By Afshin Majlesi

14 of the greatest castles, fortresses, and citadels in Iran

November 23, 2020 - 10:47

Since antiquity, mankind has assumed the need to fortify properties to survive in an ever-changing world of invasion and conquest.Commencing from simple earthworks and wooden walls, fortifications were gradually evolved into complex, unconquerable imposing citadels.

They were normally erected and maintained along significant routes or cities, particularly in heights overlooking steep slopes or cliffs. Many of the fortifications of the ancient world were built using mud brick so that often leaving them no more than mounds of dirt for today’s archaeologists.

Here, we will look at 14 fantastic examples of castles, fortresses, and citadels in the country. This list is not exhaustive and is in no particular order.

Qa’leh Dokhtar

Situated on a mountain slope neighboring the Firouzabad-Kavar road in southeastern Kerman province, Qal’eh Dokhtar (literally meaning the Maiden Castle) was made by Ardashir I, the founder of the Sasanian Empire (224–651) in 209 CE.

Based on narratives, the monument is named after the ancient Iranian goddess Anahita, to whom the term “Maiden” refers.

The entrance to the castle is through a tall gateway within a large, rectangular tower. Inside, a broad stairway leads up to a rectangular hall, with blind niches on either side of two large buttresses at the east end.

The fortified palace contains many of the recurring features of Sasanian architecture such as long halls, arches, domes, recessed windows, and stairways.

Falak-ol-Aflak Castle

Falak-ol-Aflak Castle, the unmissable eight-towered monument dominates the skyline of Khorramabad, the capital of Lorestan province.

The fortress dates from the Sassanid era (224–651). It seems particularly imposing and dramatic when floodlit at night, offering picturesque views of its encircling crenelated battlements.

Qaleh Babak

Qaleh Babak is a ruined fortress nested atop a pick in northwest Iran. Ascending the mount to set foot on the ancient fort seems somewhat arduous for many visitors but in most cases proves to be a considerable and gratifying experience.

The fort is named after Babak Khorramdin, an Iranian national hero, warlord, and revolutionary leader who fought against Arab invaders until he died in 838 CE.

The fort consists of several stone towers and lodging areas stretched in a space of nearly ten thousand square meters and the origins of the monument are said to date from the Sassanid era (224–651).

The crumbling ramparts of the fortress loom while one approaches the village of Kaleybar in East Azarbaijan province.

Izadkhast Castle

Izadkhast fortress, a Sassanid era fortification in the southern province of Fars, was built on the ancient Silk Road between Isfahan and Shiraz, is reportedly the first fortress in the world that is made of adobe. It is also the second-largest adobe building in the world after Arg-e Bam (Bam Citadel) in the southeastern province of Kerman.

The castle and surrounding landscape has been nominated to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List since 2007 in the cultural category.

Alamut Castle

Nested on top of a hill in a relatively remote village amidst the northern Iran’s Alborz Mountains, a well-fortified castle was sheltering the followers of Hasan-e Sabbah (1070–1124), spiritual leader of Islam’s heretical Ismaili sect, known as ‘Assassins’.

In popular myth, Sabbah led a bizarre, much-feared mercenary organization whose members were dispatched to murder or kidnap leading political and religious figures of the day.

In the early 1930s, British-Italian explorer and travel writer Freya Stark described her exploration of the place in her book “The Valleys of the Assassins”.

Nowadays, the ruined castle, which is also known as Alamut Castle, is a top travel destination in the northeastern side of Gazor Khan Village in the environs of Mo’alem Kalayeh, from the environs of Roudbar of Alamut, Qazvin province.

Shush Castle

Situated in the ruins of the ancient city of Shush in Khuzestan province, southern Iran, this gorgeous castle resembles medieval monuments in France. 

The construction of the Shush Castle was started in 1897 by the French civil engineer, geologist, and archaeologist Jacques Jean-Marie de Morgan (1857-1924), who had come to Iran to carry out excavations in the region.

Bricks dating back to various historical eras, which had been scattered at the Susa region’s ancient sites of Haft-Tappeh and Chogha Zanbil, were used in building the castle.

De Morgan managed to convince the French government of the time of the necessity of sponsoring the construction of the stronghold, which was used as a haven for his team and a place to carry out their studies.

Rudkhan Castle

Occupying an area of about 50,000 square meters, this medieval structure is located 25 km southwest of Foman in Gilan province. The castle, which is made of brick and stone, has been built on two sides of a jagged rocky region so its architecture benefits from natural mountainous features.

Preliminary evidence, uncovered by digging, indicates the foundation of the structure was built in the Sasanian era (224–651) and rebuilt in the Seljuks reign (ca. 1040–1157).

To access the castle one has to go through a hilly winding route in a dense forest. Upon arrival a big entrance gate flanked by relatively tall towers welcomes visitors.

Seb Castle

The historical Seb Castle stands tall in a village of the same name in southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province. It was extensively used during the Qajar era (1789–1925) as a borderline surveillance base. However, narratives say that its heyday dates back to the time of the Safavids (1501–1736).

Seb Castle is constructed of clay and mortar blend with loads of sticky plant seeds. In some parts wooden slabs cut from palm trees have been used to strengthen the overall layout, enabling it to withstand natural disasters in particular mellow seismic vibrations.

Arg-e Bam

The Bam citadel (locally called “Arg-e Bam”) and its cultural landscape, located on the southern edge of the Iranian high plateau, in Kerman province, is highly regarded as an outstanding example of an ancient fortified settlement built in vernacular technique using mud layers.

The massive fortress and its environs were almost completely brought down to earth due to a devastating earthquake on December 26, 2003. Most of what visitors now see at the site is restored and replicas of the original structure being restored from 2004 onwards.  

The origins of the adobe citadel can be traced back to the Achaemenid period (6th to 4th centuries BC) and even beyond. The ensemble was on crossroads of important trade routes as well in its heyday sometime between the 7th to 11th centuries.

Arg-e Rayen

Under the glare of the blazing sun and on the margins of a harsh desert lies the ancient city of Rayen, which is home to an ancient mudbrick castle of the same name: Arg-e Rayen

The adobe fort stands tall despite several earthquakes and other natural disasters, which have been flattened similar nearby structures.

Covering an area of about 20,000 square meters, the castle was inhabited until 150 years ago and some experts believe it is at least 1,000 years old. The history of life in Rayen goes back to the times of the Sasanian dynasty and even deeper.

Portuguese Castle of Hormuz

The crumbling Portuguese Castle of Hormuz Island, built in the early 16th century, is one of the last surviving monuments of the colonial rule in the Persian Gulf. It is now a tourist attraction where you can soak up the silence while traveling through time. For visitors, it seems to be easy to imagine the hustle and bustle of Portuguese military forces five centuries ago!

History of the Portuguese Castle of Hormuz Island goes down in time when Commander Afonso de Albuquerque ordered the construction of a fortress in 1507 after his troops capture the island in the early 16th century.

Made from reddish stones on a rocky promontory at the north end of the island, the castle was cut off from the rest of the island by a moat, traces of which remain. The stronghold involves an arms depot, water reservoir, barrack, prison, church, command center, and central hall.

Muscular-looking walls, chambers, and archways as well as sets of rusting cannons in the courtyard still give the area a scenic beauty. A subterranean church featuring vaulted ceilings, a watchtower, and a submerged cistern are amongst other attractions of the site.

Besides, the upper levels of the fort offer wonderful views of the island, its village, rugged mountains all surrounded by the blue waters of the Persian Gulf.

Narin Castle

The crumbling Narin Castle rises imposingly above the historical core of Meybod in central Iran. Local legend has it that the castle belonged to King Solomon and was built by jinns (spirits), but whatever the original provenance of the castle's foundations, most of what can be seen today dates from the Sassanian era.

Lying on the silk route, the castle was used by soldiers who provided an armed escort for passing caravans, charging a tax for their services, historical sources say.

Iraj Fortress

Some estimate that the crumbling Iraj fortress dates from the Sassanid era (224–651), however, some experts believe that it belongs to the Kayanian dynasty era, a semi-mythological dynasty, which is mentioned in the Persian poet Ferdowsi’s magnum opus, the Shahnameh.

Located in Pishva near the gates of the old city of Rey, southeast of Tehran, Iraj fortress (also known as Gabri fort by the locals) was once one of the largest military fortresses of the time.

Measuring about 3,000 square meters in area, the fortress has lost its towers some centuries ago – maybe by erosion, and only lengthy and tall clay ramparts have been left. Based on evidence from excavations in 2008, archaeologists believe that the Iraj fortress was likely abandoned shortly after construction.

Zahhak Castle

Built around 2000 BC, Zahhak Castle served as a government building and a fire temple during the later Parthian era (247 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. It 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.

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.

AFM/

Comments

  • 2020-11-24 10:40
    It would be good to have pictures of those castles.

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