Thursday, January 21, 2010

Siraf Port

Siraf, (بندر سیراف) known today as Taheri Port, was a legendary ancient Sassanid port, with foundations dating back to the Parthian dynasty. It was located on the north shore of the Persian Gulf in what is now the Iranian province of Bushehr and was destroyed around 970 AD. Its ruins are approximately 220 kilometers east of Bushehr and 380 kilometers west of Bandar Abbas. Siraf controlled three ports: Taheri Port, Kangan Port and Dayer Port. Siraf was originally was known as Ardeshir Ab due to the fact that Ardeshir Babakan set up a waterway network here in order to facilitate port activities for which he was responsible. 

According to David Whitehouse, one of the first archaeologists to excavate the ancient ruins of Siraf, marine trade between the Persian Gulf and Far East lands began to flourish at this port because of the vast expansion of trade in consumer goods and luxury items at the time. The first contact between Siraf and China occurred in 185 AD and by the 4th century it was a busy port. However, over time trade routes shifted to the Red Sea and Siraf was forgotten. Discovered there in past archaeological excavations are ivory objects from east Africa, pieces of stone from India, and lapis from Afghanistan. There are ruins of the luxurious houses of extremely rich traders who made their wealth through the port's success. 

One of the historical structures at Siraf is the Nassori Castle, built in the 19th century. The fort was well constructed with massive brick walls and towers enclosing courtyards for public and private use. Its entrance is a large wooden door that faces the Persian Gulf and beyond the door are stairwells leading to the second floor. The most remarkable feature of the fort is a balcony decorated with eighteen scenes from the Shahnameh in molded and carved stucco. They represent events from the lives of the great heroes such as Rostam and scenes with rulers such as Anooshiravan. They were probably adapted and copied from the illustrations to lithographed texts of the Shahnameh. As yet they are unique both as examples of pictorial interpretation of the Shahnameh and of Qajar decoration. 


In addition to the Castle, Siraf also is home to an ancient congressional mosque and cemetery. David Whitehouse found evidence that the earliest mosque at Siraf dates to the 9th century and are remains from the Parthian and Sassanid eras. He found ruins of a congregational mosque surrounded by many smaller mosques. In 2009 archaeologists identified Sasanian layers and artifacts near the mosque. Furthermore burial sites also has been discovered in Siraf. The rock cut tombs of the burial site bear a similarity to those found in Kharg Island and may have belonged to the region’s Jewish community. There are also chamber tombs, typical of Zoroastrian Towers of Silence, found in the hillsides behind Siraf. 

In 2006 remains of a shipwreck found in the Persian Gulf near the port of Siraf. Initial studies on the shipwreck revealed that it was a merchant ship belonging to either the Parthian (248 BCE - 224 CE) or Sassanid (224-651 CE) dynastic eras. It was discovered at sunken at a depth of 70 meters. More than 40 ceramic amphora-like jars with no handle were filmed by an underwater robot. The ceramic jars were found scattered along the seabed which revealed the functionality of the ship as a merchant. Attempts to save the sunken ship cannot be completed with the current state of technology and experience in Iran’s underwater archeology. 

Siraf has not been yet registered on the list of national heritage sites of Iran. This is needed so that it will be preserved and maintained. 

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