The once marvelous city of Maragheh, Iran


City of Maragheh, Iran - Photo from Wikimedia
City of Maragheh, Iran – Photo from Wikimedia
When it comes to touring Iran, Maragheh is one of those cities that is off the beaten path. However, this does not make it any less interesting than other, more well-known parts of the country, especially in the Azeri provinces of Iran.

Though an ancient city, Maragheh is not mentioned very often in the historical record and was perhaps politically insignificant until the Mongols arrived to the area from the east. What was probably a decent-sized town became the capital of the Ilkhanate of Hulagu Khan, one of Genghis Khan’s many grandsons. The city was also home to a sizable Christian population and was made the headquarters of the Nestorian Christian Church for several years. The city prospered until it was ravaged by the advancing armies of Tamerlane on his western Iranian tour of death and destruction.

Though Maragheh today is just a shadow of what it once was, the people of this city take great pride in their rich history and cultural legacy.

Historical Sites in Maragheh

The remains of the original Maragheh Observatory
The remains of the original Maragheh Observatory

Artist_conception_of-Nasseruddin-TusiThough the Mongols were better-known for destroying than building things, one famous structure that they, or rather Hulagu Khan, commissioned was the famous Maragheh Observatory (known locally as the Rasad Khaneh). Established in 1239, the observatory was built under the direction of one of the most famous scientists and astrologers in history, Nasir al-Din Tusi. The observatory gained fame throughout the medieval world and was the inspiration for several others, including the Ulugh Beg Observatory of Samarkand (in modern Uzbekistan) and the Gaocheng Astronomical Observatory in China. The observatory also housed a library of nearly 40,000 books on various scientific subjects and astrology.

Stamp with Nasser ad-Din Tusi on it
Stamp with Nasser ad-Din Tusi on it

Unfortunately, the Maragheh Observatory fell into decline due to a lack of state funding (and possibly interest) within 100 years of its opening. Like much of the city, the observatory was pretty much obliterated during Tamerlane’s rampage of the city. Today there is a smaller, more modern observatory roughly on the site where the old Maragheh Observatory once stood.

Three other points (or rather towers) of interest are Gonbad-i Sorkh, Gonbad-i Kabud and Gonbad-i Qaffariyeh.

Gonbad-i Kabud
Gonbad-i Kabud
The most impressive of these is probably Gonbad-i Kabud which is believed to be the tomb of Hulagu Khan’s mother. It has the the most intricate tile work of the three towers.


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