Sunday, November 15, 2009

Atashgah of Isfahan

The Atashgah of Isfahan (آتشگاه اصفهان) is a Sassanid-era archaeological complex located on a hill with Sassanid mud brick settlements of the same name about eight kilometers west of city center of Isfahan, Iran. It is believed to be an ancient Zoroastrian fire temple which is currently no longer in use. Looking from the Atashgah gives a magnificent view of Zayandeh Rud river and the city of Isfahan. The hill, which rises about 210 meters above the surrounding plain, was previously called Maras or Marabin after a village near there.

One part of the complex, on the southern flank of the hill are the remains of a citadel of about twenty buildings (or rooms within buildings), many of which—particularly those in the lower half of cluster—are however only evident as foundation traces. Several buildings in the cluster have a classic char taq "four arch" floor-plan, characteristic of Zoroastrian fire-temples of the 3rd century onwards and that are the actual atashgahs that housed sacred fires. Other buildings include what may have been storage rooms and living quarters for priests and affluent pilgrims. A tentative identification of the purpose of the ruins was first made in 1937 by Andre Godard, but it was not until until 1960, when architect Maxine Siroux made the first drawings, that the site could be properly studied. Godard's identifications were subsequently confirmed by Klaus Schippman in 1971.

Another feature of the complex is the remains of a tower-like circular building on the very top of the same hill. This structure, which was once at least twenty meters high, is known by the local populace as the Borj’e Ghorban and appears to have been a military watch-tower with a flare that could be lit to warn of an approaching enemy (i.e. a beacon). 

In both cases, the remaining walls are of baked brick, held together with a clay-reed mixture. In the 10th century, the buildings were used by the Esmaili inhabitants of Isfahan to hide from tax collectors. The historian Masudi visited the site around the same time, and records local tradition as having believed that the site was converted from one of idol worship to one of fire by "King Yustasf (i.e. Vishtaspa, the patron of Zoroaster) when he adopted the religion of the Magi."

In 2002 archaeologist Alireza Jafari Zand published a report on pre-Islamic Isfahan in which he emphasizes the religious role of the complex, and with reference to radiocarbon dating suggests that the construction was Elamite (pre-6th century). A doctoral thesis suggests a "similarity" between the tower and an edifice in Qom known as the Chahak fire temple; the similarity being that the building in Qom has a cylindrical structure at the top while the tower in Isfahan is based on a circular plan.

Below in the plain on the opposite side of the road a footpath leads down to some interesting Pigeon Towers, some of which have been decorated.

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