Arg-e- Bam: The Oldest and Largest Mud House in the World

Mira Pawar

Mira Pawar

Mira is is an avid traveler and loves writing travelogues.
Mira Pawar

The mud house, Arg-e Bam, is built on about 44 acres of land. The origin of the UNESCO World Heritage site, on the strategic Silk Route, might be traced back to the Achaemenid period, 6th to 4th century BC. The earthquake in 2003 killed about 26,000 people, the Bam city was adversely affected. Its restoration has been on for the past eleven years and is likely to be completed by the year 2017. Here’s an in-depth report by Mira on the occasion of Parsi New Year in Different Truths.

There was a time when mud houses were considered sturdy. These lasted for thousands of years, although many wouldn’t agree to this fact, comparing these to the buildings raised today.

Mud houses are made purely of mud bricks. These mud bricks are prepared from loam, mud, sand and water, mixed with rice husks or straw for binding purpose. These are then dried in sun before constructing the mud houses. In the good old days, there has been mention of mud houses in Spain, Mexico, Syria, Ghana, Yemen, Israel and Timbuktu. But, the mud house in Iran, the land of Zarathushtra, is the most remarkable of all.

It is claimed to be the longest and oldest mud house in the world. It is Arg-e- Bam occupying about 44 acres of land. It is located in Bam city on the southern edge of the Iranian high plateau in Kerman Province, south-eastern Iran, which is very close to the Pakistan border. Bam city is situated more than 1000 meters above sea level in the centre of the valley surrounded by the Kafut Mountains in the north and Jabal-e Barez Mounts in the south. This mud architectural construction has been traced back to the Parthian Empire (248 BC – 224 AD), practically 2,000 years ago. Most of the construction is believed to have been built during the Safavid dynasty. It is believed that the city was abandoned during an invasion by the Afghans, in 1722, but gradually it was re-established. Unfortunately, there was another attack, this time by the invaders from Shiraz.

Wind tower on in the mud house. Pic: Mira Pawar

The enormous mud house Arg-e- Bam consists of the governor’s residence besides the fortified residential areas. It was located in the center of the Bam city for security reasons. Arge-e- Bam was constructed with non-baked clay bricks. Inside the castle there were barracks, mills, houses, water wells and stables for horses. The areas that surrounded the castle had a main entrance to the city and the bazaar besides 400 houses, schools and sports buildings. Arg-e- Bam had 38 watchtowers, four entrance gates and outer defense wall surrounded by moat. The government quarters were on a rocky hill, protected by a double fortification wall for security purposes. The most notable structures in Bam are the bazaar, the Congregational Mosque, the Mirza Na’im ensemble and the Mir House. Outside the citadel, there are other historic structures like Qal’eh Dokhtar (7 th century), Emamzadeh Zeyd Mausoleum (11-12 century) and Emamzadeh Asiri Mausoleum (12th century).

Pic: Mira Pawar

The origin of Arg-e- Bam citadel on the Silk Road may be traced back to the Achaemenid period, 6th to 4th century BC. For centuries Bam had a strategic location on the silk roads connecting it to Central Asia in the East, Persian Gulf in the South and also Egypt in the West. The heydays of the citadel was from the 7 th to the 11the century BC being at the crossroads of important trade routes and known for the production of silk and cotton garments.

 

It is believed that in the good old days when the gates of the city were close, no human or animal could enter inside the Bam citadel. The inhabitants could continue living inside the citadel for a long period of time in isolation as they had access to wells, gardens and domestic animals. In case the fortress-city was besieged, the inhabitants could remain in the city while the soldiers defended the citadel protected by high walls and towers. Bam is located in an oasis area, the existence of which has been based on the use of underground water canals (qanat system) and has preserved evidence of the technological development in the building and maintenance of the qanats for over two millennia.

Besides the watch towers, the wind-towers were another important feature of this citadel. These wind towers, called Badgir, in Persian functioned as the air conditioners. On the top of the high wall and roofs of the citadel, a structure is build which protrudes from the building to catch the wind and direct it inside the building. The wind passes over a water basin in the building to cool the surrounding. Different kinds of Badgir were used for different buildings. For bigger buildings a four-directional wind tower was used so it could catch wind from four directions and direct it inside. For smaller buildings one wind tower was adequate.

This prominent mud house with such amazing features had to go through a dreadful phase as a result of the earthquake, in 2003, killing at least 26,000 people. Bam city was very badly affected and the governor’s residence in the Citadel suffered severe damages in various sections.

Most of the damages were gradually restored by following the use of traditional pattern, technique and material. It is, however, believed that much of the lost fabric due to the earthquake was from modern restorations and not the original construction.

Bam and its cultural landscape have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is protected since 1945 under Iranian national legislation. Illegal excavations are prohibited in Iran. The main management authority is the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO), an independent directorate that collaborates with other national and local authorities and follows a program that is regularly updated. As a World Heritage Site, several countries like Japan, Italy and France had contributed towards the reconstruction of the city after the earthquake. Besides funding, Italy is believed to have dispatched a team of experts to restore the citadel’s main tower. France has provided the map of Bam Citadel. The World Bank has also granted large sum of money to this project.

The restoration work at Arg- e-Bam is going on for the past eleven years and the authorities claim that most likely the entire restoration work should be completed by the year 2017. At present 25 experts are working on the restoration of the Citadel and another 125 are working in other section to restore objects and monuments. Bam Citadel has been turned into a research center for researchers and graduates in the field of archeology and restoration of historical objects.

©Mira Pawar

Pix by author and from Net.