Yazd – Adobe, Wind Towers, Qanats and Tesco

More from our Iran Life trip. Let’s start with a couple of general views of the old city (photos are mostly mine with a few wiki-commons and photos of photos mixed in – the interesting effect is due to using the camera in stealth mode) salvaged from the wreckage of Archers of Okçular and first posted May 2014:



Yazd is ancient and unique! It has been continuously occupied for more than 3000 years and its remote, desert location has served it well leaving it largely untouched by the ebb and flow of kings and empires. With the rise of Islam in Persia, Yazd became a refuge for Zoroastrians and by paying a levy they, their religion and their places of worship were left alone. Islam has only become dominant here in more recent times.

The city is one of the largest in the world to be built of adobe with even new constructions being clad in this durable, eye-pleasing material. Situated at the heart of the Dasht-e-Kavir desert, Yazd has thrived by the skill and ingenuity of its architects and engineers. Architects who developed the world’s first air conditioning/refrigeration system known as wind towers and engineers who created the amazing qanats, an underground system of countless hundreds of miles of canals that bring and distribute vast quantities of water from the mountain water tables. These techniques, discovered and perfected in Yazd, have been exported worldwide.

The towers are capable of drawing air down over a fountain of cooling water or drawing air through the underground qanats into the basement and then upwards to cool the entire house. They are used to keep glacial ice from the mountains and maintain subterranean water reservoirs at near freezing throughout the summer. The ‘sticks’ you can see are an ancient form of earthquake-proofing for the structures.

probably the world’s tallest wind tower at Dolatabad Gardens
underground water cistern cooled by wind towers
J with friends and wind towers

Which leads us nicely to the qanats. Developed in Persia and perfected by Yazdi engineers some 3000 years ago they consist of a series of vertical shafts connected by a gently sloping tunnel system that taps into the water tables at the base of mountains. Water is often delivered from hundreds of miles away, feeding villages and towns in a strictly controlled and regulated way that has lasted for millennia. J remembers well (pun intended) seeing these strange circles across the desert as she flew down to Persepolis for a gig just before the revolution that overthrew the Shah.


qanat tunnel – in the tunnels feeding the desert towns the flow is often prodigious

The Water Museum in Yazd will give you a great insight into the construction and sheer scale of this amazing system – even the National Museum gardens in Tehran are fed by a qanat! Here is a photo from their exhibition of a windlass being used for moving both people and spoil.


qanat-cooled canoodling room underneath our restaurant

Finally a few random pics from the two days we were in Yazd:

old door with knockers for men and women (this is true, I promise)
the ‘lady-shaped’ knocker
the ‘man-shaped’ knocker (looks like it’s got a limp to me)
OK! I admit I have a thing about knockers – this one is for tall people of either sex!
a Boffer, his squeeze and a chipped mug
sugar loaves
another stunning bathroom tile job!
still life
a very still life

Finally, finally, if they don’t do something about this it will kill off the town centre shops (taken on the road just outside Yazd)


Alan in Okçular

Iran Life – Yazd, Towers Of Silence

yazdEvery journey begins with the first step – or words to that effect. So said Confuse Us a smart Chinese guy from the Lu dynasty about 450BCE. With that in mind we took our first ‘steps’ right over a couple of mature, laid-back Istanbul street dogs of our acquaintance. As we did so we whispered a quick ‘Thanks, SDs’ for the info that gave us the push we needed to get on with this particular ‘trip-of-a-lifetime’. That said, with so much to cover, where to begin? The toss of a coin, and the ancient desert city of Yazd it is – which suits very well because it was one of our must see places.

yazd2Our young friends from Tehran, who we first met in Istanbul, met up with us here and we spent a brilliant couple of days together exploring the city. (l-r guide Feraidoon, Siavash, Bahman, Shardi and J)

Yazd has been around for a very long time – sustained and made tolerable by life-bringing qanats and cooling wind towers, of which, more later. Often referred to as the longest permanently occupied place on Earth (a claim that Damascus might dispute), there are some who say it has been occupied for more than 3000 years – others 6000. Whatever, it was and still is the beating heart of Zoroastrianism – fire worshippers who revere the four elements. These days they are not allowed to leave their dead out on the Towers of Silence for the vultures to pick-over, they are buried in concrete lined graves to avoid any contamination of the earth, air, fire or water.

Zoroastrian Fire Temple and Eternal Flame

eternal-flame-yazd_1It is claimed that this fire has burned continuously since 720CE – Zoroastrians make up a significant minority of the Iranian population at around 5-10%. They, along with Jews and Christians are recognised religious minorities who are free to carry on their faith unmolested.

Zoroastrianism was a major influence that lay at the heart of the once mighty Sasanian Empire that spread from India in the east to Egypt and Turkey in the west between 224-652CE. It was the last Iranian empire before the advent of Islam. Two of the Towers of Silence, open to tourism, can be found on the edge of the city together with the modern Zoroastrian cemetery.



At the top of the towers there is a flat area with a stone-lined pit all surrounded by a high wall to prevent contamination of earth and wind. Here the bodies were laid out for the birds of the air to consume before the bones were dissolved. All was dealt with by a dedicated ‘volunteer’ who never left the place for fear of ‘dirtying’ the elements or people outside. An early example of a ‘job for life’! It is an eerie, other-worldly place.

view from the top – the complex and modern cemetery with Yazd in the background

On the subject of religion, which looms large in this country, we learned that there are only three calls to prayer for Shi’ite Muslims (dawn, noon, dusk). The calls are gentle and pleasing on the ear (compared to the raucus, over-amplified bellowings from mosques in Turkey) but are all-pervasive and can be heard everywhere including the metro! Religious texts are plastered everywhere in towns and cities – a sort of in-your-face subliminal indoctrination.

I could go on, but let’s bring this post to a close with a view of the magnificent Amir Chakmaq Square and Mosque. More about this fascinating ancient city soon.


Alan in Okçular

ps there are still problems with WP after they made yet another version upgrade – I’d have loved to give you some links to the content but at least the photos are here. Onwards and upwards!