Arg-é Bam, Bam Citadel

Tuesday, March 17, 2009
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The Arg-é Bam was the largest adobe building in the world, located in Bam, a city in the Kerman province of southeastern Iran. It is listed by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage Site "Bam and its Cultural Landscape". This enormous citadel on the Silk Road was built before 500 BC and remained in use until 1850 AD. It is not known for certain why it was then abandoned.

Bam, a small town by the famous Silk Road, is connected to the coast of the Persian Gulf. It was founded before the advent of Islam i.e. during the Parthian period and flourished to be a thriving city in the tenth century AD. Concerning the economy and trade the city was of great value and importance and most of the textiles and cloths produced in Bam had universal fame.

The ceiling of the central part was covered with a dome. The wind blows through the building because it is open from four sides. Of course besides the main construction, there were some other buildings, which were the rulers residence. All these buildings were ornamented with beautiful stucco and lattice windows. In the end, it is worth saying that Arg-e Bam is a unique, architectural construction, registered by UNESCO as cultural remains. It is the second splendid construction in the world, made of sun -dried bricks.

The entire building was a large fortress in whose heart the citadel itself was located, but because of the impressive look of the citadel, which forms the highest point, the entire fortress is named the Bam Citadel.

Larger than nearby Arg-é Rayen, the area of Bam Citadel is approximately 180,000 square meters, and it is surrounded by gigantic walls 6-7 metres high and 1815 metres long. The citadel features two of the "stay-awake towers" for which Bam is famed - there are as many as 67 such towers scattered across the ancient city of Bam.

The planning and architecture of the citadel are ingeniously thought out from different points of view.

From the present form of the citadel one can see that the planner(s) had foreseen the entire final form of the building and city from the first steps in the planning process. During each phase of building development the already-built part enjoyed a complete figure, and each additional part could be "sewn" into the existing section seamlessly.

The citadel is situated in the center of the fortress-city, on the point with widest view for security.

In the architectural form of Bam Citadel there are two different distinguishable parts:

•    The rulers' part in the most internal wall, holding the citadel, barracks, mill, 4-sezonan house, water-well (dug in the rocky earth and about 40 metres deep), and a stall for 200 horses.

•    The ruled-over part surrounding the rulers' place, consisting of the main entrance of the entire fortress-city and the bazaar alongside of the North-to-South spinal axis (which connects the main entrance to the citadel), and around 400 houses with their associated public buildings (such as a school and sport place).

Among the houses, three different types are recognizable:

•    Smaller houses with 2-3 rooms for the poor families.

•    Bigger houses with 3-4 rooms for the middle social class, some of which have also a veranda.

•    The most luxurious houses with more rooms oriented in different directions suitable for different seasons of the year, together with a big court and a stall for animals nearby. There are few of this type of houses in the fortress.

All buildings are made of non-baked clay bricks, i.e. adobes. Bam Citadel was probably, prior to the 2003 earthquake, the biggest adobe structure in the world.

When the gate of the city was closed, no human or animal could enter. The inhabitants could continue living for a long period of time in isolation as they had access to a well, gardens, and domestic animals inside. When the fortress-city was besieged the inhabitants could remain in the city while the soldiers could defend it, protected by high walls and towers.

Besides the watch towers and ornamented tops of the high walls on the skyline of the fortress, the wind-catchers or wind-towers are remarkable. They are structures protruding from the buildings to catch the wind and direct it into the buildings. Sometime the air is passed over a water basin in the building to cool it and remove dust. Different types of wind towers are utilized for different buildings. For example there are 4-directional wind-towers for larger and more important buildings, which are able to catch the wind from different directions, and there are one directional wind towers for smaller buildings.

There are two large towers, known as Bidar Bash towers, built within the interior fence, which involves the dais. There are also six small towers installed within the third fence. The sum of the towers in the whole ancient city, Bam, is 67 ones. Here we can get a clear idea of a traditional Islamic city, better than any other place in Iran, because it is preserved so that we can easily understand the main applications of different parts of any building. The design and architecture of the citadel, is very clever and leading so that it shows that it has been built in a certain period to let the parts be complete and cover each other. The citadel is located at the center of the city, which is the highest part.

According to one of the orientalist the fortifications of Bam is better than those of the most fortified cities. These fortifications include a very high place and now involve a high thick mud wall and a vast deep moat which is dry. A steep road leads us to the entrance gate of Bam. This gate has an octagonal form and some rooms for the guards. There is a view of the old city from the top of the tower. Arg is high above the entire city. The axis of the city, which is from north to south, lies between the gate and Arg and involves the very bazaar of the city with long rows of shops at both sides. There is also a large square opposite the gate of Arg. On the other side of the square, there is a caravansary, which attracts people’s attention. The building called Takye is an important construction in which special religious ceremonies were held. Mosques as symbols of Islamic cities also exist in this old city. Zurkhane (a kind of gymnasium) which is the symbol of ancient Iranian sports was of great importance in this city so that the remains are still completely apparent.   

The 2003 Earthquake in Bam destroyed more than 80 percent of the Citadel. As a World Heritage site several countries are cooperating in the reconstruction. Japan, Italy, and France are among countries which cooperated from the beginning. Japan has granted some 1,300,000 US dollars to Iran for the reconstruction, and has supported this project by sending equipment and creating the 3D plan of Bam Citadel to increase the accuracy of the renovation. Italy has funded 300,000 US dollars in the salvation project, and has dispatched a team of experts to restore the main tower of Bam. France has helped Iran by providing the map of Bam Citadel. World Bank has also granted a large sum of money to this project.

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