The Influence of Wine Culture in Iranian Architecture and the Region

wine-article-intro-330by Dariush Borbor

If we accept that architecture results from the culmination of people’s social habits and lifestyle, we must first present a brief picture of the essentials of the history of wine-drinking habits of the peoples of the Iranian plateau. Wine has been a part and parcel of the Iranian culture from mythology to the present, starting with Jamsheed who is bestowed with the discovery of the wine[1]. Moving to the time of the Avesta, we find that wine was considered to be a health-giving drink. It was permitted among the priesthood[2] and it was even prescribed as nourishment to ladies in their accouchement[3]. In the Gāhambār festivities, in honour of creation, wine was mentioned as meritorious and part of the suggested menu[4]. The Pahlavi literature recommended the drinking of wine, especially “on the day of Ohormazd drink wine and make merry”[5], but “drink wine in moderation, for whosoever drinks wine immoderately falls into many a sin”, [6]particularly if it depraved the drinker from the edicts of the “good words, good thoughts and good deeds”[7].

Some general observations on the use of wine are of importance, as they reflect on architectural design:

1. Old wine was held in high esteem which is made evident in a remark by Ādurbād who compares an old friend to old wine[8]. The consumption of good old wine required high-quality and sometimes extensive cellar facilities.

2. Wine drinking was often accompanied with music and dance[9],which necessitated sophisticated acoustical treatment of the interiors.

3. Contrary to European practice, wine was traditionally consumed in after dinner assemblies in Iran. This affected the layout and the design of the reception areas. The tradition of after-dinner drinking of wine must have arisen from practical social considerations, both before and after the official prohibition by the Islamic religion. Dinners, of necessity, included a diverse cross-section of the society. When public, they included devoue non-drinking Muslims. When private, they comprised of an equally diverse cross-section of the society. When private, they comprised of an equally diverse cross-section of friends and family members who obviously could not have been refused or eliminated from the dinner ceremony. Both the hosts and the guests in either of the occasions might have had good reasons to have been averse to the consumption of wine at dinner. Consequently, while all were welcome to dinner, only those who were deemed fit for participation in the more “intimate” or “official” after-dinner wine drinking sessions were invited for the event. This tradition, which predated Islam, was observed in the royal banquets of the Islamic period when the Muslim clergy and the dignitaries who considered wine drinking sessions[10].

The specific mention of “after-dinner” as an occasion for drinking and toasting on several occasions by various authors of different epochs is a clear indication of a social behaviour which spanned several millennia. As such, it obviously affected the layout and the architectural design of the dining and the reception areas which had to be necessarily divided into two separate spaces. The fabrication of many goblets that did not have flat bases is further testimony to this. A wine goblet used while dining must have a flat base, otherwise it cannot sit on the table while the hands are used for eating. In an after dinner wine-drinking cession, the goblet may be held in the hands for long periods, consequently the flat base is not an absolute necessity[11].

4. The most important factor which affected the architecture and landscape gardening of Iran from time immemorial was the creation of a balanced relationship between the indoor and the outdoor environment in answer to the varied local climatic conditions, culminating in extraordinary columned porticos (eyvāns) and open or semi open garden pavilions and bridges which did not cater for traffic alone, but were particularly designed for picnics and wind drinking. Arid climatic conditions led to exceedingly imaginative use of ponds, water canals and hydrological technology. All these provided the necessary environment for the enjoyment of wine.


Drawing information from a single source category often gives inaccurate or warped information particularly on wine culture. Consequently, we have been adamant in conferring with a variety of sources materials in order to try and achieve a more balanced and realistic presentation. As a result, we have delved into the quintessence of archaeological, anthropological, graphical and textual data. The interest for wine in ancient Iran is apparent not only in material culture such as decanters, jars and cups of exceptional design but also in the written material[12], poetry in particular, [13]architecture, sculpture, book illustrations, miniatures and murals.

Our oldest written sources on wine culture in ancient times are Sumerian from around 3000 BCE. The Greek and Roman historians give contradictory and unreliable accounts of the traditions of wine in ancient Iran, but leave no doubt about its extensive presence.

The Scope of the Present Paper

The extent of influence of wine culture in Iranian architecture is found in all levels of wine production and manifests itself in the following building types:
1. Architecture of Wine Making and its Equipment
2. Architecture of Wine Storage
3. Popular Public Wine-Drinking Locations:

3.1 Nature
3.2 Garden pavilions
3.3 Bridges
3.4 Public Win-Houses: Taverns, Inns, Wine-shops and Wine Culture

4. The Influence of Wine Culture on Architectural Acoustics

Architecture of Wine Making and its Equipment >

[1] Jivanji Jamshedji Modi, Wine Among the Ancient Persians: A Lecture, Bombay, 1888, pp.2-3

[2] Vendidad, XIV, 17.

[3] Ibid., V, 52

[4] Modi, op. Cit., p.4

[5] Ādubād, son of Mahrspand, “Counsels of Adarbad Mahraspandan”, in Pahlavi Texts, ed. J. D. Jamasp-Asana, Bombay, 1897. Pp. 58-71: 119.

[6] Ibid., pp. 58-71: 112.

[7] Dadistan-e Dini, ch. XL., XLI.;Modi, op.cit., p. 12.

[8] Ādurbād, op. cit., pp. 58-71: 101; trans. From R.C. Zaehner, The teachings of the Magi, London, 1965.

[9] A.S. Melikian-Chirvani, “The Iranian bazm in Early Persian Sources”, in Banquets d’Orient, ed. Rika Gyselen, Res Orientales IV, Bures-sur Yvette, 1992, pp. 95-120.

[10] Jean Chardin, Voyages … en Perse et autres lieux de l’Orient…, ed. L. Langles, Paris, 1811, vol.8. pp. 473-76; idem, A Jurney to Persia: Jean Chardin’s Portrait of a Seventeenth-century Empire, tr. And ed. Ronald W. Ferrier, London-New York, 1996, p. 67.

[11] The horn-shaped goblets of Russia were mainly used for Vodka.

[12] Richard T. Hallock, Persepolis Fortification Tablets (PF), Chicago, 1969 and later works; Philippe Gignoux, “Materiaux pour une histoire du van dans l’iran ancient”, Materiaux pour l’histoire economique du monde iranien, ed. Rika Gyselen and Maria Szuppe, Paris, 1999, pp. 43-44.

[13] The data-base of the Iranian Academy of Persian Language and Literature which includes over 800 volumes of historical and literary primary sources (I must thank my friend Professor Ali Ashraf Sadeghi for the access to this excellent data-base, and also the collaboration of Dr. Amirinejad who was kind enough to assist in the extracting of the required information), and the data-base of the Kitā-khāna-ye Elektronik-e Naẓm va Nath̠-e Fārsi, DORJ3 which is comprised of 178 volumes of literary primary sources give an admirable overview of wine culture in Iran of the Islamic period.