The Persian Qanat
The Persian Qanat is an ancient underground water mangement system used for irrigation in a desert climate. The system was communally managed. With the use of water clocks, a just and exact distribution among the shareholding farmers was ensured.
This serial site covers 11 still functioning qanats in central and eastern Iran.
Solivagant - May 2016
Before our Iran trip in Apr/May 2016 we had gained access via this Website to the “Executive Summary” for Iran’s nomination of “The Persian Qanat” (Its consideration by the 2016 WHC was of course still c2 months away). This document, which alone is 66 pages long, showed that the original T List definition for the “Qanats of Gonabad” had been significantly altered as per this Forum post.
But, even if the nomination were to be successful, we couldn’t of course be sure that all 11 nominated Qanats will get inscribed. So – which to visit? We decided to target the Qanats at Bam and Yazd.
But “how” does one actually visit a qanat?? Its very nature is as a narrow underground man-made water channel whose digging and maintenance is a dangerous job- all of which makes it unlikely “visit material”!!
The areas which were potentially to be inscribed encompass, for each Qanat
a. The “Mother Well”. This is usually deep underground since it accesses a source for the underground water. It is likely to be situated out in the country towards a mountainous area where some geological feature (sill or fault etc) has caused the underground run-off from the mountains to accumulate for “tapping”
b. The Course of the qanat – it appears that Iran has adopted the standard of nominating a 30m wide core area with the narrow tunnel underneath at its centre. This tunnel will descend very slowly gradually, getting closer to the surface along the course of the qanat as the land above also drops. Along this course will be numerous “access points”. In open country these will often be sandy mounds stretching out in a line. If you climb one of these you may see a gaping open hole/shaft (Our guide warned us to be careful of such access points since the sand in the mound around the shaft could be unstable) or, alternatively, a concrete “cap” which could be lifted to gain access – the qanat itelf could still be many meters below and require ropes etc for a descent. In towns many of the older houses will have direct access to the qanat via their own wells or steps. There are likely also to be occasional “public” access points both in the country and in the town where they will probably take the form of half domed structures covering steps leading down to water level.
c. The Exit point – by this time the qanat is going to be virtually at surface level and water will flow out into an open channel
d. An agricultural area which uses the run off water. The Executive Summary maps however show that these areas are often (always?) NOT included in the core area of the nomination but are relegated to the buffer zone or a separately described “Agricultural Demand Area”
So, in practice, that means looking for the main exit point, an accessible access point or an agricultural area which is to be included in the core!! Unless of course one is prepared to “count” as a “visit” merely having crossed/passed along the core line above ground!!
Our first search was for the Qanats of Ghasem Abad & Akbar Abad near Bam. These are situated a couple of kms south of the Arg just north of the village of Baravat. They are very short – with their core zones extending merely to 15ha each. It is noteworthy that these zones actually cross the core zone of the existing Bam inscription which extends south from the Arg to include the “fault area”. The Executive Summary justifies their inclusion for being - “… two young qanats of Bam which are extraordinary in discharge because of the roots of qanat in Baravat and Bam fault. Bam as a symbol of men’s victory over a hostile environment can also be considered as unique in his own case. The complex management of underground irrigation system in Bam leading to an unbelievable agricultural land use network in harmony with its built area.”
The photo in the Executive Summary on (PDF) page 6 of Ghasam Abad shows it as being situated far more “out in the desert” and remote from human habitation than it actually was – an example of an “old photo” being used??! The growing village of Baravat now seems largely to surround the entire line of the qanats. The exit points are situated within 10 metres of each other and are each marked by a notice in English. This was something of a surprise and may represent a part of Iran’s “nomination effort”! Gathered around the exits were a few kids and young men. The former were playing, splashing, and trying to catch little fish. One of the latter was washing his hair in the water! We asked what they knew about the possibility of a UNESCO nomination – “we had heard something some time ago but nothing seems to have happened” we were told! So much for “Community involvement”.
We followed the exit stream by having a short walk into the date palm groves which, in this case, do not seem to form part of the core zone. And that was it really. We then drove back along the line of the Qanat for a kilometre or so and reached another palm grove, at the edge of which was another notice stating that here was the “mother well” – but there seemed to be no access.
Our second Qanat “visit” was to that of Hasan Abad-e Moshir whose mother well starts south of the town of Mehriz and flows for over 40kms north into and through Yazd. Its core zone is 2759ha. One interesting aspect of its course is that it feeds Bagh-e Pavlanapour - one of the inscribed Persian Gardens. From the Executive Summary map it appears that the core zones of these 2 sites might actually touch each other. However, we had already seen 3 Persian Gardens and were due to see 3 more. We had also had a very long day and still had to get to Yazd so we gave up on the possible delights of another Persian Garden and followed the route of the Qanat south of Mehriz towards the mountains. Here we found a “public” access point where people could come and collect water. A notice in Farsi described it as being part of the Hasan Abad qanat. Steps led down around 4 metres to a rough hewn “cave” through which clear water flowed copiously. Whilst we were there, several cars drew up and their passengers filled a variety of plastic containers! Even our driver, who lived 40kms away in Yazd, where his water may well have been supplied by this very qanat joined in and got some “fresh” water. It appears that there was (and still is for those buildings which have direct access to the qanat) an entire social “etiquette” surrounding use of the shared water course within the towns such that e.g washing is only done on certain days!!
To fully appreciate the “Persian Qanat” you really need to visit the “Water Museum” in Yazd. Situated in an old mansion, it is interesting both in itself and for its fine explanations and displays. “Old fashioned” and dusty yes but who needs audio visual etc when simple displays and artefacts will do! The table top model with a “cut away” to show the course of a qanat from Mother Well to agricultural run-off both above and below ground, does the job perfectly adequately.
The museum’s additional relevance to the “Persian Qanat” nomination is that it situated directly above 2 qanats – one of which, the Zarch is Yazd’s second qanat nomination!! (see this pdf ) So, if you were so minded you could count a “museum visit” as a “Qanat visit”! In fact the qanat “on display” in the basement of the mansion is NOT the Zarch, whose location is only shown by a capping stone in the mansion’s patio. The Qanat Executive Summary isn’t clear about whether any, or if so, which, “above ground” features within towns are included in the Nomination so one must assume that the Water Museum is not included – except that it clearly sits within the “30m zone”! We may be able to discover more via the full Nomination File. The “Historical Structure of Yazd”, which will presumably include the water museum, is however due to be nominated by Iran for 2017. A busy couple of years for Yazd!! As for gaining access to the Zarch Qanat - I was unable to discover any location for the public to do so inside Yazd town – though this might of course change is it gets inscribed.
Which leaves me with the problem as to which photo to use to represent this not particularly photogenic site across more than one qanat (as insurance against the exclusion of any of them)! I have chosen a “picture package” of the sign board at Akbad Abad (as “proof” of visit!) plus the collection of water from a public access point for Hasan Abad, south of Mehriz.
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Full name: The Persian Qanat
2016 - InscribedReasons for inscription
2016 - Advisory Body overruledICOMOS proposed Deferral
2016 - RevisionOn T List as "Qanats of Gonabad"
The site has 11 locations. Show all
The site has 8 connections.
- Tunnels Qanats are constructed as a series of well-like vertical shafts, connected by gently sloping tunnels (wiki)
- Linear inscriptions Most of the inscribed sites consist of linear areas 30m either side of the tunnel.
- Built in the 4th century BC Qasabeh, Khorasan-e Razavi/Gonabad, dates from 3- 4 centuries BCE (AB ev)
- Kerman Hotspot Ghasem and Akbar Assad nr Bam
World Heritage Process
- Extended from original TWHS Only Gonabad qanat was originally proposed