Iran’s Qanats stand out as captivating tourist attractions, showcasing the ingenuity of the Iranian people in addressing dehydration challenges millennia ago. These ancient underground water systems, known as Qanats or Kariz, reflect the intellect and persistent efforts of Iranians to enhance their living conditions. Travel enthusiasts exploring Iran have the opportunity to witness these remarkable aqueducts scattered throughout the country, particularly in the southern, eastern, and central provinces. This article delves into the history and varieties of Iranian Qanats, the art of digging them, and explores some of the world’s oldest Qanats located in Iran.
A Qanat serves as an age-old subterranean water system designed for arid regions, extracting water from underground sources and transporting it to designated areas. Its components include a deep well to locate water, an underground tunnel, and surface canals to distribute water to farms and towns. This ingenious system not only conserves water but also prevents its evaporation under the scorching sun. Qanats have played a pivotal role in sustaining cities and fostering agricultural prosperity in Iran over many centuries.
Despite their historical significance, modern challenges such as declining groundwater levels and societal changes pose threats to the continued relevance of Qanats. Nevertheless, these ancient structures serve as a testament to the resourcefulness of past generations in securing water and improving life in challenging environments. They remain integral to the history and culture of various regions, illustrating how communities collaborated with nature to endure and thrive.
Origins of the Qanat System
In the early 1st millennium BCE, migrating groups and tribes settled on the Iranian Plateau, encountering a landscape with significantly less rainfall than their previous habitats. Accustomed to abundant water sources in their former locations, these settlers faced the need for innovative solutions in the drier Iranian Plateau. Early attempts at creating surface channels proved futile during dry months, prompting farmers to explore tunnels within mining areas where water remained available.
A symbiotic relationship developed between farmers and miners, with farmers enlisting miners to construct tunnels. The objective was to ensure a consistent water supply for agriculture by collecting water from various sources and channeling it through these underground passages. The roots of the Qanat system’s inception trace back to northwestern Iran, near the present-day border with Turkey, as evidenced by archaeological findings. This collaboration between farmers and miners marked the genesis of an ancient water management system, allowing the utilization of Qanat water for crop irrigation during the hot seasons of the year.
Meaning of Qanat
The term “Qanat” originates from Persian and refers to an ancient subterranean water system. Variations such as “Kariz” or “Karez” may be used in different regions. “Kariz” is prevalent in parts of Iran, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, while “Qanat” is favored in western Iran. Derived from the Persian verb “kandan,” meaning “to dig” or “to create a channel,” the term is emblematic of a creative water system with more than 27 names across various countries, illustrating its widespread usage and adaptability.
Structure of the Persian Qanat
Each Qanat comprises one or more drainage channels, typically measuring 1 to 1.4 meters in height and 50 to 60 centimeters in diameter. Sturdy walls line these channels, accompanied by vertical ventilation shafts connecting to the drainage canal. The length of the drainage channel can span several kilometers. As noted by the 17th-century traveler Jean Chardin, Iranians showcased an exceptional ability to pinpoint water sources and transport water over considerable distances.
How to Dig a Qanat
The process of creating a Qanat in Iran commences with the excavation of a well or entrance point. Initial dry wells, serving both debris removal and airflow facilitation, are strategically dug along the tunnel. Proper airflow is crucial to prevent worker suffocation. The tunnel continues until reaching the Qanat’s outlet and the mother well, with a carefully calibrated gradient for efficient water flow. Qanats are often constructed in areas with natural slopes near mountains and foothills. The Khaleh Dooz Museum, also known as the Yazd Water Museum, provides insights into Qanat digging tools and artifacts.
The Oldest Qanat in the World
The Qanat-e-Qasabeh in Gonabad, Iran, stands as the world’s oldest and most water-rich Qanat, boasting a history of 2,500 years. With a depth of 300 meters, it holds the title of the deepest mother well globally. Over 470 ventilation shafts were strategically placed along its course to prevent blockages. This intricate Qanat follows a winding path with thousands of tunnels, showcasing the craftsmanship of ancient builders. Archaeological findings trace its origins back to the Achaemenid era. Qanat-e-Qasabeh, the lifeline of Gonabad in the past, continues to bring life and prosperity to the modern city.
The Longest Qanat in Iran
Yazd boasts the title of hosting the longest Qanat in Iran – the Zarach Qanat, an impressive water channel that spans a remarkable 120 kilometers. Along its path, this ancient Qanat showcases 2,115 well rings, a testament to its historical significance. Over 3,000 years old, the Zarach Qanat reached 23 meters deep into the earth’s surface, providing a reliable water supply until approximately 150 years ago. Despite challenges arising from extensive well digging, efforts are underway on a global scale to revive and rejuvenate this historic waterway, recognizing its potential to once again serve the community.
The Baladeh Ferdows Qanat
Dating back to the Sasanian period, the Qanat of Baladeh Ferdows in Ferdows, Iran, is a marvel with archaeological traces suggesting a history extending up to 2,000 years. Comprising 15 Qanat branches and 4 springs, this water source plays a vital role in sustaining villages like Baghestan Bala and Payin, as well as Islamieh. Spanning 35 kilometers, it revitalizes 2,382 hectares of agricultural land and nurtures 1,800 orchards. The Qanat of Baladeh Ferdows remains a cornerstone in supporting local communities and their agricultural pursuits.
The Hasan Abad Qanat in Mehriz
Dating back to the 8th century AD, the Hasan Abad Qanat in Yazd, Iran, stands out for its shallow digging and unique feature of avoiding gypsum and salt layers along its channel. This preservation ensures the water maintains high quality throughout its course. Serving various purposes, including reservoir storage, orchard and agricultural irrigation, and powering water mills, the plentiful water from this Qanat, primarily used for orchard irrigation today, underscores its enduring significance in sustaining agriculture and local fields.
Iran’s ancient Qanats, characterized by their simple yet effective design, have not only irrigated arid lands but also enriched the culture and heritage of the country. Serving as lifelines for communities in desert regions, these Qanats beckon curious travelers to explore their depths and unravel the rich history and engineering marvels beneath the surface. In a world grappling with water scarcity and environmental challenges, Iranian Qanats stand as timeless reminders that solutions to pressing problems can often be discovered in the depths of history.