Conference discusses qanat as ‘enduring heritage of Iranians’

February 6, 2022 - 18:14

TEHRAN – A host of experts in the Persian qanat system started discussing ways to preserve the time-honored heritage during a three-day conference kicked off on Saturday in Kerman province.

Qanats or man-carved subterranean aqueducts are of very high importance for the nation as they supported agricultural and permanent settlements in arid and semi-arid regions of the Iranian plateau.

‘Enduring heritage of Iranians’ has been selected as the motto of the conference that is also attended by tens of travel insiders and cultural heritage officials.

Addressing the event, Kerman’s tourism chief, Fereydoun Fa’ali, said: “Iran is home to 36,300 qanats, of which 1,930 are situated in Kerman province.”

“Moreover, we have 11 qanats that are collectively registered on UNESCO World Heritage list, of which three are located in Kerman province.” 

Moreover, the attendees exchanged views on ways how to draw more attention to qanats and their associated spaces as emerging travel destinations.

“The UNESCO-designated qanats are somehow untapped travel destinations. However, this conference (and workshop) is aimed to discuss ways to safeguard them on the one hand, and explore their potential as exceptional tourist destinations,” the official explained.

The Persian Qanat system is a magnificent example of a technological ensemble illustrating significant stages in the history of human occupation of arid and semi-arid regions.“We with the help of the private sector in Kerman province have prepared the ground to enhance the capacity of ancient aqueducts in the realm of traveling and tourism.”

Fa’ali added the philosophy behind making aqueducts in the country, especially in Kerman province, is of very high importance.

“Those aqueducts as tourism attractions can lead many sightseers to Kerman province.”

“Qanat is not simply an architectural structure but a culture of people living in oasis villages and towns,” a veteran cultural heritage expert Mohammed-Ali Qolabzadeh said in an address to the conference. 

“Qanat is a culture…, according to all experts, the best way to irrigate and live in the desert areas of Kerman, which experiences temperatures above 40 degrees in summer, is to preserve and benefit from these aqueducts.”

“We have to say how great the people were who came and invented the best and most necessary method of irrigation in a dry desert region and were able to organize their lives and leave a great legacy for the future generations.”

According to UNESCO, qanats provide exceptional testimony to cultural traditions and civilizations in desert areas with an arid climate.

The qanat system relies on snow-fed streams, which flow down the foothills of surrounding mountains channeling through sloping aqueducts, often over far distances to discharge into the city’s underground reservoirs or ab-anbars. Such constructions are still in practice, many of which were made from the 13th century onwards.

The concept of “Persian Qanat” was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2016, representing eleven aqueducts across Iran. According to the UN cultural body, the qanat provides exceptional testimony to cultural traditions and civilizations in desert areas with an arid climate.

The Persian Qanat system is a magnificent example of a technological ensemble illustrating significant stages in the history of human occupation of arid and semi-arid regions.

It works based on complex calculations and exceptional architectural qualities as water is collected and transported by mere gravity over long distances and these transport systems were maintained over centuries and, at times, millennia. The qanat system enabled settlements and agriculture but also inspired the creation of a desert-specific style of architecture and landscape involving not only the qanats themselves, but their associated structures, such as water reservoirs, mills, irrigation systems, and gardens.

When it comes to architectural elements, each qanat comprises an almost horizontal tunnel collecting water from an underground water source, usually an alluvial fan, into which a mother well is sunk to the appropriate level of the aquifer. Well shafts are sunk at regular intervals along the route of the tunnel to enable removal of spoil and allow ventilation. These appear as craters from above, following the line of the qanat from water source to agricultural settlement. The water is transported along underground tunnels, so-called koshkan, using gravity due to the gentle slope of the tunnel to the exit (mazhar), from where it is distributed by channels to the agricultural land of the shareholders.

Furthermore, the levels, gradient, and length of the qanat are calculated by traditional methods requiring the skills of experienced qanat workers and have been handed down over centuries. Many qanats have sub-branches and water access corridors for maintenance purposes, as well as dependant structures including rest areas for the qanat workers, public and private hammams, reservoirs, and watermills. The traditional communal management system still in place allows equitable and sustainable water sharing and distribution.

The eleven qanats forming, a collective UNESCO World Heritage, are still active water carriers and have retained not only their architectural and technological structures but also their function.

According to the UN body, they continue to provide the essential resource water sustaining Iranian settlements and gardens and remain maintained and managed through traditional communal management systems. These management systems have remained intact and have been transferred from the distant past thanks to the collaboration of people and users.


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