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An Ancient Citadel in Ruins


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Elamite Period

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 03 January 2004



The 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 reconstruct it.”

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.”


Source : Sunday Herald



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