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IRANIAN ART & ARCHAEOLOGY: ARSACID DYNASTY

Kuh-e Khwajeh

(Mount Khajeh / Ushida)


 

By Khodayar Bahrami

SOAS

For CAIS - February 21, 2007

(Revised on 14 May 2007)

 

 

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Remains of Mt. Khwajeh palce known as the Rostam Castle and one of three Sasanian riders

(Click to enlarge)

 

Kuh-e Khwajeh (Mount Khajeh), is a flat-topped black basalt mountain located 30 km southwest of the town of Zabol is an island in the middle of Hamun lake, in the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan.

 

The trapezoid-shaped basalt lava, situated 609 meters from the sea level, with a diameter ranging from 2.0 to 2.5 kilometres. It is the only natural height left behind in Sistan area, where a citadel with palace, fire temple (Herzfeld, p.301), pilgrimage centre and graveyard known to locals as the "Suren's resting place" reminiscent of the past are still in good condition (Kawami, pp.13-52). Also there are number of small temples, in particular a temple believed to belonged to the cult of Mithra, which was the religion of Parthians known to the locals as the "Kouchakchal Ganjeh" (Moghdam, CAIS), while some believe this section of the edifices were constructed during the Achaemenid dynastic Period (Colledge, p.41).

 

The Kuh-e Khwajeh historical complex is one of the most important archaeological sites in Iran and the biggest model of unbaked mud brick architecture with mortar for rubble used for domestic walls (Colledge, p.41), remaining in Sistan region, which dates back to the Arsacid dynastic era (248 BCE-224 CE) (CAIS news, 03 November 2005 and Ranajit Pal).

 

The ancient site was identifies by Marc Aurel Stein, who discovered a Buddhist monastery at Mount Khwajeh in 1916. Roman Ghirshman pointed out that the art of Mount Khwajeh predates Gandhara art which disproves the widely accepted notion that Buddhism spread from Nepal or Eastern India, and it claimed that Mount Khwajeh was Kapilavastu, the birthplace of Gotama. Stein's work clearly shows that Buddhism was born in Iran but was later nurtured in modern India, Afghanistan and Pakistan (Gullini, p.57). The site was later excavated by Ernst Herzfeld, and was thoroughly investigated in part by G. Gullini in a short expedition of 1960. According to his findings the palace and the fire temple were already in existence in the Parthian dynastic period (Colledge, p. 54 and Herzfeld p.291). The ruins on the southern slope, dates back to 1st century BCE and it is still known as Kal-e i Rustam as well as Kuk-u Kohzadh (Herzfeld, p.287), which is denoted to Kofasat the founder of Parthian house of Suren-Pahlav (Herzfeld, p.291).

 

However, Khwajeh Mountain Complex is greatly respected by followers of the three ancient faiths of Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam and considered as a holy place. The mountain has been named after the mausoleum of "Khwajeh Mehdi", one of the sympathizers of Alavi rulers, which is situated on this mountain, but its' pre-Islamic name was Kuh-i Ushidā (Herzfeld p.297 and CAIS news 03 November 2005).

 

The oldest and by far the most important structure of the site is an ancient fortress on its eastern slope, called by different names such as the Rostam castle, the Kāferūn castle, Kohan-Dež, etc. Unique murals had decorated the walls of the fortress, few of which have survived (Ramazan-nia). Over the recent years, a complete documentation of the site was carried out (Bivar). In addition, partial restoration and fortification of the castle were conducted on its walls and arches. These once vividly-coloured wall-hangings include motifs taken from the repertoire of western artists (Keall), yet the art is not western. Liberties are taken with designs which ignore their original properties, and, through the geometrising of natural forms, Parthian art anticipates Islamic art by several centuries (CAIS news, 11 December 2006).

 

Sistan, known as the birthplace of Iranian hero Rostam, has very strong associations with Zoroastrianism. According to Zoroastrian tradition, Lake Hamun - which lies at the foot of the mountain - was the keeper of Zoroaster's seed. And when the world's end is at hand, three maidens will enter the lake, and afterwards will give birth to the Saoshyant (the Zoroastrian' Messiah) who will then be the "final saviours" of mankind.

 

To the Christians, the significance of the complex is related to the belief that upon Christ's birth at the Lord's house three Magi standing on this mountain and watching the light emanating from this divine prophet acknowledged their faith in Jesus.

 

There are also three bas-reliefs belonging to the Sasanian dynasty (224-651 CE), depicting horse riders, which were carved on one of the walls of the castle. The reliefs are the only ones made of clay remained from the Sasanian dynastic period in this edifice (CAIS News, 11 December 2006).

 

 

Bibliography

 

E. E. Herzfeld, Iran in the Ancient East New York (1988), p301.

T. S. Kawami, L. Becker, R. Koestler, "Kuh-e Khwaja, Iran, and its Wall Paintings: The Records of Ernst Herzfeld ", in Metropolitan Museum Journal Vol. 22, (1987), pp. 13-52.

Edward C. D. Hopkins, The Religion of Parthia, (http://parthia.com/parthia_arts.htm#Religion).

M. Moghdam Mithra, The Second International congress of Mithraic Studies, Tehran 1975 (http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Religions/iranian/Mithraism/mithra.htm).

M. A. R. Colledge, Parthain Art, London (1977), p.41. 

Shippmann, K., "The Development of the Iranian Fire Temple", 5th International congress in Iranian Art & Archaeology, Tehran, 1968, pp.353-362.

CAIS, Mount Khwajeh , the Biggest Unbaked Mud Structure from Parthian Times, Dated 03 November 2005, (http://www.cais-soas.com/news/2005/November2005/03-11.htm).

Ranajit Pal, Alexander's Dream of a united Nations, (http://www.ranajitpal.com).

G. Gullini, Architettura Iranica dagli Achemenidi ai Sasanidi, Turin, (1969)p 57.

M. A. R. Colledge, Parthain Art, London (1977), p.45.

E. E. Herzfeld, Iran in the Ancient East New York (1988), p291.

E. E. Herzfeld, Iran in the Ancient East New York (1988), p287.

E. E. Herzfeld, Iran in the Ancient East New York (1988), p291.

CAIS, Mount Khwajeh , the Biggest Unbaked Mud Structure from Parthian Times, Dated 03 November 2005, (http://www.cais-soas.com/news/2005/November2005/03-11.htm).

E. E. Herzfeld, Iran in the Ancient East New York (1988), p297.

Nersi Ramazan-nia, The treasures of Lake Hamun, Berkeley, California February 1997, (LINK).

D. H. Bivar, "Cosmopolitan deities and Hellenistic traces at Kuh-e Khwāaja" in Sistan", in C. G. Cereti, M. Maggi and E. Provasi, eds., Religious themes and texts in pre-Islamic Iran and Central Asia, Studies in honour of Professor Gherardo Gnoli on the occasion of his 65th birthday on 6th December 2002.

E. J. Keall, Parthian Architecture, (http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Architecture/parthian_architecture.htm)

CAIS, Sasanian Bas-reliefs of Mt. Khajeh Fortress Falling Apart, dated 11 December 2006, (http://www.cais-soas.com/News/2006/December2006/11-12-sasanian.htm).

 

 

 

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Khodayar Bahrami is an Iranian Zoroastrian from Kerman born in 1975. He obtained his BA in History from the Tehran University, and went on and completed his MA in social anthropology from La Trobe University, Melbourne. 

 

He is currently a PhD student the the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). His current research is on the Parthian Histography, which is based on extensive field work and archival research conducted in Damghan (Parthian Qomis).

 

 

 

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