Arg e Bam

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Arg e Bam
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Fortaleza de Bam, Irán, 2016-09-23, DD 09.jpg
LocationBam, Iran
Part ofBam and its Cultural Landscape
CriteriaCultural: ii, iii, iv, v
Inscription2004 (28th session)
Coordinates29°07′01″N 58°22′07″E / 29.11694°N 58.36861°E / 29.11694; 58.36861
Arg e Bam is located in Iran
Arg e Bam
Location of Arg e Bam in Iran
The Bam Citadel before and after the 2003 earthquake
Before the earthquake
After the earthquake
After the reconstruction (image from September 2016)

The Arg-e Bam (Persian: ارگ بم‎) is the largest adobe building in the world, located in Bam, a city in Kerman Province of southeastern Iran. It is listed by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage Site "Bam and its Cultural Landscape". The origin of this enormous citadel on the Silk Road can be traced back to the Achaemenid Empire (sixth to fourth centuries BC) and even beyond. The heyday of the citadel was from the seventh to eleventh centuries, when it was at the crossroads of important trade routes and known for the production of silk and cotton garments.[1]

The entire building was a large fortress containing the citadel, but because of the impressive look of the citadel, which forms the highest point, the entire fortress is named the Bam Citadel.

On December 26, 2003, the Citadel was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake, along with much of the rest of Bam and its environs. A few days after the earthquake, the President of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, announced that the Citadel would be rebuilt.

A brief history[edit]

There is no precise archaeological dating of the buildings of the Citadel of Bam. But through historic sources and ancient texts, the first human settlement in the area can be traced back to the fort built by the Achaemenians around 579–323 BC. Some of the citadel’s features such as its establishment on a platform combining a natural hilltop and a manmade terrace have been compared by archaeologists to the Achaemenian model of Persepolis. During the Parthian rule, the fort was expanded and became Arg-e-Bam, the Citadel of Bam. A comparative study titled “Bam and a Brief History of Urban Settlement and Planning in Iran” concluded that the essential core of the city of Bam and the Governor’s section were built during the Parthian era. Under the Sassanids, the castle was seized by Ardeshir Babakan. New fortifications and walls were constructed between 224 and 637 AD.[2]

A few years later, in 645 AD, the Kerman region was conquered by the Arabs and Arg-e-Bam probably suffered damage during the war. One of the Arab commanders established the Al Rasoul mosque, one of the first mosque built in Iran in the early Islamic era. In 656 AD, the Khawarij, a group of Muslims defeated by Imam Ali, escaped to Kerman and Bam where they settled in the Arg-e-Bam. In 869 AD, Ya'qub ibn al-Layth al-Saffar who was fighting the Abbasids, defeated the Khawarij and took over the Arg-e-Bam. It then became his permanent base camp. The name of Bam is mentioned for the first time by Islamic writers in the 10th century. According to these authors, Bam was then a well established market place surrounded by a wide agricultural area. The city was famous for its elegant/tasteful cotton fabrics, its supposedly impregnable fortress, its busy bazaars and its palm trees.[2]

After the Mongol invasion of Iran, Bam and the Kerman region were turned over to the Qarakhataian dynasty who ruled the region from 1240 to 1363 AD. Bam benefited from a strategic location on the spice route connecting the region to the Silk Road. The city was renowned for silkworm breeding and a flourishing silk industry.[2]

During the Safavid rule (from 1502 to 1722), Iran went through a period of relative calm and stability. Arg-e-Bam was considerably developed, as well as the rest of the country. The Four Seasons Palace was built during this period. Towards the end of the Safavid period, Arg-e-Bam was conquered by the founder of the Qajar Dynasty, Agha Mohammad Khan, who used the citadel as a strategic point to fend off Afghan and Baluchi incursions and thus turned it into a military complex. In 1839, Aga Khan I, Imam of the Nizari Ismaili sect, rose up against Mohammad Shah Qajar and took refuge in Arg-e-Bam, until Prince Firooz Mirza, who was later to be known as Farman Farma (the Ruler of Rulers), arrested him. The increasing military presence within the walls of Arg-e-Bam gradually led people to settle outside the limits of the ramparts: in 1880 Firooz Mirza wrote that only military personnel were residing within the citadel area and he suggested that the old and abandoned city sitting at the foot of the citadel be demolished and the area turned into a garden. In 1900, the construction of the new city of Bam began and people progressively left the old Bam.[2]

Arg-e-Bam, the citadel, was used a garrison until 1932 but it seems that no one was living in the old city at the foot of the citadel anymore. Arg-e-Bam and the old city have therefore been totally abandoned since 1932. In 1953, the site became recognized as a nationally significant historic site and a gradual process of conservation and restoration began but most of the work was carried out from 1973 onwards.[2]

After the Islamic Revolution, Arg-e-Bam was placed under the responsibility of the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization (ICHO). In 1993 the citadel was designated as one of the most significant project of the National Cultural Heritage Organization.[1][2]

Citadel design and architecture[edit]

The planning and architecture of the citadel are thought out from different points of view. From the present form of the citadel one can see that the planner(s) had foreseen the entire final form of the building and city from the first steps in the planning process. During each phase of building development the already-built part enjoyed a complete figure, and each additional part could be "sewn" into the existing section seamlessly.

The citadel is situated in the center of the fortress-city, on the point with widest view for security.

In the architectural form of Bam Citadel there are two different distinguishable parts:

  • The rulers' part in the most internal wall, holding the citadel, barracks, mill, 4-season house, water-well (dug in the rocky earth and about 40 metres [130 ft] deep), and a stable for 200 horses.
  • The ruled-over part surrounding the rulers' place, consisting of the main entrance of the entire fortress-city and the bazaar alongside of the North-to-South spinal axis (which connects the main entrance to the citadel), and around 400 houses with their associated public buildings (such as a school and sport place).

Among the houses, three different types are recognizable:

  • Smaller houses with 2–3 rooms for the poor families.
  • Bigger houses with 3–4 rooms for the middle social class, some of which have also a veranda.
  • The most luxurious houses with more rooms oriented in different directions suitable for different seasons of the year, together with a big court and a stable for animals nearby. There are few of this type of houses in the fortress.

All buildings are made of non-baked clay bricks, i.e. adobes. Bam Citadel was probably, prior to the 2003 earthquake, the biggest adobe structure in the world.[1][2]

The Citadel was used as the major location site for Valerio Zurlini's film, The Desert of the Tartars.

Description of the citadel[edit]

The citadel consists of four main sections: a residential zone, the stables, the army barracks and the governor’s residence.

Arg-e-Bam had 38 watchtowers, four entrance gates and the outer defense wall is surrounded by a moat. The Government Quarters are on a rocky hill, protected by a double fortification wall. The most notable structures are the bazaar, the Congregational Mosque, the Mirza Na’im ensemble and the Mir House.[1][2]


Larger than nearby Rayen Castle, the area of Bam Citadel is approximately 180,000 square meters (44 acres), and it is surrounded by gigantic walls 6–7 metres (20–23 ft) high and 1,815 metres (5,955 ft) long. The citadel features two of the "stay-awake towers" for which Bam is famed – there are as many as 67 such towers scattered across the ancient city of Bam.

2003 earthquake[edit]

On December 26, 2003 at 5:26 AM local time, Bam was struck by a major earthquake. The United States Geological Survey estimated its magnitude at 6.6 on the Richter scale. It had also a vertical acceleration of 1G. About 142,000 people were living in the Bam area. The extremely destructive quake killed about 26,200, injured thousands and left more than 75,000 homeless. Approximately 70% of the buildings were destroyed. The earthquake was wrenching because its hypocenter was located just below the city of Bam, around 7 km deep.[2]

The Bam area has an underground made of a series of faults. The main one called Bam Fault had been inactive for a very long time. Though the earthquake was on the southern part of Bam, the main direction of the horizontal motion of the waves was East-West and was perpendicular to the direction of the main fault located around 3 km East of Bam. It seems that the Bam Fault channeled the energy of the earthquake in its direction, North-South, but in the same time it acted like a boomerang or amplifier by sending back the energy on an East-West direction.[2]

This was noted on the various sites where buildings which were mostly ruined had their main axis oriented North-South (Arg-e-Bam, Bam and the villages on the East of Bam). Therefore, they could not withstand the waves coming from the East (Bam) or West (villages east of bam) and perpendicular to them.[2]

Buildings that had their main axis oriented East-West were in the same direction of the seismic waves and they responded much better: some of their parts were damaged but they were not totally ruined. They also presented the typical shear cracks when the ground motion is in the direction of the wall plane.[2]

The structures that had been maintained and repeatedly modified or expanded over time fared much worse than did the ancient structures that had not been maintained, modified or restored. The same intriguing phenomenon could be observed on the structures partially or entirely strengthened and restored during the late 20th century.[2]

The citadel of Arg-e Bam

Consequences of the earthquake[edit]

Video showing the reconstruction

The citadel, including the governor’s residence, the main tower, the Four Seasons palace and the hammam, were nearly totally destroyed especially because of their location on top of the hill. The rocky hill concentrated the energy of the earthquake. In addition, these buildings collapsed because their foundations were resting on an inhomogeneous ground, made of rocks and earth filling. The earth filling slipped with the ground motion. The city at the foot of the castle was nearly flattened, especially the parts that had been restored. Most of the vaulted roofs were cracked or severely damaged because the walls below suffered too much.[2]

No restoration had been undertaken for Konariha quarter. Before the earthquake, it was already severely ruined and there were just a few structures left of eroded vaults and domes. Paradoxically, this part of the city had less damage than the part which had been restored, though the ramparts all around collapsed. Only a few walls collapsed and some debris of already broken vaulted roof fell down.[2]

No restoration had been undertaken for the Zoroastrian temple, just behind Arg-e-Bam and Khale Dokhtar citadel, 2 km North of Arg-e-Bam. Before the earthquake, they were severely ruined and the earthquake did not damage them as much as the restored city of Arg-e-Bam. The Khale Dokhtar citadel did not have many vaulted roofs left, as they were already severely ruined before the earthquake. The main damage was a tower, and only a few debris from vaults and domes collapsed. The Khale Dokhtar citadel can be traced back to the Sassanid Period, and is believed to be older than Arg-e-Bam.[2]

Three kilometers east of Arg-e-Bam are the Summer Pavilion Kushk Rahim Abad and an old caravanserai. Both were not really damaged by the earthquake. The summer pavilion was already severely ruined before the earthquake and it did not really damage it. The old caravanserai had been abandoned long ago, and some of its parts had already collapsed before the earthquake. In fact, it damaged this caravanserai very little compared to the average situation in Arg-e-Bam, Bam and the villages further east. The reason seemed simply that it was well built with sound details, compared to the average building quality seen around.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Bam and its Cultural Landscape – UNESCO World Heritage Centre". Retrieved 2012-08-26.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Bam and Arg-e-Bam, Iran". Auroville Earth Institute, UNESCO. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  • The original text was a translation by of the article "Bam-Citadelo", originally written in Esperanto language by Asad Mahbub, first appeared in Irana Esperantisto (Iranian Esperantist), No. 4, Year 2, Summer 2003, 40 p., pp. 5–7. Permission has been granted for its use in Wikipedia. Its sources were:
  • Nimrokhi az Arge Bam (Bam Citadel at a Glance), by Davood Yousofzadeh, Bam: M. Mohammadi-zade, 1998, p. 160.

External links[edit]