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SASSANIAN

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Originally appearing in Volume V02, Page 382 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SASSANIAN ARCHITECTURE Although, on the overthrow of the Parthian dynasty'in A.D. 226, the monarchs of the Sassanian dynasty succeeded to the immense Parthian empire, the earliest building found, according to Fergusson, is that at Serbistan, to which he ascribes the date A.D. 380. The palace (fig. 21), which measures 130 ft. frontage and 143 ft. deep, with an internal court, shows so great an advance in the arrangements of its plan as to suggest considerable acquaintance with Roman work. The fine ashlar work of el-Hadr is no longer adhered to, and in its place we find rubble masonry with thick mortar joints, the walls being covered afterwards, both externally and internally, with stucco. While the barrel vault is still retained for the chief entrance porches, it is of elliptical section, and the central hall is covered with a dome, a feature probably handed down from the Assyrians, such as is shown in the bas-relief (fig. io) from Kuyunjik, now in the British Museum. In order to carry a dome, circular on plan, over a square hall, it was necessary to arch across the angles, and here to a certain extent the Sassanians were at fault, as theydid not know how to build pendentives, and the construction of these are of the most irregular kind. As, however, their mortar had excellent tenacious properties, these pendentives still remain 'in situ (fig. 22), and their defects were probably hidden under the stucco. In the halls which flank the building on either side, however, they displayed considerable knowledge of construction. Instead of having enormously thick walls to resist the thrust of their vaults, to which we have already drawn attention in the Assyrian work and at el Hadr, they built piers at intervals, covering over the spaces between them, with semi-domes on which the walls carrying the vaults are supported, so that they lessened the span of the vault and brought the thrust well within the wall. This, however, lessened the width of the hall, so they replaced the lower portions of the piers by the columns, leaving a passage round. It is possible that this idea was partly derived from the great Roman halls of the thermae (baths), where the vault is brought forward on columns; but It was an improvement to leave a passage behind. The elliptical sections given to all the barrel vaults may have been the traditional method derived from Assyria, of which, however, no remains exist. In the article VAULT there will be f ound areason Section in lines BC, DE, FG of plan. why these elliptical sections were adopted (see also below in the description of the great hall at Ctesiphon). In the palace of Firuzabad, attributed by Fergusson to Peroz (Firuz)' (A.D. 459-485), the plan (fig. 23) follows more closely the disposition of the Assyrian palaces, and we return again to the thick walls, which might incline us to give a later date to Serbistan, except that in the pendentives carrying the three great domes in the centre of the palace at Firuzabad they show greater knowledge in their construction. The angles of the square hall are vaulted, with a series of concentric arches, each ring as it rises being brought forward, the object being to save centreing, because each ring rested on the ring beneath it. The plan is a rectangular parallelogram with a frontage of 180 ft. and a depth of 333 ft., more than double, therefore, of the size of Serbistan. An immense entrance hall in the centre of the main front is flanked on each side by two halls placed at right angles to it, so as to resist the thrust of the elliptical barrel vaults of the entrance hall. This hall leads to a series of three square halls, side by side, each surmounted by a dome carried on pendentives. Beyond is an open court, the smaller rooms round all covered with barrel vaults. Here, as in Serbistan, the material employed is rubble masonry with thick joints of mortar, and fortunately portions of the stucco with which this Sassanian masonry was covered remain both externally and internally. As there are no windows of any sort, the wall surface of the exterior has been FIG.23.—PtanofthePalace decorated with semi - circular at- at Firuzabad. tached shafts and panelling between, which recall the primitive decorations found in the early Chaldaean temples, except that arches are carried at the top across the sunk panels. Internally an attempt has been made to copy the decoration of the Persian doorway, which represents a kind of renaissance of the ancient style. But instead of the lintel the arch has been introduced, and the ornament in stucco representing the Persian cavetto cornice shows imperfect knowledge of the original and is clumsily worked. The niches also, in the main front, have been copied from Plan. the windows which flank the doorway in the Persian palace. But they are decorative only, and are too shallow to serve any purpose. If there has been some difficulty in determining the exact date of Firuzabad, that of the third great palace, at Ctesiphon, on the borders of the Tigris, is known to have been built by Chosroes I. in A.D. 550. Owing probably to its proximity to Bagdad, from which it lies about 25 M. distant, it is much better known than the other examples we have quoted; but while they are constructed in rubble masonry, Ctesiphon is built of brick, because we have now returned to the alluvial plain where no stone could be procured. The only portion of the palace which still exists is that which was built in burnt brick, and this far exceeds in dimensions Serbistan and Firuzabad. Its main front measured 312 ft.; its height was about 115 ft.; and its depth 175 ft. The plan is very simple, and consisted of an aiwan or immense hall, 86 ft. in width and 163 ft. long, covered with an elliptical barrel vault, the thrust of which is counteracted by five long halls on each side, also covered with barrel vaults and probably used as guard chambers or stores. The great hall was open in the front, and constituted an immense portal, 83 ft. wide and 95 ft. to the crown of the arch. The springing of the vault is 40 ft. from the ground, but up to about 26 ft. above the springing the walls are built in horizontal courses projecting inwards as they rise, so that the actual width of the vaulted portion (fig. 24) has been diminished From Dieulafoy's L'Atrt Antique, by permission of Morel et Cie. one-sixth and measures only about 71 ft. The crown of the vault is 9 ft. thick, the walls at the base being 23 ft. The bricks or tiles of which the vault is built are, like those at Thebes, laid flat-wise, and there is also a similar inclination of the rings of brick-work, which are about 1o° out of the vertical. This leads fo the conclusion that this immense vault was built without centreing, as the tenacious quality of the mortar would probably be sufficient to hold each tile in its position until the ring was complete. In the building of the arch of the great portal other precautions were taken; bond timbers 23 f t. long and in five rows, one above the other, were carried through the wall from front to back. The lower portion of the arch (5 ft. in height) was built with bricks placed flat-wise; the upper portion (h ft. in height) in the usual way, viz. right angles to the face. The reason for this change was probably that the upper portions might be carved, as they have been, with a series of semi-circular cusps. The decoration of the flanks of this great central portal is of the most bewildering description. There has evidently been a desire to give a monumental character to the main front. With this idea in view they would seem to have attempted to reproduce Roman features, such as are found decorating the fronts of the various amphitheatres of the Empire. But the semi-circular shafts which form the decoration do not come one over the other on the severalstoreys, and there is a reckless employment of blank arcades distributed over the surface. There are remains of two other palaces at Imamzade and Tag Iran, and in Moab a small example, the Hall of Rabboth Ammon, supposed to have been erected for Chosroes II. during the subjugation of Palestine, which is richly decorated with carving, probably by Syrio-Greek artists, with a mixture of Greek, Jewish and Sassanian details. At Takibostan and Behistun (Bisutun), some 20o m. north-east of Ctesiphon, are some remarkable Sassanian capitals and panels (published in Flandin and Coste's Voyage en Perse, 1851, Paris). (R. P. S.)
End of Article: SASSANIAN
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