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CAIS ARCHAEOLOGICAL & CULTURAL NEWS©

 

Subway, a Danger Lurking around Iran’s Historical Cities

 

16 August 2005

 

 

Urbanization, a virtue of modern world, usually turns out to be atrociously harmful when straining the historical context of ancient cities. But the trend is also inevitable as population growth turns small villages into towns, towns into cities, and cities into metropolises.

Once these gigantic urban societies are formed, they are unable to sustain unless provided with an intricate network of transportation roads, communication systems, sewage systems, etc of which a considerable part is necessarily constructed underground due to limited space available overhead, hygienic reasons …, and thus turning out to be even more harmful to historical context of ancient cities as compared to other aspects of urbanization.

However, as the trend is inevitable, either these constructions should be stopped and the undesirable consequences must be tackled in a different way, if possible at all, or experts have no other choice but to make the trend somehow compatible with the historical context to a possible and certain extent, though the dangers do not yet fade away completely.

For the same reason, subway transportation network may be considered as a predicament to growing historical cities as it may hurt their vulnerable and fragile context in different ways and endanger a part of their heritage and glory of the past, a danger which is now lurking around two of the prominent ancient cities of Iran, Isfahan and Shiraz in central and southern part of the country.

Besides the direct destruction of historical context which is comparatively a rare case, a creeping type of destruction is more usual in which tremors caused either by heavy equipments and machineries digging subway tunnels at the construction phase or by frequent traffic of underground trains in operating phase, will potentially cause irreversible damage to the historical context of old cities over a long period of time.

Unfortunately Isfahan has experienced such destructions so far, as officials of Isfahan underground project have recently admitted that under Baghe Hezar Jarib (1000-Acre Garden) district, they came across an old ceramic piping system which they failed to report to Isfahan Cultural Heritage department and as they ignored it to continue with their digging, the unearthed ceramic pipes were left to be destroyed.

Isfahan Cultural Heritage department has officially requested several times for subway excavation projects to be put under surveillance of a cultural heritage expert as a representative of the office. However, these requests are yet to be responded by officials of Isfahan underground project.

In its latest decision, Isfahan Underground Organization has planned for the line which connects the eastern part of the city to the west to pass just below Naghsh-e Jahan Square, a UNESCO world heritage site. The decision faced strong objections from Iran’s Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization and now is relegated to the country’s traffic high council to be decided upon.

To tackle the obstacles hindering Isfahan subway project, the organization in charge has altered some of the policies by opting for high-tech material and equipments to reduce the negative effects to minimum. Conforming to this policy, a new technique for shock absorbance is going to be implemented in constructing Isfahan underground line two, which passes north of Naghsh-e Jahan Square.

But it seems as if cultural heritage officials are not yet satisfied with the new policy as they are objecting to the second line project as well. They believe that besides causing harmful damage to historical buildings around the Square, this plan will lead to the total destruction of Keisarieh (Constantinople) Gate which is situated in the vicinity of the planned tunnel in northern extreme part of the Square.

The head of Isfahan Underground Organization, Seifolahi, noted that Isfahan underground project for the second line is right now in high council of traffic passing final stages before ratification, and indicated, “Layers of rubber are going to be used as shock absorbers.”

“This kind of rubber, which is imported from Switzerland, absorbs the shocks and prevents the vibrations to be transferred to structures nearby,” he added.

Seifolahi also explained about the reason they changed the course of the underground line which was to pass beneath Tchahar Bagh seminary in Isfahan and said, “In that case we were actually apprehensive that the seminary’s dome would be damaged, while Keisarieh gate is a light structure and thanks to its framing system there is no point in worrying about it being damaged.”

Meanwhile, Shiraz underground project, being in preliminary stages of research and study, is less controversial as compared to Isfahan’s.

Upon receiving an official letter from Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization describing Shiraz underground project as not accredited due to lack of professional expertise regarding cultural heritage, the body in charge of the project embarked on reconsidering the entire plan a while ago.

Confirming the probable dangers of the previous plan, Abdol-azim Amir Shah Karami, an official in charge of the project engineering supervision, said, “The examinations prove that the soil in areas where Shiraz historical context is situated is not firm enough and digging tunnels may result in serious damages to ancient structures in the area.”

Shiraz historical context, nearly a victim of the 22-kilometer-long underground railway, is one of the most important ones in the country, which covers an area of over 360 hectares. Vakil bazaar, historical public baths, old houses, and Karim Khan Citadel are among historical heritage sites of Shiraz located in this region. Historical context of Shiraz is consisted of buildings and structures dating back to Safavid, Zand, and Qajar dynasties.

 

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