Seb castle in Southeast Iran

The province of Sistan-Baluchestan Province (Sistan is the northern part with Baluchestan the southern portion) is one of Iran’s driest regions.  The province’s coastal areas are distinctly humid with some increase in rainfall coming in from the east towards the west. This region is an ancient crossroads that has linked the civilizations the Indus Valley with those of West Asia.

Seb Castle (situated in a village also named “Seb“) was a key military stronghold during the Qajar dynasty (1789-1925), vital for observation of Iran’s southeast borderlands. The origins of the castle however may date back to the Safavid dynasty (1501-1736), or possibly earlier.

Seb Castle stands at a height of 23 meters, and is a key tourist attraction in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province (Source: Historical Iran).

Built of clay and mortar Seb castle is noticeably robust. It’s builders also used a local plant seed with adhesive qualities to further enhance its architectural resilience. In a sense, the builders had studied local foliage to see which of these would make the best (and long-lasting) cement.

Seb is believed to have been renovated (a minimum of) three times over time, alongside other intermittent additions to the structure (Source: Historical Iran).

Another unique architectural innovation used by the builders of Seb castle was the use of palm trees. Specifically, slabs of wood were cut according to architectural specifications to further strengthen the castle’s structure. The palm tree wood helps absorb  the local ground’s low-level seismic vibration activity. This has done much to prevent the structure from gradually deteriorating over time, and collapsing.

Seb’s primary structure stands on the top of a short rocky cliff (Source: Tehran Times). This freed the architects from having to construct a base-foundation for the castle. 

Despite its relatively small size, Seb Castle by the Qajar era had become a strategic location and was used as a base to help govern towns such as Paskooh, Gasht, Zaboli and Soran. The castle for example, had been used as base for Qajar armies in 1878 to maintain the central government’s authority in the region.

A View of the interior of Seb castle (Source: Historical Iran). Seb Castle’s rectangular base measures at 36 x 25 meters.

UNESCO: Takht-e Soleiman

The article below on Takht-e Soleyman (or Takht-e Suleiman) is by UNESCO. Kindly note that except one photo, all other images and accompanying captions do not appear in the UNESCO posting.

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The archaeological site of Takht-e Soleyman, in north-western Iran, is situated in a valley set in a volcanic mountain region. The site includes the principal Zoroastrian sanctuary partly rebuilt in the Ilkhanid (Mongol) period (13th century) as well as a temple of the Sasanian period (6th and 7th centuries) dedicated to Anahita.

One of the structures at Takhte Suleiman (Picture Source: World Historia).

The site has important symbolic significance. The designs of the fire temple, the palace and the general layout have strongly influenced the development of Islamic architecture.

Brief Synthesis

The archaeological ensemble called Takht-e Soleyman (“Throne of Solomon”) is situated on a remote plain surrounded by mountains in northwestern Iran’s West Azerbaijan province. The site has strong symbolic and spiritual significance related to fire and water – the principal reason for its occupation from ancient times – and stands as an exceptional testimony of the continuation of a cult related to fire and water over a period of some 2,500 years. Located here, in a harmonious composition inspired by its natural setting, are the remains of an exceptional ensemble of royal architecture of Persia’s Sasanian dynasty (3rd to 7th centuries). Integrated with the palatial architecture is an outstanding example of Zoroastrian sanctuary; this composition at Takht-e Soleyman can be considered an important prototype.

An excellent overview of the site of the site of Ādur-Gushnasp or Shiz (modern-day Takhte Suleiman) (Picture Source: Iran Atlas). The Ādur-Gushnasp sacred fire was dedicated to the Arteshtaran (Elite warriors) of the Sassanian Spah (Modern Persian: Sepah = Army).  

An artesian lake and a volcano are essential elements of Takht-e Soleyman. At the site’s heart is a fortified oval platform rising about 60 metres above the surrounding plain and measuring about 350 m by 550 m. On this platform are an artesian lake, a Zoroastrian fire temple, a temple dedicated to Anahita (the divinity of the waters), and a Sasanian royal sanctuary. This site was destroyed at the end of the Sasanian era, but was revived and partly rebuilt in the 13th century. About three kilometres west is an ancient volcano, Zendan-e Soleyman, which rises about 100 m above its surroundings. At its summit are the remains of shrines and temples dating from the first millennium BC.

Takht-e Soleyman was the principal sanctuary and foremost site of Zoroastrianism, the Sasanian state religion. This early monotheistic faith has had an important influence on Islam and Christianity; likewise, the designs of the fire temple and the royal palace, and the site’s general layout, had a strong influence on the development of religious architecture in the Islamic period, and became a major architectural reference for other cultures in both the East and the West. The site also has many important symbolic relationships, being associated with beliefs much older than Zoroastrianism as well as with significant biblical figures and legends.

The 10-ha property also includes Tepe Majid, an archaeological mound culturally related to Zendan-e Soleyman; the mountain to the east of Takht-e Soleyman that served as quarry for the site; and Belqeis Mountain 7.5 km to the northeast, on which are the remains of a Sasanian-era citadel. The archaeological heritage of the Takht-e Soleyman ensemble is further enriched by the Sasanian town (which has not yet been excavated) located in the 7,438-ha landscape buffer zones.

A reconstruction of the late Sassanians at Ādur Gušnasp or Shiz (Takht e Suleiman in Azarbaijan, northwest Iran) by Kaveh Farrokh (painting by the late Angus Mcbride) in Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-. To the left rides a chief Mobed (a top-ranking Zoroastrain priest or Magus), General Shahrbaraz (lit. “Boar of the realm”) is situated in the center and Queen Boran (Poorandokht) leads to the right.

  • Criterion (i):Takht-e Soleyman is an outstanding ensemble of royal architecture, joining the principal architectural elements created by the Sassanians in a harmonious composition inspired by their natural context.
  • Criterion (ii):The composition and the architectural elements created by the Sassanians at Takht-e Soleyman have had strong influence not only in the development of religious architecture in the Islamic period, but also in other cultures.
  • Criterion (iii):The ensemble of Takht-e Soleyman is an exceptional testimony of the continuation of cult related to fire and water over a period of some two and half millennia. The archaeological heritage of the site is further enriched by the Sassanian town, which is still to be excavated.
  • Criterion (iv):Takht-e Soleyman represents an outstanding example of Zoroastrian sanctuary, integrated with Sasanian palatial architecture within a composition, which can be seen as a prototype.
  • Criterion (vi): As the principal Zoroastrian sanctuary, Takht-e Soleyman is the foremost site associated with one of the early monotheistic religions of the world. The site has many important symbolic relationships, being also a testimony of the association of the ancient beliefs, much earlier than the Zoroastrianism, as well as in its association with significant biblical figures and legends.

Integrity

Within the boundaries of the property are located the known elements and components necessary to express the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, including the lake and the volcano, archaeological remains related to the Zoroastrian sanctuary, and archaeological remains related to the royal architecture of the Sassanian dynasty. Masonry rooftops have collapsed in some areas, but the configurations and functions of the buildings remain evident.

One of the archways at Ādur-Gushnasp (Picture Source: World Historia).

The region’s climate, particularly the long rainy season and extreme temperature variations, as well as seismic action represent the major threats to the integrity of the original stone and masonry materials. Potential risks in the future include development pressures and the construction of visitor facilities in the buffer zones around the sites. Furthermore, there is potential conflict between the interests of the farmers and archaeologists, particularly in the event that excavations are undertaken in the valley fields.

Authenticity

The Takht-e Soleyman archaeological ensemble is authentic in terms of its forms and design, materials and substance, and location and setting, as well as, to a degree, the use and the spirit of the fire temple. Excavated only recently, the archaeological property’s restorations and reconstructions are relatively limited so far: a section of the outer wall near the southern entrance has been rebuilt, using for the most part original stones recovered from the fallen remains; and part of the brick vaults of the palace structures have been rebuilt using modern brick but in the same pattern as the original. As a whole, these interventions can be seen as necessary, and do not compromise the authenticity of the property, which retains its historic ruin aspect. The ancient fire temple still serves pilgrims performing Zoroastrian ceremonies.

The Gahanbar ceremony at the Azargoshasb Fire Temple. After the prayers are concluded, a “Damavaz” (a ceremony participants) holds aloft the censer containing fire and incense in his hand to pass around the congregation. As this is done, the Damavaz repeats the Avesta term “Hamazour” (translation: Let us unite in good deeds). Participants first move their hands over the fire and then over their faces: this symbolizes their ambition to unite in good works and the spread of righteousness (Photo Source: Sima Mehrazar).

Protection and Management requirements

Takht-e Soleyman was inscribed on the national heritage list of Iran in 1931, and it is subject to legal protection under the Law on the Protection of National Treasures (1930, updated 1998) and the Law of the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization Charter (n. 3487-Qaf, 1988). The inscribed World Heritage property, which is owned by the Government of Iran, is under the legal protection and management of the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (which is administered and funded by the Government of Iran). Acting on its behalf, Takht-e Soleyman World Heritage Base is responsible for implementation of the archaeology, conservation, tourism, and education programs, and for site management. These activities are funded by the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, as well as by occasional international support. The current management plan, prepared in 2010, organizes managerial strategies and activities over a 15-year period.

An excellent view of the edge of the lake at Ādur-Gushnasp (Photo Source: Public Domain).

Sustaining the Outstanding Universal Value of the property over time will require continuing periodic on-site observations to determine whether the climate or other factors will lead to a negative impact on the Outstanding Universal Value, integrity or authenticity of the property; and employing internationally recognized scientific standards and techniques to properly safeguard the monuments when undertaking stabilization, conservation, or restoration projects intended to address such negative impacts.

UNESCO: Sassanian Archaeological Landscape of the Fars Region

In a report provided by UNESCO on Jul, 2, 2018, eight Sassanian archaeological sites have been officially identified as heritage sites. These are located in three geographical regions in Iran’s Fars Province: Firuzabad, Bishapur and Sarvestan.

Aerial view of Ardashir’s Firuzabad palace. Note circular pattern for defense and town planning (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog).

These UNESCO sites are Sassanian fortified structures, palaces, as well as city plans. These are chronologically dated from the early to late Sassanian eras (224-651 CE).

These sites include the original capital of Ardashir Papakan (founder of the Sassanian dynasty), as well as the city and architectural structures of his son and successor, Shapur I.

Structures at the site of Shapur I’s palace at Bishapur (Photo: Pentocelo in situ [Bishapur, Iran] April, 2006).

As averred further by UNESCO:

The archaeologic landscape reflects the optimized utilization of natural topography and bears witness to the influence of Achaemenid and Parthian cultural traditions and of Roman art, which had a significant impact on the architecture and artistic styles of the Islamic era.

Photos of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian Fire Temple) in Tbilisi, Georgia

The photos of the Zoroastrian fire temple or Atashgah of Tbilisi in Georgia were provided to kavehfarrokh.com in late 2017 by Dr. Nader Gohari of Durham University, who is an avid researcher and scholar of Iranian Studies.

Panoramic view of the interior of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

Georgia, like ancient Albania (known as Republic of Azerbaijan since May 27, 1918) and Armenia have stood at the crossroads between Anatolia, the civilizations of ancient Persia or Iran and Eastern Europe.

[A, C] Views of the stairway of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi; [B] Plaque at wall to right of bottom stairway providing a short history of the Atashgah and its protected status as a heritage site by the Georgian government (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

Alongside the impact of the major Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), the Caucasus continues to bear a strong ancient Iranian imprint as witnessed for example by the Kurdish Yezidis who live in both Georgia and Armenia to this day.

Concave structure at one of the top corners of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

As noted by the late British historian Mark Whittow (1957-2017) who taught as a professor at Oxford University:

The oldest outside influence in Trans-Caucasia is that of Persia…many of its populations, including Armenians and Georgians, as well as Persians and Kurds, the Transcaucasus had much closer ties with the former Sassanian world to its south and east than with the world to the west” [1996, pages 203-204; Whittow, M. (1996). The Making of Byzantium: 600-1025. Berkley: University of California Press].

Despite the conversion of Georgia to Christianity in the 4th century CE, Zoroastrianism continued to endure in local culture of the region. Officially, it was King Mirian (Persian: Mehran) who converted to Christianity in 337 CE. Despite this, the name “Ohrmazd” (Ahura Mazda) continued to be invoked by the local peasantry who referred to their deity as “Armazi”.

Platform providing access into the the interior of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

The Locals of ancient Georgia are believed to have provided offerings to Aramzi or Ohrmazd in a locale in close proximity to what is identified as “Bridge of the Magi” (Lang, 1956, pages 22-23; “St. Nino and the Conversion of Georgia,” Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints, translated by D.M. Lang (1956), London: Allen & Unwin).

Mock-up view of the interior of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).