The Alienation of Qajarid Identity at the Arch of Alishah in Tabriz as the Result of Stylistic Restoration Methods

Document Type : Research Article



The military architecture of Qajar dynasty is one of the technical issues in the Iranian history of architecture which has not yet been considered professionally. As a Qajarid fort, Arch of Alishah in Tabriz is one of the material culture evidences for Russo- Persian conflicts. On the basis of historical texts, this monument was the fort of Tabriz during the Qajar era. Archaeologically, the Arch of Alishah in Tabriz is remains of an incomplete Ilkhanid mausoleum which had being constructed in 1318- 1339 in the central yard of the architectural complex of the cathedral mosque of Alishah of Tabriz. Under Ali A. Sarfaraz’s archaeological excavations in 1970s, the architectural remains and also plans of an Ilkhanid monument had been unearthed which had no wall in the south. This means that there was no Mihrab wall for Qibla. But, this plan had an arched portal joint with tow minarets. It seems that such a plan had been changed later and the portal with minarets replaced by the current Arch of Tabriz constructed in the south towards Qibla. Architecturally, this project became incomplete by reason of the collapse of its height curved vault. All of these facts mean that the current Arch of Alishah in Tabriz is not the remains of the same famous mosque of Alishah. But, archaeologically, such remains were situated in the east side of the current Arch when all of them, unfortunately, had been destroyed in 1997! The incomplete gigantic project of Arch retrieved in the Qajarid era when the Russo- Persian conflict over Caucasus and the northern lands of Azerbaijan imposed Abbas Mirza’s army to build a new fort and garrison for Tabriz the crown prince’s city of the Qajar dynasty. As luck would have it, the military architecture of Qajarid Iran has not yet been more considered by professional historians of Iranian architecture. Geopolitically, although, the political map of Iran have been changed during the reign of Qajar dynasty as a consequence of historical campaigns of Iran in opposition to the offensive Tsarist Russia (1804-1828) and British Empire (1857) and by means of historical treaties of  Golestan, Turkmen Chay and Paris. Finally, the current political map of Iran established after 1918. Consequently, any study on the Qajarid military architecture provides information over the both socio- economic and political processes of Iran during these times. The Arch of Alishah in Tabriz can be regarded as one of the basic such military monuments. This fortress had been constructed urgently, by no programmed plan, on the ruins of Ilkhanid Arch of Tabriz by reason of the Russo- Persian conflict over Caucasus and the north of Azerbaijan. For this purpose, the Iranian head quarter of army just added some new buildings to that Ilkhanid monument to give her a new military function. All of these mean that the Qajarid layers at the Arch of Alishah in Tabriz were some of the basic and outstanding historical evidences and material cultures remained from the Russo- Persian conflicts. Alas, none of them have been remained during the past eight decades by means of stylistic techniques of restoration! In addition to the Ilkhanid relics, archaeological excavations at the Arch of Alishah, under Ali A. Sarfaraz in 1971, uncovered military architectural remains and old weapons all belonging to Qajar dynasty. These remains are presented as the fort of Abbas Mirza Farmanfarma where ammunitions of Iranian troops were made, during the Russo- Persian campaigns. Unfortunately, the alienation processes of Qajarid identity at the Arch of Alishah in Tabriz have been formed by the Iranian antiquities law of 1930 which did not cover Qajarid relics; and the stylistic restoration methods too.  And as the result, Iranian history of Russo- Persian conflicts has lost some of its material culture and archaeological evidences forever. Aesthetically, although the further Qajarid structures to the Ilkhanid Arch of Tabriz had no architectural values and building innovations, their socio- political values in the Iranian history of resistance in opposition to the 19th century imperialism and colonialism should be emphasized. In the conservation and restoration process of historical monuments this means that socio- cultural aspects besides socio- spiritual values in historical contexts should be approached in addition to aesthetics, art and techniques. As the result, the stylistic restoration should be regarded as one of the destructive and harmful methods for historical monuments have some different historical- functional layers and additional structures. Such monuments reflect material cultures and historical events which have been accepted in form of additional layers and joint structures during the time. Then, evidently, the stylistic methods of restoration causes misunderstanding of history by remove of material cultures of history. Archaeologically, in conclusion, the usage of stylistic restoration for long term historical monuments of Iran have different periodization and presents various historical functions all in form of additional structures should be regarded as destructive methods and harmful techniques, as presented here on the example of Arch of Alishah in Tabriz.