Iranian Heritage in Danger (VI): Hydraulic system

This post intends to focus on Shushtar Hydraulic System, the largest industrial complex before the Industrial Revolution. This masterpiece of creative genius system is one of the outstanding examples of the achievements of Persian architecture. It was inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage list in 2009 and registered in Iran's 10th cultural heritage site to be on the United Nations' list . The system is located in Khuzestan Province in ancient city of the same name from the Sassanid era with a complex irrigation system. It’s date back to the time of Darius the Great, the second Achaemenid Persian king, in the 5th century BC. Karun, the only navigable river of Iran, is divided into two branches before entering Shushtar, called Gargar and Shatit. Gargar is an artificial watercourse which its construction is attributed to Ardeshir I, the Sassanid Empire. Gargar weir was built on this canal to bring up the water level. Through the system of tunnels and pools, water is diverted to the city of Shushtar, powering several mills.


This System testifies to the heritage and the synthesis of earlier Elamite and Mesopotamian knowhow; it was probably influenced by the Petra dam and tunnel and by Roman civil engineering in the third century AD on Sassanid order, it was the most eastern Roman bridge and Roman dam and the first structure in Iran to combine a bridge with a dam.


The historical monument of amazing engineering site has some infrastructures included water mills, dams, tunnels, and canals. Clear water comes from every direction for a lot of wildlife in that environment.
Shushtar is a unique and exceptionally complete example of hydraulic techniques developed during ancient times to aid the occupation of semi-desert lands. The secret of stability in this system is using large-scale civil engineering structures and the creation of canals by diverting a river flowing down the mountains. In so doing, it made possible multiple uses for the water across a vast territory: urban water supply, agricultural irrigation, fish farming, mills, transport, defense system, etc. It appears to a technical culture serving the sustainable development of a human society in Iran, in harmony with its natural and urban environment.

Todays this structure grapples with some problems which are listed as below:



  1. The ancient water treatment techniques used in Shushtar historical hydraulic system is something unique you can hardly find anywhere else. It attracts so many visitors and archaeologists to the area from all over the world. But some mismanagement in tourism industry makes some irreparable damages to the body of this huge structure that comes from the ignorance of local and international tourists. They damage sites by engraving on brick and destroying some parts of structure. Some tourists throw out rubbish on the water, it is bind the way of cannels and deviate the flow of that. 
  2. The bottom of the mills and hand-operated channels, created on a natural surface, have been eroded and damaged over the time by water. Needing to repair for preventing further damage is necessary. Unfortunately, carelessness in restoring in recent years by low quality materials, lack of management in the construction and development of cities granting construction permissions, regardless of the existence of these structures, are negative points which can be noted. 
  3. Recently, due to considerable excavation and extraction of rivers and groundwater resources, Iran has faced a significant drop in water source, which caused a lot of drying and problems. Waterfalls glory has been decreased by the imbalance of groundwater stored because of overusing. 
  4. Additionally, Lack of human resources in maintaining is another problem because of lack of adjusting budget by government. Changing the attitude of government and citizens towards old hydraulic techniques vitally needed by holding some exhibitions to show videos about structure. 


This case is unique in the world. It is strongly believed that particular world attention should be paid on conserving world heritage sites, specially these kinds of cases because of their particular structures. So the main recommendation can be investigating the structure of the Shushtar Hydraulic System and also finding a suitable way for restoring all grafted structures. Although the technology is changing the world, in the desert region, Hydraulic System has been the best and most logical method of water increase. In addition, architectural measures to recovering damage structure against the tensions which come from natural phenomena should be needed.
All in all, conserving historical and natural sites should be one area of government's priority of the countries all around the world. Efforts directed to the restoration of attributes that demonstrate authenticity must be pursued. Government, citizens and tourists should be jointly responsible to protect world heritage. The components of the whole management plan are slightly satisfactory, but they need to be improved in terms of the interpretation of the sites and the involvement of the local population.

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


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