Toghrol Towers and the Symbolic Function of the Iranian Medieval Architecture

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The Iranian towers that flourished in the Saljuq era (1037-1194) are glorious symbols of medieval times. This article attempts to explore the functions of Iranian towers in medieval times with respect to Toghrol towers in Ray and Mehmandust. Regardless of their usage in astronomy and finding directions, towers functioned as symbols of dynasties.

The Saljuqs who drew on earlier dynasties like the Buyids (932-1055) and Ziyarids (931-1090), followed their architectural traditions including constructing towers with remarkable innovations. Toghrol towers in Ray and Mehmandust of Damghan are two examples of Saljuq monuments. Tughrul Beg (990–1063) established the Seljuk Sultanate after conquering Iran and retaking the Abbasid capital of Baghdad from the Buyid dynasty in 1055. He died in Ray.

The tall brick Toghrol Tower is located near the Ibn Babawayh monument in Ray. All the houses and gardens once surrounding the tower (Mohit Tabatabai, 1987, p.28) are now replaced by inharmonious houses, a giant factory, and a newly constructed mosque next to it.

A beautiful garden surrounds the Toghrol tower, which has an inner of 11 meters diameter and an outer of 16 meters diameter. The entrance door of the garden is decorated elegantly. It is 20 meters high without its dome collapsing in an earthquake (Mohit Tabatabaie, 1987, p.28). The thickness of its walls varies from 1.75 to 2.75 meters.

Tugrul Tower Ray

There had been a Kufic inscription at the top of the tower (Gardeshgar, 2008, p.39) which has now disappeared. On his way to Mashhad, Naser al-Din Shah ordered some restorations to be made to the top part of the tower, which collapsed in 1884 (Mohit Tabatabai, 1987, 28). The tower now protected by Iran's Cultural Heritage Organization was restored slightly in 1998. According to the marble plaque made by the Qajar dynasty, this building has been known as Boq’aya Toghrol.

Qajar Marble Inscription on Tugrul Tower Ray

The anonymous architect of the tower has taken concrete measures to increase its durability. The tower resists moisture by air passing through the channels at the bottom of the walls.

The walls and ceiling were designed to reflect the voices of lecturers or perhaps the sound of music. The exterior shape of the tower is that of a polygon with 24 angles, which is thought to contribute to the structure's stability against tremors. Due to the 24 angles, the tower functions like a solar watch to determine the exact time (Gardeshgar, 2008:39).

Holes Tugrul Tower Ray

Pigeons and other birds inhabit in the holes in the inner walls that were once used to create the upper parts of the walls and its conical dome. The entrance of the tower with decorative bricks is like the mouths of angry snarling lions protecting its territories.

Tugrul Tower in Ray as a Lion

The brick-tall Toghrol tower in Mehmandust was constructed in 1097. The exterior shape of the tower is that of a polygon with 12 angles. The tower’s conical dome and a portion of its Kufic inscription have been destroyed (Mostafavi, 1968: p.170).

Tugrul Tower  in Mehmandust

The position of towers and their height assist travelers to find roads leading to cities. Moreover, the towers are used as tombs and monuments of famous characters. Regarding the Toghrol towers of Ray and Mehmandust, there are many disputes among researchers. Tower of Ray considered to be founded by Toghrol I as his tomb (Abdul Jalil Razi, 2012, p. 476; Sumer, 2001, p.158), is claimed to be the tomb of Ebrahim Khawas (d.904) (Ibn Jawzi, 1996, 4, p.102), the key man in the mysticism of 8th century (Shams al-Ulama & et al.,1879, 6, p. 369; Mohit Tababaie, 1987:28). It also was considered as the monument of Khalil Sultan, Timur (1370-1405)’s son and his wife Shad al-Molk (Mohit Tabatabaie, 1987, p. 28).

The tower of Mehmandust known as Toghrol tower is considered the shrine of Qasim, the son of Musa Ibn Jafar (the 7th Shiite Imam) (Nejati, 1968, p. 142).

It is apparent that Iranian medieval towers had various functions with respect to their structures. Acting as tombs is the most common usage they served, especially in the conditions that new tombs were constructed in towers in different eras. Their shapes made them applicable to astronomical matters. Moreover, they assist travelers to find their way to cities.

Besides, the towers functioned as symbols of the political and architectural structures of the Iranian medieval dynasties. Towers flourished in the Ziyarid (932-1055), the Buyid (931-1090), and particularly the Saljuq (1037-1194) were true symbols of these powers. Rulers of these dynasties and the architects serving them established these magnificent towers to perpetuate their names and their political and architectural structures.

Maryam Kamali



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Gardeshgar, Aryana, Borj-e Toghrol Ayande-ie az Honar Me’mari ba Elm-e Nojum, 2008, 21, 39..

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