Iran’s ancient water conservancy project

From ancient times to the present, one element revered by the Iranian people is not just fire—in the ancient Iranian religion Zoroastrianism, fire was called the “son of God”, and there is a more revered element—no doubt It’s water. Thousands of years ago, Iran, where many Aryan tribes settled, was a rich, vast, multi-ethnic land, just like today, but very arid. The ancient Iranians had to not only survive, but also to conquer almost all the world known at the time. This was a difficult task.

It seems an impossible task to find a pure water source on arid and harsh land and create a lush scenery in a desolate place. However, the Iranians have found an effective and sustainable solution to the shortage of water resources, that is, Kanat, Iran’s ancient water conservancy project. Kanat was included in the World Heritage List by UNESCO in 2016. Its history can be traced back to more than 3000 years. Its construction and design reflect the ingenuity of ancient Iranians.

Canat’s construction
Simply put, Kanat is an underground waterway that can lead water from high mountains to lower elevations for irrigation. This can be said to be an ideal way to solve the problem of water shortage in mountainous areas. Once the possible source of fresh water is determined, dig down a shaft similar to an “anthill” until it is connected to the water source. Some shafts do not need to be dug deep, and some shafts are 300 meters deep underground. Every certain distance will be dug an anthole-like vertical shaft, the number is very large, while draining the soil, while providing ventilation for the workers doing the excavation work. What is more complicated is that the slope of Canat must be calculated accurately: the slope is too steep, the downward force of water will erode the Canat; the slope is too flat, and the water is difficult to flow.

The construction of Kanat, a complex water conservancy engineering system, has achieved great success. For thousands of years, through these underground water pipelines, Iranians have been able to fetch and transport water in some of the driest areas. One of the most typical examples is Fars Province in southwestern Iran. Here, the Persians of the Achaemenid dynasty (550-330 BC) built the city of Persepolis on a hot, dusty plain surrounded by the Zagros Mountains. This place is not blessed by nature. However, through Kanat, Persepolis became the center of an empire extending from Greece to India, regarded by many as the most luxurious city in the world, famous for its gorgeous palaces and exquisite gardens. Therefore, it is easy to understand why Iran’s unique blue color-called abi in Persian, which literally means “like water”-can be seen everywhere in the country.

The Kanat water engineering system was so effective that it quickly spread to other parts of the world. First it was through the conquest and expansion of the ancient Persians, and then through the Arabs-they learned from the Persians to build this water conservancy engineering system and took it as far as Andalusia in the southernmost part of Spain, Sicily in Italy, and North Africa. And other regions. William Hemsley (1843-1924, British botanist) wrote in the book “Canat: The Ancient Water Supply System”: The ancient Egyptians valued the Kanat system so much that the Persian Emperor Darius King I (550-486 BC) was later awarded the title of “Pharaoh” by Egypt in return for introducing the Kanat system to the Egyptians.

Canat’s multiple roles
Canat can not only provide the drinking water needed, but also help reduce the indoor temperature. In Yazd in central Iran, where the summer is extremely hot, Kanat, due to its unique structure, can not only be used for water supply, but also for cooling. Used in conjunction with the wind tower (a wind catcher in Iran), the water in Kanat can cool the hot air entering the room through the shaft, then enter the basement and be discharged through the opening at the top of the wind tower. In houses in Yazd, this ancient air-conditioning method is still widely used and is an integral part of engineering and construction.

Similarly, with Kanat, it is possible to store large amounts of ice in a desert climate throughout the year. Yakhchal (literally means “ice pit”) is an ancient Iranian refrigeration facility with a history dating back to about 400 BC. It was built from a mixture of heat-resistant materials and shaped like a cone. It also used Iranian wind catching technology. During the winter months, water drawn through Kanat is frozen in the basement of Yakhchal, then cut into ice cubes and stored for year-round use. The air blown in through the Canat shaft is cooled by groundwater, helping to further reduce the temperature.

Conducive to the construction of gardens
Kanat not only meets the needs of Iranians in material life, but also helps them create a rich spiritual world. Despite the harsh surrounding environment, through this project, the ancient Persians were able to build a world-famous Persian garden (listed by UNESCO in the World Heritage List in 2011).

The Persian Garden is a lush oasis that forms a strong contrast with the surrounding arid environment. It is composed of nine gardens, which were built in different periods, the earliest of which can be traced back to the 6th century BC. The main design concept of Persian gardens highlights the worship of the four major elements of the Garden of Eden and Zoroastrianism-sky, water, earth, and plants. All gardens are divided into four parts, full of carefully arranged, harmonious and symmetrical flowers. , Trees, fountains and waterways, and water plays an important role in the irrigation and decoration of gardens.

Iranian research scholar Turaj Dariayi said that the gardens built by the ancient Iranians were “planted with a variety of plants and flowers and irrigated with flowing water, which is the most precious commodity of the residents of the Iranian plateau.” Iran The Prince’s Garden near Kerman in the central part is a very typical example: from above, it’s hard to imagine such a green and spring-filled wonderland between arid land and rugged mountains. Most gardens in Iran are open to the public and can be seen all over the country.

Like Kanat, the design of Persian gardens not only continues to flourish in modern Iran-it also provides a lot of cultural elements in the layout, design and themes of Persian carpets-but also in other parts of the world. The design philosophy of Persian gardens has influenced the gardens and courtyards of the Palace of Versailles in France, the Alhambra (the royal palace of the Kingdom of Granada established by the Moors in Spain in the Middle Ages) and the palaces of Marrakech in southwestern Morocco.

However, the best example outside of Iran may belong to India during the Mughal dynasty. Just as the Mughals believe that Persian is the highest-level language, they also believe that Persian gardens are representatives of top gardening and landscape architecture. It is said that India’s famous World Heritage Site Taj Mahal (built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in Agra from 1631 to 1648 to commemorate his beloved concubine) and Humayun’s Tomb (built in 1556, is a Mughal The design of the gardens of the tomb of Humayun, the second emperor of the dynasty, is based on the Persian gardens.

Although the development of science and technology has reduced the Iranians’ dependence on Kanat, this type of water conservancy project is still widely used throughout Iran. Today, there are thousands of Kanats in Iran, and their total length is about the same as the distance between the earth and the moon. The ingenuity of the ancient Persians has withstood the test of time. Due to the admiration of nature by ancient Iranians and Zoroastrians, Kanat, as a sustainable and environmentally friendly method, can not only obtain fresh water, but also regulate air and use it as a refrigerator. In addition, in rural areas, Kanat can distribute water fairly and strengthen social cooperation through the necessity of continuous maintenance.

Although Cyrus the Great (the emperor of the ancient Persian empire) is known for his wise, fair, and compassionate leader image, one cannot help but ask: Without Kanat’s help, the empire he built-apart from politics Beyond the factors, is the foundation of today’s Iran-what will it look like? If there is no fresh water, how will the Persian army and people live? If there were no Persian gardens that changed the face of gardening and landscape architecture forever, what would Persepolis and the countless cities in the vast territory of the empire look like?