Sunday, May 2, 2010
Alamut Fortress was once a mountain fortress located in the central Alborz Mountains south of the Caspian Sea near Qazvin Province, about 100 kilometers from Tehran. Suggested explanations for its name are "Eagle's Nest" and "Eagle's Teaching". According to legend, an eagle indicated the site to a Daylamite ruler; hence the name, from aloh (eagle) and amut (taught). Some 20 citadels, including the famous Alamut Fortress, are scattered in Alamut. The first Fortress was built in 840 at an elevation of 2,100 meters on a rocky crest. It was built in a way that had only one passable artificial entrance that wound its way around the cliff face (the one natural approach, a steep gravel slope, was too dangerous to use); thus making conquering the Fortress extremely difficult. It is perched on rocky heights and was well-equipped to withstand long sieges, thanks to a vast capacity to store provisions and an elaborate system of cisterns, qanats, and canals.
The Alamut Fortress has an eastern and western sector, each of which comprises of two segments again. These are the lower and upper castles. The upper part was used as the residential section while the lower part served as its outlet to the outside world and housed industrial activities. The length of the structure is approximately 120 meters and its width ranges from 10-25 meters in certain areas. The eastern rampart of the upper castle is constructed of stone and gypsum, and is about 10 meters in length and 5 meters in height. To the northwestern front of the upper castle, two chambers have been excavated in the rocks of the mountains in one of which is a small pool of water. At the foot of this chamber, and at a lower level than the structure, is the northern rampart with a length of 12 meters and width of 1 meter.
To the eastern section of the castle the guards and their dependants resided. The western rampart of this sector is still standing to an elevation of 2 meters. Here there are three water reservoirs excavated in the breast of the mountains. Between the upper and the lower castles is an area surrounded by ramparts, that divides the sector into two. Three towers in the northern, southern and eastern corners can still be observed. The only entrance and gateway to the castle is in the northeast.
In 1090 the Fortress was infiltrated and occupied by the powerful Hashshashins, lead by Hasan Sabbah and a faction of Niazari Ismaili Shia Islam known to the West as "the Assassins", and was then fabled for its gardens and libraries. Later the Fortress was in the hands of Zaydi Alids, until its capture by the Ismailids.
The Fortress has never been taken by force. It was destroyed on December 15, 1256 by Hulagu Khan as part of the Mongol offensive on southwest Asia. The Fortress itself was impregnable, but Roknoddin Khorshah surrendered it without a real fight, in the vain hope that Hulagu would be merciful. It was partially dismantled by the Mongols and its famous library burned except for a few non-heretical works. The Fortress was gradually destroyed by time and local inhabitants searching for hidden treasure, mainly during the Qajar era.
While initially believed to have been restored under the Safavids to serve as a prison, archaeological investigations indicate that it was used as an exile residence for members of the royal family and rulers. The discovery of blacksmith, carpentry, and tile workshops belonging to the Safavid period shows that the place was not used as a prison. Some ceramic pieces are also found which belong to dishes only used by high classes of society and royal family. The amount of ruins excavated from the Safavid period in Alamut also confirms the attack of Afghans to the Fortress.
In 2004, an earthquake further damaged the already crumbling walls of the Fortress. Measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale, it tore down part of the watchtower of the Fortress.