Ardabil was probably founded in the 5th century AD. It became (10th century) the capital of Azarbaijan, but was soon superseded by Tabriz. In 1220 AD it was destroyed by the Mongols. Ardabil is best known as the birthplace of the eminent religious leader Sheik Safi od-Din (1251-1334) from whom the Safavid dynasty was descended. Sheikh Safi was the founder of a sufi order and monastery in Ardabil, the prime mover of Iranian culture during the 15-16th century and the center of the theocratic community of Dervish Brotherhood. Dervishes, after coming together under the same organizational structure, managed to attract and retain the attention of large masses in the towns and in the country.
Ismail, a descendant of Sheikh Safi and who was later crowned as the Shah of Persia in Tabriz (1501), was himself a member of this order. The main objectives of Dervish Brotherhood were the elimination of the then rampant anarchy and the reorganization of a new state that could respond to the demands of the urban and the rural disinherited of Iran and satisfy the peoples thirst for justice. Shiism began to spread through mosques, monasteries and Dervish centers, and very soon conquered the masses. Shah Ismail created an immense empire: he succeeded in subjecting the many principalities that had formed after the fall of Timurid state. In 1510 he defeated the Khan and conquered Baghdad. The decision to uphold Shiism might be interpreted as an extreme endeavor to prevent the Iranian nation from becoming absorbed by the west (Ottomans) and the east (Uzbeks). The town was occupied by the Turks in 1725 and the Russians in 1828. Its proficient library was taken to St. Petersburg by the Russians.
Mausoleum of Sheikh Safi:
Sheik Safis 14th century tomb in Ali Qwapu Square, often enlarged and restored in later centuries, can still be visited. It houses the mortal remains of Shah Ismail as well as his saintly ancestor, who is reputed to have foretold the future, spoken to the dead and rescued those in danger at sea. The tombs are surrounded by finely engraved wood panels with extraordinarily delicate ivory and precious metal inlays.
The complex of structures known, at present, as Sheikh Safis Mausoleum, consists of a portal, a porch, Sheikh Safis tomb-chamber, the Chini Khaneh (china hall), the Shahidgah (martyrdom site), the Khaneghah (dervish monastery), Qandil Khaneh (lantern hall), the Jannat Sara Mosque, and others, and ranks among the finest historical achievement of Iranian art.
The burial place of Sheikh Safi od-Din Ardabili as well as other Safavid kings, such as Shah Ismail, comprises the tombs of a number of princes, notables and generals of the Safavid period, including the tomb attributed to Shah Ismails mother, and those of Sheikh Sadr of-Din, Sheikh Junaid, Sultan Heidar and two generals, namely Sultan Ustajilu and Kurd Beig, the latter’s tombstone bearing the 1542 AD date.
Apart from the above structures, the construction of the main portal of the mausoleum and three domes decorated with exquisite faience tile and inscriptions in the Kuffic and Riqa scripts, give considerable charm and splendor to this attractive historical monument. The decorative elements of the complex, both internal and external, consist of paintings, plaster moldings, stuccos and gold-toned stalactite decorations.
The structure of the Qandil Khaneh stands out among the rest both from the architectural as well as the plaster points of view. Sheikh Safis tomb-chamber is a cylindrical tower capped with a rather low dome, underneath which an exquisite carved box bearing an inscription in Riqa script covers the actual burial ground. The box is one of the finest movable treasure pieces of the mausoleum.
The dome of Sheikh Ismails tomb-chamber is lower than that of Sheikh Safi, and is decorated on the outside with colorful tiles and an inscription in Kuffic. Under the dome in the chamber a fine, costly box rests upon the tomb.
The box on Sheikh Junaids tomb, together with three other boxes in the complex, are highly attractive on account of their superb carvings.
There is a large vaulted hall next to the mausoleum wherein Shah Abbas the Great stored the collection of jade and porcelain given to him by the Emperor of China. Each object was placed in a gold-plated niche cut to size. The gold has worn off and most of the objects (except about a dozen dishes and receptacles) are now in Tehran museums.
The oldest part of the complex belongs to the 15th century AD, the other parts having been gradually added, particularly under Shah Tahmasp I and Shah Abbas II, who spared no efforts to expand, beautify and repair the Safavid Kings eternal resting place.
The most famous of Persian carpets, the so-called “Ardabil Carpet” (one of a pair) in the Victorian and Albert Museum, was presented to the mausoleum by Shah Tahmasp in 1539. It was actually made in Kashan.
Originally called Chini Khaneh (Porcelain House), and part of Sheikh Safi Complex, it was inaugurated as a museum affiliated with the complex in early 1991. The architectural style of the edifice resembles that of Ali Qapu in Esfahan. It is an octagonal, domed room with four Shah Neshins (elevated recesses). The stalactite works in this structure are considered as fine specimens of the constructional and decorative devices of the Safavid period. The Chini Khaneh, with its beautiful plaster work, is one of the most artistic and valuable parts of the complex, which is also notable for a number of fine and expensive wooden and silver doors.
Ardabil Historic Bridges:
Most of the existing bridges date back to the Safavid period:
- Jejin (Yeddi Guz), on Balikhlu River, with stone abutments and brick arches, already used by the public
- Ebrahim Abad, located between the Varzesh Square and Ali Abad
- Yaghubieh, with five spans, located in Pasdaran Street
- Seyed Abad, located at the beginning of Seyed Abad Alley and Pir Madar district
- Kalkhoran, in Kalkhoran village
- Nir, on Aghla Ghan River
- Ghara Su, on Balikhlu River
- Almas, on Balikhlu River, km 13 of Ardabil-Sarab road, in the vicinity of Almas village
Sabalan is Iran’s second highest mountain peak 25 km to the west of Ardabil. It is higher than Mont Blanc the Alpin massif on the French-Italian border, with many lakes and a volcanic crater, soaring high up to almost 4, 860 meters above sea level. At the height of 3, 600 meters above sea level and further high, and all around the Sabalan crater, a number of gigantic sculptures (animals, birds, insects, etc.) have emerged as the result of rock erosion. The most beautiful creature among these is an eagle statue seeming to maintain control over the Sabalan slope and valley from atop. The mount represents a myriad of attractions in various seasons of the year, to the extent that upon reaching the peak, one feels having arrived in a land of dreams. Many hot mineral spas and cold water springs originate from its slopes and attract millions of tourists to the region every year. The hot water is said to have effective healing properties. The mount, the extinct crater, and the lake can be ascended usually from the northern and southern tracks. When on top, you can see a panorama of the beautiful region for more than a hundred kilometers all around you. The lake occupies an area of 50 by 50 meters, and is 15 meters deep. Since it is covered with ice from mid-September through early June the next year, mountain climbers use it for skating.
The 16-century AD mausoleum of Sheikh Safis father, Sheikh Jabrail, is in the village of Kalkhoran, 3 km to the north of Ardabil. It is a four-sided structure with an ivan, two porches and a tiled dome, and is of particular importance in respect of its plaster stalactite decorations, plentiful ornamental elements, exceptional tile work, carvings, and excellent inscriptions. Repaired in 1621 AD during the reign of Shah Abbas I, the mausoleum comprises many other historical tombs all around the courtyard, including those of Seyed Hamza, Seyed Mohammad Iraqi, and Firuz Shah, most of who were among the commanders and dignitaries of the Safavid period. Sare Ein This is a really tourist town 29 km to the west of Ardabil. It is one of the most important hot spring spa centers in Iran and the world, annually attracting more than 1,500,000 visitors coming to use its 9 spas with therapeutic values. A hydrotherapic center under construction here will be completed soon and can be used both by Iranians and foreigners.
- Sheikh Safi Shrine Ensemble
- Shorabil Lake
- Mount Sabalan Crater Lake
- Ardabil’s Gelim (Kilim)
- Ardabil Jajim Rug (Jajem)