Sunday, May 8, 2011

Cypress of Abarkooh

The Cypress of Abarkooh (سرو ابرکوه), also called the Zoroastrian Sarv, is a cypress tree in Abarkooh, Yazd province. It is an Iranian national monument and tourist attraction standing an estimated 25-28 meters high and with a perimeter of 11.5 meters at its trunk and 18 meters higher up around its branches. Russian scientist Alexander Rouf has estimated its age as over four thousand years old and thus it may be the oldest living being in Asia. Some legends attribute its origin to Japheth, the son of Noah, while others believe Zoroaster himself planted it. Favorable natural conditions of its location has been credited as the main reason for the tree’s longevity, although it is now been enveloped by an urban park and is thus open to disturbances by unnatural elements.  

In ancient Iran, planting a tree was of great importance and can be seen in some of the carvings of Persepolis. In particular the cypress tree was considered significant to Zoroastrians as it remained green all year long. References to the tree have been made as early as the 14th century by Hamdollah Mostofi. In his book “NezhatolGholoob” he describes Abarkooh as “there is a cedar tree there with global fame”. Cypress has been the first choice for Iranian Gardens. In all of the famous Persian Gardens, such as Fin Garden, Mahaan, Dowlat Abad, and others, this tree plays a central role in their design.  

While the cypress tree of Kashmar was chopped down by the orders of the Abbasid Caliph Motevakkel and transported to Samarra, the Cypress of Abarkooh withstood the test of time. It was never forgotten by the Iranians and in fact its legend grew ever stronger with the passage of time while poets and artists kept depicting it in their works.  

In the past there have been a number of occasions where steps have been taken to prolong the tree’s life and rid it of damaging natural elements such as termites. There is a dedicated gardener/guard who also tends to the tree although there are no signs or impenetrable fences to assist him in his guardian duties. While the tree can be considered a living ecosystem of its own, with it housing many birds’ nests and being home to other living creatures, however, the tree shows signs of vandalism. Furthermore locals and tourists periodically tie pieces of cloth to the tree in an attempt to make votive offerings in order to gain from its natural spirit for fulfillment of a wish. One can hope that the recent rumors of finding the burial site of one of Imam Bagher’s children in the area will divert such traffic away from the Cypress of Abarkooh.  

Unfortunately as of late, the Cypress of Abarkooh may be approaching its demise. The main reason, apart from the side effects of tourism, is the neglect in taking care of the soil of the area around the tree. Between 50 and 100 people visit the cedar daily and this has made the soil around the tree more compact. Thus the activity of the microorganisms in the soil and also the permeability of the soil has become limited. Furthermore a street had been constructed near the tree that has contributed to the living environment of the tree becoming polluted.  

There have been unsuccessful attempts at registering the Cypress of Abarkooh on UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage’s list. 


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