Due to a favourable location in a fertile plain, near the roads linking the Iranian Plateau, Turkey and Armenia, Maraqeh (Maragheh, Maraga; 143 kilometres from Tabriz) became an important city, first under Arab and then under Kurdish domination. During the reign of Hulagu (1256-1265), it was briefly made the capital of the Ilkhan Mongols (from 1255). This period was its heyday and Hulagu's policy of religious tolerance encouraged the settlement there of large numbers of foreigners, including Nestorian Christians and Buddhists.
Maragheh is on the bank of the river Sufi Chay. The Azerbaijani-speaking population form majority in the city.
Maragheh is an ancient city situated in a narrow valley running nearly north and south at the eastern extremity of a well-cultivated plain opening towards Lake Urmia, which lies 30 km to the west. The town is encompassed by a high wall ruined in many places, and has four gates. Two stone bridges in good condition, said to have been constructed during the reign of Hulaku Khan (1217-1265), who made Maragheh the capital of the Ilkhanate. Shortly thereafter it became the seat of the Church of the East Patriarch Mar Yaballaha III. The place is surrounded by extensive vineyards and orchards, all well watered by canals led from the river, and producing great quantities of fruit. The hills west of the town consist of horizontal strata of sandstone covered with irregular pieces of basalt.
One of the famous burial towers, the Gonbad-e-Kabud (Blue Tower, 1197), is decorated with decorative patterns resembling Penrose tiles.
Its marble, which is known throughout Iran as Maragha marble, is a travertine obtained at the village of Dashkasan near Azarshahr about 50 km north-west from Maragheh. It is deposited from water, which bubbles up from a number of springs in the form of horizontal layers, which at first are thin crusts and can easily be broken, but gradually solidify and harden into blocks with a thickness of about 20 cm. It is a singularly beautiful substance, being of pink, greenish, or milk-white color, streaked with reddish copper-colored veins. It is exported and sold worldwide under such names as Azarshar Red or Yellow.
Late Miocene strata near Maragheh have produced rich harvests of vertebrate fossils for European and North American museums. A multi-national team reopened the foissil site in 2008
Maraqeh boasted the medieval world's greatest observatory, constructed under the direction the Ilkhanid king, Hülagü Khan for Nasir al-Din al-Tusi. Here brilliant mathematician Nasruddin Tusi (Nasir al-Tusi) accurately calculated the diameter of the earth, centuries before the Western world even guessed it was round. The building, which no doubt served as a citadel as well, enclosed a space of 340 by 135 meters, and the foundations of the walls were 13 to 2 meters in thickness. The observatory was constructed in the thirteenth century and was said to house a staff of at least ten astronomers and a librarian who was in charge of the library which allegedly contained over 40,000 books. This observatory was one of the most prestigious during the medieval times in the Islamic Empire during the golden age of Islamic science. The famous astronomer Ibn al-Shatir did much of his work in this observatory. On a windswept hill 3km northwest of town, a modern observatory (Rasad-khana; closed to public) occupies the site where the original was destroyed during Tamerlane's ravages.
Today, very little is left of Maraqeh early history: observatory and the old Friday Mosque are in ruins, and only a series of remarkably well preserved mausoleums, dating back to the XII century, remain.
Getting There & Away
To reach Tabriz choose from savari (almost 2 hours), bus (2.5 hours, twice hourly) or train. For Takht-e Soleiman, savari-hop via Bonab (25 minutes) or Miyandoab (1.5 hours).