Our group stopped in Abarkooh on our way from Eghlid to the caravan-serai at Zein-o-din. From the description, it didn’t sound like much. According to our trip notes: “Abarkooh is (a historical town) located in the desert valley beneath the Zagros Mountains.” Things we would see there? An ice house and an old mansion. After exploring the ruins of Persepolis and the beautiful Nasir al-Mulk Mosque in Shiraz, I didn’t have high expectations. As it turns out, I was in for quite the treat.
Our first stop was the ice house. Something about desert and ice house don’t go together all that well, but the Persians of the 18th century certainly liked their cool treats. What I would’ve assumed was a Zoroastrian Tower of Silence (I hadn’t seen one yet, at this point) was, in fact, the ice house.
The people of Abarkooh dug canals which they used to trap water during the winter months. On cold nights, the water would freeze, allowing it to be chopped into blocks and stored in the ice house. Hollow and dug out well below ground level, the house’s domed design draws heat up and away, allowing the ice to remain frozen even in the scorching summer months.
Our next stop was an ancient tree, Sarv-e Abarkooh. According to locals, the old sentinel is about 4,500 years old and is assumed to be the 2nd oldest (non-clonal) tree in the world.
After walking around the tree at a respectful distance, we wandered through a warren of dirt streets towards our next stop. Wattle and daub buildings lined the sidewalks, with pomegranate trees and vines growing in the courtyards.
Our final stop was the magnificent Agha-Zadeh, an old mansion owned by an 18th century mullah. As we were entering, Yasna directed our attention to the metal door knockers. They were different shapes: one was a ring and the other a long, thin block. Women were required to use one knocker and men the other, allowing the host (or hostess, more likely) to make themselves decent for whichever gender of visitor they were about to greet. Can you guess who used which knocker?
The mansion was huge, consisting of two parts: one for the mullah and his family, and the other for his guests. Each section consisted of a beautiful courtyard surrounded by pillars and a multi-level dwelling.
Atop each was an open roof crowned with domes and badgirs (that’s bad + geres, not badgers!)–an ancient means of air conditioning. The large, hollow towers have vents designed to catch gusts of hot desert air and funnel them down to water brought in via underground canals–known as qanat. The subterranean water cools the air, which is then circulated by way of the rounded domes on top of the house. This air-conditioning system provides a welcome respite from the blistering summer days. Ingenious. Agha-Zadeh has some of the biggest badgirs in Iran.
…I found a spot on the roof and sat. Surrounded by a dusty town–the top of which was studded with badgirs and the domed tops of mosques–with the mountains behind, I enjoyed the relative absence of traffic noise. The dry wind played across my skin, followed by an accompanying shiver as the call to prayer rang out over loudspeakers. This… this was what I had come for.