Developing a set of site location criteria for mosques within the urban land use framework

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Associate Professor, School of Urban Planning, College of Fine Arts, University of Tehran, Tehran

2 Professor, Seminary School of Navab

3 Ph.D. candidate, University of Tarbiat Modarres


Mosques, for many centuries, had been the most physically visible as well as the major symbolic structure of Iranian cities.  This highlights the fact that mosques have had a major role to play in city development.  The importance of mosque in shaping the central districts of cities was such that their façade was considered as a monument or a landmark, attracting all attention – from residents and citizens to strangers and travelers - to it.  Furthermore, the level of civility of a city was tied to the presence of a central mosque, i.e. the settlement was not considered to be a city unless it had a central mosque within it; no matter how dense and compact or dispersed it was.  Also, in terms of city growth, the direction of growth was determined by the mosque’s development.  The lesser mosques also played a role in defining the neighborhoods’ centers as a major element.  The recent studies, however, point to the fact that, due to cultural detachment and identity crisis within the Iranian society during the rule of the Pahlavi dynasty, the link between the city and mosque has faded.  A turn toward modernist street designs, neighborhood identity no longer exists, and for that matter, mosques have lost their past role in being the central place within neighborhoods.  After the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, one would have expected to see the prominence of mosques within neighborhoods. However, although mosques have had a major social and political role in the years during and after the Islamic Revolution in Iran and during the Iraqi-imposed war during the 1980s, their proper site selection has been mostly neglected.  In this paper, we attempt to answer the questions on the possibility of defining the system within which the mosques follow in urban land use planning.  The literature on site selection for various land uses has its roots in the Western schools and, therefore, hardly has references to site selection for mosques. Therefore, here, the criteria for site selection and design of mosques are mostly derived and determined based on the Quranic teachings, using the thematic thought method.  We first review the design principles of the Grand Mosque of Medina built by the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) and the changes which took place during different periods after him.  Here, the role of mosque in a civil society based on the Isfahan School - which is considered as the apex of the Islamic architecture and urban planning in Iran’s history - is also discussed.  Next, a number of interviews with Islamic scholars are conducted to identify the site selection as well as the urban design criteria and to draft the implementation guidelines for physical design and construction of the mosques.  The criteria for site selection within the subject of urban planning include hierarchy, centrality, territory, accessibility, density, and the direction toward Qiblah in Mecca.  The principles of unity, focus, and simplicity are considered as urban design criteria.  The principle of “first structure” is presented as the implementation parameter.