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’.
Outstanding Universal Value of Soltaniyeh
In north-western Iran’s city of Soltaniyeh, which was briefly the capital of Persia’s Ilkhanid dynasty (a branch of the Mongol dynasty) during the 14th century, stands the Mausoleum of Oljaytu, its stunning dome covered with turquoise-blue faience tiles. Constructed in 1302-12, the tomb of the eighth Ilkhanid ruler is the main feature remaining from the ancient city; today, it dominates a rural settlement surrounded by the fertile pasture of Soltaniyeh. The Mausoleum of Oljaytu is recognized as the architectural masterpiece of its period and an outstanding achievement in the development of Persian architecture, particularly in its innovative double-shelled dome and interior decoration.
The Mausoleum of Oljaytu is an essential link and key monument in the development of Islamic architecture in central and western Asia. Here, the Ilkhanids further developed ideas that had been advanced during the classical Seljuk phase (11th to early 13th centuries), during which the arts of Iran gained distinction in the Islamic world, thereby setting the stage for the Timurid period (late 14th to 15th centuries), one of the most brilliant periods in Islamic art.
Particularly relevant are the mausoleum dome’s double-shell structure (an inside shell and an outside shell), and the materials and themes used in its interior decoration. The very large 50-m-high dome is the earliest extant example of its type, and became an important reference for the later development of the Islamic dome.
Similarly, the extremely rich interior of the mausoleum, which includes glazed tiles, brickwork, marquetry or designs in inlaid materials, stucco, and frescoes, illustrates an important movement towards more elaborate materials and themes. The Mausoleum of Oljaytu thus speaks eloquently to the Ilkhanid period, which was characterised by innovations in structural engineering, spatial proportions, architectural forms, and decorative patterns and techniques.
Excavations carried out in the 790-ha Mausoleum of Oljaytu property have revealed additional vestiges of the old city, and a large part of this property has retained its archaeological character. As the ancient capital of the Ilkhanid dynasty, Soltaniyeh represents an exceptional testimony to the history of the 13th and 14th centuries in Iran.
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 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, characterised by its innovative engineering structure, spatial proportions, architectural forms, and the decorative patterns and techniques.
Within the boundaries of the property are located all the elements and components necessary to express the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, most importantly the Mausoleum of Oljaytu. The exterior decorations of the mausoleum have suffered severe decline, which has affected its integrity. Nevertheless, the internal decorations have remained intact to a large degree. Urban development around the property represents a potential threat, though such development is slow.
The historical monument of the Mausoleum of Oljaytu at Soltaniyeh is authentic in terms of its form and design, materials and substance, and location and setting. Restoration work has carefully respected the authenticity of the monument, utilizing traditional technology and materials in harmony with the ensemble.
Protection and management requirements
Soltaniyeh is state owned, and protected as a national monument on the basis of the Iranian Law on the Conservation of National Monuments (1982) and the Law on City Properties (1982). Parts of the buffer zone are in private ownership. The principal management authority of the property is the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organization (which is administered and funded by the Government of Iran) through its local office in Zanjan. There is a management plan with short-term (1-year), mid-term (3-year), and long-term (5-year) objectives related to equipment, research, restoration and conservation, and development of tourism at Soltaniyeh. Financial resources for the property are provided through national budgets.
Sustaining the Outstanding Universal Value of the property over time will require continuing to respect scientific standards and to properly safeguard the monument when undertaking conservation and restoration projects; controlling the effects of urban development around the property by devising and executing appropriate management strategies in this regard; and directing studies of the Mausoleum of Oljaytu (including, among others, studies of the decorations, reinforcement projects, and scientifically justified tourist attraction programs) toward specific, detailed outcomes that maintain and/or enhance the Outstanding Universal Value, integrity, and authenticity of the property.