Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
& CULTURAL NEWS©
Ancient Citadel in Ruins
& Islamic Periods
earthquake that shook thousands of lives apart has also
ruined one of the most renowned cities in terms of world
architecture and destroyed 80% of the world’s biggest
mud-brick settlements to rubble. The town of Bam was
founded more than 2000 years ago. Before Islam swept
through the Middle East it was the center for the
Persian religion of Zoroastrianism and was home to a
popular fire temple.
But its trading importance, as one of the stops on the
silk road linking China and Europe and routes south to
Pakistan and India, meant traders such as Marco Polo
added their own flavor to the city. Bam has been a key
indicator of architectural design and a center of
historical preservation. The 16th-century buildings were
before last week the centerpiece of a city using the
romance of history and Persian mysticism as a draw for
tourists, and struggling to find modern housing for its
growing population of 200,000.
The mud-brick citadel, Arg-e Bam, towering above the
vast Dasht’e Kavir desert, was an island of splendor
in the harsh landscape, containing 38 towers and
elaborate fortifications and stretching over four square
miles towards the new urban sprawl of modern Bam.
Surrounded by the ancient city wall, thousands of
abandoned mosques, gateways and houses made up a
beautiful historical site that has now been reduced to
piles of rubble by the force of the quake, measuring 6.3
on the Richter scale.
The citadel, made of mud bricks, straw and the trunks of
palm trees, was always the palace of the ruler of the
day. It contained a prison, a bazaar and a gymnasium as
well as stables large enough to hold 200 horses.
“The citadel is one of the greatest structures of mud
brick in the world, it is a tragedy for the whole
country,” said Shahrokh Razmjou, a curator of
Tehran’s National Museum of Iran. “There are
references to the town in documents going back over 2000
years. You have everything there from different periods
– mosques, schools, the palace for the governor and
houses for the people.”
An Afghan invasion in 1722 began the push of Bam’s
residents to outside the city walls, compounded by more
invaders from the Shiraz region. The citadel was used as
an army barracks until the 1930s. In 1953 restoration
efforts began that were completed in the early 1990s.
The degree of preservation and the level of historical
interest in the site meant a growing tourist trade from
around 100,000 Iranian and a smaller proportion of
international visitors each year, as well as film
companies looking for exotic backdrops. They enjoyed
modern hotels and an airport, which may now prove
crucial to the rescue effort.
Reports from the city say much of the citadel has been
destroyed. In aerial photographs the ancient quarter is
now all but indistinguishable from the rest of the city.
The loss of the tourist dollar will be a heavy economic
burden for the people of Bam as they struggle to put
their lives back together. Whether there is any spare
investment to rebuild the citadel remains to be seen.
“It would be very difficult and costly to reconstruct
it,” said Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, editor of Iran and a
curator at the British Museum. “It’s a terrible
shame, though the human cost is of course far greater.
The damage is so great I don’t know whether they can
Scores of people gathered at the walls of the citadel
that remain standing yesterday, although they are now
full of cracks and holes. Reza Husseini, 25, an
archaeology student, wept at the site. “My grief is
twofold ... I’ve lost two members of my family, and
I’ve lost my history, my citadel.”
: Sunday Herald
is the Light on the Path to Future"
British Institute of Persian Studies