Zahhak Castle, a 4000-year-old battlement

July 15, 2012 - 10:58

Even though Iran is better known for foreign tourists by magnificent mosques and Persepolis, the ancient capital of the Persian Empire, the nation does in fact have a large number of rather forgotten historical heritages like a castle dating back a thousand years before the start of the Persian Empire. 
Named Zahhak Castle, this ancient ruin was built around 2000 BC and was used as a government building and a fire temple during the later Parthain era (ca.129 BC-224 CE).
Located in northwest Iran near Hashtroud, the castle contains depictions of animals and symbols that show what life was like for the royalty in ancient Iran.
The castle was first discovered by a British army officer in 1830. He noticed that the ruins were quite ancient, dating back at least two thousand years. In recent years, Zahhak Castle has been unearthed slowly by archaeologists who have discovered that different parts of the castle were built in later periods. This includes a square shaped hall made of bricks built during the Parthia period. During this time, Zoroastrianism was the religion of the ruling kings, who likely used part of the castle for a fire temple.

Engraved reliefs found on the castle walls were numerous. A bull found on one relief wall with an image of Mithra, an ancient pre-Zoroastrian deity of justice, suggests that the castle was dedicated to Mithra at one point. Other human figures were also discovered, along with floral and geometrical shapes. These were unearthed during an archaeological dig several years ago. The castle remained in use until the Timurid period which lasted from 1370 to 1526.
It is unknown why this particular castle was named Zahhak but in Persian legend, Zahhak is the name of an Arab king who conquered and ruled over ancient Iran. The story is recounted in the Shahnameh, or Book of Kings, written by Ferdowsi. Kawa is the hero in this particular story, who rescues his Kurdish people in Iran from Zahhak's control. 
Zahhak castle also served as a military defense during the Parthian era given its position close to the Iranian border with other nations in the northwest, including Turkey and Armenia.
British colonel Monteith was the first explorer who spoke about the remains of the ancient fort in 1830. After him Rawlinson, the well known Orientalist, who had deciphered the Bisetoon inscription, visited Zahak Castle and declared that this was a Sassanid monument.
The extent of the buildings at Zahak Castle at the north-southern junction is more than one kilometers. The highest mountainous peak at Zahak Castle is 1805 m. 
This mountain has housed different civilizations from the second millennium BC up to several centuries CE. If you walk towards the northern mound from the middle cavity you will see a layer of stone walls without mortar. These walls in fact used to serve as the prehistoric battlements of Zahak Fort and date back to the second millennium BC. 
Astonishingly enough, the foundation of the building made of broken stone and plaster of lime and ash is laid at the brink of the precipice.
The building is 9.1 meters from north to south and 9 meters from east to west. The inside halls are 5.8 x 5.9 m in size. The whole building is made of baked bricks with 6 x 32 x 32 cm size which have been fastened to each other with mortar.
Beside the northern pavilion the remnants of many chambers have survived. The immense size of the building shows that it was perhaps a palace. Meanwhile a piece of wall built of broken stone and plaster of lime has been discovered in the nearby plain which might be an extension of this Sassanian or Parthian building. 
Following unauthorized excavations between the prehistoric gate and the pavilion, a series of underground buildings were unearthed which were mostly related to the Parthian period. At times the weeds grown in the castle are burnt so that they will not damage the underground relics which have remained unexplored as yet.
At the cavity of the northwestern rock a spring used to exit which nowadays is dry in summer.
When spring arrives many visitors flock to the caste to inspect the castle and the beautiful landscape around or to reap the pharmaceutical herbs. At times groups of travelers pitch their tents in the vast and green vested plains in the area to benefit from the pure air and inspect the monument.