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IRANIAN ARCHITECTURE: ACHAEMENID DYNASTY

Impact of the Achaemenian IRAN on Iberian Architecture

4th-1st Centuries BCE


 

By: Eliso Akhvlediani & Kakha Khimshiashvili

 

 

Century-old close ties of Iran with Georgia can be traced in different spheres of culture: language, poetry, customs, rituals, religion, art, etc. One of the most peculiar evidences of contacts is the architectural heritage dating from the Achaemenian to the Late Medieval periods.

 

Our paper is focused on a limited period of time from the fourth century BC to the first century BC and describes phenomenon when the architecture of the Iberian kingdom preserved impulses, which came from Achaemenian metropolis well beyond the fall of the Achaemenian Empire.

 

Nonetheless, in Georgia one can find sites of Achaemenian period with evidence of influence from the Achemenian metropolis. Namely in the eastern Georgia joint Georgian-German archaeological mission excavated a site called Gumbati, where remains of a building and associated with it column bases were found. The archaeologists who excavated the site associated the findings with Achaemenian culture.[1] However, recently Dr. Guram Kipiani questioned the connection of the building and column bases with Achaemenian culture and suggested even earlier date.

 

He argues that they should be connected with Median culture.[2] Another example is a tower in Samadlo. I. Gagoshidze indicates on its resemblance to the well-known Achaemenian tower structures in Zendan-i Solaiman and Kaaba-i Zardusht.[3] He suggested that the tower in Samadlo had a religious function. G. Kipiani supported his opinion but at the same time indicating well known fact that we still do not know exact function of the tower structures.[4] 

 

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ILL.1 Map of Georgia

 

 

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ILL.2 TSIKHIA GORA

(After Tskitishvili)

 

 

ILL. 3 TSIKHIA GORA MILL

(After Tskitishvili)

 

 

ILL.4 MTSKHETA MILL

(After Narimsanishvili &

Nikolaishvili)

 

 

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ILL.5 TSIKHIA GORA MARANI

(After Tskitishvili)

 

 

ILL.6 TSIKHIA GORA MARANI,

VESSELS

(After Tskitishvili)

 

ILL.7 SAMADLOS MITSEBI,

VESSELS

 

 

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ILL.8 TSIKHIA GORA,

COLUMN CAPITAL AND BASE

(After Gagoshidze and Kipiani)

 

 

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ILL.9 DEDOPLIS MINDORI,

PLAN OF TEMENOS AND THE MAIN

STRUCTURE

(After Gagoshidze)

 

 

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ILL.10 DEDOPLIS MINDORI,

CAPITAL

(After Gagoshidze)

 

 

As an example of architectural sites of the interest for this essay we will focus on two of them: one is Tsikhia-Gora and another is Dedoplis Mindori. Both situated in the central part of Georgia, Shida Kartli region (Ill.1). Unfortunately neither of them have been fully published, only short descriptions of the sites and few articles covering some aspects of the sites have been published so far[5].

 

A multi-level archaeological site Tsikhia-Gora is located on the northern outlying area of the village Kavthiskhevi, in the Kaspi district. At the Tsikhia-Gora archaeologists discovered cultural layers from early Bronze Age to Early Medieval periods. Though we will be focused on the layer of the fourth-third centuries BC.[6] It consists of a fortified enclosure on the top of the low hill with a number of buildings on its area (Ill.2). Among different types of buildings (granaries, barns marani (wine cellar), bakery, fortified gate) one is of special interest, which was identified as a fire temple.[7]

 

The hilltop has a longish shape. East-west axis more than twice exceeds north-south axis. Unfortunately, south-west and south-east parts of the enclosure are damaged.

 

The fortification wall of the enclosure went around of the perimeter of the hill. The fortification wall was built from adobe bricks and had thickness of about 2 metres.

 

The wall at certain intervals had buttresses. In places where the wall was changing direction (have an angle) there were rectangular towers. It seems that there was only one gate in the middle of the southern side.[8] In the central part of the enclosure only two structures have been discovered so far. One covered by tiles, which was interpreted as a bakery, because of four tones (bread baking cylinder form ceramic ovens). Another one was one room space. Its function is not clear. G. Tskitishvili suggested that it was house of a priest responsible for baking breads.

 

Majority of discovered structures were along the northern fortification wall. In the north-western corner is located a small structure with stove, two hand-mills with flour compartment and an altar (?) inside.

 

The structure shares the eastern wall with a bigger structure. That one has been identified as a mill (Ill.3). Two clay earth-beaten “benches” follow in parallel the east and west walls of the structure. On the top of the “benches” about 30 hand-mills were installed. The mill workers would “seat” along the walls. Special spaces were done for collection of flour along the “benches” towards the central part of the room so that from hand-mills flour would pour down there. The same type of a mill was discovered in Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia, namely in the district called Ghartiskari (Ill.4).[9]

 

Adjust to the mill from eastern side was discovered rather big structure which comprises a corridor-like space in the southern part of the structure and longish wine cellar, in Georgian marani (inner size 22X7,5 m) (Ill.5). The corridor like space had two doors in the south-west corner, faced towards west and in the south-eastern corner, faced the south. The marani door was in the centre of the marani’s south wall.

 

The marani roof was supported by three rows of wooden pillars. One row along the east-west axis and two rows adjust to the southern and northern walls. The five rows of big ceramic jars qvevri for wine-making and storing were dug in the floor of the marani. In the north-western corner of the marani was built from wooden logs satsnakheli, a space (2X2m) used for grape pressing. In front of satsnakheli again in the floor was dug in taghari, special ceramic jar for grape juice collection. Three clay altars were discovered in the marani. Two of them adjoined the northern wall and one southern. Burned goat bones were discovered on one from two at the northern wall and three ceramic vessels of the specific form on another one. The vessels have square shape in the plan with cylindrical shape pit in the centre (Ill.6). Those type of vessels were discovered in some other archaeological sites in Georgia (Ill.7). It is thought that they were used for religious purposes because they are associated with altars.[10]

 

The fortification wall changes its direction (makes a step) in the north-eastern corner of the marani. Here a fortification tower was discovered. The tower as other described structures were built from sun-dried bricks based on pebble-stone bedding.

 

The tower’s south-eastern corner and the fortification wall from inner (southern side) are adjoined by a structure which was identified by G. Tskitishvili as a priest’s house, while G. Kipiani believes that it was a small temple.[11] The structure comprises of three spaces. The entrance of the structure is in the southern end of the eastern wall.

 

North from this space were two spaces - bigger one, which had a square plan and small, longish space in north-western part.In the eastern part of the enclosure eight room structure was discovered. It was identified as a barn because in four rooms burnt wheat seeds were discovered while in other rooms were big size ceramic jars with caps.

 

The biggest structure among those in the enclosure has been identified as a temple, more precisely as a fire temple.[12] It was built between the northern and the southern fortification walls, so that if somebody had wanted to get eastern part of enclosure one should cross the courtyard of the structure. As an archaeological monument the structure has survived quite well. The height of the walls of the main structure reaches 5m. Walls (1.5m wide) up to 2m height are built from rubble stones and are "armatured" by wooden beams. Above is mud brick masonry. Walls and, it seems, ceilings as well were rendered by clay. The floors in the square space and northern space were made from wooden trunks and covered by clay. The roof was covered by tiles. During excavations both pan-tiles and cover-tiles were found. Some tiles have Greek characters written before tiles were baked.

 

The structure consists of an approximately square space (cella?) (7.5´8m) which is flanked by corridor-like spaces. In front of them there is a court enclosed by a high fence (approx. 4m). A high (about 2 m) altar built from rubble stones lies in the centre of the court. Entrances are made in the side walls of the court (W and E). The entry from the court to the square space is in the central part of the south facade of the structure, so the structure is oriented to the south. The corridor-like spaces are connected to the square space by two windows.

 

On the north side the structure is flanked by long (18´4.5m) two floor spaces with a doorway to the west. Thus it does not have direct connection to the rest of the structure or the court. Ground floor walls (height 3,5 m) were built from rubble stone, “armatured” by wooden beams. Above, walls were done from mud-bricks. Distance between first floor joists was around 0,9 m.

 

On the altar in the court archaeologists discovered an iron knife and burnt bones of sheep. These findings raise key question – was the discovered structure a fire temple?

 

According to Mary Boyce “What is wholly un-Zoroastrian is the mingling of animal bones in the embers of fire; for in the age-old Iranian ritual, strictly enforced in Zoroastianism, all that may come into the direct contact with fire are the three offerings made to it itself: clean dry wood, incense, and a small portion of fat which feeds the flames, liquifies and disappears”.[13] So, burning a flash of a sacrificed animal seems against Zoroastrian traditions. Even more, in 1998 when during the conference organised by the Centre for Archaeological Studies, our foreign colleagues visited the site they expressed their reservations about Tsikhia Gora interpretation.[14] Scholars already noted resemblance of the Tsikhia Gora plan with Achaemenian Fire Temples, especially with one near Susa.[15] However, some time now the date of construction and function of the structure near Susa was questioned.[16] Specially should be mentioned that a number of structures have been discovered in Georgia that show resemblance with Tsikhia Gora main structure: nearly square central space flanked by corridor-like spaces. Those sites are: Garthiskari, Samadlos Mitsebi, Nastakisi and may be Orsvetiani Darbazi in Uphlistikhe. It seems that they form an architectural type of buildings popular in the third and second centuries BC.

 

In one of earlier publications we suggested that this group might represent Iberian version of Fire, Zoroastrian temples.[17]

 

Now we are more cautious and think that further studies are needed for understanding of character of the site and indeed of the whole group. Tsikhia Gora might be indeed a temple, even a fire temple which reflects regional peculiarities of Zoroastrianism or could be a palace, or could be both – a temple and a palace at the same time. An issue of Tsikhia Gora interpretation leads to a fundamental matter of relationship and definition of a temple and a palace in the archaeology of the Near East, which goes far beyond the purpose of this essay.

 

Two important findings discovered on the site should be particularly pointed: a capital with double-bull protomas and a fragment of a bell-shaped column basis (Ill.8). Both bear clear evidence of Achaemenian influence.[18]

 

It is not absolutely clear relationship between described structures and the capital and column basis. The capital was discovered in the two-floor space north from the main space of the structure. The capital was found in debris, 1,5 m above the floor level.

 

Initially it was suggested that the capital felled down from the central space (“cella”), however it was clearly shown that because of height of preserved wall between the central and northern space the capital could not felled down there.[19] Detail of the column base was found during the first year of excavations near modern surface and can not be directly associated with any discovered structures on the site.

 

I. Gagoshidze and G. Kipiani argue that both details belong to the earlier, the fourth century structure, and not to the one we described. Indeed very fragmented and damaged remains of the fourth century structure were discovered.[20] G. Tskitishvili just briefly mentioned that some remains of foundations maybe of a public building were discovered. Whatever is relationship between found structures and column details it is clear that they bear influence of the Achaemenian architecture, however at the same time as G. Kipiani showed the capital is marked with the Hellenistic features.[21]

 

Another important site Dedoplis Mindori that is of interest of this essay is also situated in the central part of Georgia, Kareli district.[22] Dedoplis Mindori is a huge temenos (255X150m), which consists of the main temple and nine minor temples (Ill.9). The main temple has been identified as a fire temple probably dedicated to the goddess Anahita. According to archaeological evidences, temenos functioned from the beginning of the first century BC to the end of the first century AD.

 

The complex is organised around a square courtyard (105X105 m). Actually all structures’ and courtyards’ ground plans of the temenos are also based on a square and its diagonal. The temenos is oriented towards cardinal points, with longitudinal axis oriented north-south and it is strictly symmetrical to this axis.

 

All structures are built from mud-bricks (0,5X0,5X0,12 and (0,5X0,25X0,12m) on pebble stone layer. All of them except the central part of the main structure were covered by tiles.

 

The main temple occupies the south part of temenos. It is organised around a square space (cella?) with four columns and a platform (an altar?) in the middle of the space (dimensions 1,6X1,6X0,15m). Interestingly, a local landmark, the late Mediaeval St George’s stele, was located exactly above the platform, as it turned out during the archaeological excavations.

 

The square space was roofed by cassette construction supported by the four coulms and with a hole in the central part. This is a traditional way of designing rooms in Georgian vernacular architecture, described by Virtuvius as Cochian house and still alive the nineteenth century Georgia, called locally Darbazi.

 

From southern side the square space has the fourth column portico widely opened towards the south. The door between the portico and the square space is obviously shifted towards eastern wall. It seems it was done for avoiding direct sight to the platform. Therefore I. Gagoshidze suggested that sacred fire was kept on the platform. The portico and the square space were surrounded by narrow spaces, which are separated from each other by partitions. The spaces on the east and west can be reached only from the outside, from courtyards. The narrow space on the north had U shape and one can call it ambulatory, even it consists from seven interconnected spaces. The door, in the centre of the square space north wall, connected them. The ambulatory also had access to the main courtyard by doors in north-east and northwest corners. Besides the ambulatory was connected to the outer world by two windows in the northern wall and by two more windows in the east and west walls.

 

On the north the structure had an annex, a two columned portico widely opened towards the main courtyard. It does not have any direct connection to the main body of the structure.

 

Walls of the main structure were plastered by clay with addition of straw. It seems that some parts at least of it were painted, as coloured fragments of clay plaster were found, some red, white and blue.

 

In the central parts of the east and west walls of the main courtyard two identical structures were discovered. Both consist of two porticos, a big and a smaller one. The big porticos had four columns and were open outside of the courtyard, towards east and west accordingly. The small porticos were inside the courtyard and had two columns. North and south from the small porticos were two rectangular spaces.

 

Outside walls of the rectangular spaces continued wall-lines of the bigger porticos.

 

The rectangular spaces were connected to the small porticos by doors in the centres of the south and north walls. The northern spaces in their own were connected to the big porticos by doors in the north-east and north-west corners accordingly. South from the small porticos outside of walls-lines additionally were two small rectangular spaces.

 

In the central part of the northern part of the courtyard was a structure that was described by I. Gagoshidze as small temple. A portico of the structure was inside the courtyard. Its size is identical to the northern portico of the main structure. North from portico was a nearly square (7,5X8m) space (cella?) connected to the portico by two doors. In the south-west corner of the square space was discovered earthen platform lake in the main square space of the main structure, but smaller (1,1X1,0X0,15m).

 

From east and north the cella was surrounded by ambulatory. The ambulatory was connected to the portico and to the small courtyard north from the structure.

 

Courtyards, three from each side flanked the described structure from east and west. North from the structure and courtyards was a “street”. Further north were six identical and symmetrically arranged structures with courtyards. As it can be concluded from the description the main courtyard could be only reached via one of adjusted structures but not directly as it does not have any door. So all four structures around the courtyard in certain terms are propilea. The six identical structures had a plan as follows. North from the “street” there was a courtyard to which portico was opened (facing the south). Beyond the portico were square space and corridor like space west from the space in the eastern half of the temenos and hence the six structures are mirror symmetrical in the eastern part the corridors were done east from the square spaces.

 

Number of capitals that crowned wooden columns were found on the site. All of them have bell shape and are done from yellowish-white sandstone. They as already have been mentioned in publications might be inspired by the Achemeninan bell-shape type column base.[23] The capitals bell-shaped body are adorned by lotus flower petal motif, while abaci are decorated by six-petal rosettes either enclosed by double plaitwork or garlands of three-petalled palmettes (Ill.10).[24] The plan of Dedoplis Mindori temenos and especially its main structure reveal some archaic features and might be inspired by Achaemenian architecture. We support I. Gagoshidze’s[25] and G. Kipiani’s[26] suggestion to identify the main structure as a Fire Temple of Zoroastrian character. Some details also show clear influence of Achaemenid architecture, e.g. capitals of Dedoplis Mindori are reminiscent of the overturned Achaemenian bell-shape column bases. Here once again we have a situation when Achaemenian features were still alive in the peripheries of the Empire long after its collapse.

 

All these examples clearly indicate on the significance of the Achaemenian influence on the architecture of the Hellenistic period Georgia. It is the time when the Achaemenid Empire does not exist any more, however architectural canons and features of it still exist and develop. Moreover, later on, this early period at certain extend had an impact on development of Georgian Christian architecture. All these needs to be explained and questions to be answered why this happened, why architecture in Georgia preserved those features, where Georgian architecture did absorb those features from, directly from Achaemenid examples and hence we have to expect discovery of more Achaemenid period architectural monuments in Georgia or indirectly after the fall of Achaemenians. Therefore research in this direction should be continued and it promises many unexpected and interesting results.

 


Notes:


[1] F. Knauss, Persian Rule in the North. Achaemenid Palaces on the Preiphery of the Empire, in The Royal Palace Institution in the First Millennium BC, Monographs of the Danish Institute at Athens, vol. 4, 2001, pp. 125-133.

[2] G. Kipiani, Qumbati da Sari-tepe, Saqartvelos xelovnebis saxelmtsifo muzeumis narkvevebi, t. IV, Tbilisi, 1998, pp.31-47.

[3] J. Gagochidze, Les temple de l’epoque prechretienne an Georgie, IV Symposium International sur l’Art Gèorgien, Tbilissi, 1983, p. 2.

[4] G. Kipiani, Kolkhetisa da iberiis tsarmartuli tadzrebi da qartuli qristianuli khurotmodzgvrebis tsarmoshobis sakitkhebi, Tbilisi, 2000, pp. 33-35

[5] In the essay we follow mainly descriptions of the sites published in the Summa Historical and Cultural Monuments of Georgia, book 5, 1990, for Tsikhia Gora -–G. Tskitishvili, pp. 169-171; for Dedoplis Mindori – I. Gagoshidze, pp. 363-366; See also: G. Zkitischwili, Der Frühhellenistische Feuertempel von Kawtiskhewi, In - Archäologischer Anzeinger, 1995, 83-98; J. Gagoshidze, The Temples at Dedoplis Mindori, In – East and West, vol.42, pt.1, 1992, pp. 27-48.

[6] Difficult to specify the exact date of the site. G. Tskitishvili, the archaeologist who excavated the site argue that level which is described bellow belongs to the fourth-third centuries BC (see e.g. Summa, p170), however in one of his articles he indicated that radiocarbon analyses from the main structure gave a date middle of the third century BC (see G. Zkitischwili, Der Frühhellenistische Feuertempel von Kawtiskhewi, In - Archäologischer Anzeinger, 1995, page 95). I. Gagoshidze and G. Kipiani accept as the date the latter (I. Gagoshidze, G. Kipiani, Sveti kavtiskhevis tsikhiagoradan, In – Dzeglis megobari, #3, 1997, p. 10).

[7] G. Tskitishvili, Tsikhia Gora, In - Summa Historical and Cultural Monuments of Georgia, book 5, 1990, 170; J. Gagochidze, Les temple de l’epoque prechretienne an Georgie, IV Symposium International sur l’Art Gèorgien, Tbilissi, 1983, p. 3; G. Kipiani, Kolkhetisa da iberiis tsarmartuli tadzrebi da qartuli qristianuli khurotmodzgvrebis tsarmoshobis sakitkhebi, Tbilisi, 2000, p. 37.

[8] Z. Makharadze, Head of Kavtiskhevi Archaeological Expedition kindly allow me to survey the recently discovered gate. I grateful for this.

[9] V. Nikolaishvili, G. Narimanishvili, Dzveli Mtskhetis chrdiloetis karibche, In – Mecniereba da Teknika, #12, 1988, p.46; The authors suggest the third century BC for the mill.

[10] K. Kimsiasvili, G. Narimanisvili, A Group of Iberian Fire Temples (4th Cent. BC – 2nd Cent. AD), In Archaeologische Mitteilungen aus Iran, band 28, 1995-1996, pp.309-318

[11] G. Kipiani, Kolkhetisa da iberiis tsarmartuli tadzrebi da qartuli qristianuli khurotmodzgvrebis tsarmoshobis sakitkhebi, Tbilisi, 2000, p. 39.

[12] See G. Tskitishvili, Tsikhia Gora, in Summa Historical and Cultural Monuments of Georgia, book 5, 1990, p. 170 (however in one of his earlier articles the author refers to the structure as a temple, but in the end of the article he concludes that Tsikhia Gora used to be a fortress and that it was an administrative centre; J. Gagochidze, Les temple de l’epoque prechretienne an Georgie, IV Symposium International sur l’Art Gèorgien, Tbilissi, 1983, p. 3; G. Kipiani, Kolkhetisa da iberiis tsarmartuli tadzrebi da qartuli qristianuli khurotmodzgvrebis tsarmoshobis sakitkhebi, Tbilisi, 2000, p. 37; K. Kimsiasvili, G. Narimanisvili, A Group of Iberian Fire Temples (4th Cent. BC – 2nd Cent. AD), In Archaeologische Mitteilungen aus Iran, band 28, 1995-1996, pp.309-318.

[13] M. Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism, vol. II, Under the Achaemenians, Leiden, 1982, p. 130.

[14] The information provided by Zurab Makharadze, Head of Kavtiskhevi Archaeological Expedition.

[15] J. Gagochidze, Les temple de l’epoque prechretienne an Georgie, IV Symposium International sur l’Art Gèorgien, Tbilissi, 1983, p. 3; G. Kipiani, Kolkhetisa da iberiis tsarmartuli tadzrebi da qartuli qristianuli khurotmodzgvrebis tsarmoshobis sakitkhebi, Tbilisi, 2000, p. 37.

[16] R. Boucharlat, Susa under Achaemenid Rule, in – Mesopotamia and Iran in the Persian Period: Conquest and Imperialism 539-331 BC, Edited by john Curtis, British Museum Press, 1997, pp.62-63.

[17] K. Kimsiasvili, G. Narimanisvili, A Group of Iberian Fire Temples (4th Cent. BC – 2nd Cent. AD), In Archaeologische Mitteilungen aus Iran, band 28, 1995-1996, pp.309-318 I.

[18] Gagoshidze, G. Kipiani, Sveti kavtiskhevis tsikhiagoradan, In - Dzeglis megobari, #3, 1997, pp. 8-11.

[19] Ibid, p. 10.

[20] G. Tskitishvili, Tsikhia Gora, in Summa Historical and Cultural Monuments of Georgia, book 5, 1990, p. 170

[21] G. Kipiani, Kapitelebi, saqartvleos antikuri khanis arkitektura, Tbilisi, 1987, p.11.

[22] About Dedoplis Mindori see J. Gagoshidze, The Temples at Dedoplis Mindori, In – East and West, vol.42, pt.1, 1992, pp. 27-48, idem, Iz istorii Gruzio-Iranskikh bzaimootnosheniy (Khram II-I bb. do n. e. Dedoplis Mindaori), In – Kavkaz i Srednaya Azia v drevnosti i srednevekobje: Istoria i Kultura, Moscow, 1981, pp. 102-115.

[23] J. Gagoshidze, The Temples at Dedoplis Mindori, In – East and West, vol.42, pt.1, 1992, p. 38, also G.Kipiani, Kapitelebi, saqartvleos antikuri khanis arkitektura, Tbilisi, 1987, p. 49-54.

[24] It is important to note that bell-shaped capitals have been discovered in some other sites in Georgia, see G.Kipiani, Kapitelebi, saqartvleos antikuri khanis arkitektura, Tbilisi, 1987, pp.55-59.

[25] J. Gagoshidze, The Temples at Dedoplis Mindori, In – East and West, vol.42, pt.1, 1992.

[26] G. Kipiani, Kolkhetisa da iberiis tsarmartuli tadzrebi da qartuli qristianuli khurotmodzgvrebis tsarmoshobis sakitkhebi, Tbilisi, 2000, pp. 40-52.

 

 

 

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