Ancient watermill starts rotating after decades of abandonment

January 11, 2021 - 18:8

TEHRAN – An ancient underground watermill, which is said to be the biggest of its kind in Iran, has started operating after being fully restored by private investors after decades of abandonment. 

The thousand-year-old watermill, locally known as “Asiab-e Khan” is located at the entrance to the oasis city of Zavareh on the edge of the central desert of Iran in Isfahan province. Zavareh is named after the brother of Rostam (the Iranian legendary and mythical hero).

The watermill, which is one of the six ancient watermills built in the city, has begun grinding wheat into flour after almost 60 years of neglect, ISNA reported on Monday.  

A budget of 10 billion rials ($238,000 at the official rate of 42,000 rials) was spent on the restoration project of the mill, which aimed at making it a destination for domestic and foreign tourists, the report added. 

A traditional restaurant has been built next to the mill and accommodation centers and a permanent handicrafts exhibition are also scheduled to be constructed in the area in near future. 

One of the most essential features of the mill is that it is built underground with almost no similar match to it worldwide. The watermill is situated on the confluence of the qanats (subterranean aqueducts) so that it is important from a hydraulic point of view.

Watermills were typically constructed by the then design requirements for instance they featured dome-shaped roofs with high-enough vestibules to allow camels or other livestock to move back and forth with ease to convey grains or flour.

There are lots of attractions in this small city (formerly a prosperous one). The first and oldest four-iwan mosque in Iran is the old Zavareh Jame Mosque going back to the Seljuk period, around 900 years old. Zavareh Sangbast Castle is the second largest castle in Iran after Alamut Castle. It is made up of mud and brick dating back to the 11th century.

Another predominant historical attraction, 33 kilometers from Zavareh, is Sarhangabad Palace built during the reign of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar (r. 1848 1896).

This palace with twenty stone columns looks like Chehel Sotoun Palace in Isfahan, decorated with peculiar plasterwork, mirrorwork, wood carving, stucco, inlay, and marquetry. It was a hunting ground and summer promenade for Qajar princes. It has a view of the mountains, river and prairie. There is a two-story wind tower, a bath, watchtowers, and a mill around it. It is a mixture of the Safavid era (1501–1736) and the Qajar era (1789–1925) architecture made up of mud, brick, and wood.

Other attractions, according to the Iran Doostan Tours, are as follow: Zavareh conical adobe traditional Yakhchal (ice storage), an ancient mud-brick domed roof refrigerator with thick rounded walls; Zavareh old bazaar dating back to Zandieh period (1751–1794) with vernacular architecture, flanked by two caravan series with a Roman ceiling (not in used anymore except a couple of traditional workshops); The two Husainiyahs, grand Safavid roofed and unroofed Husainiyah and small Husainiyah; Hasht Behesht, an adobe building with vaulted ceiling used for religious ceremonies, and Amirabad Palace (15 km south of Zavareh) both date back to Qajar period; camel farming in traditional ways, carpet weaving, brick making, woodturning, pottery and forgery workshops. The vernacular houses, four cross rooms in the center of the house around the courtyard, cool in the hot desert summer and warm in the cold desert dreamy nights with breathtaking desert landscape welcome tours to Iran.