God is beautiful and He loves beauty

Technical Glossary


Passage with vaulted ceiling. 


Drinking fountain usually established for public charity.  


A charitable foundation composed of a sabil, public water dispensary, and a kuttab, an elementary Qur'anic school for children where they would usually learn reading, writing and Qur'an. The sabil would usually be located on the ground floor with the kuttab above it on the first floor. This foundation could be attached to a mosque or be a separate structure in itself. 


The back wall of an iwan.  

Safavids (1501-1722 A.D.) 

A dynasty that ruled Iran from 1501 A.D. until 1722 A.D. They were the descendants of the Sufi Shaykh Safy al-Din Ishaq (1252-1334 A.D.) who founded his tariqa in his hometown Ardabil in 1300 A.D. It was strictly Sunni in orientation but by the mid fifteenth century A.D. it became Shi‘i. At the age of twelve Shaykh Safy’s grandson Isma‘il invaded Iran. Isma‘il was full of passion and vigor and this was how he marched into Tabriz in 1501 A.D. after the Aq Qoyunlu fled in fear of his advances. Few years later he was ruling from Iraq to Uzbekistan. After his death in 1524 A.D. no other Safavid was as passionate or charismatic. Tabriz was the first capital, Qazvin the second and then later in 1598 A.D. Shah Abbas made Isfahan the capital. The last Safavid Shah was Sultan Husayn who was overthrown in 1722 A.D. by the Afghan Ghazali tribe. The Safavids were amongst the important patrons of Islamic art, however they are not one of the peaks. The Maydan-i Shah in Isfahan represents the typical Safavid style of architecture, which was to a great degree influenced by the Timurids but never reached its excellence.  


Terrace or open space. 


The court of a mosque whether it be opened or closed.  


The root sahar means to melt something. In architecture it means a water tank.  


Men’s reception area in houses and palaces. During the ninteenth century A.D. rich households had the salamlik as a separate building.  


The wooden leaves of a window attached to the iron window grilles often encountered in sabils.  


Prayers. Derives from the Arabic root silla, meaning link. These are the second pillar of Islam and are performed by Muslims five times a day. In the context of the root, these prayers are a constant link to God. An individual must be ritually pure by performing wudu', ablution, beforehand, and must pray in any clean place oriented towards the qibla, i.e. towards the Ka'ba in Mecca. Prayers can be individually or in congregation. The Friday prayer taking place at noon however needs to be in congregation.  

Saljuks (1038-1195 A.D.) 

This was the first great Turkish dynasty to rule Iranian lands. The advent of Turkic tribes from beyond the Oxus and Syr Darya rivers had already been taking place long before the rise of Islam, and they were known as the nomadic predators of the Iranian north-eastern frontiers and the mercenaries in the armies of the Abbasid Caliphate. Those migrating into the Iranian lands were Turkish military aristocracy and many small Turkish dynasties replaced the established Iranian ones as what happened with the Samanids and the Ma’munid Khawarazm-Shahs. The Saljuks belong to the Oghuz clan part of the Gok Turkic tribes, rising to power with Tughril who marched into Baghdad in 1055 A.D. deposing the Buwayhid prince, and by 1058 A.D. the Abbasid Caliph al-Qa’im had bestowed on him an honorary title. The advent of the Saljuks, who eventually ruled from Transoxiana to Anatolia marks the elimination of the Shi‘i presence in this part of the world. Not having a rich culture of their own, they adopted the cultural and literary heritage of Persia and maintained a Persian administration. They opened the way for the immigration of Turkic tribes to Anatolia, eventually leading to the Turkicization of Byzantine lands following the Manzikert victory in 1071 A.D. Sunni Islam was to become the system of their government, especially with the eradication of the Shi‘i Buwayhids. The Saljuks were the bearers of the flag of Sunni Islam and which they spread through the institution of the madrasa. The formal history of the madrasa as a public institution started with the Saljuk vizier, Nizam al-Mulk, who inaugurated his madrasa in Baghdad in 1068 A.D. Following this inauguration, more madrasas were established throughout the Saljuk territories, and many were found in Merv, Balkh, and Herat. Viziers, military officials and merchants also endorsed several madrasas. Architectural forms developed and spread rapidly during the Saljuk dynasty. An important transformation took place in the mosque plan, where a new prototype incorporating a domed chamber in the qibla area in front of the mihrab evolved. The combination of four iwans overlooking a court with a dome chamber on the qibla side soon became a standard plan throughout the Iranian lands. In general, the iwan became an important feature in both secular and religious architecture. In terms of decoration, elaborate stucco and terracotta were extensively used in Iran and the eastern areas, while stone was used in Anatolia. Few Saljuk monuments still remain in their homeland, Iran, for the majority was destroyed by the Mongul invasion. There are several madrasas and tombs in Iraq and Syria, but the most Saljuk monuments have remained in Anatolia.  

Saljuks of Rum (1037 A.D. - 1308 A.D.) 

This Turkish dynasty ruling Anatolia was a branch of the Great Saljuks. It was founded by Kutalmish, who was a cousin of the Saljuk rulers, and it was his son Suleyman I (r. 1077-1086 A.D.) who took over Iznik in 1078 A.D. During the Crusade conflicts the Saljuks of Rum managed to acquire extensive autonomy although they were under the official authority of the Great Saljuks. The dynasty experienced great prosperity from the mid twelfth century A.D. until the mid thirteenth century A.D. when in 1240 A.D. territories were lost and in 1243 A.D. they were defeated by the Monguls. From 1279 A.D. the Saljuks of Rum ruled under the authority of the Ilkhanids who eventually took over their territory making it an Ilkhanid province in 1308 A.D. Artistically the Saljuks of Rum were distinct from those of Iran. Their arts were influenced by Central Asia, Syria, Mesopotamia and of course, the land of Anatolia. The most popular plan for mosques was the basilica plan with three domes in front of the qibla wall. Monumental portals were another feature of the mosques there, together with the single or twin minarets. The entrance of the mosque of Sultan Hasan in Egypt was heavily influenced by Anatolian entrance portals, like the Ince Minare Madrasa in Konya or the G?k Madrasa in Sivas.  


A marble or stone plaque that leans on the wall of a sabil or a qa‘a and is part of the shadirwan. Its main function is for the water to flow over it, babbling into a fountain in the middle of the room. This plaque is decorated finely with geometric patterns or with carvings of fish.  

Samanids (819/874-999 A.D.) 

The Samanid dynasty, founded and named after Saman Khudat, ruled over Eastern Iran, Afganistan and Central Asia from the late ninth century to 999 A.D. This Sunni dynasty continued to be faithful to the Abassids, although they were Tahiridi subjects, where Saman Khudat's 4 grandsons were Tahirid governors in Heart, Shash, Fergana and Samarqand. In 874 A.D., the Tahiridis were overthrown by Nasr I ibn Ahmad (r. 874-892 A.D.), the son of the Samarqand governor, who then made Bukhara the capital. His brother, Ismail (r. 892-907 A.D.) defeated the Saffarid Empire by 903 A.D., controlling Afganistan, large areas of Persia with Khorasan. Under Nasr II (r. 914-943 A.D.) the dynasty expanded greatly to include territories from Baghdad, Kerman and Mazandaran (Persian Gulf) to the Indian borders and Turkestan. The Buyids however pushed the Samanids back to Transoxiana and Khorasan from 945 A.D. Nevertheless, their court flourished becoming a locus of Persian spitituality and Persian Islamic literature under Mansur I (961-976 A.D.) and Nuh II (967-997 A.D.). They were defeated by the Ghaznavids in 994 A.D. where they lost Khorasan, and by the Qarakhanids where they lost Transoxiana in 999 A.D., and the latter finally killed their last ruler while fleeing in 1005 A.D. Art and culture flourished under the Samanids, and it was during this period that the renowned philosopher and physician Ibn Sina, known to the West as Avicenna, was born and studied in Bukhara. 


Tank of water used for ablution. 


Mamluk rank of cupbearer who's responsibility includes the sultan's table and drinks. 


Turkish for palace.  

Sasanians (c. 225-651 A.D.) 

Pre-Islamic dynasty in Iran that ruled c. 225-651 A.D., whose main administrative capital was Ctesiphon, Iraq. This dynasty was founded by Ardashir, possibly a distant relative of the Achaemenids, who had replaced the Parthian dynasty. Zoroastrianism was the state religion, and their language was Pahlavi. The Muslim armies started taking over following the conquests of Qadisiyya (636 A.D.) and Nihavand (642 A.D.) The last Sasanian ruler was Yazdegird III (651 A.D.). In general, Sasanian prototypes were important infleunces in Islamic art and architecture. In Umayyad architecture this is indicated by the mosaic motifs in the Dome of Rock, stucco work at Khirbat al-Mafjar and the entire design of Qasr Kharana. Further influence can also be noted in Khan 'Atshan and the 'Abassid palace of Ukhaidar.  


Cell or minaret. 


A title given to descendants of the Prophet or to Sufis.  


Popular Ottoman vegetal motif based on the leaves of the reed. It can also refer to a type of musical instrument. 

Sehna Knot 

'Persian' or assymetrical knot used in carpets and rugs. 


Italian term which literally means 'scratched'. This refers to a pottery where patterns are incised onto a vessel that was first covered with a slip and coated with a lead glaze. 


It is derived from the Arabic root, shadd or to strengthen, though generally it means architect.  


A Persian word for an element mostly found in sabils adorning one of its walls. It consists of a wooden stalactite conch with an opening for water to pour from into a small basin called qarqal. From the qarqal the water flows on the salsabil, set on the wall at an angle, and then flows to a fountain in the middle of the room. The whole idea is for decorative purposes and for causing a cool breeze in the place and this is why we find it in houses as well.  


One of the four Sunni legal schools. The originator of this school was Imam Shafi'i (767-819 A.D.), the third of the four major imams. He was born in Palestine and raised in Mecca. Imam Shafi'i studied under Imam Malik (see Maliki) in Medina, in Mecca and in Iraq, finally spending the last years of his life in Egypt where he is buried in the Mausoleum of Imam Shafi'i. This school has always been one of the, if not the, most widespread in Egypt. 


Persian for king. It was in use since the Achaemenids.  


The Arabic root of the word means 'to witness'. In architecture it describes the tombstone, which carries some Qur’anic verses and an epitaph. Tombstones were always beautifully adorned with the different scripts.  


A term derived from shams or sun used in documents to describe ornaments that are round in shape or rounded windows. It might have been used for windows because they admit sunlight and are thus shamsas.  


Another term used to describe rounded ornaments, especially used for manuscripts. It is also derived from the word shams. See shamsa.  


Plural for shirfa. See Crenellations


A composite Arabic-Persian word meaning warehouse for storing drinks and their respective tableware such as expensive porcelain, gold or rock crystal cups. It is also used for the storage of sweets, fruits, essential oils and even potions. In the royal palaces it is supervised by the mihtar al-sharabkhana.  


A way of roofing.  


Literally means 'borken.' This refers to calligraphy where parts of the word are placed at different levels. 


See crenellations.  


A large recess in the side walls of a qa‘a. By the end of the Burji Mamluk period the side iwans (northern and southern) were reduced in size greatly and were thence called sidilas.  


Persian mythical bird. 


Constitution of workers into guilds 


An underground corridor or a tunnel.  


Sesame oil press.  


Fence of any kind.  


Pottery decoration where slp is carved away from the surface.  


Pottery decoration technique where the piece is covered in a color against which contrasting earthy pigments are painted thinly. 


An arch or system of arches usually placed at the corners of a square supporting a dome.  


See Muqarnas


Fine plaster carved into low-relief decoration used both in interiors and on exteriors of monuments.  


The traditions of the Prophet Muhammad that forms a huge body of literature. It supplements the Qur’an and acts as a source of guidance for the followers of Islam. Ranging over topics as varied as doctrine, prayer, taxation, government, fasting, pilgrimage, and spirituality, this unique reservoir of religious guidance is an indispensable foundation for the study and understanding of any aspect of Islam.  




Qur'an chapter.