Saadieh or the Tomb of Sa’di
As a traveler to Iran, you may have heard a lot about Shiraz. It is famous for having Pasargadae and Persepolis in its vicinity, for its orange groves or Naranjestans, its warm-blooded people and also for the well-known Persian poets buried in this city.
Among all the masters of Persian poetry resting in peace in Shiraz, the 13th century poet, Saadi, occupies an outstanding position. Saadi is one the pillars of Persian poetry whose unprecedented wisdom is still alive among Iranians. And it may actually work for the whole world. Just have a look at the lines below and decide for yourself:
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you’ve no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain
And Saadi didn’t reach such wisdom and high position in Persian poetry just by his mastery over Farsi words, but through long years of traveling and meditating on different cultures in specific and human condition in general.
Walking the skies over the Persian culture, it would be no exaggeration if we say that he has secured an almost sacred position among Iranians, both his contemporaries and even today’s modern Iranians. Nowadays, his tomb, the home of wisdom and sagacity, laying in a big garden and among orange blossoms, is turned into a pilgrimage site, visited daily by hundreds of his passionate lovers and also foreign visitors coming to see the city of Shiraz.
All in all, visiting the tomb of Saadi, which is an architectural gem in its own right, is one the must things to do while you are in Shiraz.
A Short Biography of Saadi of Shiraz
Abu Mohammad Moshref al-din Muslih ibn-Abdallah, known mostly by his penname as “Saadi”, one the most important Persian poets and prose writers, was born in Shiraz around 1209-10.
Although Saadi’s father does not appear much in his poetry and prose writing, it is certain he played a major role in Saadi’s life. As Literary historians tell us, Saadi’s father was his first educator, teaching him lessons in forbearance that remained with him all through his life. Howere, this evidently wise father departed the world soon and left Saadi an orphan.
However, while still an adolescent, Saadi travelled to Iraq to study in the then world-famous Nezamiyeh School of Baghdad. After his studies, it is believed, he travelled to different parts of the Middle East and visited countries such as Iraq, Syria, Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula.
When Saadi came back to Shiraz around 1257 after some 30 years of travel, he was already a well-known and established poet, mainly due to the wide circulation of his unique ghazals or odes.
However, he is mostly known among Iranians by his two great works, Bustan and Golestan. Bustan, literally meaning “Garden of Fragrance” or “Pleasure Garden,” is a moralistic and anecdotal verse work consisting of some 4,100 masnavi couplets, finished in 1257. It is divided into ten chapters, namely: 1. On justice, good management of affairs, and good judgment; 2. On beneficence; 3. On love, intoxication, and passion; 4. On humility; 5. On acceptance; 6. On contentment; 7. On the world of edification; 8. on gratitude for being in good estate; 9. on repentance and taking the right course; 10. On close communion (with God). The titles, also given in the preamble, provide a rough guide to their respective contents.
Gulestan, completed a few years later, is one of the most influential works in Persian prose. It mostly contains material which he had intended to use as part of Bustan, but didn’t find enough space or time. As Franklin Lewis states: “striking the proper balance between the exercise of efficacious power and of enlightened moral authority in political relations, and the assertion of self-interest versus humane altruism in interpersonal relations, are central concerns throughout the Golestān.” The book is divided into chapters, each one containing various stories: “On the Conduct of Kings” (41 stories), “On the Morals of Dervishes” (48 stories), “On the Excellence of Contentment” (29 stories), “On the Benefits of Silence” (14 stories), “On Love and Youth” (21 stories), On Frailty and Old Age (9 stories), On the Effects of Education (tarbiat, 20 stories), On Manners (non-narrative aphorisms and maxims).
Reaching a revered position among his people, Saadi died in 1291 or 1292. However, his name is still alive as his readers still find wisdom and meaning in his everlasting works.
A Short History of the Tomb of Saadi or Saadieh
The tomb of Sa’di was first used as his monastery. In the 14th century, for the first time, Shamsuddin Muhammad, the minister of Abaqa Khan, the second king of the Ilkhanid dynasty, built a tomb above Sa’di’s grave. During those days, people of Shiraz used to wash their clothes in the marble pools of Sa’di’s tomb, since they believed the water flowing in those pools had healing powers.
But unfortunately, in the year 1590, Sa’di’s tomb was totally destructed by the order of Yaqub Zolghadr.
However, Karim Khan Zand ordered the construction of another mausoleum over Sa’di’s grave in 1773. This plaster and brick monument included two-stories: the first floor of the building contained two rooms on its Eastern and Western sides and a corridor leading to the second floor. Covered with a wooden structure, Sa’di’s grave was located in the Eastern room. The second floor, mostly followed the plan of the first one with one exception: as a sign of respect to the great poet, no room was built on top of Sa’di’s grave. Much later, the Western room became the burial place of Shoorideh Shirazi (1857- 1923), another great Persian poet.
Based on historical sources, Saadi was accused of being Sunni in the early Qajar period. Therefore, his tombstone was destroyed by the order of one of the Shia scholars of Shiraz. Yet, a while later, Ali Akbar Khan Qawam al-Mulk-e Shirazi, one of the political figures of the time, replaced Saadi’s tombstone with a new one. This tombstone, decorated with some of the poems of Bustan, stayed over Sa’di’s grave for a long time until the construction of the current building began.
In 1922, the tomb of Sa’di underwent reconstruction once more. This time, Fath Ali Khan Sahib Divan, the son-in-law of Fath Ali Shah, restored this building. Then, Habibullah Khan Qavam al-Mulk, of the famous Qavam al-Mulk family in Shiraz, ordered the reconstruction of some parts of the building. Then, Karbalaei Seyyed Zin al-Abedin Chini (Hosseini Nik) was appointed to continue the construction of the tomb.
About 20 years later, a branch of the National Heritage Association, under the direction of Professor Ali Sami, was established in Shiraz in 1945. Professor Sami and his team passionately pursued the idea of reviving the Saadieh Complex. To provide the necessary budget for this project, based on a government decree in 1946, the Marvdasht sugar factory was obliged to support this great cultural cause.
The decree dictated that two rials of the money raised by selling each kilogram of the sugar produced by the factory should have been allocated to the renovation of the complex. Nevertheless, this was only a small attempt at preserving the Tomb of Sa’di. Nevertheless, the serious endeavors to reconstruct the monument began in 1948. At the time, Ali Asghar Khan Hekmat was appointed as the president of the National Heritage Association and the Secretary-General of UNESCO in Iran, and Ali Sami was working as the secretary of the National Heritage Association in Shiraz.
In 1948, the mausoleum built over the grave of Sa’di by Karim Khan Zand was still in place. However, the French architect and historian Andre Godard, the director of archeology in Iran at the time, was invited to Shiraz and give his opinion on this subject.
After Godard’s visit and the discussions which took place in the following year, the National Heritage Association signed a contract for the design of Sa’di’s tomb with a construction company. So, the engineers Mohsen Foroughi and Ali Sadegh began designing what is today known as Sa’dieh, or the tomb of Sa’di.
The new tomb of Saadi, the result of work of a group of Iranian designers and architects and workers from Shiraz, was completed in March 1951. Inspired by Chehel Sotoon’s design, the monument represented a mixture traditional and modern architectural styles in Iran. With a final cost of about 980,000 tomans and occupying an area of 7700 square meters, the tomb of Sa’di was inaugurated on the afternoon of May 1st, 1952.
After the Islamic Revolution, in the year 2001 and during the development plan of the tomb, Shiraz Municipality, in cooperation with the Housing and Urban Development Organization, initiated a project to expand Sa’dieh, reaching 4.5 hectares.
The Architecture of Sa’di’s Tomb
What you can see today as the mausoleum of Sa’di wass the work of Mohsen Foroughi, an Iranian modernist architect who designed the tomb in cooperation with Ali Akbar Sadegh in 1951.
Inspired by traditional Iranian architecture, the tomb building has an infrastructure about 257 square meters. From the outside, the building resembles a cube. However, from the inside, boasts an octagonal plan, embellished by a magnificent azure dome and marble walls. The exterior of the tomb is of travertine. The foundation stones of the building are black, the front end of the porch and also the columns are of special red granite.
The Azure Dome
The main building housing the grave of Sa’di is embellished with white stones and tiles. And the 8 columns of brownstones in front of the tomb remind us of the columned porches of the Safavid period. In addition, a dome of turquoise tiles standing on top of the building shows off its beauty by sparkling under the glowing sun of Shiraz.
The main building of the tomb includes two iwans or porches, built perpendicular to each other. The tomb of Sa’di lies in the corner between these two iwans, right in the middle of the octagonal mansion. Also, seven inscriptions decorate the seven sides of the building.
These poems are from Bustan, Golestan or other poems of this great Iranian poet. The beautiful calligraphy is the work of the great calligrapher, “Ibrahim Bouzari”. Among the inscriptions containing the poems of Sa’di, one inscription includes the words of “Ali Asghar Hekmat”, narrating the story of the construction of the monument.
The Must-See Parts of Sa’dieh
The tomb of Sa’di includes several beautiful parts, some of them with beautiful stories, which you should never miss visiting. So, let us have a walk together in the tomb of Sa’di and get familiar with its different sides.
The Entrance and the Garden of Sadieh
To enter Saadi’s tomb, we should pass through the gate of the mausoleum, built exactly in front of the entrance of the tomb. If you look carefully, a line of poetry adorns the green metal of the entrance gate:
The fragrance of love spreads from Sa’di of Shiraz’s grave,
If you would smell it even after a thousand years.
Passing by the gate, we enter the garden and you will walk to the tomb of Sa’di through a walkway, including two large ponds in the middle in the north-south direction and flanked by small gardens. There is also another pond in the east-west direction in front of the main iwan of the tomb. Finishing the walkway, as mentioned before, we enter Sa’di’s tomb, occupying an area of about 10395 square meters.
Sa’di’s Poems Embellish His Tomb
One of the most attractive parts of Sa’di’s tomb, what gives you a mystical feeling inside the tomb of this great dervish, is reading Sa’di’s poems, written on the doors and the walls surrounding his grave. One of the inscriptions of Sa’di’s poems is on a piece of stone which has a story to tell.
This piece of stone is part of a stone inscription which was placed on the entrance of the tomb during the Karim Khan Zand’s rule. Due to an accident, this inscription was broken years ago. But fortunately, it was found while digging the surrounding streets to repair the asphalt.
Water in Sa’dieh
Generally speaking, Sa’dieh has a plan of the famous Persian gardens. As you may know, water plays a great role in Persian Gardens. So, let’s get familiar with the different qanats (joined water wells) and pools flowing in the tomb of Sa’di. But before that, let us mention a historical point: It is widely believed that Sa’di had several pools of marble next to his praying room.
The Qanat irrigating Sa’dieh complex is located at a depth of ten meters below the courtyard of the tomb. And its water contains sulfur and mercury. The water of this qanat flows underground and eventually flows into a pool called “the fish pool”.
An octagonal pool lies on the left side of the tomb, about 20 meters west of it. The size of the pool is about 30.25 square meters.
This pool is known as “the Fish Pool”. It lies in a chamber below the garden’s surface, connected to it with a flight of 28-stairs.
What Locals Believe About This Pool
Once, locals believed that washing in this water, especially on the last Wednesday night of the year (or, Chahar Shanbeh Soori) was a blessing. And this idea remained with the people of Shiraz for a long time.
However, after the construction of Sa’di’s tomb, swimming in this pool was banned. Nowadays, some 150 meters away from the tomb, there is a place where water flows on the ground and is known as Saadi Bath Alley. People go to this place and swim in the water. They believe this water is sacred and washing in it will grant their wishes.
For a long long time, Shirazi people have believed that this water does magic and can solve their daily problems. Interestingly, farmers take a container of this water to pour into their fields to have an abundant harvest and better quality crops. It is also believed that washing clothes in this water will protect them from getting sick. Or if they are sick, it will help them heal sooner.
The Legendary Golden Fish
In the past, people came together in this place to cook Ash, or what the locals call “Dig Joosh”. And cooking this Ash was a lot of fun. Shirazi people believed that there was a goldfish in the water with a golden ring on its nose. According to them, it jumped up and down in the water and played. Also, no one went fishing there. Why? Because catching the Gold Fish meant bad luck.
The tiles inside the fish pool closely resemble the ones from the Seljuk era (12th century). However, it was master Tirandaz, a famous tile worker in Shiraz, who designed them and then the Cultural Heritage Office in Shiraz used them to decorate the Fish Pool in 1993.
There is an octagonal skylight above the fish pool plus two other four square skylights on its sides. In the past, people used to drop coins in this pool to have their wishes realized. Nevertheless, since there is no water in this pool any longer, people have opted another pool to throwing their coins in.
Coin Pool – A New Pool for the Wish Coins
After the fish pool was drained, people began throwing their coins in another pool. The newly chosen pool is located just in front of the main porch of the tomb. Although it may seem This may seem an activity done for fun now, the philosophy of dropping coins in water goes back to the Mithraic religion in Zoroastrianism.
In this ritual, the water is considered as a symbol of purity and also the goddess Anahita. So, the followers believed that by giving a part of their property to the goddess of water, they bring blessings to their homes. In fact, pouring money into water is a kind of sacrifice, vow, and forgiveness.
Of course, it is good to remind you that water is one of the four sacred elements in the ancient Iranian religions. And its importance and sanctity have been mentioned many times in the Avesta. In Aban Yasht and Tir Yasht (parts of Avesta), there are many sayings about the sanctity of water. And all of them emphasize the praise of Anahita, the goddess of water.
And as you may know, this custom is not limited to Iran. You find the traces of a similar belief in Italy and Russia as well.
The tomb of Sa’di is located in the middle of an octagonal building. It is covered with a high ceiling, decorated with a beautiful turquoise dome. The current tombstone of Sa’di was installed there by Ali Akbar Khan Ghavam-ol-Molk Shirazi.
He also placed an inscription engraved with the poems of Saadi’s Bustan on the stone. It’s Nasta’liq calligraphy is excellent.
The Tomb of Shurideh-ye Shirazi
Saadi’s tomb is surrounded by the graves of people who were buried in this place according to their will. One of them is Shurideh-ye Shirazi, the son of Ahli-ye Shirazi, a famous poet of the Safavid era. He was born in Shiraz in 1860 and died in 1927. At the age of seven, the poet became blind and lost sight of both of his eyes due to smallpox. But a few years later he turned into a talented and very popular poet.
The left side of Saadi’s tomb is connected to a portico with seven arches and reaches the tomb of Shorideh Shirazi with a black floor. This tomb is also located in a separate room and has an inscription on it, introducing the poet and one of his poems on the crimson tiles on the wall.
On the west side of Sa’di’s tomb, there is a white building with a blue sign at the entrance. This building is the small but prolific library of Saadieh. It attracts every newcomer to immerse himself in a different world of thought, mysticism, and science. It was established in 1972, occupying an area about 105 meters. It has only one hall. There are two sections, including the library repository and the reading room, which are separated by the librarian’s desk.
Other Parts of Saadieh
For Saadieh to be a complete complex, it needs side buildings. And therefore you can see service buildings in it. For this complex to be well received by visitors, a teahouse has been created in its basement.
It provides a suitable space for rest during the visit. Next to the fish pool, there are two brick buildings. One of them is the office of the Saadia complex. And the other is the public library that we talked about before. In another corner of the complex, there is another building which is the bathroom.