Saturday, February 27, 2010

Shadravan Bridge


The Shadravan Bridge is located on the Karoon River in Khuzestan province and dates back to the Sassanid era. It currently runs parallel to the newly constructed bridge located on the Shushtar-Dezful Road. The bridge was once 550 meters long and included 44 arched openings, but due to negligence today only sixteen arches of the Bridge remain. With occasional flooding and lack of proper maintenance Shadravan Bridge faces the possibility of further deterioration and perhaps complete destruction.


Shadravan Bridge, also called Shapuri, is located some 300 meters west of Mizan Dam. Its pillars are 7 meter wide, its water passage 8 meters wide, and its height, from the base to the arch crown, around 10 meters. The material used in the project are the traditional ones including river stones, rocks, mortar and old stucco.


The Bridge was built in the Sassanid era, during the rule of Shapur I, to transfer water to the Khuzestan plain, to protect the farms against heavy floods of Karoun and also to direct ground waters. In the southern wing of the bridge there are ruins of a small room and a pillar which may be the remnants of the facilities for preserving the structure. In order to build this Bridge, Karoon was redirected. Throughout the construction process Mizan Dam was also constructed to raise the water level in order for higher level fields to also be able to be irrigated.


According to some scholars, Shapur I, upon defeating Valerian, the Roman Emperor subjected him to the greatest insults, such as being used as a human footstool (as depicted at Naghsh’e Rostam). Shapur I used the remaining soldiers in engineering and development plans. One of the conditions that Valerian and his soldiers could be set free was the construction of the Shadravan Bridge. Once the construction of bridge was completed, Shapur I released the Roman Emperor and his soldiers to return back to their lands.


In 2008, 500 million rials were projected to be allocated to the renovation of Shadravan Bridge, however, Khuzestan’s Cultural Heritage Organization rejected the proposed funding and construction. According to Khuzestan’s Cultural Heritage Organization, such repairs would damage the foundation of the Bridge and were thus a futile exercise. Furthermore it was explained that the seasonal floodings have had no impact on the stability of the Bridge. It was hinted though that if experts from Tehran visited the area and expressed that renovations would result in a positive outcome, they wuld once again apply for funding.


Ferdosi has a number of verses in his Shahnameh describing this historical bridge.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Deyr Gachin Carvansary


The Deyr Gachin Caravansary, known as the mother of all carvansarays, is located 40 kilometers from Varamin in Tehran province. It was originally built in the Sassanid era as a fortified fire temple or a castle although its function was changed during the Safavid period. It was renovated several times during different Islamic periods, especially during the Safavid era which is why most of the architectural style we see today reflects this period. According to Borhan’e Ghateh, the structure was erected by Sassanid Emperor Bahram V (r. 421-438 CE) while the Tarihkh’e Qom gives the name of Khosrow I (r. 531-579 CE) as the patron of the Caravansary. The archaeological facts tend to confirm the building may have been constructed before Emperor Khosrow, but rebuilt or repaired during his time.


Situated in a desert area, this Caravansary was constructed on the northeast-southwest direction. Experts believe that this orientation was chosen so that the complex would be protected against the severe seasonal winds of this area which blow in a west-east direction. The Caravansary has an area of 12,000 square meters and 43 rooms, a backyard, 8 camel stables, 2 shops, one bath and a mosque. The Caravansary has four iwans to help desert winds pass through the adobe building. Two double storied towers can be seen on sides of the entrance gate while four others occupy each corner of the Carvansary. This structure has a large courtyard with small windowless chambers. These chambers are on a platform with the ceilings of the rooms made of bricks. On three sides of the courtyard are large balconies.


Archeological excavations in Deyr Gachin has led to the discovery of the public restroom of this complex. The restroom is located in a cubbyhole, behind the water reservoir of the bathroom of the Caravansary. The restroom consisted of six toilets which were located opposite each other while the walls of these toilets were constructed shorter than the other walls of the Caravansary. Further archeological studies and different plans provided from this monument revealed that Deyr Gachin had six towers and bulwarks. Since this architectural style was very common some 1,100 years ago in the construction of fortresses, most probably it was originally a fortress before changing into a caravansary.


There are some ambiguities about the real name of this fortress. While Gachin indicates the presence of plaster, however, the exact reason for choosing this name is not known. There may have been some stucco mines near this fortress considering the use of plaster in its construction. It is also possible that it had plaster pillars.


Deyr Gachin is reflected in Iranian legend as the place that Bahman was swallowed by a dragon resulting in him giving his kingdom to his daughter Chihrazad, who was known as Humay.


On 22 December 2003 Deyr Gachin Caravansary was registered on Iran’s National Heritage List.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Haji Firooz Teppe


Haji Firooz Teppe is an archeological site 2 kilometers southwest of Hasanloo in West Azerbaijan province and underlying Bronze Age settlements dating from the early to about the mid-2nd millennium BC. The site is thought to have been inhabited in several stages and was ultimately destroyed by Urartu in the late 9th century BC. Hasanloo was the focus of excavations carried out by the University of Pennsylvania Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York, and the Archaeological Service of Iran from 1956 to 1977. Haji Firooz Teppe was excavated as part of the Hasanloo site which in itself revealed rare painted pottery, a handful of which also have been decorated on their inside surface. Remains of domesticated dogs have also been found at this site, radiocarbon dated to 5500-5000 B.C.




Persians were known for their wine making, and the site of Haji Firooz is best known for the discovery of a jar containing the earliest known residue of wine in the world. The residue contained resin (a mix of tannin and tartrate crystals) from the Terebinth tree that grew wild in the region, and was possibly used as a preservative indicating that the wine was deliberately made and was not result of the grape juice fermenting unintentionally. Terebinth resin was widely used as a preservative in ancient wine because it killed certain bacteria. Pine resin is currently used in Greek Retsina wine.



The jar with the wine residue, had a volume of about 9 liters and was found together with five similar jars embedded in the earthen floor along one kitchen wall of a Neolithic mud brick building, dating back to 5400-5000 BC. Clay stoppers about the same size as the jars' mouths were located close by, suggesting that they could have been used keep out the air and prevent the wine from turning into vinegar. The building in which the jars were found consisted of a large room that may have doubled as a bedroom, a kitchen, and two storage rooms. The room thought to be a kitchen had a fireplace and numerous pottery vessels probably used to prepare and cook foods.


This the earliest firm evidence for wine making to date in western Asia. While most likely a fable, however, the story of the Persian woman and fermented grapes has many folklorists crediting her for inventing wine. As the story goes, a Persian Princess had found herself out of favor with the King of Persia. Upon hearing this news, she attempted to commit suicide by consuming a jar of spoiled grapes. Instead of dying, she found herself feeling better and acting a lot happier. Eventually she passed out, but when she woke up, she found that the King liked her new attitude so much that he admitted her back into his good graces.

At Godin Teppe, a 3500-3000 BC settlement six hundred kilometers south along the Zagros mountains, additional jars containing wine residues have been found.

It is unclear if the name of the site has any connection with the trickster who is supposed to make an appearance at Norooz.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Abyaneh Village


Abyaneh Village, known as the Red Village because of its red soil and houses, is a historic Iranian Village located at the foot of Karkas Mountain, 70 kilometers southeast of Kashan in Isfahan province. Abyaneh is a Village of living traditions, architectural styles (all in red clay) and probably one of the most interesting examples of human adaptation to nature. The Village is compact, with narrow and sloped lanes, and houses located on the slope as if placed on a stairway. The houses of Abyaneh bear an ancient architectural style, featured by the use of clay as the construction material and latticed windows and wooden doors. Similar to Masouleh. the roofs of some houses are used to serve as the courtyard for other houses higher up on the slope. With a unique reddish hue, the Village is one of the oldest in Iran, attracting numerous native and foreign tourists year-round, especially during traditional feasts and ceremonies.


Abyaneh has a long history which dates back to more than 2,000 years ago and has been registered on Iran’s National Heritage List since 1975. The word Abyaneh has been derived from the word "viona" meaning a willow grove. Abyaneh has been called an entrance to Iranian history as the locals are deeply committed to honoring their traditions. The language spoken by the literate people of Abyaneh is Parthian Pahlavi. The local clothing for example is in a style of great antiquity. The women's traditional costume typically consists of a white long scarf (covering the shoulders and upper trunk) which has a colorful or floral pattern and an under-knee skirt or pleated pants. They have persistently maintained this traditional costume despite pressures from time to time by the government trying to change it. The Abyaneh woman is inseparably attached to her wedding gown inherited from her mother, and is expected to pass it on to her daughter.


Abyaneh is known as one of the highly educated regions in Iran with a large number of engineers, doctors, and other specialists who have migrated to different Iranian cities specially Kashan and Tehran. The permanent residents of Abyaneh have been dwindling over the past years and it is estimated the number of permanent residents of this historic Village is less than 250.


Abyaneh is mainly watered by the River of Barzrud and has a cold climate. It enjoys numerous springs creating suitable conditions for agriculture. Seven qanats assist in the irrigation of the fields. The main agricultural products generated in Abyaneh are wheat, barley, potatoes and fruit such as apples, pears and apricots. As of late, carpet weaving has also become popular in the Village.


In addition to a Zoroastrian fire temple dating back to the Sassanid period, there are also three castles in the Village, a restaurant, a pilgrimage site and three mosques. According to an inscription on top of its door, one of the mosques, dates back to the early Safavid period, Inside the mosque there is a beautiful nocturnal prayer hall with wooden capital pillars.


Since June 2005, the Village has been undergoing archaeological excavations for the first time, as a result of an agreement between Abyaneh Research Center and ICHHTO’ Archaeology Research Center. Initial archaeological excavations resulted in the discovery of a residential area belonging to the Sassanid era. According to a report released following the visit of UNESCO representatives and experts of world heritage, the historical Village has been recognized appropriate for being registered in list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. However, continuation of hotel construction in Abyaneh has put the status of this historical Village at risk. The recent decision of an investor to erect a hotel in the eastern part of this historic Village has raised the concern of cultural heritage enthusiasts and residents of Abyaneh.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sepandarmazgan


Sepandarmazgan (or Espandegan) is the celebration day of love, friendship and earth in ancient Iranian culture. This day is dedicated to Spenta Armaiti, Spandarmad in Middle Persian, the Middle Iranian language/ethnolect of Southwestern Iran that during Sassanid times (224-654 CE) became a prestige dialect and so came to be spoken in other regions as well. It is celebrated on February 17th and modern folklore dates the celebration to ancient times and Zoroastrian tradition although it was commonly celebrated amongst all Iranians regardless of their religion.


According to Iranian tradition, the day of Sepandarmazgan was held in the Persian Empire in the 20th century BC. On this day, women and girls sat on the throne and men and boys had to obey them and bring them presents and gifts. In this way, men were reminded to acclaim and respect women. The holiday was also called mardgiran and on this day people would write spells on three pieces of paper and paste them on the walls of their home to keep away annoyances. They would also mix grapes and pomegranates into a fine blend and considered it the antidote for a scorpion's sting.


Sepandarmaz is another name for mainyu (earth) meaning holy, humble and passionate and is also Earth’s Guardian Angel. It is the symbol of humbleness and means modest toward the entire creation. These are the qualities attributed to Earth that spreads beneath our feet, thus the symbol of modesty and love. As human beings, there are creatures that we find unpleasant and repulsive but Earth embraces all creatures the same and loves them the same; like a mother who loves all children alike, even when they are occasionally not so pleasant on the surface.


There are various theories explaining the gradual shift from celebrating Earth to celebrating a loved one on Sepandarmazgan. One of such theories compares the Earth to a loving and expecting mother who nurtures those around her. Earth has traditionally been given a female characterization (hence the term motherland) much like how the sky has been labeled male. Further strengthening this theory is in ancient Iranian mythology; that the first couple in the human race, Mashi and Mashianeh, was created from the roots of the mandrake plant and thus the Earth or Sepandarmaz should be considered the mother of all human life.


In ancient Iran each day of the month had a name and all months had 30 days. Any time the name of a day coincided with that of the month, a feast was held. For example, the 16th day of any month is called Mehr and the feast of Mehregan is held on the 16th day of the month of Mehr which was one of the most important feasts of the past. As a result of the revision of number of days of the 1st six months of the year, the date of this holiday was revised from the original date of the 5th of Esfand to the 29th of Bahman.


The Association of Iran's Cultural and Natural Phenomena has been trying since 2006 to make Sepandarmazgan a national holiday, in order to replace its Western equivalent, Valentine’s Day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Meymand Village


Meymand Village is a 12,000 year old village located in Shahr’e Babak, Kerman, 35 kilometers from the town of Babak on the Tehran-Bandar Abbas Road. Unlike other ancient villages, Meymand has retained its culture. Living conditions in Meymand are harsh due to the aridity of the land and to high temperatures in summers and very cold winters. The Village consists of a number of amazing natural and manmade caves that are still used today for housing and shelter. Currently a scarce population of 150 people continue to live there. The origins of Meymand date back to the time when the inhabitants of the Persian plateau had not yet started to bury their dead in traditional graves but rather placed them inside crypts carved in the mountain. This belief has been attributed to followers the goddess Mithra.


The old houses of Meymand Village are carved like caverns inside the mountain. The internal spaces have corridors and pillars showing a rural architecture. The houses are situated in four or five stories, one on top of the other. There is a stove inside each house used for heating and cooking. The inward spaces are black because of smoke and soot. There is also an area of around 400 square meters in the Village containing 15 circular stone rooms. Bones and other belongings were discovered there, giving the impression that it was used to lay the bodies of the deceased.
The discovery of stone engravings, some as old as 10,000 years, around the Village in addition to 6,000 year old pottery reveal the long lived history of the Village. According to the locals, the ancients did not use a hammer and chisel, but rather a type of local, pointed stone which is hard enough to carve images onto the rocks. This method of carving is still practiced in the region today.


Meymand Village is one of the oldest continually inhabited places in Iran. The inhabitants are semi-nomadic shepherds, some of whom own Village land that is occupied in winter, whereas in summer the population moves to higher pastures. The local language contains many words from the ancient Sassanid and Pahlavi languages, the language barely changing due to the isolation of the Village. The economy of the villagers is based on agriculture, animal husbandry and carpet weaving; but carpet weaving is more important to the extent that Meymand carpets enjoy international fame. Since carpet weaving is prevalent in the area, other related jobs such as dyeing, felt making, weaving of gilims and crochet working are common too.


Sandwiched between a desert and mountain, Meymand enjoys a mountainous climate with cold winters and exceedingly hot summers and abundant with mulberry and blackberry trees. The area is also home to various animals such as snakes, lizards, hedgehogs, deer, leopards, wolves, foxes and also birds of prey. There are a few seasonal rivers and springs around the Village which fairly contribute in flourishing of agriculture in the area.


There is a large inn inside Meymand Village which is used to host tourists. Meymand Village obtained the ‘Reward of Mercury’ as the seventh cultural, natural and historical scene of the world in September 2005. This reward is given by the Greek government, in collaboration with UNESCO, to the historical monuments that are unique from the viewpoint of culture, nature and history.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Nooshabad Underground City


Nooshabad is a city 8 kilometers north of Kashan. Early this century, an underground city was discovered underneath it which was a manmade complex spread across thousands of square meters. The city consists of many labyrinth-like architectural structures, corridors, rooms and wells.


The history of the complex dates back to the pre-Islamic era, and was mainly used for sheltering and defense purposes. The city was built in 3 stories, the deepest at a depth of 13 meters, and each story 3 to 5 meters apart and connected to neighboring stories through vertical and horizontal canals. Entrances to the city were from population concentration points such as water reservoirs, markets, fortresses and also some individual houses. Except for the main entrance, all the other parts of the city were about 170-180 centimeters in height to let people pass without any problem. Some raised platforms were created in some walls for people to be able to sit. Rooms were connected through angled corridors (preventing direct sight) and also had access to toilets, supply stocks and a guarding place. Lighting was provided by fat burning lamps.


Natural air conditioning and water supply of the city are among its ancient engineering wonders. The ventilation system used in the underground city through devising canals made it possible for the refugees to breathe even at a depth of 20 meters below the ground. A large number of historic evidence including earthenware vessels and stone instruments ranging in date to Sassanid (224-651 AD), Ilkhanid (1256-1336), and Safavid (1501-1736 AD) dynastic periods have been retrieved from the underground city.


After three seasons of performing archeological studies, tourists can once again visit the city from entrances adjacent to two old water reservoirs. Some facilities such as a teahouse in the first floor of this underground city have been prepared to welcome visitors and tour guides will be stationed at Nooshabad to explain some historic facts about this stunning underground city.


A defunct sewage system has been posing a fatal threat to the underground city in Nooshabad. Locals have dug out wells in order to dump their sewage and now the leakage is threatening the underground city, having damaged some walls and providing a habitat for pests. Ironically such illegal excavations were how the underground city was discovered to begin with. It was estimated that building a new sewage system would require over $500,000 of public funds.