2010
04.09

SYNOPSIS: I spent most of the day walking through Yazd.  The water museum shed light on the qanats (water channels).  Restored historic houses made me understand the badgirs (wind towers).  How effective ancient technology can be.

Yazd is quite a big town, but for someone like me, most everything of interest is in the old town.  Typical for the skyline of Yazd are the Badgirs or wind towers.  Big and small, old and new, they define the roofs alongside the ever present domes.  Invisible, on the other hand are the qanats, or water channels which crisscross the town way below ground.  All these features represent ancient genius at work and prove that coping with the heat can be done, and the supply of water can be guaranteed, by simple, low-tech means.

The domes are used for anything from mosques, to baths, to homes.  Almost every mud-brick structure is built with a vault of some sort to avoid direct sun exposure.  It proves to be very effective.

I could not quite imagine though, how a tower on the roof could make much of a difference until I stood beneath one.  Many of the traditional villas in town have been converted into restaurants, hotels, or museums and are therefore accessible.  Today, I got the grand tour at one of the most beautiful of them, the Mehr Hotel.  Many of the suites have their own badgirs.  Directly beneath the wind towers it feels as if you had an air conditioner running!  There are small sitting rooms into which you can retreat from the summer’s heat.  Imagine how healthy this is.  Badgirs can be small single-shaft towers, or they can have multiple compartments.  Even the slightest breeze can be caught and transported down into the shaft. Hot air exits through different openings.  Put a badgir over a pool and you can cool the water which in turn evaporates and cools its surroundings.  Very impressive.

I have come across many dried out qanats, but at the Mehr Hotel, the qanat was operational.  One has to go down a narrow tunnel of steep steps until you reach a level easily 5-10 meters below ground.  It is as if you had your own spring running through the house.  Clear, fresh mountain water is supplied constantly and a room next to the water is equipped again for relaxation or to sleep there.  Even in a torching 50 degrees Celsius outside, there will be a cooling 10-15 degrees down there!   I finally understood a bit more about the qanats after visiting the water museum in Yazd.  Extensive English explanations helped!  To this day, there are crews of qanat builders.

First, the crew identify a water source hopefully way up in the mountains.  Then they figure out where the water needs to go.  They start digging at the end, for example in Yazd, working their way backwards to the water source.  A slope has to be created upwards to the source which controls the stream of water just right.  It should not gush too fast and it should not trickle too slowly.  The slope is literally determined by ropes and strings!  Just like the Romans who transported water over hundreds of kilometers above ground, these qanats do the same below ground.  No computer technology is at work here.  The province of Yazd alone has over 3000 qanat channels, some very recent.  The qanat workers dig tunnels no wider than 80 centimeters and tall enough to stand in.  They dig channels with pick axes and remove the dirt with buckets.  The men and the dirt ascend from the ground into shafts that are dug frequently via pulleys that look like small wind mills.  The dirt then is deposited around these shafts which punctuate the desert landscape like moon craters.  When the water level drops, the qanats can be dug deeper.  But today, many of them lay dormant since the water level has dropped beyond reach and more modern canalization is used to supply water.

I was surprised to see the pictures of the qanat diggers.  Almost all of them are old men.  This must be an extremely demanding physical job.  I wonder, if the new generation is not interested in picking up this old trade, or if it was just a coincidence that the crew represented at the museum is an aging one.

I love to learn about these things and thumbs up to the Yazd Water Museum for providing multi-lingual signage.

I was trekking around town from 1 to 6 PM.  No big deal if it had not been for a hot and sunny day.  Despite my sun factor 50 sun screen, I returned burned.  But worse, I returned with a fever.  I will blame that darn scarf for it, but it may have happened without it.  I never have taken heat very well and I remember my childhood days of sunstrokes well.   I am heading straight to bed and hope that tomorrow, I will be over this.

Good night.