Nikolai Markov: From Russian Captain to Iranian General and Architect

Nikolai Markov was not merely a successful builder with European know-how in Iran, but an enthusiastic student of Islamic architecture, especially its early forms. He created an architectural style to suit the needs of early 20th century Tehran that nonetheless blended harmoniously with traditional Persian architecture. Some particularly telling examples of this are the Old Municipal Building, the prestigious Jeanne d’Arc school, and the Alborz College. Markov’s fidelity to local architecture extended to the use of traditional Persian methods of construction and materials, such as brick, stone, tile and plaster. Persians came to call the 20x20cm-sized bricks the architect was most fond of as “ajore markovi,” or “Markov’s brick.”
Nikolai Markov was born on December 28, 1882 in Tiflis, Georgia, in the Russian Empire. His father, Lev Markov, was a privy councilor from an old aristocratic Russian family. After spending time in Persia in his youth, the young Markov moved to St. Petersburg, where he studied architecture and Persian language and culture. Markov served in the Russian army during the first World War, and after the Revolution returned to Tehran to serve in the Persian Cossack Division, where he rose to the post of Chief of Staff and eventually attained the rank of “Iranian” General.
In 1921, he was demobilized and chose to remain in Tehran, where he founded his own architectural bureau that in the 1920s and 30s planned and built dozens of buildings in the Iranian capital, including the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Justice, the General Post Office, the Italian Embassy, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Saint Nicholas, the Assyrian Church on Forsat Street, and a representative office for the "Singer" sewing machine company. Markov, who was Russian Orthodox, also built several mosques, including the Fahret Dowleh and Amin Dowleh mosques.
Nikolai Markov died on July 19, 1957 and was buried in the Russian Orthodox cemetery in Tehran. His son Alexei Markov, born in 1927 in Tehran, also became an architect.