To visit Soltaniyeh, a World Heritage Site, look into the World Heritage Tour.
The mausoleum of Oljaytu was constructed in 1302–12 in the city of Soltaniyeh, the capital of the Ilkhanid dynasty, which was founded by the Mongols. Situated in the province of Zanjan, Soltaniyeh is one of the outstanding examples of the achievements of Persian architecture and a key monument in the development of its Islamic architecture. The octagonal building is crowned with a 50 m tall dome covered in turquoise-blue faience and surrounded by eight slender minarets. It is the earliest existing example of the double-shelled dome in Iran. The mausoleum’s interior decoration is also outstanding and scholars such as A.U. Pope have described the building as ‘anticipating the Taj Mahal’.
In the 13th century, Persia was devastated by the Mongol invasions. They captured Baghdad in 1258, terminating the Abbasid caliphate there. They also founded the Ilkhanid Empire in Persia with the capital in Tabriz, in the northwestern part of present-day Iran. The title “ilkhan” indicated: ‘subordinate or peaceful khan’ in deference to the Great Khan in China. After Kublai Khan died in 1294, and the Ilkhanids converted to Islam, the links with China became weaker. The Ilkhanid dynasty governed Persia until 1335.
There is archaeological evidence that the site of Soltaniyeh had been occupied at least from the first millennium BC. The construction of a settlement however only started by the Ilkhanid dynasty around 1290. The fourth Mongol ruler in Persia, Arqun Khan, decided to build a summer residence in this region, because it offered good hunting grounds and rich pastures for horse breeding. His son, Qazan Khan, had a mausoleum built over his tomb, now known as Tappeh Nur. There is little information about the beginnings of the new settlement until Oljaytu (later Sultan Muhammad Khodabandeh) came to power in 1304 and decided to enlarge the city and make it his capital, naming it Soltaniyeh, the “Imperial”. Together with Tabriz, Soltaniyeh became a major trading centre on the route between Asia and Europe. The principal phase of construction was completed by 1313.
The Ilkhans had converted to Shi’ism, and they are believed to have wanted to transfer the relics of Calif Ali and his son, Hussein, from Baghdad to Soltaniyeh. This never happened, though, and the shrine became the mausoleum of Oljaytu instead. After the death of Oljaytu in 1316, the city started losing in importance, and later it fell in the hands of small local dynasties. In 1384, Tamerlan’s army seized the city and sacked it, but spared Oljaytu’s mausoleum. In the following years, the city suffered, though it continued to function as a commercial centre comparable to Tabriz. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Soltaniyeh gradually declined and remained in ruins. Only a rural village was built over the remains. Some restoration was undertaken in Oljaytu’s Mausoleum in the 19th century. At the same time, the plain served as an instruction camp for the army of Qajar kings.
Criterion (ii): The Mausoleum of Oljaytu forms an essential link in the development of the Islamic architecture in central and western Asia, from the classical Seljuk phase into the Timurid period. This is particularly relevant to the double-shell structure and the elaborate use of materials and themes in the decoration.
Criterion (iii): Soltaniyeh as the ancient capital of the Ilkhanid dynasty represents an exceptional testimony to the history of the 13th and 14th centuries.
Criterion (iv): The Mausoleum of Oljaytu represents an outstanding achievement in the development of Persian architecture particularly in the Ilkhanid period, characterized by its innovative engineering structure, spatial proportions, architectural forms and the decorative patterns and techniques. More