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World Applied Programming, Vol (3), Issue (9), September 2013.

ISSN: 2222-2510
2013 WAP journal.

Study about Presence of Nature in Iranian Architecture

with Analytical Approach on Water
Ali Tahmouri

Sarvenaz Hoseinrazavi

M.A. Architecture, Iran Azad University

Tehran North Branch, Tehran, Iran.
Atec Consultants Co.

M.A. Regional Development Planning,

Allameh Tabataba'i University, Tehran, Iran.
Tose'e sakhteman-e- kharazmi Co.

Abstract: The natural elements, with all of their characteristics, symbols and attributes have penetrated in
human life and they are appeared in their art. Symbols of water, earth, wind and fire have played a crucial and
divine role in all nations, and their resources are the symbol of holiness, and there are many myths about them.
Four elements of water, earth, wind and fire have enjoyed the very important position in Iranian culture. So, the
Iranians considered these elements as the world's basis.
There are the relationship between art and four elements in several levels. On one hand, these elements are as
the subject of many art works, and on the other hand as the materials themselves are involved in the arts. In the
meantime, it can be considered the architecture art as an art is affected the environment and functional factors
more than many other arts. On the other hand, among the above elements, if we consider the soil as the essence
of architectural, the water is the prominent element to create an art work together with it. Water is the source of
life and a sign of it.
The study and analysis of culture and architecture indicated that the sympathy and respect for nature has always
deep roots in Iran. Although over many centuries, and especially with appearance of modernization sparkles in
recent century, the presence of nature has been weaken in Iran. Factors such as uncontrolled urbanization and
industrial development in the heart of major cities have been the result of excessive manipulation in intact
nature, but each of them could act by correct interpretation of nature reservation as the main factor to help
people in machine era so that to achieve the mentioned purposes and desired quality of created spaces are
more consistent on the user perceptions and feelings. In this paper, we have surveyed the concept and status of
four nature elements in history of Iran in general, and the quality of water presence in Iranian architecture and
recognize its objective expressions in especially, so that we investigated how to use these factors and elements
due to modern technologies in architecture.
Keywords: Architecture, four nature elements, water, Iranian History

Water has been mentioned in Iranian culture and belief as a natural element which is pure and clean and also purgative.
So in the "Avesta", water same as "Ahora Mazda" has been praised and an important part of their holy book named
"Abanyasht" is dedicated to this goddess. By accepting Islam, Iranians also paid homage to the water and water has fixed
its position into the center of the purest place that is mosque. Entry to mosque and pray is possible when Muslims
perform ablution.
Water praise has been as a religious strong aspect in ancient era specially in "Sassanian", "Parthia" and "Achamenian "
dynasties. In some bas-reliefs, "Anahita" is present in the crown ceremony of the young king. "Second Ardashir" entitled
his wife as "AzarAnahita" to paid respect to her and in this way; he expressed his respect to water goodness.
Architecture of the building for worshipping the water is the Iranian initiative. They needed a building like a palace to
venerate the water goddess or to avoid his wrath. So in all corners of this land, the rulers built such buildings and today
they are considered as an important part of cultural identity of this country. Our negligence about historical continuity of


Ali Tahmouri and Sarvenaz Hoseinrazavi, World Applied Programming, Vol (3), No (9), September 2013.

this Iranian thought caused to be ignored these worship places and this caused the Interruptions and loss of historical
identity in our children.
Research of archaeologists and architects has lead to identify two worship places for Anahita - allegedly belonging to the
water goddess - in "Kangavar" and "Bishapour". Some of these temples or some signs of water belief have been seen in
"Estakhr", "Susa", and "Hamadan" and also in "Khark" and there is an exact and scientific statement about them yet. The
Iranians have never admired idols and idol worship, and this matter has proven in this research exactly. What the
Iranians have loved and admired, has been based on the gods with figurative forms and they gave the good news of
purity such as water goodness -Anahita- and there were some worship places attributed to this goddess.
The architecture of the worship places, given that water has always been respected specially, will recall the possibility of
revival Iranian respect to water based on cultural resources. Therefore, the construction of water temples or museums,
and encourage people to preserve the water cleanliness can revive the continuity of Iranian architecture and lively
presence of people in these places in addition to re- read the old beliefs in this country.
Myths in every territory have taken root in people of that land in order to can survive. What makes a great myth is to
identify and infer its true characteristics and its harmony to the beliefs and beliefs of society.
In Mesopotamian religions - because of the climatic features - a large part of the country has been faced with water
shortages and prolonged droughts in Iran, Egypt and India; the need for the creation of a myth about water and land
fertility was to be considered. Accordingly, ceremonies were performed to honor and thank the water myths to fertile
lands and they had holy place in people belief. In fact, these myths had appeared because of drought and in the
civilizations without drought, they were considered less.
Iranian plateau with its special geographical location is a dry land. Temple of "Anahita" - goddess of water - and prayer
and offer a sacrifice to her and also folk proverbs and tales indicates these people sought to found water. Massive
subterranean cisterns in dry central regions of Iran, along with various rituals to request water and rain, all point to the
fact that the Iranians not only equipped themselves to different tools and techniques to obtain water but also by holding
the various rituals have tried to bring the supernatural powers along with their wants and needs.
II.1 analysis of the four elements in Architectural look
The relationship between art and the four elements - water, air, earth, fire - can be exist in several levels because these
elements are as subject of many literary and art works. And in another hand, they constitute the creative materials of art.
Elements as the theme of art work can be appeared in different expressive forms and styles. Also, they can be as the
subject of one of different art branches such as painting, music, and drama. These four elements are often appeared as
combined form together or in single and independent form, which every form can offer different specification. But
sometimes four elements can be used as constitutive materials in art forms. Such presence of them, especially in
architecture, urban planning and mass building has been considered. The presence of water in Iranian architecture such
as Iranian gardens and mosques has such important stance that is so unique among different cultures. For example, the
presence of instance figures in Isfahan twenty columns building is so important for Iranian that they called this building
as forty columns.
The contact of four elements and architecture has ancient roots. The critical role of water element to establish settlements
and fire temple establishment, all are the sign of old relationship between these two elements. Water has significant and
unique effect in Iranian than other cultures. Presence of water inside the building, the water flow in the internal and
outside architecture especially in connection to garden and yard also in worship places entrances lead to functional,
aesthetic and religious value of it.


Ali Tahmouri and Sarvenaz Hoseinrazavi, World Applied Programming, Vol (3), No (9), September 2013.

Figure 2.1. Isfahan forty column palace of Shah Abbas Safavi

II.1.1 Belief to water and its functional aspects

Respect to the four natural elements is deeply rooted in Iranian language and beliefs. In addition to the element of fire,
the water myths such as "Anahita" and "Aban" have always respected in special rituals. From a historical perspective,
"Herodotus" has probably provided the oldest document: "Iranians are not pissed into the river, not spit at water and they
cant bear anybody make dirty it. They respect the water. Water respect has a special place in the beliefs of people
around the world. The Japanese believe that the rain in first days per year abducts malaria from their country for one
year. In Buddhism, the falling water is a reminder of the transience of life and a global (cosmic) phenomenon. Christians
wash their body and soul in holy water to get rid of impurity and sins. A part of Indian enters to the holy Ganges River to
purity them. Elias water or water of life, according to traditions is the name of a spring in a dark area in the north which
is called darkness. Drinking same water gives eternal life.
In ancient Iran and before that time, Mithraism must performed ablution during three days and nights in certain intervals
to participate in religious programs. The water importance in this religion is so that they must built their worship places
beside the running water or a spring. So, one of beliefs in Mithraism rituals was been washing and bathing as a religious
In fact, the water was considered so important in Iranians culture that many temples dedicated to the angel of water. For
example the largest and most famous Temples named Anahita temple are situated in "Kangavar" (Kermanshah province
in Iran) and in "Bishapour" near "Kazeroon" (Fars Province in Iran). Also "Aban" is known as the guardian deity of
water (eighth month of each solar calendar).
This belief to holiness of water caused Iranian consider great respect to water and even when to make her a victim water
to avoid her anger. Even today, some of these traditions present in our daily lives in different forms. Still some traditions
such as water falling, rain prayers, washing rituals, ablution and pour the water behind the passenger and etc.


Ali Tahmouri and Sarvenaz Hoseinrazavi, World Applied Programming, Vol (3), No (9), September 2013.

Figure 2.2. Thanksgiving and Praise of water picture in Zayanderood river (Isfahan)


In all history eras, our architectures entered water in their works and a treasure of physical, religious and mythical
properties were served to improve their architectural richness.
As we know, since very ancient days, the Iranians were considered the water as a holy element like fire. According to
"Avesta" and many religious Pahlavi letters and even writings of the Greek and Roman authors, such as Herodotus, the
Persians was admired the water and fire and thought the pollution of them was one of the major sins. The water either
fresh or brine, the river or the sea has been worthy of praise and worship. So, the most magnificent temples of "Anahita"
, the goddess of water guard, was built across Iran and neighboring lands.
In ancient Iran, the water was a messenger of light and purity and it had great value. Perhaps since Iran was a dry
country, this vital fluid had supreme stance between them. Water was used not only to meet their needs, but also it was
very influential spiritually and mentally .Water with different capabilities, like life, freshness, brightness, cleanliness,
prosperity and spreading the light, the stillness, comfort and mobility is made different feelings in the human psyche and
mind. So often it has a certain standing of its own in human-made places as different forms.
III.1 water place in ancient Iran
Before Islam, the architecture announced its presence beside the water and into the nature, without any harm to nature. In
this period, the water played an abstractive role. Worship places (Anahita Temples and fire temples) were built beside
the water and with respect to the water. As if water is human passage to enter another world, the purer world that body
cannot pass through it. Water and fire were placed peacefully together. Some examples in "AzarGoshnasb" and "Karian
fire temples" (Firouz Abad) are among witnesses of this matter.
"Elamites" were built the holy city named "Door-Ontash" and their temples along the river and we have the first
evidence of water treatment system in this city of ancient Iran. "Elamites" were holding the spring celebration
ceremonies along the "Dez river". In this event, the gods images were escorted toward holy beach (beach of Dez river) in
presence of king, clergymen and common people while they expressed special citations and then they were transported
by boat through the river toward a temple along to the river, far from of city wall to performed their rituals in an
atmosphere full of freedom and in direct contact with nature and water. It seems the freshness of water and nature was
breathed a new vigor on it.
In Achamenidae era, kings were crowned in the Temple of "Anahita" in Pasargadae. Even it is believed that
dissemination and promotion of the religious rites of Anahita started in Pasargadae and Anahita has been an ancient
goddess of Pars. During Achamenidae , the name of Anahita was mentioned in "Artaxerxes II" inscriptions for the first
time in Hamadan and Susa after "Ahura Mazda" and before "Mitra".


Ali Tahmouri and Sarvenaz Hoseinrazavi, World Applied Programming, Vol (3), No (9), September 2013.

Figure 3.1. ChoghazNabil Temple of Elamite period

In "Seleucid" period , Anahita placed in a higher position and Anahita temples had enjoyed great respect and wealth. In
"Parthian" period, the trinity of Ahura Mazda, Anahita and Mitra were worshiped, but Anahita was more important.
"Grishman" believes all Iranian temples have been belonged to Anahita.
In Sassanid era, Zoroastrianism was the official religion in Iran and the worship of Anahita has been continued in this
religious in other form. Zoroastrians praised these two goddesses (Anahita and Mitra) in glorious hymns because of the
position of both ancient Iranian goodness in people mind.
In late Sassanid era, the biggest religious, political and cultural symbols (King Fire or Knights) were built in
"AzarGoshnasb" temple. Kings of the Sassanid came to this place on their foot from Ctesiphon, the seat of their
government. This fire temple was built beside a boiling lake in the crater of a volcano cone with a diameter of 100
meters and it represents the importance of water in the Zoroastrian religion. Beside this fire temple (the preservation
place of eternal fire), the Anahita temple is located. Water of lake is entering to temple by a channel, pass through the
corridors and it announced its presence in the center of temple. The fire temple and the lake are situated on the main
direction (North - South) of this complex. Indeed, water and fire celebrate their unity in a castle above a mountain and in
presence of nature and heaven.

Figure 3.2. Solomon throne( AzarGoshasb temple)


Ali Tahmouri and Sarvenaz Hoseinrazavi, World Applied Programming, Vol (3), No (9), September 2013.

Anahita Temple in "Bishapour" is the worship place of Anahita and a place of cuddle and play with water. This temple is
important not only in terms of architecture style, but also its setting, division and control system of water. Temple is in
cube form without ceiling, and the roofed corridors are around it and we can reach to water temple by a staircase from
ground level. Water is entered from the adjacent river by a splitter stone, split into three channels and passes through the
surrounding corridors and enters to the open space of it. Water circulating in this temple makes so beautiful form, with a
sense of respect and it represents the religious importance and worship of the water goddess, Anahita.

Figure 3.3. Anahita temple in Bishapour

III.2 Water place in Iran after the Islam

In the Islamic era, the water find application role at architecture. The architects of this period tried quite consciously to
overcome the nature and to put into order it. They used the logic and technology of their time to control water and nature,
and made it richer. Before Islam, the architecture was moved rapidly toward the water and found peace along it. After
Islam, architects understood the physical laws of water behavior, the role of water and its relation to human, so they
bring water into architecture. Water is drawn to the order of the geometric shapes. It manifests in most buildings of
Islamic period and somehow the architecture centralization and unification are formed by water.
Thus, the water has been combined in Iranian buildings that it cant be separated. So, water has appeared in center of the
palaces and gardens, the central yards of mosques, schools, caravanserais and houses etc. In mosques, water plays a
purification role and it has its own symbolic aspect. Water is a symbol of life and death and as a bridge between the
terrestrial and the metaphysical world. Purification aspect of water is an allegory of the continuous birth of creation and
brings a sense of new life.
There is a large pool of water, and sometimes a stream of flowing water in the middle part of central yard of most
mosques, which is an allegory of Paradise mentioned in the Qur'an. Water at the entrance of the mosque is a symbol of
soul purification and entrance to a pure and transparent world.


Ali Tahmouri and Sarvenaz Hoseinrazavi, World Applied Programming, Vol (3), No (9), September 2013.


Architecture as a technique and one of the arts has common aspect with some of arts and also distinctive characteristics
to others. Perhaps architecture can be considered as an art under influence of the material, environment and functional
factors than many the other arts, especially in the past. It wasnt an abstractive art which represents the artist, employer
or users wills, but a variety of objective factors and phenomena such as material, structure, space function, climate and
etc have influenced in formation of architecture spaces.
IV.1 Architecture and water resources
In the past, some arenas and places were designed to praise the water and it depends on many factors such as the type
and location of the water source. At first, water sources can be divided into two types: Natural and artificial sources.
Natural resources including lakes, rivers, springs and waterfalls and artificial sources are considered as ponds, streams
and artificial streams. Position and importance of each resource have been effective in shaping of architectural space. For
example the Solomon throne in Iran can be noted. In an area known as Solomon's Throne, a big spring created a small
lake with constant water, therefore a temple and its peripheral spaces designed and built along the main axis of the lake.

Figure 4.1. Solomon throne ( AzarGoshasb temple)

Some rivers, especially when they had passed through the towns been considered more and were used in some rituals and
ceremonies to spray water. For example it can be noted "Zayanderood" river in Isfahan with the history of several
thousand years. Its critical role in people lives caused to make the urban living spaces of leisure, recreation and
celebration along to it. The design and construction of "Khajoo" and "thirty-three" bridges were not used as the only way
across a bridge but they had the certain elements and special places to hold ceremonies and rituals. Porches of thirtythree bridge and king seats of "Khajoo" bridge are among these elements. These Bridges were used to celebrate water
spraying celebration in the Safavid period.
Some small springs and permanent intakes were considered as places to honor the water and its goddess. One very good
example of the remainder of these fields is "Taq-e-Bostan" in Kermanshah. Taq-e-Bostans water fountain and pond is
located in this area at least over a hundred years and some of its remains are belonging to the "Sassanian" period. Its
arches implies the formation of it to perform the rituals of water. In one of the reliefs on the arch, the vault, can be seen
the image of Anahita with a glass of water as if she is falling water on the ground.


Ali Tahmouri and Sarvenaz Hoseinrazavi, World Applied Programming, Vol (3), No (9), September 2013.

Figure 4.2. Thirty three bridge of Safavid era

Figure 4.3. Taq-e-Bostan of Sassanian era

IV.2 Architecture and artificial sources of water

It is evident that natural resource of water are not available in all places for ritual purposes, leisure and other
requirements and it was necessary to design and construct elements and spaces in order to use water. Therefore, many
functional elements were designed to preserve and maintain the water such as reservoir, pool, and baths, like them. In
other words, water had different functions in architecture spaces such as drinking, health care, creating cool, visual
pleasure and even in some ritual functions.
In symbolic and ritual functions of water in Iranian architecture, it can be briefly pointed to some spaces. First, the role
and function of the pool and ponds, particularly in cases without health functions is noted. According to the documents
reveal that a pool or pond was designed in front of the main porch of some public or ritual buildings with the primarily
symbolic and ceremonial aspect, although in terms of climate, visual aesthetics and other items may also be useful. In
this case, building image was also reflected in the pool and it indicates the need for attention to the clarity, transparency,
reflection and mirror.
The use of a pool or pond in front of the ritual buildings was important that the design of some kind of architectural
spaces became as a principal in Iranian architecture so that it can be said, almost without exceptions, there was always a
pool in the front of main porch of pavilion in Persian gardens .Of course, it had the ritual aspect, in addition to the
aesthetic and climate function .many streams, waterfall and gardens were important because of water presence, in
addition to the visual and climate aspects. There is also four pools on four sides of building, especially with some of the
four or eight porches and also it stressed on the traditional and ceremonial functions in front of porch.


Ali Tahmouri and Sarvenaz Hoseinrazavi, World Applied Programming, Vol (3), No (9), September 2013.

Figure 4.4. Afif Abad Garden or Golshan Shiraz

The presence of pond in front of big mosques and some public buildings have been important because of ritual and
functional role of water in Islamic architecture. It is necessary to note the presence of pond in forecourt area of mosque
which was considered as urban and general area was not because of climatic and functional reasons, because these large
mosques had health services in particular, and they also had a large pond in central point of the yard which sometimes it
is also used for ablutions, but the pond in front of mosque used less for ablution and it can be used in symbolic and ritual
aspects. We can see examples of such pool in the Shah Mosque in Isfahan. In this context, it should be noted this
tradition as specifically designed for mosques in Iran and it cannot be seen in other mosques in Muslim lands, so that it
can be said that these ponds are considered as an Iranian architectural principle.
Due to the climatic conditions of Iran, the value of Water element embedded in Iranian ideas and therefore its presence
in the body of habitats has been as the most important issues of architectural design and construction of city. This need
has stimulated the innovation in irrigation systems and aqueducts, canals and dams.
- Environmental water demand based on the requirements led to the selection of suitable areas for cities, temples and
monasteries from the "Achamenian" period to the end of the "Sassanid" just beside the water in form of the fountain,
river or lake. So the ritual value of water wasnt forgotten.
- Water as a holy element of pre-Islamic Iranian habitat has been separated its surrounding which consists of natural and
man-made elements from other areas, so the water is the main factor to give place value and this is attained by recording
an image of the location in the mind of viewer.
- Water is a fluid element with different visual, aural and tactile values and it has certain place in design thinking of preIslamic Iranian architecture and it helped the cognitive perceptions of a person about physical presentations. Thus, the
remaining of "Pasargadae" introduces water discipline as creator of space order, the body of water ,where is called
"Solomon throne" today, represents a distinct location and the movement of water from elsewhere in predetermined
directions of "Anahita" Temple in "Bishapour" expressed the relationship between the body and the meaning in a city


Ali Tahmouri and Sarvenaz Hoseinrazavi, World Applied Programming, Vol (3), No (9), September 2013.

There are very few data about the presence of water in Iran after Islam; however, some writings of Iranian architecture
offer some important data on the water place especially after the formation of the Safavid. Accordingly, in Iran after

In large-scale, water caused to built the city structure and it was determined development directions of the city.
In the middle of the scale, the water element has been formed the structural image of building in connection to
the activities in the building. This activity includes water-related services buildings such as water storage and
bath which were formed along the path of subterranean water in each district and it was the index of it.
At the micro scale, the presence of water was not seen on the surface of open spaces, because the Iranian city
was in larger scale than house and it merely was consisted urban architecture buildings and there wasnt a civil
space in the form of open area to the people gathered there. The water has been shown within ponds and
fountains of public buildings.
Running water in combination with a man-made bridge is created the closest relationship between man and
nature and represents a distinct place.

The role of water in shaping the primary human habitats is in response to a biological need. But beyond a need, housing
and building of residential complexes, find the cultural concept and cause to appear architecture and water find art place
in human life and it rooted the creativity of artists and architects. Understanding water concept in architecture is the
knowledge of the water architecture. Understanding of the physical laws of the water behavior is our emotions against
water interaction and above all, the role of metaphor and its relation to human life. Water is inconsistent metaphor and it
is considered as four elements of the universe with Earth, fire, air. In fact, water is a nature element with unchanging
property. Whenever is appeared, its application should reflect designers and manufacturers perception about nature.
River basin is the ground of development and growth of most ancient cultures .In Iran, the river was accelerated the
culture growth and also it opened its place into the culture. And it must be said water in the far past, led to appeared the
economic centers and urban life.
Before the advent of Islam in Iran, the architecture was appeared beside the water and into the nature without having to
disturb it. The role of water was abstractive. Worship places, temples and fire temples formed along to the water with
full respect to the presence of water. As if water was human passage to enter another world. Water showed its spiritual
role in Iran architecture, so that the water cycle was an abstractive representation of it in the nature and its essence in a
single aspect has found the representative aspect which was apparently in the water worship. So, river, springs and lakes
were in ritual and religious place. This was not the place itself. Construction of buildings and places was manifested in
legends, beliefs and customs.
In ancient Iran, the architecture moves toward water and find peace beside it. But in Islamic period, the water find an
application state and architects try to control nature and give order to it. They seek to identify and understand the laws of
physics, the behavior of water and its relation to human, so that they enter the water into the architecture. Water appears
in most buildings in geometric shapes and a kind of architecture unity is formed about water. Its fluctuating movement is
run in art, literary and religious concepts in our culture. Water is appeared in the center of the palaces and gardens, etc
which is inseparable part of it.
It is used in pool architecture as a symbol of stagnant water and it is a complementary element of building in regular
geometric shapes. Ponds in front of buildings reflect them like a mirror and are as complementary element of
architecture. Ponds at the mosque have the figurative role in addition to purification aspect, and the water became
symbolic notation of life and dead. It purify human physically and spiritually, so the understanding the water concept in
architecture is same as water architecture.


Ali Tahmouri and Sarvenaz Hoseinrazavi, World Applied Programming, Vol (3), No (9), September 2013.

However, despite the importance of water in the form of a long structure and architecture element in the city and its role
to create environment meaning, it seems unfortunately, the water place is not recognized in today Iranian architecture
and city and water has not considered theoretically and practically in Iranian architecture problems and cities.
The order of the physical structure of the water is not considered in urban programs, because all infrastructures can be
developed every direction of city. Water has not play a role to determine the situation of activities. The water concept is
loss in architecture and its only trace is in fountains in middle of smoke polluted squares. So it is necessary to consider
water place in Iran architecture and cities today both in body and in the meaning. Past architecture and Iranian cities
good teachings could provide good teachings in this case.
After all, every drop of water on the planet plays a role in the water cycle. This cycle indicates that all waters are linked
together with a continuous chain. Hence, water is never remain as discrete event and never belonged to a certain time or
a place. Even the smallest drop of water has partnered with the largest ocean in its heritage. If we could follow the
movement of water, we may discover water boils at Lake of "AzarGoshasb" temple, will back and appear at the Isfahan
"Shah Mosque" or water is running in the "Anahita" Temple in "Bishapour", again erupt from the fountain of "Eight
Paradise" palace.
Water cycle doesnt know borders, Colors and religions. It is above of transcends earthly bounds and finds divine
dimensions. All buildings that are combined with water transmit a subtle but clear message: in this world, every drop of
water is connected to the world waters.


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