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This article was put together in a hurry in response to someone in
the soc.culture.iranian newsgroup (in 1996) who was critical of Yazd
when it was announced that Yazd had been recognized by UNESCO as the 
second oldest city in the world! It was also in response to some other
people who were interested in knowing about the ancient city. 

Mehdi Vaez (mvaez@yahoo.com)


It was surprising to me and certainly to many other Yazdies when
the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization,
UNESCO, declared Yazd to be the 2nd most historic city in the world. 
I don't think the people of Venice, Italy, would have thought that 
their city was the most historic city either. I am certain however, 
that UNESCO did not make such declaration without strong documented
evidence. I, like many of you would like to know about their evaluating
process and about the facts that were used in their decision-making. 

I am writing this article to help others get a little familiar with the 
city of Yazd. Unfortunately, I only have a Yazdi dictionary and a book 
named "Yazd dar SafarnAme-hA" with me here; therefore, most of what 
follows are only my observations. I hope that other Yazdies who have 
more resources or better understanding of the history of the city can 
participate by writing better articles.

The fact that Yazd is declared the second most historic city by UNESCO,
has not made Yazd or Yazdies any more special than any other city or 
person in the world! I think all Iranians should be happy and proud 
about this because Yazd is located in the heart of Iran and this announcement 
proves the fact of how historic Iran and how rich the Iranian culture 

I think it has been the patience and the low expectations of the people 
that have made the city stay on the map over the course of centuries. 
They have suffered the extreme hot and dry weather in summers, the extreme 
cold and dry weather in winters, the shortage of water, the sand 
storms, the lack of rain and ..., but they have worked things out and have 
found solutions for their problems and this has made the city renowned.
Hafez of Shiraz who stayed and studied in Yazd for a while has said:

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Yazd province is located in the center of Iran and is bounded on the 
north-west, northeast, southwest and southeast by EsfahAn, KhorAsAn, FArs 
(PArs)and KermAn provinces respectively. The city of Yazd is located in a 
wide dry valley between the two mountains of Shirkooh, the highest mountain in 
the area with the altitude of 4075 meter, and the KharAnagh mountain. This 
has also helped with the survival of the city. Many people go to the very 
quaint mountainside villages of the Shirkooh mountains during the summer to 
get away from the 100+ temperature of the city. According to some history book, 
scientists have found inscriptions on some of these mountain stones 
which are dated to be about 8-9000 years old. Yazd is not a resort town. The 
tourists that come to Yazd are the ones who enjoy historical sites and 
are willing to tolerate the weather for this purpose.

There have been many towns in the desert or on the side of the desert
that were buried by sand storms. I have personally seen villages in 
which the top edges of the houses rising above the sand are the only things 
visible. Yazd and its people have fought the storms and they have preserved the 
town and its monuments. When I was a kid, I experienced many sand storms. 
Suddenly, the sky would turn dark red or yellow and all you see is sand. By the time 
that it was over, every open area was covered with about 1 to 5 or more 
inches of sand. The situation is much better now, after the "tarh'e tasbit'e 
shenhAy'e ravAn". They planted thousands of a special kind of tree named gaz (not 
to be mistaken with the famous and delicious Esfahani gaz!) all across the 
northern part of town where the storm usually originated. This special 
tree can go without water for months and years. I believe its root spreads 
all the way to water reservoirs. Anyhow, these trees are now protecting 
the city and its surrounding villages from the sand storms.

Another fact is that the city was not attacked ( or if it did, it was
not damaged ) by foreign invasions including the Arabs and the 
Mongolians ( Changiz KhAn ) invasions. In "safary be shahr'e badgir-ha", JalAl'e 
Al'e Ahmad writes ( page 236 of Yazd dar SafarnAmehA )

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Yazd was and still is a very safe city. You do not hear about street 
fights, burglary, rape, homicide and so on. Yazdies in general are committed to 
the principles of their religions regardless of their believes and this is 
the main reason that people respect each other and do not commit crimes. In 
a report, KayhAn reporter put the total number of prisoners in Yazd's 
jail at 40 ( KayhAn 17 Tir 1342, p. 15 ). The title of the article said " 
Yazdies do not go to jail". It was reported that none of the 40 prisoners were 
from Yazd. They were either outsiders committing the crime in Yazd or had 
committed the crime elsewhere and were arrested there. In many cases in the book 
"Yazd dar safarnAmeha", the safety of the city has been indicated to be a major 
factor in choosing this city by the travelers and merchants ( e.g. safar 
nAmeh-ye Marco Polo ). 

Now, to go to the question of what Yazd has that makes it historic, I 
can outline the following. Things can be added to this by others who are 
more familiar with the history and the historical places of the town.
O  The Structure of the City;

   The old part of the city is being preserved. It has a unique 
   structure which can not be seen elsewhere. The narrow alleys and tall 
   walls prevent the sun beam to fall directly on people who walk 
   through the alleys in the summer and protect them from the cold wind
   in the winter. The covered bAzArs, the kAravAn-sarAys, the castles,
   the Ab-anbArs, the bAd-girs and ..., also make the city distinguished.

O  The Structure of Houses;

   If you check your library, you will notice that the name Yazd and its 
   building designs and architectures are mentioned in many architectural 
   books. The old houses were made with kAh-gel and khesht-e Kham (sorry, 
   I don't know the word for kAh or khesht, anybody?). The very tall walls 
   were up to block the sun beam in the summer. The big room named tAlAr 
   which is open in one side, is used for the evenings. It is located on a 
   side of the house in the direction of the sunset. The rooms are built on 
   the other sides of the house. There is always a water pool (howz) in the 
   middle of the yard which can be seen from any room or the TAlAr. The room 
   in front of tAlAr is used for  to winter time since the sun makes it warm. 
   A part of the house called kolAh-farangi is used in summers for afternoon 
   stay, lunch and nap. There is a special kolAh-farangi (the cowboy's hat) 
   in the middle of the ceiling that can direct the wind inside from all 
   directions. It is different from bAdgir which I will mention later and it 
   looks like the cowboy's hat from the roof. The basement was/is also used 
   extensively in the old houses. There is an approximately 20 degrees 
   temperature difference and that is why many people are even using the 
   basement right now to get away from the heat. There were underground 
   natural refrigerators which were built one level lower than the basement 
   for storing the fruits and the food that had to be refrigerated. I am sure
   that they are still being used by many who reside in the old part of the 

O  The BAdgirs

   This is an amazing design that was developed hundreds of years ago and
   it is still not known about the reasons behind the way these simple
   wind towers work. It is amazing that the 100+ degree wind is captured
   at the top of the tower and passed through a simple canal and around  
   20 degrees cooler air is delivered at the bottom. One of the most famous
   bAdgirs of the city is located in a historic attraction named "Dowlat-
   AbAd garden".
O  The Water Canals (GhanAts)

   Due to the shortage of water, there are thousands of water wells connected
   together by a water canals around the city. This method was invented hundreds 
   of years ago to take the water to the villages to which the water could not 
   reach. The people used the water for the personal use such as drinking, 
   cleaning , etc. and still saved some for irrigations. They produced all kinds
   of fruits, the most famous of which: the pomegranate (anAr). AnAr is one of 
   the best fruits that is exported from Yazd (especially from Taft which is 
   about 25 km west of the city of Yazd).
O  Alexander the Great's Prison

   This is a very old and historic location that is associated with Alexander
   the Great of Macedonia (around 300 B. C.). It is said that he built this prison 
   while he was passing through the town to imprison the prisoners including the 
   royal family (shAhzAdegAn) that he captured in Shiraz and elsewhere thinking 
   that they could not survive the weather. It is said that it was these prisoners 
   who later built the city. Hafez of Shiraz has described the prison in the 
   following poem:

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                      /  .   /           (_)     /          /   /    (     

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          (  / /.   (_)     :                      /   (     . /.        

   Some say that he got bored in Yazd and wanted to go back to Shiraz.

O  The Islamic Sites: 

   There are many mosques and religious sites that were built hundreds of years
   ago and although they have been repaired, they have not been reconstructed. 
   The most important and historic of these sites are:
   - The Jaame'e Mosque ( built in the 6th century; its picture is on 
     the 200 rials notes I believe.)
   - The Seyed Roknaddin Mausoleum ( built in the 8th century by Amir
     Roknaddin Mohammad Ghazi )
   - The Amir Chaghmagh's Mosque, BAzAr and Mausoleum ( built in the early
     8th century ); They were built by FAtemeh KhAtoon, the wife of Amir 
     Chaghmagh, then governor of Yazd. The minarets are on top of the bazaar. 
     Since Yazd had been a very important commerce center and many had to pass 
     Yazd in the so called silk road, they used to put lights on top of the 
     minarets, so that the travelers could locate the city at dark. 
   - The Rig (Sand) Mosque; built in 730 H. by Amir Moinoddin Ashraf.   

O  the Zoroastrian Sites:

   There is a large community of Zoroastrians living in Yazd. Many Zoroastrians
   come to Yazd every year for their pilgrimage. Some of the sites are as follows:
   - The Fire Temple ( Atashkadeh ); this is an old temple containing the
     fire which is believed to have been burning for over 1100 years.
     There is a Zoroastrian clergy ( moobed ) who takes care of maintaining
     and keeping the fire. His mouth is covered with a white cloth so that his
     exhale is not directed toward the sacred fire. 
   - Tower of Silence; although not used now, Zoroastrians used to place 
     their dead in the tower of silence. They are usually located on top of 
     mountains. There are a total of 5 such towers in Iran. Two in Yazd, two in
     Kerman and one in Tehran. One of the two in Yazd can be observed in the 
     north and the other in the south of the city. The Zoroastrians' holy book, 
     Avesta, says that the dead is not to come in contact with the sand (khAk). 
     After the Zoroastrians were forbidden this practice, they left their dead on 
     the mountains and buried them with stones. I know that they bury their dead 
     under the ground now but I have heard that they are buried in the sitting 
     position and the graves are made of cement and cement blocks are also placed 
     on top before the sand fills the grave up. In this case, the AhurAmazdA's 
     words are respected. 
   - Chak-chak ( meaning drop by drop ); This is a very sacred place to 
     Zoroastrians. Located in an isolated mountainous area, it hosts thousands 
     of Zoroastrians from all over the world annually in their pilgrimage. It is 
     the place where one of the religious figures, HayAt bAnoo, was refuged 
     and also buried.
O  The Ab-anbArs

   They are underground water reservoirs usually for drinking waters. They 
   are mostly cooled by bAd-girs. One of the famous ones is the Shish bAdgiri 
   Ab-anbAr with six bAdgirs circulating cool weather into the reservoir. It 
   takes a long time to take the stairs down to get to the faucet and come back 
   up ( a good exercise :) )

O  The CAravAn-sarAys

   There are many of these around Yazd. They were used by large groups of 
   travelers and were rest areas for the travelers to eat, pray, sleep 
   and give their beasts a break!

O  The Castles ( Ghale'e )
   They can be observed in both rural and certain urban areas. They
   were used by the military ( zhandArms ) to protect the city or the
   villages. It has at least 4 towers on 4 sides of the barrack where the 
   guards can observe the 4 sides of it for possible enemy invasion. 
   They have very unique structures and the style is now used in building 
   small zhandaArmeries or pAsgAhs all over the country.