The Loss of the Citadel in Bam Is Tragic

Borzou Daragahi, writing in Newsday (Dec. 30, 2003):

Painstakingly restored and maintained by successive Iranian governments since 1958, the citadel at Bam was one of the most important archaeological sites in Iran and a popular tourist attraction.

Its collapse in a powerful earthquake Friday dismayed archaeologists and conservation specialists, in particular.

"It's a cultural catastrophe," said Iraj Afshar Sistani, a Tehran historian and author. "This historical city constituted one of the wonders of Iran 's heritage."

Masserat Amir-Ebrahimi, a Tehran cultural expert, likened the loss of the citadel to the 2001 demolition of the giant Buddha statues in central Afghanistan by the hard-line Taliban regime.

The impressive reddish-gray castle compound, made of sun-dried mud bricks, palm-tree trunks and straw, was the greatest mud-brick structure in the world, dominating the Kavir Desert in southeast Iran , an arid and mountainous area near the Afghan and Pakistan borders. Tens of thousands of people visited each year, including one American who reportedly died in the quake.

At least 2,000 years old, the citadel of Bam has been subject to countless invasions during its history and was completely sacked on several occasions.

Part of a major trade route, Bam became one of the first places in Iran to adopt Islam. Its Zoroastrian inhabitants built the first mosques found in Iran , said Bernard Hourcade, a geographer and Iran specialist at Paris ' National Research Center .

The citadel was abandoned by its inhabitants in 1722 following an Afghan invasion of Iran . It was thus spared the burdens of modernization and preserved as an archaeological treasure.

"It's like a city frozen in time that gives the perfect picture of ancient cities of the old Iranian plateau," said Remy Boucharlat, an archaeologist at the University of Lyon, France, specializing in Iran.

Spread out over four square miles, the old city of Bam was perched on a 200-foot-high rock and dominated by 38 towers, some rising as high as 120 feet. Four walls protected the city from potential invaders.

Bam was a perfectly preserved specimen of an ancient fortress city, Boucharlat said. It included high walls, residential quarters and administrative buildings on a natural hill, streets, several mosques, bathhouses and windtowers.

"In short," Boucharlat said, "it's a true lesson in architecture."

Over the past two decades, the oasis town that developed around the ancient citadel has struggled to house and employ a new generation of young Iranians, and its identity as an archaeological city has been partly eclipsed by a growth in manufacturing jobs and a plan to turn the area into a tax-free trade zone to lure foreign investment. Daewoo, a Korean car manufacturer, has set up a car-seat factory there.

Migrant workers from the countryside and from Afghanistan flocked to the city, boosting the population of the sleepy village - which had no more than 13,000 inhabitants during its medieval peak - to nearly 80,000 in the city and 100,000 in the outlying areas.

With the ancient citadel leveled, global cultural experts have already begun planning for its possible restoration.

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Peter Hickson - 1/11/2004

Amidst the tragic loss of life, politics, blame and relief efforts there is room for articles like this too. I wish I had seen the city and hope it is well recorded and is rebuilt.
I would love to have access to photos and details of the Citadel and to be allowed to submit these and your article to the Earth Building Association of Australias quarterly newsletter Dirt which is mailed to our 75 members.
Peter Hickson, Mud brick builder, member EBAA

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