover that in terms of shape follows an arch. Choosing the right arch to bear the
loads exerted on vaults and domes in Iranian architecture has been based on constructional and static logic of
structures that were the results of years of experiences and practical skills of masters. Due to the familiarity of the
people of desert areas with high resistance of oval arches, in those areas and also areas that used aqueduct for
irrigation, to prevent falling of the aqueduct, they used to install large conduits inside them (which in local
languages were called Gool or Gom) and they had an arc-shaped oval section. Sometimes, due to the wide openings
of aqueducts, conduits were built in three pieces where each piece was a part of the arc-shaped oval. It must be noted
J. Appl. Environ. Biol. Sci., 5(8S)648-662, 2015
that, since in Iran load bearing formats are not used for formation of vaults, a semicircle shape is not appropriate for
vaults and arches considering its stagnation and it could break in different places, if used .
This means that it would break toward outside at the Shokrgah point (the point where it has a degree of 22.5
degrees with horizon), toward inside at the Ivargah point (the point where it has a degree of 67.5 degrees with
horizon) and at the peak point it would change shape. In order to prevent the above mentioned break downs, Iranian
architects would turn the arc toward inside from Pakar to Shokrgah (meaning that they would reduce the radius of
the arc and bring it closer to the center) and increase the radius at the Ivargah point where the break would be toward
inside therefore the arc would be toward outside; so the arc would be restrained at the peak point where it changes
shape. Hence the peak would be lower and the rising would be less than half of the opening. Finally the created arch
is one of the most common arches of Iranian architecture named Panj O Haft. This arch is load bearing and could
sustain the pressures exerted on it .
2-2-1: Types of Curved Coverings Based on Their Arches
Curved coverings are generally divided into two categories: rounded (oval) and pointed. Pointed arch, as it is
clear by its name, has a pointed peak and is created from intersection of two curved arcs; it is also called a wishbone
arc. The peak of rounded arch is crescent-shaped and is a partial oval.Both of these arches have a longstanding
history in Iran and their best examples could be seen in Chogha Zanbil temple (1350 BC). Although, other than
Chogha Zanbil, Wishbone arches could also be seen in Nooshijan Hills (Median Empire), Doroudzan Dam
(Achaemenid Empire) and Kasra Arch (Sasanian Empire) and other structures before the Islamic era, but most of the
arches of that time were rounded and even in the first centuries after Islam most of the arches were rounded; then
gradually they changed into pointed arches (same).
The main reason for using wishbone arches was that rounded coverings would increase the height of the
structure and since in Islamic art the goal was to reduce the magnitude of the structure, especially reducing the
height, wishbone aches were used instead to give the structures more human scales. The best example for this
gradual transition are the differences between Damghan’s Tarikhaneh building (2nd Hijri century) and Fahraj
Mosque (1st Hijri century) that were built within less than a century from each other. In the Fahraj Mosque all of the
coverings are rounded but in the Tarikhaneh some have turned into pointed arches. Pointed arches in Iranian
architecture are: Chamaneh arch, Sarvak, Steep Panj O Haft, Slow Panj O Haft, KoftePanj O Haft, Kelil Arch
(Parthian and Azeri), KelilKomshi Arch, Steep Three Piece Arch, Slow Three Part Arch, Steep Goat’s Horn Arch,
Slow Goat’s Horn Arch, Steep Shamrock Arch, Slow Shamrock Arch, Pa Tu Pa Arch… and rounded arches are:
Sharp or Jar Rounded Arch, Steep Rounded Arch (Bayes or Steep Huluchin), Slow Rounded Arch (Bayes or Slow
Huluchin), Kofte Rounded Arch [13, 10].
3- Types of Iranian Vaults Based on Their Evolutionary History
Based on the revolutionary history, Iranian vaults could be divided into two categories of before and after
3-1 Before Islam: Before the first millennium BC vaults were existed in the Chogha Zanbil. Also there are
some evidences of vaults in Nooshijan and the Persepolis. Before Islam, Iranian vault building has been started from
the Parthian Empire. Different types of arches along with vaults and domes were abundant during Parthian and
Sasanian Empires and they were the inventors of some structural parts and administrative procedures .
3-2 After Islam: During this era using vaults and domes were so frequent that they became a part of Iranian
architectural culture. During the first 4 centuries after Islam new methods of vaulting including Tagh Bandi, Potkane
and Kar Bandi were invented (same: 131).
4- Types of Vaults Based On Tension Distribution and Geometrical Form
Based on the method of tension distribution on the environmental piers (bearings) of the covering space and
geometrical form, vaults are divided into two groups of wide-shaped vaults (open) and close-shaped vault.
4-1 Wide-Shaped Vaults (Open)
This vault is created by the movement of a generative cross-section along a horizontal axis. The produced
surface is a half-cylindrical shape that would be based on two parallel bearing lines . The cross-section of this
vault that is called barrel or cradle could be one of the sections of Iranian vaults. This type of vault is appropriate for
place where they have one spatial axis; in fact they usually are used for rectangular spaces such as hallways,
corridors and porches .
Ariaei and Etezadi, 2015
4-2 Close-Shaped Vaults
Based on their creation style, these vaults are divided into two groups: 1- circular shapes with short rises that
are in fact the Colombos, and 2- combined vaults which their geometrical method of creation have led to multiple
methods of transition and space covering.
4-2-1 Circular Vaults
This type of vault is created by rotation of a generative cross-section around a vertical axis. When the
generative cross-section is a semi-circle the produced shape would be a hemisphere. This type of vault could also be
created using a parabolic or oval cross-section. Circular vaults need interface elements (corner building) to adjust to
square grounds .
4-2-2 Combined Closed Vaults
Unlike circular closed vaults that are produced by rotation of a generative cross-section and therefore lead to a
determined curvature throughout the vertical space, closed vaults do not provide such identical and steady curvature.
Where circular vaults are usually used for covering square or circular spaces, combined closed vaults are used for
covering rectangular spaces. For square surfaces, these vaults would cross the edges in two symmetric sides and
would define the two surfaces that include diameters.
5- Types of Vaults Based On Their Geometric Form
1- Simple vaults: BarrelVault, Tarbin, Groin, Colombo Type One, Colombo Type Two and
2- Complex vaults: KhanchePoush, Arch Beam, Potkane, KarBandi.
5-1 Simple Vaults
5-1-1 Barrel Vault
It is produced by the movement of an arch through a horizontal axis on two equal and parallel walls. The curve
of the vault had different shapes regarding the time and place of its construction. These vaults have been used in
different places such as canals, hallways and porches. In structures before Islam until the second and third Hijri
century oval-shaped curves (Bayes) and from the fourth century pointed arches were used . Arches are
constructed through four main administrative methods: barrel (Pari), ledge (Ilami), Chapile (partitioned) and
combined (barrel and chapile).
Table 1:Barrel vault (authors)
• Indicator Examples of Barrel Vault
Before Islam: The most ancient found example was in Chogha Zanbil (tomb, administrative method was barrel,
Bayes curve (oval) and it was constructed with bricks and plaster mortar) . During the Achaemenid Empire this
type of vault was used to cover canals. It has also been used during Parthian Empires such as Al-Hazra. But its usage
peaked during Sasanian Empires (Fire Temple of Firooz Abad, Kasra Vault, Sarvestan Palace. All three had Bayes
vaults). The Kasra Vault with an opening of about 25.5 m, height of about 30 m and depth of 42.5 m was a great
monument and the symbol of the power of Sasanian Empires. Three methods of barrels, ledge (Ilami) and Chapile
were used in its construction.
After Islam: After Islam for about three centuries structures were built smaller sizes (Fahraj and Tabriz Grand
Mosques). During the 5th and 6th centuries Barrel vaults were used in some great monuments (SofeDarvish of the
Grand Mosque of Isfahan and the main porch of the Grand Mosque of Ardestan). In the 8th century the Alishah
Mosque of Tabriz (722 Hijri) had the greatest Barrel vault of Iran with an opening of about 30 m, height of about 40
m and porch depth of about 65 m. This monument was ruined after a while. Due to its simple administration, this
type of vault has been frequently used in local architectures especially in desert houses . (Table 2)
J. Appl. Environ. Biol. Sci., 5(8S)648-662, 2015
Table (2): Indicator examples of barrel vault (authors)
5-1-2 Tarbin Vault (GardePoush)
Patch or slice in vaults is a part of the whole that would create a covering by putting some of them together. To
have a better understanding of this type of vault assume that two barrel vaults are collided by 90 degrees; their
intersection would produce a Tarbin or Groinvault .
• Types of tarbin vault: These vaults are constructed in four, six and eight patch types (Table 3).
This vault would be constructed on two types of bases; foursquare to octagonal base and circular base
which this type of vault would be somehow similar to “Colombo vault witharch beam”. In general some of
the characteristics of tarbin vaults are similar to characteristics of tarbin domes . The history of
principal and technical GardePoush vaults with more than three corner buildings and pendentives that starts
with a curved rotation around two horizontal and vertical axis goes back to the Sasanian Empires; examples
of this pendentive exist in Firooz Abad palaces, Sarvestan Palaces… and during Islamic era it was used in
adobe and brick structures .
• Morphology of tarbin Vaults: These vaults could be categorized as simple tarbin vaults and tarbin
vault with arch beam. Simple tarbin vault is a vault that is like a line from within the distance of two
patches and they could be constructed on square or rectangular bases. Tarbin vaults with arch beam are
arches as thick as one or more bricks. They vary from 2 to 4 arch beams. Arch beams would be placed on
the diameter of the vault and also on two edges of the vault’s base(Table 3).
• Applications: These vaults were mostly used for springs of mosque’s seraglio. Sometimes they
were used for small rooms of cottages. Generally this type of vault has not been used for important spaces
Table 3. Morphology of tarbin vaults
• Indicator Examples of Tarbin Vault
Before Islam: The most ancient tarbin dome is The ChaharTaghi of Niasarwith eight patches (220 AD). Some
researchers believed that squinch that is produced from the combination of two patches inspired architects to build
this dome [1, 7].
After Islam: This type of vault was so common during the 5th and 6th centuries but researchers believe that
foundation of its shapes was done during Buyid dynasty; during this era potkane vaults were created based on small
Ariaei and Etezadi, 2015
patches or taseh. Brick tarbin vaults over huge spaces could be seen at the late 5
centuries in monuments
such as The Grand Mosque of Isfahan and Ardestan[1, 7].
5-1-3 Groin Vault
This type of vault is created from four pieces and it is similar to a four piece vault in its plan but it looks
different in section and three views. This vault similar to the four piece vault is created by crossing two barrel vaults
but the difference is that in tarbin vaults we considered the intersection but in groin vaults we assume their
intersection with the square base. This type of vault emphasis on chaharsuand one of its important features is that
by putting them together, they could cover a wide space. In some examples of this vault Iranian architects have
reduced its rise and put a flat surface on it to use it as a second floor . (Table 4)
Table 4:Morphology of groin vault
• Indicator Examples of Groin Vaults
Some of the Western researchers believe that Iranian groin vaults are rooted in Western . In the existing
architectural works after Islam this type of vault was first usedin The Grand Mosque of Shiraz (281 Hijri/894 AD)
[14, ]; this date is about 200 years prior to the creation of Gothic architecture. Afterward it was used in The Grand
Mosque of Isfahan and Iranian researchers do not believe that it has been an imitation of Gothic architecture. One of
the Iranian monuments with multiple groin vaults is The Grand Mosque of Varamin.
Groin vaults could be divided into two groups based on their foundation. One group is based on thick piers like
seraglio of The Grand Mosque of Natanz (700 to 720 Hijri) and the second group (tent) is based on four short pillars
that could be seen in some monuments from Ilkhanate, Timurid and Safaviddynasties. Some of its examples are
seraglio of The New Mosque of Sheikh Jam of Khorasan (848 Hijri/1444 AD) and seraglio of Beit-O-Sheta of The
Grand Mosque of Isfahan. Since winter seraglios are used in cold weather, they must have low ceilings and the least
possible windows; groin vaults start at the height of half a meter without the need for four pillars. Some researchers
believe that this type of vault belonged to the Safavid dynasty . But there are evidences that this vault was used
during Ilkhanate and Temurid dynasties too. Winter seraglio of Imam and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosques (11
century) are of this type too; during this era southern seraglio of The Grand Mosque of Ardestan was built with kelil
curve . Another reason for building these tent vaults are their resistance against exerted loads. (Table 5)
Table 5:The expansion of groin vaults
5-1-4 Colombo Vault
Colombo vaults are strong vaults that have stayed still in abandoned caravansaries in deserts for centuries;
master Pirnia believe them to be one of the toughest vaults of Iranian architecture. Geometrically, Colombo vault
J. Appl. Environ. Biol. Sci., 5(8S)648-662, 2015
is a hemisphere that its circular base would be settled on four hangers. Colombo vault could be set on a square or a
close to a square rectangle. In other words one of the main features of Colombo vaults is that the extension of its
openings is equal in both sides. Colombo vault could also be places on an octagonal base and be called a small
dome. The main characteristic of this vault is that its rounded base could be seen from beneath .
Table 6:Morphology of Colombo vaults
• Morphology and Administration of Colombo Vault
Implementation of colombo have three parts: 1- Pendentives: the pendentives of colombo vaults are the same
as other pendentives and no differences could be observed in them. 2- Skullcap: it is a hemispherical bulk that would
be places on the pendentives. 3- Corner building: it is the gap between the corners of the pendentives and the
5-1-5 Colombo Vault Type Two (four laps)
This vault is one of the most important Iranian vaults and belongs to the Sasanian Empires. Its difference with
colombo vault type one is shortly mentioned in the next table. (Table 7)
Table 7 :Colombo Vault form between type 1 and type Colombo (four away) (Source: the authors, Pictures
Colombo type 1 Colombo type 2
Differences in form Pendentives Yes Yes
Skullcap Circular base Square base
Corner building Store Four curved diamonds
Combination (store and
5-1-6 Palanquin Vault
If we expand the Chahar Dari vault (envelope four patch) from both sides a palanquin vault would be
produced. Its executive history returns to the Safavid dynasty . One of the main characteristics of palanquin vault
is that thedepth of its opening is about 3 to 4 times more than its width. Therefore the intensity of forces and tension
is more longitudinally than the transverse direct. Hence, unlike colombo vault, the thickness and structural role of
pendentives are nor equal here. The pendentives on the longitudinal sides bear the main load and are thicker and the
pendentives on the transverse sides bear less load and have less width; this is the main structural feature of this vault
and what distinguishes it from colombo vault . Palanquin vault is the resultant of the movement of a curve on two
main pendentives. In this vault the bigger pendentive is pointed and the moving curve could be pointed or not (same:
There are two ways to create a vault between two pendentives:
a) Two pendentives and a vault between them would create a barrel vault and pendentives are just
seen as juts. The main curve of barrel vault is parallel to the main bigger pendentives.
b) The vault’s curve is parallel with the smaller transverse pendentives and the pillars of arches of the
medial vault are settled on the main pendentives (the palanquin vault).
These vaults have two structural limitations:
1- They would create a huge Buoyancyat their own Pakar
2- Thrust would exist at any point of the Pakar of the barrel vault
Smaller palanquin vaults are fast to construct. Speed in implementation and simplicity have made this vault so
common in local architecture especially in houses on the ledge of the desert. Palanquin vault is very common in
Zavarehand have been used as covering for SofeKhanes of Dezfouli and Shooshtari. One of its indicator examples is
The Grand Mosque of Tabriz . Generally envelope four patch vaults were used for spaces in rural and traditional
Ariaei and Etezadi, 2015
residential buildings that had limited size; but palanquin vault has a high rise and it has been used for constructing
wide openings like bazaars  (Table 8).
Table 8: Morphology of palanquin vault (table by authors, picture from Memarian, 2012)
• Types of palanquin vaults
1- The common palanquin vault includes two main longitudinal and two small pendentives. Between
these four a joined room would be constructed. So no dissociation in vault between pendentives would be
seen from the inside.
2- A discrete surface exists between two main pendentivesand it is due to a ventricular element such
as working with arch beams. Some examples of this vault are seen in the Southeast seraglio of The Grand
Mosque of Isfahan . The great Shah Abbasi seraglio of The Grand Mosque of Isfahan includes seven
openings of great palanquin vaults. Galdieri believed that formerly, instead of each palanquin vault, there
were three openings of colombo vault and each palanquin vault is created by eliminating three openings
• Vault’s Template
The administrative method for this vault is to use four templates in direct inclined lines for four sides of
palanquin vault that would be settled on four corners and intersection of rows from Pakar to the point; two arcs of
pendentives would pass through the scapula. Then each side of the vault would be covered like direct rows but at the
conflux intersection of rows and by considering the junctions (Zamarshidi, 2003: 120).
5-2 Complex Vaults
5-2-1 KhanchePoush Vault (cradle cap)
KhanchePoush vault (cradle) belongs to the Sasanian era. This covering was used frequently in “once was
there Arg-e-Bam” . This vault includes these four parts:
1- Pendentives 2- The wall on the pendentive 3- Barrel vault 4- Medial square-shaped vault
Applying this implementation in KhanchePoush vault would lead to a distinctive feature. By applying two
walls on pendentivesand putting the barrel vault on them, the width of the room on Pakar would bear no load.
Therefore different types of windows could be used as skylight; palanquin vaults do not have this ability. Another
difference between this vault and palanquin vault is the method of settlement of barrel vault on pendentives. In
KhanchePoush vault on the two main pendentives and the first load bearer a horizontal wall would be placed until it
is close to the peak point of the main pendentive, then a barrel vault would be placed on it. But in palanquin vaults a
small semi-barrel vault would move parallel to the small pendentive and on the big pendentivestoward their peak
points . (Table 9)
Cradle vaults that are also known as barrel vault are used in covering rural residential buildings that are usually
made with adobe and rarely with brick . Barrel vault and medial vault have variety in their shapes. Barrel vault is
between two pendentives in both rounded (without a point) and pointed arches. Pointed examples of barrel vaults
could be seen in The Grand Mosque of Isfahan and Mozafarieh School and its rounded example is the mosque of
PaderakhtMohammadieh district in Naein. Another part of KhanchePoush vault is medial vault that could be
seen in The Grand Mosque of Yazd and Mozafary School of The Grand Mosque of Isfahan. In The Grand Mosque
of Ghaen and Yazd colombo vaults settled on octagonal bases could be seen . (Table 9)
KhanchePoush vault is common in Naein and Meibod cities for covering small local mosques. In these cities
the total space of the mosque is a simple elongated space that is covered with a marquee of KhanchePoush vault.
Naein’sPaderakhtMasjedSeyed is one of these examples. The building is expanded from east to west and the altar is
place in a small pier beneath two pendentives of the vault .
J. Appl. Environ. Biol. Sci., 5(8S)648-662, 2015
Table 9: Morphology of KhanchePoush vault (table by authors, pictures from Memarian, 2012)
• Features of KhanchePoush Vault: It is appropriate for stretched spaces and could provide skylight
on both sides of the vault. Also fast administration is another ability of this vault [1, 7].
• Iranian Art and Architecture in Europe: Girshman, French archeologist contemporaneous with
Andre Godard, believed that Saint Germain des Pres in France has been designed like a fire temple and its
walls are decorated with plasters that are similar to the shape of Tree of Life in Taq-e-Bostan. He did not
believe that this example was an exception and mentioned other examples including the Bic Church.
Girshman said “the bent index finger of the hand that was the symbol of respect for grandees during
Sasanian Empire has been engraved without even realizing its true meaning”. He said about Sasanian
art: “The stronger the art, the further its effect would reach and its durability would be more secure –even
in other countries. The Sasanian art had this destiny and was expanded from China to Atlantic Ocean. It
had a great impact especially in West where its inspirational role on the medieval art is so obvious” [19, 1].
• KhanchePoush vault of Ivan-e-Karkheh: Ivan-e Karkheh is a monument from the Sasanian era in
the 4th century AD. Its marquee cover was a KhanchePoush vault and it was first represented to the world
by Madam Dieulafoyin her book. Andre Godard for proving that KhanchePoush vault was French has
searched its roots in the Middle East:
1- The first samples were observed in Jerusalem and Hawran.
2- Afterward other samples were discovered in Syria that had two main pendentives and
was covered with a flat stone.
3- During Parthian dynasty this technique traveled from Syria to Mesopotamia and was used
in construction of Al-Hazra palace.
4- It went from Mesopotamia to Assyria and implanted with brick coverage.
5- Then the method of Mesopotamia was used in Ivan-e-Karkheh.
6- After Islam it was used in different places, such as Okheidar, The Grand Mosque of
Shiraz andKhan-e-Artame and in all of these examples the imitative aspect is noticeable .
• Ivan-e-Karkheh: Some of the great Iranian archeologists describe this monument as follows
:”Twenty kilometers northwest of the ruins of Susa and almost at the same distance in the southwest of
Dezfoul the remainings of a great palace from Sasanian dynastyare visible on the right side of the Karkheh
river… Regarding its brick crescent vault and other features of the building, it could be assumed that it was
once a glorious chamber…” . Characteristics of the components of monument’s walls that were
presented in 2015 are as follows:
o The width of the remaining wall’s foundation of the east side: 2.35 m
o The length of the remaining broken (ruined) wall: 18 m
o The foundation’s width of the monument’s northern pier from west: 2 m
o The width of the remaining wall at the north of the monument: 5.35 m
o The thickness of the original bricks: 6-8 cm (32 * 32 * 6-8)
o A remaining half-arch: 1.60 m
o Five square-shaped tamche: 1 * 2.30 m (that were Ivan’s skylight under the vault) .
Iranian architects considered KhanchePoush vault as at least one of the top ten Iranian vaults and their
minds were more developed than just simple vaults and Mogharnas, YazdiBandi and KarBandi for them
were mind games yet their designs and implementations showed ingenuity and creativity of Iranian
5-2-2 Vaults with Arch Beams
Vault is a curved structural part that is used to cover a space and in simple words arch beam is an arch
and bearing arc. When this arch is placed on a port, or even a space, and is combined with other arches and
the combination covers a space, a structure would be produced that cannot be called a complete vault;
Ariaei and Etezadi, 2015
because the gaps between arches are still empty. After filling the gaps with brick covering, the vault would
be complete and it would be called a vault with arch beams .
Table 10: Morphology of vaults with arch beams (table by authors, pictures from Memarian, 2012)
• Administration of Vaults with Arch Beams: In above mentioned vaults due to accurate
consideration of building continuity and their architectural shape, construction starts from all four sides
at the same time. But it is not the same for vaults with arch beams. First arch beams that are the
bearing frame would be administered and the ninterval coverings would be installed in the vaults .
• Stagnation Ability: Vaults like colombo, groin, tarbin, palanquin and barrel follow a
continuous transmission of symmetrical forces on their own supports. Vaults with arch beams break
this regulation. By creating an arch beam an arch is produced. The arch would transmit the force to its
two points of support. Therefore total arch beams (load bearing arches) would transmit the forces to
different points on the vault’s support. In this system transmission of force to supports is point wise not
surface wise (same: 270).
• Spatial Ability: When the vault has shape diversity it could be extended to vertical and
even horizontal surfaces. In this case, following the lines of arch beams, we could frame and shelf the
body of the space and change the uniformity of the continuous walls. Another important feature is the
ability to transmit light to the space. In vaults with arch beams, skylights could be installed in gaps
between two arch beams. In The Grand Mosque of Isfahan 12 skylights are installed in a vault with
arch beams .
• Shaping Ability: Combination of arch beams like working with KarBandi would allow us
to create diverse polyhedral shapes to cover the body. It might be one of the reasons for popularity of
vaults with arch beams, KarBandi and Potkane. This ability allows the architect to design his marquee
like sky. In this sky sometimes moving toward a point that indicates unity of God and the sources of all
lights could be clearly observed .
• Shape System of Vaults with Arch Beams: The geometry of vaults with arch beams could
be divided into three main groups:
1- Vaults with paired parallel arch beams where each pair cross the other horizontally.
2- Vaults with paired parallel arch beams where each pair cross the other as a combination
of horizontally and oblique.
3- Vaults with radial arch beams (same: 280)
• Vault with arch beams and tarbin dome with arch beams: Tarbin domes with arch beams are the
larger kind of vault with arch beams, type three. Both of these coverings have circular bases. The line of
arch beams would move from the base to the peak of the vault. The thickness of arch beams could be seen
with some bricks. If the size of vaults with arch beams would be doubled or triple, something like the tarbin
dome with arch beams of The Grand Mosque of Isfahan would be produced.
• Administrative Method of Vault with Arch Beams: First a plaster doublet would be placed on the
Pakar of the vault. This is the case where the plaster doublet must be hidden inside arch beams. If the
plaster doublet must be removed at the end of the work, it would be installed on the interior edge of the
vault’s base. On this plaster doublet an arch with thickness of one brick would be placed. This brick arch
would be the foundation for administration of arch beams. By adding more rows on and beside this arch it
would be strengthened and finally a load bearing arch beam would be produced. This simple administration
is specific for Iranian architects .
• Historical Examples:
o 960-990 AD: Existence of arch beams in Islamic monuments of Spain
o 1150 AD: Existence of arch beams in groin vaults of Gothic
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o 1420 AD: Existence of arch beams in the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore,
o 890 AD: Existence of a vault similar to KarBandi in The Grand Mosque of Shiraz
o 907 AD: Cornering with arch beams in the tomb of Samanidamir Ismael in Bukhara
o Around 950-960 AD: Existence of arch beams in bleached cover and spatial radial axis of
Neain’s Grand Mosque
o 1072-1075 AD: Construction of the dome of Nizam Al-Mulkby tarbin dome with arch
beams and with an opening of 15 m high
o 110-1150 AD: Existence of vaults with arch beams in southern seraglio of mosques
Comparing the history of vaults with arch beams in Iran and Western countries obviously shows its
longest history in Iran (Memarian, 2012: 280-281).
5-2-3 Potkane Vault
Potkane is one of the most amazing and complex Vaults of Iranian architecture. Specialized dictionaries of
architecture like Iranian Mehrazi Dictionary (architecture), The Dictionary of Traditional Iranian Architecture
(Fallah Far, 2009: 54; RafeiSereshki,2003: 124) and encyclopedia of architecture and urbanism, according to the
writings of Master Pirnia, have defined Potkane as follows:”Potkane is a shape consisted of some sconces being
placed on each other and bulging to shape a corner. Potkane means Kanehor shelf over shelf”. He has defined the
border between Mogharnas and Potkane through the differences in their administrations and structural behavior and
has written:”at the first sight, Potkane is very similar to Mogharnas and could be mistaken with that. The major
difference between these two is in their administration. Mogharnas is hanging from the ceiling but Potkane is
standing on its own and is not hanging… “. Camellia and David Edwards in their article has named Potkane as
“shouldered arch” . Many books and articles have been written about the geometry of Iranian architecture and
most of them have reviewed its appearance and geometric patterns. While structural calculations of Iranian
architecture use geometry and organism and niaresh of architecture are also based on geometry . Andre Godard
has indirectly described Potkane. He has mentioned examples of cornering in The Grand Mosques of Isfahan and
Bersian, and believed that shelves of Potkane are decorative and “since by destroying the shelves the dome would
stand still, transmission of load is only through backrests and the shelves are decorative.” .
Table 11:Morphology of Potkane shelves (table by authors, pictures from Memarian, 2012)
• History of Formation
One of the most important issues in the history of world architecture has been transmitting square surface to
spatial circle. This issue was solved by Iranian architects for the first time. The time of inventing corning has been
estimated to be at the late Ashkani era which was improved during Sasanian era and especially after Islam. Iranian
architects of Ashkani era were the firsts to look for a solution to place a circle dome on a square body. Dome
house is consisted of three parts of dome, bashan and chapireh. Dome house is the field of the dome and bashan
(body) is the part that rises on three sides as a cube (or other regular shapes) and has one or two open sides. And
finally Chapire (accumulated) is the part where the square or rectangle would fade into a circle and places the dome
over the bashan. What could be the development of Potkane is squinch cornering. Master Lorzadeh in the book of
“resurrection of forgotten arts” defined this matter as follows:” For covering large openings and churches wood was
used. Gradually, by using brick, large ceilings of Sasanian and Ashkanian styles were produced. Large meshes were
gradually come forward from the corners of arches toward their peaks and change the square into a circle-shape.
This implementation was problematic for large openings and was life-threatening. Therefore masters and great
architects decided to find another way to change meshes into circles. So they put smaller vaults in between the four
vaults and hence changed the square into an octagonal; their works could still be found in some places.”
.“Squinch is consisted of two diagonal vaults that have crossed each other in a point (more accurately in a
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line)… the intersection of two vaults would create this type of cornering.” (Pirnia, 1991: 22) The result of the
intersection of these two vaults would produce curved triangular shelves in space that are called taseh. The
cornering implemented in the tomb of Samanidamir Ismael was one of the first samples where a Sasanain course
was expanded using arch beams. The next sample was found in Isfahan during Buyid dynasty. At the time of
development of The Grand Mosque of Isfahan, Jorjir Mosque (the current Hakim Mosque) was built in 327 Hijri.
For the first time during the second half of the 4th Hijri century in The Grand Mosque of Naein,Potkane was
developed from a shape at the corner of the space to a covering and the first examples of application of Potkane in
vaults were appeared . The most ancient date recorded in this monument has been engraved on its wooden pulpit
and belongs to 784 Hijri. But Flary compared the decorations of this mosque with decorations of some monuments
from Abbasid dynasty and believed that this mosque was constructed in the second half of the 3rdHijri century .
• Abilities of Potkane: As it has been seen in the tomb of Samanid Amir Ismael and at the facade of
Jorjir Mosque, on one hand Potkane is able to cover the corners of the space and on the other hand it could
create a covered space in The Grand Mosque of Naein; this ability has created a collection of domical and
vaulted coverings in semi-open and closed spaces.
• Structural Behavior: Understanding the structural behavior of Potkane is very complicated and
vague for most of the people. Islamic architecture had tendency to achieve previous references and
information and develop them into Islamic themes and methods. Also in Islamic arts, shapes always have
an unclear role and it is not certain whether a shape is just decorative or not and there are so many elements
that are a combination of these two cases .
In fact when a Muslim architect dominant niaresh requirements of the building starts to process and
develop the shape of the building. The late Abolghasemihave mentioned this matter “most of the things that
are conducted in architecture regarding structure, later, could be considered decorative. Mogharnas is one
of the things that is structural but later would be considered decorative. Originally Mogharnas was used for
covering and was a part of load bearing structure.” .Regarding their participation in load transfer,
Potkane could be divided into two groups of imagery (array) and imagery-structural(combined) .
* Imagery (Array) Group: In the imagery group, the geometry of Potkane which is rooted in
architecture of previous eraswould continue as a imagery tradition. Therefore this group’s Potkane, in terms
of structure, have no share in load bearing and are considered decorative. In other words in this group
Potkane is a tool to shape the interior layer of the space. The first created sample of this type of Potkane is
at the top of the southern entrance’s doorway of Gonbad-e-Qabus tower (397 Hijri) in Gorgan. A similar
sample in details of works conducted on brick body is a tomb in Varamin. Another samples of Potkane are
The Grand Mosque of Yazd, The Grand Mosque of Varamin and the tomb of PirBakran .
Other samples of developed imagery potkane could be found as a decorative cover on the old walls of
altars. The altar of the eastern porch of The Grand Mosque of Isfahan, the altar of the Eziran Mosque and
the altar of The Grand Mosque of Bersianare examples of this group .
* Imagery-Structural Group (Combined): Potkane of this group, other than following the geometrical
patterns of Potkane, also have a structural role too and bear the load of forces exerted by other parts and
resulted by their own weights. The samples of this group could be found in the following categories:
1- Potkane with arch beam and taseh: The grand Mosque of Naein is the most ancient sample of this
type. Other samples are The Taj-o-Mulk dome of The Grand Mosque of Isfahan and The Grand Mosque of
2- Potkane with arch beams, taseh and tensile elements: Its samples could be found in western (Master)
and Southern Sofe (Lord) and The Grand Mosque of Isfahan .
• Potkane as a vault: Early samples of using Potkane as a vault could be found in The Grand
Mosque of Naein (The second half of the 4th Hijri century). Other samples of vaulted Potkane could be
found in coverings of seraglios of The Grand Mosque of Isfahan. These seraglios along with porches of
The Grand Mosque of Isfahan, by having more than 470 vaults, are truly a museum for vaulted coverings.
In the south eastern seraglio of The Grand Mosque Isfahan, samples of Potkane coverings for small
openings could be seen .A sample of different usage of Potkane could be found in coverings of adjacent
rooms of Shagerd Porch (eastern) of The Grand Mosque of Isfahan that Galdieri believed it belonged to the
Seljuq dynasty ; in fact this covering is a combination of two Potkane that create two complete vaults
and four half-vaults. Studying and understanding this covering is the first step for understanding Potkane
covering in half-vaults and it could be said that half-vault Potkane is a development of this sample.
Galdieri has described the structural behavior of this vault as follows:” on one hand this covering
introduces a developed administrative method that was common during Seljuq dynasty and on the other
hand it is the indicator of complexity and development of administration during that era… the underlying
J. Appl. Environ. Biol. Sci., 5(8S)648-662, 2015
ceiling is like a crust that sometimes is the load bearer and sometimes is hanging by itself and even most of
the times it is independent from the main upper architectural parts (arch beams). Arch beams, in turn, are
leaning over other structural parts and rarely get close to the underlying crust” .
• Potkane In Semi-Open Spaces: The most outstanding Potkane were appeared at the late 5th Hijri
century as porch coverings. At this point, from a part for cornering, Potkane had becomea developed
marquee that could cover wide openings. Two supreme examples of this type are the coverings of southern
(lord) and western Sofe(master) of The Grand Mosque of Isfahan. High altitude of the covering has made
the architect to use such large taseh and therefore create an appropriate covering relative to the space
(Memarian, 2012: 327). Many people like Godard wrongly believe that the covering of all three eastern,
southern and western porches are Mogharnas and call it pendant .
5-2-4 KarBandi Vault
In appearance, work in KarBandiis curved lines in different sizes. In terms of vocabulary, attaching these
works together is called KarBandi that would become a complete covering by adding a skullcap. Among written
references, two valuable works exist about KarBandi. The first is by Master Pirnia and Engineer Bozorgmehri
and the other one is by Sherbaf and Memarian, 2012: 337-338  (Table 12).
• Morphology and administration of KarBandi:
1- ZirHafti, an arch or a perfect arc that is used as the imagery base for creating work.
2- Open chest or liliaceous: In formal KarBandifor extending works to shamseh or the central sun in
the background of the KarBandi, an intermediate element is required that one foot and two feet works
would be settled on it. This element is called liliaceous.
3- Narrow feet: In the lower corners of KarBandia long diamond shaped element with two long sides
and two short sides exists.
4- Moth or Bergamot: Small diamonds which are symmetrical with respect to the longitudinal axis.
Moths could repeat over each other in some orders.
5- Samosa: In the gap between two sides of moth and the base of skullcap a triangle would be created
that is called samosa.
6- Shamseh or central sun: A sun like shape that is created from combination of samosas beneath the
7- Skullcap: The covering that is placed on the sun of the KarBandi. This cover could be simple or
have patches [5, 30].
Table 12: The morphology of KarBandi vault (table by authors, pictures from Memarian, 2012)
• The Ability of KarBandi Space
1- Totally closed space on square, rectangle, eight Kashkoobi, gemmed, eight and half-
eight, corner twist, half-eight, one side gemmed and half eight. Rectangle spaces in different
proportions, from square-like rectangles to long rectangles are all covered with KarBandi.
2- One side open spaces that exist in porches and balconies. This type of KarBandi is called
half-work which is called by the name of its complete type. For example if a half-work KarBandi has 8
moths it is called 16 half-work.Half-works have three types. This categorization is named based on the
spatial ratio of sides that are covered .
Square half-work: The size of the opening is double the size of its depth.
Tight half-work: The size of the opening is more than double the size of its depth.
Transportation half-work: The size of the opening is half or less than half of the size of its
Ariaei and Etezadi, 2015
• Types of KarBandi
1- Based on the shape and the space it covers
2- Based on the placement of works in space:
Plummet format KarBandi: One of the features of plummet format KarBandi is
the size of the diameter of its shamse or central sun. The opening of plummet KarBandiis the
size of two peaks facings each other across the work.
Thick head format KarBandi: In this format, works place toward the horizontal
line in a way that the image of arch's peak and two Pakars are not on a straight line and they
create a broken line.
3- Based on the shape:
Formal: It is applied to KarBandis that perform on rectangular, especially long rectangle
surfaces. To do this, a complete formal would be performed in the middle of the background and
since the base is long another formal KarBandi would be performed on both sides of the central
KarBandi. The result would be a KarBandi covering with half a formal on one side and another
half on the other side and one formal KarBandi in the middle .
Stellar: This type of KarBandiis mostly used in square and close to square bases. Stellar
would be performed in continuous and disjoint methods. Its planning method is easier than
formals. Disjoint stellar is produced from the movement of a square inside a circle. Continuous
stellar is produced by the movement of a line inside a circle. This line would connect the arcs of
the circle for example 5 by 5 until it reaches the first point .
• Administration of KarBandi:
1) Performing post arch
2) Setting plaster molds (or metal in new works)
3) Performing arch beams
4) Performing secondary arch beams and filling the gaps between arch beams (Pour Nadery,
Iranian architects have always tried to race each other in increasing the opening and height and decreasing the
weight of the monument. Sometimes in different historical eras, vaults had special characteristics and became the
indicator of that time's architecture. Actually by studying the architecture of each era, along with the innovations of
that era, traces of predecessors and a long unity could obviously be found. This feature could rarely be found in
contemporary architecture of Iran. According to the present study Iranian vaults could be categorized and evaluated
based on different criteria (Table 13).
Table 13.Morphology of KarBandi vault (authors)
Categorization of Iranian vaults Flat
Different types of Iranian vault based on their evolutionary
Types of vaults based on tension distribution and geometrical
Widespread vault (Open)
Closed vault Rotational vaults
Types of vaults based on geometrical form Simple Vaults Barrel
Colombo type one
Colombo type two
Complex vaults KhanchehPoush
Diverse structural forms of Iranian vaults are the result of innovative effort of Iranian architect that has created
new and diverse vaults using previous experiences and new and safe techniques. Actually what is created could not
J. Appl. Environ. Biol. Sci., 5(8S)648-662, 2015
be the results of a delusion or an immediate experience and its durability must have been proved to the architect.
Other than cultural, social, political, economic, and environmental matters andthe performance and method of the
work, other factors like capability, mental state and the taste of the architect are also effective on making a
monument unique. For further studies matters like methodology of Iranian domes and the construction method of
these valuable elements of Iranian architecture could be considered.
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