If we draw two intersecting lines on a map of Iran, one connecting its northwest and southeast ends, and the other it’s northeast and southwest end, Ardestan will roughly be at the point of intersection of these lines, thus making it the very center of Iran. Ardestan, along with Kashan, Nain, and Yazd forms a string of towns that are located on the western fringe of the central Iranian desert. The northern districts of Ardestan, affected by the desert, are arid and dusty and feature a typical climate with very hot days and cold nights. The town's southern part, however, is dominated by an inconsistent chain of mountain peaks, which gives the town a relatively moderate climate. Except for Kerman, no other place in Iran has so many clear and starry nights than Ardestan.
Boasting several thousand-year-old histories, Ardestan is one of the most ancient Iranian towns. The story of its foundation is part and parcel of Iranian mythology. The legend attributes the foundation of the town to Arvand Shah, son of Key-Qobad, a king of the half-mythical Kianid dynasty. Arvand Shah is said to have built the Arvaneh Qanat, which proved to be the main source of life for Ardestan, and a fort that stood well until the 19th century. One of Arvand Shah's descendants, Bahman, son of Esfandiar, is reported to have built a fire temple, famous as Mehr-e Ardashir, which was one of the most famous sanctuaries during the Sasanid period and was later converted into the Congregational Mosque of Ardestan. Another half-mythical figure, Gashtasb, son of Lohrasb, is allegedly responsible for the creation of the seven towns of Leilaz, the center of which, Lasun, is said to be the original mother of Ardestan. This town was either ruined in an earthquake, buried under sand dunes, or ruined during one of the attacks of the half-mythical Afrasiab.
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The other names of Shah Nameh that one can still come across in Ardestan and its environs include the Faramarz Garden, named after the son of Rostam, the Kaveh Mansion, the Borzu Qanat, named after Faramarz's son, and many others. The name "Ardestan" derives from an Old Persian word that means “a sacred place”. The ancient town of Ardestan has probably located about 4 km from the present town on the road to Zavareh.
The first historical evidence of Ardestan belongs to the Achaemenid period when it is mentioned in a cuneiform inscription of Darius the Great in Persepolis. During the Parthian period, Ardestan appears to have functioned as one of the capitals of the Parthian confederation, during the rule of Artabanus V. The Khosrow-Shah Qanat is definitely of Parthian origin. During the Sasanid period, the city was an important political and trade center of the Sasanid Empire and was allegedly the birthplace of Khosrow Anushirvan, one of the most notable Sasanid kings. Two qanats and some scarce Sasanid ruins have survived in and around Ardestan. The town preserved its importance after the advent of Islam in Iran as well. Imam Hasan is reported to have stopped in Ardestan in the 7th century to pray at the site, where a mosque bearing his name was later built. Around the same time, Zoroastrian fire temples and Jewish synagogues were converted into mosques. The Mehr-e Ardashir Fire Temple was adapted to the Muslims' needs and became the core of the Congregational Mosque. During the Boyid period, Ardestan was a Shiite center, although some of its districts remained Sunnite until the reign of Shah Ismail Safavid.
The Buyid rule was a brilliant period in the town's cultural life, and the clergymen, scientists, and literary figures of Ardestan origin dispersed throughout Iran to teach in the Madresehs of that time. The Seljuk period of the town's history is marked by the name of Abu Ali Dehdar Ardestani, the second most important person in the history of the Ismailites after Hasan Sabbah. Because of him, residents of an entire district of Ardestan were enlisted as Ismailite followers.
Ardestan was damaged during the Mongol attack but managed to survive. During the Timurid period, the town's populace increased with Arabs of the Ameri tribe. They served Timur well in Syria and he brought them with him to Ardestan. Under the Safavid rule, Shiite Islam finally became the dominant religion of Ardestan residents. Only then the local rulers, tracing their origin from the Sasanid princes, were overthrown, and the Safavid governors took their place. The grave of Mir Oveis, the last Sasanid ruler of Ardestan, and the grave of the man who killed him, the Safavid general Sultan Seyed Hossein, are equally venerated by the locals. After the Afghan attack, the town was almost completely destroyed. It remained badly ruined until the mid-19th century when it was restored by the Qajar monarchs.
In the past, Ardestan's gold and silver brocades enjoyed great renown, but today this craft is completely neglected. Some historians believe that the famous Baharestan carpet of the Sasanid palace in Ctesiphon was also woven in Ardestan. Until the end of the Safavid-the beginning of the Qajar period, the bazaar of Ardestan was among the most important trade centers in the country, but today it is held only once a week to cater to the daily needs of the local populace. At present, Ardestan is widely famed for its pomegranates and figs.
The Congregational Mosque of Ardestan is one of the most beautiful and best-preserved Iranian mosques. Vestiges of four historical epochs are discernible here. The earliest belong to a Sasanid fire temple, remodeled to meet the needs of a Muslim religious building. This primeval mosque, which consisted of a single domed sanctuary, was built in the 10th century by Omar ibn Abdolaziz, a governor of Esfahan. During the late 10th and 11th centuries, it was reconstructed and executed on the "kiosk” plan. By the Seljuk period, the mosque was destroyed and rebuilt on a new, four-eivan type of floorplan used for the first time in neighboring Zavareh. Several other halls and chambers were annexed to the structure under the Safavid rulers. The mosque is greatly reminiscent of the Congregational Mosque of Esfahan. However, it has preserved intact most of its original Seljuk decorations, while in Esfahan they were often replaced by adornments of later periods. The mosque has numerous entrances, a feature typical of Iranian congregational mosques, which could always be accessed easily from the trade or residential sections. Of the mosque's five entrances, the main one is located in the southwestern corner 0. The mosque has a rectangular stone-pebbled courtyard, enclosed by rows of arcades interrupted by an eivan on either side of the court. The south eivan, the sanctuary with the main mihrab, the prayer hall bordering the sanctuary, and the two-shelled brick dome date from 11581160. The south eivan is particularly remarkable. It is decorated with an impressive number of varied patterns elaborated in brick and stucco. Its vault features the unrivaled whirling arabesques made of brick and whitewashed.
The Tholth inscription round the eivan was made in 1160, at a time when the "kiosk" mosque was converted into the four eivan mosques. The south eivan also features an inscription from the time of Shah Abbas I dated 1615, the subject of which is a tax reduction for the Shiite inhabitants of Ardestan. The south eivan leads to the majestic sanctuary where the mosque's main mihrab is located. This mihrab is ranked among the best achievements of Seljuk plaster art. It has seven rows of inscriptions in Kufic, Naskh, and Taliq, carved on a background of stucco flowers and arabesques. The sanctuary features the mosque's oldest historical inscription in Tholth, dating from 1158 and giving the names of the founder, Abu Taher, and the architect. Ostad Mahmud Esfahani. The dome is over 19 m high, and its surface is adorned with more than 500 ornaments. The remains of plain plaster decorations from the Buyid period can be seen in corridor leading from the south eivan to the Hosseiniyeh. Two stucco mihrabs are located in the back bays of the prayer hall bordering the sanctuary. They are smaller in size than the main mihrab, but their decorations are equally remarkable.
On the road of Kashan to Isfahan
The north eivan , known as Soffe-ye Safa, was built in 1540. It is wider than two other eivans, eastern Soffe-ye Amir Jomleh and western Soffe-ye Imam Hasan, which were built in the 17th century. The northern eivan has an inscription dated 1539, which indicates that the place was repaired and partly reconstructed under Shah Tahmasb I Safavid. The corner between the north and west elvans is marked by a short Seljuk brick minaret . In this corner, one can notice the remains of the mud-brick walls, which belonged to the Sasanid fire temple and were incorporated into the primeval mosque. Three-story arches pierce the interior of the west eivan and connect it with the flanking prayer halls. This eivan is separated from the mosque's western corridor behind it by a latticed brick wall. The opposite east eivan, surmounted with a halfdome, leads to a small sanctuary and a prayer hall 0. This hall, perhaps more than any other section, shows traces of the mosque's several renovation periods.
The Madreseh, named after Hajj Hossein Nur al-Din, was founded in 1659. Today, it is occupied by the local office of the ICHTO. Beside the madreseh, the mosque's structures include a caravanserai, a well, a Hosseiniyeh, and a bathhouse. The mosque also has a remarkable collection of ancient tombstones that were gathered here from the graveyards in Ardestan's environs.
Arvaneh and Mun Qanats
In the past, the life of the desert Ardestan could be sustained only by an excessive network of qanats, and even today they have preserved their importance. The Arvaneh Qanat is the largest and oldest of all. Its creation is attributed to the half-mythical Arvand Shah, allegedly the founder of the town itself. The qanat is certainly very old and dates from at least 2,500 years ago. Largely dependent on its water, the residents of the villages along its course jostled and quarreled about the amount of water that they could use, and many of these quarrels often ended up in bloody fights. This situation lasted until the 13th century, when a system of water distribution was devised by Nasir al-Din Tusi, the remarkable scientist in the Il-Khanid court. Many authorities, however, attribute the creation of this system to Sheikh Bahai. According to this system, every village could use the water of the qanat only during definite hours of the day, which were counted by sundials. When the time was up, the water of the qanat was locked and reopened for the residents of another village. One sample of the allotment of water of the Arvaneh Qanat can be seen in the city park.
Another famous qanat, in the Mun district, is the world's only two-story qanat. Legend says that once a qanat-builder from Yazd stopped in Mun for a night. In the morning before departure, he told the locals that he had heard the murmur of underground waters and encouraged them to build a qanat on the site he had shown. On his way back, he stopped in Mun again and was very surprised to see that the qanat had been built on a different level from what he had suggested. The construction started anew, and another floor of the qanat came into being. Remarkably, the water of the two canals never mixes.