On December 26th 2003, a violent earthquake destroyed the modern city of Bam as well as Arg-e Bam. Within 20 seconds the ancient city, which had been built over a time span of almost 2000 years, was destroyed. Since the earthquake occurred at 5.30 am, the inhabitants were caught by surprise in their sleep; out of 120,000 inhabitants, at least 35,000 were killed, 16,000 injured, 7,500 children became orphans and virtually all survivors lost their homes, properties and employment. This was not only a human and cultural tragedy but also an economic one, for the oasis of Bam relied to a great extent on the income generated from tourism. For this reason, the former president of Iran, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who had already initiated the yet unfinished restoration of the Arg, declared that it should be rebuilt within the next decade.
Rebuilding of the city is largely complete and locals will tell you the new Bam is better than the old. With an earthquake-proof new bazaar, stadium, government buildings and, for most Bamis, a new home, this might be true. But the main reason travellers have come to Bam for almost 2000 years, the Arg-e Bam, is less evocative than it once was. For all this, Bam retains the desert oasis vibe and it is still worth the trip.
There are various opinions about the date and reasons for the foundation of the citadel. Some people believe that Bam city was founded during the Parthian Empire. Economically and commercially, Bam occupied a very important place in the region and was famed for its textiles and clothes. Ibn Hawqal (943–977), the Arab traveller and geographer, wrote of Bam in his book Surat-ul-`ard (The Earth-figure):
- Over there they weave excellent, beautiful and long-lasting cotton cloths which are sent to places all over the world There they also make excellent clothes, each of which costs around 30 dinars; these are sold in Khorasan, Iraq and Egypt.
The ancient citadel of Arg-e Bam has a history dating back around 2,000 years ago, to the Parthian Empire (248 BC–224 AD), but most buildings were built during the Safavid dynasty. The heyday of the citadel was from the 7th to 11th centuries, being at the crossroads of important trade routes and known for the production of silk and cotton garments. The entire building was a large fortress in whose heart the citadel itself was located, but because of the impressive look of the citadel, which forms the highest point, the entire fortress is named the Bam Citadel. The city was largely abandoned due to an Afghan invasion in 1722. Subsequently, after the city had gradually been re-settled, it was abandoned a second time due to an attack by invaders from Shiraz. It was also used for a time as an army barracks.
Larger than nearby Arg-é Rayen, the area of Bam Citadel is approximately 180,000 square meters (44 acres), and it is surrounded by gigantic walls 6–7 metres high and 1,815 metres long. The citadel features two of the "stay-awake towers" for which Bam is famed - there are as many as 67 such towers scattered across the ancient city of Bam.
The planning and architecture of the citadel are thought out from different points of view. From the present form of the citadel one can see that the planner(s) had foreseen the entire final form of the building and city from the first steps in the planning process. During each phase of building development the already-built part enjoyed a complete figure, and each additional part could be "sewn" into the existing section seamlessly.
The citadel is situated in the center of the fortress-city, on the point with widest view for security.
In the architectural form of Bam Citadel there are two different distinguishable parts:
- The rulers' part in the most internal wall, holding the citadel, barracks, mill, 4-sezonan house, water-well (dug in the rocky earth and about 40 metres deep), and a stable for 200 horses.
- The ruled-over part surrounding the rulers' place, consisting of the main entrance of the entire fortress-city and the bazaar alongside of the North-to-South spinal axis (which connects the main entrance to the citadel), and around 400 houses with their associated public buildings (such as a school and sport place).
Among the houses, three different types are recognizable:
- Smaller houses with 2-3 rooms for the poor families.
- Bigger houses with 3-4 rooms for the middle social class, some of which have also a veranda.
- The most luxurious houses with more rooms oriented in different directions suitable for different seasons of the year, together with a big court and a stable for animals nearby. There are few of this type of houses in the fortress.
All buildings are made of non-baked clay bricks, i.e. adobes. Bam Citadel was probably, prior to the 2003 earthquake, the biggest adobe structure in the world.
When the gate of the city was closed, no human or animal could enter. The inhabitants could continue living for a long period of time in isolation as they had access to a well, gardens, and domestic animals inside. When the fortress-city was besieged the inhabitants could remain in the city while the soldiers could defend it, protected by high walls and towers. The wall has one blind spot.
Besides the watch towers and ornamented tops of the high walls on the skyline of the fortress, the wind-catchers or wind-towers (in Persian: bādgir بادگير) are remarkable. They are structures protruding from the buildings to catch the wind and direct it into the buildings. Sometimes the air is passed over a water basin in the building to cool it and remove dust. Different types of wind towers are utilized for different buildings. For example there are 4-directional wind-towers for larger and more important buildings, which are able to catch the wind from different directions, and there are one directional wind towers for smaller buildings.
Bam's bus terminal is south of the centre near Arg Sq, where many buses will set you down; take a taxi to your lodgings. Bam is easy to walk around but taxis make more sense in summer.
Getting There & Away
Bam's bus terminal is just south of Arg Sq but Arg Sq itself is where most services stop en route to or from Zahedan. Mahmooly buses to Kerman (3 hours, 204km) leave frequently. Buses also depart for Zahedan (4 hours, 321km), Esfahan (12 hours), Yazd and Tehran (17 hours) and Bandar Abbas (5 hours).
Savaris run to Kerman (2 hours), Jiroft and Zahedan when they fill.
Trains run to Kerman (3.5 hours, noon) daily, which is linked by rail to Tehran and Mashhad. Trains to Zahedan are often cancelled.