Ancient Iranian Heritage Sites Suffer Flood Damage


Flash floods have inflicted $60 million worth of damages to ancient historic sites in 19 provinces since March, according to Vali Teymouri, the deputy director for tourism at the Iran Cultural Heritage, Handcraft and Tourism Organization (CHHTO).

“Arts and crafts studios in villages and small towns have sustained more than $35 million in damages,” Mr. Teymouri added. “Hotels and restaurants have also lost revenue. The country’s tourism industry experienced a 27 percent surge [in revenue] at the start of the Iranian New Year, Nowruz (March 21), but the number fell sharply after the flood.”

“Floodwaters have damaged hundreds of historic sites,” said CHHTO’s deputy director Mohammad Hassan Talebian. “We would need nearly $72 million to repair 730 historic sites in 25 provinces damaged by the flood. The provinces of Lorestan, Khuzestan, and Golestan have incurred $12 million, $11 million and $10 million in damages, respectively.”

According to Mr. Talebian, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has asked the CHHTO to assess the damages at these sites. A representative from UNESCO will travel to Khuzestan soon to assess the impact on various ancient buildings and structures.

A network of ancient 1,200-meter-long canals diverted most of the floodwaters and saved Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BC) in the southern province of Fars. However, persistent rain has damaged parts of Naqsh-e Rustam, a series of rock reliefs cut into a cliff and located about 12 kilometers northwest of Persepolis. UNESCO declared the ruins of Persepolis a World Heritage Site in 1979.

“The Pars-Pasargadae Research Foundation’s dredging project successfully excavated and cleared several canals in and around Takhte Jamshid between 2002 and 2014,” Talebian explained. “Unfortunately, torrential rains have increased the length and the width of a massive vertical crack in the Naqsh-e Rustam rock reliefs. The recent damage threatens to destroy the entire site, and therefore, needs our immediate attention.”

Floodwaters in Malayer, capital of the northwestern province of Hamadan, have severely damaged the Mir Fattah Ice Chamber, built during Qajar Dynasty (1789-1925). According to the CHHTO’s provincial office, the Hamadan prosecutor has launched an investigation into the causes of the damage.

Several historic homes in the city of Shushtar in the southern Province of Khuzestan have sustained extensive damage in the recent flood. Shushtar is also home to the Historical Hydraulic System, a sophisticated irrigation system dating back to the Sassanid era (224-651 AD), which has been on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites since 2009.

“Recent flooding has also washed away a large amount of surface soil to reveal ancient human remains and artifacts,” Mehdi Heydari, a board member of the friends of the Shushtar World Heritage said. “Many unlicensed operators have unfortunately been excavating these historic sites illegally.”

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City of Shushtar. Author: Hosein Hidalo.

This image is licensed under ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Mr. Heydari added: “We have been able to stop residents from removing dirt from ancient historical mounds to build floodwalls. We have also built flood barriers around the Susa Museum.”

Torrential rains have damaged sections of several walls of the Sassanid-era Falak-ol-Aflak Castle in the city of Khorramabad, capital of the southern province of Lorestan. Extensive damage threatens the structural integrity of the walls which could eventually crumble if neglected.

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Falak-ol-Aflak Castle. Author S.moradifard.

This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Many people canceled their Nowruz vacation plans because of the flood and also because of a sharp drop in the rial’s value against major foreign currencies. According to Maghsoud Asadi Samani, the secretary of the Association of Iranian Airlines, domestic and international flights during the Nowruz vacation break dropped by 20 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

Mr. Samani said: “The continued drop in the rial’s value reduced the overall number of people traveling abroad during the Nowruz by 32 percent. Only 377,000 Iranians vacationed in foreign countries. However, 20 million people booked weekend getaways between March 20 and April 4. Despite the current gloomy economic climate, people still make vacation plans.”

Samani noted: “We have seen a 16.75 percent increase in the number of foreign tourists visiting Iran, which shows that our country continues to be a major tourist destination.”


[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]

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