Iranian Heritage in Danger (III): Qanats

This post intends to focus on Ancient Persian Water System “Qanats” which is a symbol of Iranian art and engineering. From above, it seems as if a series of holes were pierced in the desert's dry surface. But a hundred feet below the mysterious lace, a narrow tunnel carries water from a distant aquifer to farms and villages that would not exist without it. These underground aqueducts, called Qanats, are 3,000-year-old marvels of engineering, many of which are still in use throughout Iran. It provides exceptional testimony to cultural traditions and civilizations in desert areas with an arid climate. Listed as a World Heritage Site in 2016 by UNESCO, the Persian Qanats system is one of the major influences on the location and morphology of desert cities. The main cities of the central plateau of Iran are mostly located on the outermost edge of the region. Constructing Qanats was a painstaking task, made even more so by the need for great precision. The angle of the tunnel's slope had to be steep enough to allow the water to flow freely without stagnating-but too steep and the water would flow with enough force to speed erosion and collapse the tunnel. Although difficult work-even after completion, Qanats require annual maintenance-the irrigation tunnels allowed agriculture to bloom in the arid desert.

There are some threats to Qanats as come bellow:

  1. In the 1960s and 1970s, the subdivision of the large estates based on Qanats caused administrative tangle, and many Qanats fell into disrepair without the traditional maintenance of the community. And as modern agriculture takes root. People do not depend on Qanats anymore, as it was before. It's not possible to feed your family and earn money by working in Qanats, which have become less a way of life and more of a "hobby."
  2. Unfortunately, in recent years, due to considerable excavation and extraction of groundwater resources, we have faced a sharp drop in water levels in Iran's zones, which caused a lot of loss and drying. Clearly, it can be seen that the balance of groundwater stored over the years by Qanat has been loosed by overusing over the last several years. 
  3. Additionally, Droughts cause the death of the Qanats. 
  4. Another important point is that the activists in the mining and restoration of the Qanat have been made by experienced worker, who has obtained many years from their ancestors. Unfortunately, their valuable art
    and experience goes hand in hand with the advent of new technologies about water extraction and system. There has been no attempt to transfer their experiences to the younger generation. The masterpiece of water extraction will be destroyed if there is no serious plan for maintaining the ancient worthy art and engineering attempt. 
  5. The lack of management in the construction and development of cities granting construction permissions, regardless of the existence of Qanats, is a real threat to Qanat. Entrance of urban and hospital waste into the aqueducts, reducing quality water in Qanat. 
  6. People ignorance about protecting Qanat as one of the world heritage sites. 

There are some suggestions by author:

  1. Today, using new technology can help us to reconstruct to preserve Qanats for many years and increase its life. 
  2. Changing the attitude of government and citizens towards Qanat vitally needed by holding some exhibitions to show videos about Qanats, and its useful structure. 
  3. This structure has a particular complexity and it is necessary to put it as one of the main part of the courses in the universities to teach. Holding academic workshop for local people to increase their knowledge about world heritage as a useful way to decrease damage which come from people ignorance. 
  4. Qanat has been the best and most logical method of water extraction, although the technology is changing the world, in the desert region of Iran. Aqueducts are worth registering in the national heritage because of their age and world heritage role and importance. 
  5. There are also some technical solutions to preserving Qanats that can use by experts such as insulation "Khoshkarak". If this part is isolated by cement walls or polyethylene pipes, it prevents environmental pollutants, including urban wastewater, thus keeping the water clean.

All in all, protecting the Qanats is not the only responsibility of the agricultural organization. The Cultural Heritage Organization, the environmental organization, and even urban and provincial officials must also enter the area to protect the does not justify the fact that citizenship passes their responsibilities and they should also play their role in preserving their inheritance.

Iranian Heritage in Danger is a post series by UCM doctoral student Ghazal Nouri.


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