Mount Khwaja, Eyewitness to Iranian History

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Tamara Ebrahimpour

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Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan Province is steeped in ancient history datable to over 5000 years and boasts of the most significant archeological and historical sites in the country.

The Sistan region has long been a prosperous land where the Bountiful Nature had made it a great site for social and political communities to flourish.

One of the most famous sites in the region is the Khwaja Mountain located some 30 kilometers southwest of the city of Zabol in the southeastern region of Iran.

The flat-topped black basalt mountain is known as the largest unbaked mud construction and the only natural heights remaining in the area.

Situated 609 meters from sea level, Khwaja Mountain contains some of the most remarkable relics of the Parthian, Sassanid and Islamic eras.

The mountain houses a palace, a fire temple, a Buddhist monastery, a group of small temples, a graveyard and a pilgrimage center which has given its name to the site.

The Khwaja Mehdi Mausoleum houses the tomb of Khwaja Mehdi-ibn-Mohammad Khalifa, a descendent of the first Shia Imam, Imam Ali (AS) and attracts streams of pilgrims during religious festivals.

The mausoleum is also known among locals as the Rolling Mausoleum, where the faithful may have their wishes granted by lying down in front of the structure and thinking solely of Khwaja Mehdi. It is believed that their wishes will be granted only if they become ecstatic and start rolling on the ground.

The Mount Khwaja Complex was first identified by British archaeologist A. Stein in 1916 and later excavated by German archaeologist E. Herzfeld.

Some 11 monuments were also unearthed at the site by the former provincial Cultural Heritage Department in 1991.

The Buddhist monastery at Mount Khwaja was uncovered by Stein in 1916, developing the theory that Buddhism originated in Iran and later nurtured in modern India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Herzfeld's findings also indicated that the palace and the fire temple existed during the Parthian era and that the ruins of the southern slope, known as Kuk-u Kohzad, date back to the 1st century BCE.

The diverse architectural decorations used in the complex show the significance of the site throughout different historical periods.

Traces of Greek architecture can be seen in some of the mountain's castles, while the lotus flower patterns conjure up the Achaemenid art.

The oldest structure found at the site is a Parthian fortress on the mountain's eastern slope, which is known by different names such as Rostam's castle, the Kaferun castle and Kohan Dezh.

The fortress bears Sassanid bas-reliefs depicting three horse-riders. Studies have also found traces of reliefs inscribed after Sassanid soldiers conquered the fortress.

Archeologists have also found a mural painting on Mount Khwaja, depicting three clerics, the God of Victory on a horse, and a Parthian king along with his queen and dignitaries.

Another sacred place at Mount Khwaja is the Roasted Wheat Mausoleum, which people visit during the Persian New Year festival (Nowruz) to offer roasted wheat for a bumper harvest in the coming year.

Residents of Zabol welcome the New Year with the traditional Panjak ceremony held during the last five days of the year at Mount Khwaja.

Nowruz ceremonies in the region include performing folk music, songs and traditional sword dancing as well as rituals inspired by Zoroastrianism, such as lighting fires on the last Thursday night of the year.

Khwaja Mountain is also greatly respected by the followers of the two ancient faiths of Christianity and Zoroastrianism.

Zoroastrian mythologies have it that the Lake Hamun - which lies at the foot of the mountain - is where the 'final savior' of mankind, Saoshyant, will be born.

To Christians, the significance of the complex lies in the belief that it is where the three magi, or wise men, from the East saw the Star of Bethlehem, the light emanating from Jesus Christ upon his birth, and went to find him and acknowledge their faith.

The Magi, named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, are said to have offered gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to honor the newborn Jesus.

Khwaja Mountain is only one of the numerous ancient sites in the region of Sistan.

The 5000-year-old Burnt City, a relic of one of the greatest civilizations of the ancient world, is also one of the dazzling sites located near the city of Zabol, spanning an area of over 300,000 hectares.

Four civilizations have lived in the city which was burnt down three times and not rebuilt after the last fire.

The world's oldest animated picture, dice and backgammon set, the earliest known caraway seed and artificial eyeball have all been found in the Burnt City.

Source: Press TV

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