The Cherry on Top … at Shushtar

We hear two antiquities call …. from 1000 kilometres away! We answer. And it’s up and over the Zagros Mountains we go. It’s a knotty spine of a mountain that halves Iran into a west and an east.

Both these antiquities hang around a village called Shushtar. One is a set of ancient watermills from the 3rd century A.D. The other is a huge ziggurat from the 13th century B.C.

We arrive in Shushtar and it is severely hot! All we do, is expire. In temperatures that rise 3 degrees per hour from 28 till they reach 45. In summer at 65 degrees, Shushtar-ians tell us, they simply leave their kettles outside for tea!

We stay in a beautiful 10 roomed traditional hotel. But, unfortunately, we stay alone. We hop from shady spot to spot around the Ziggurat, but also all alone. We gap at the magnificence of those ancient watermills, again alone, except for one other. Is it still early ‘tourism’ days? Is it too hot? Is it too far away? Will others come soon?

These ‘relics’ from the past are jaw-droppers. Unesco declares them World Heritage Sites!

Those Watermills – 1500 years old!
Actually way more than just watermills, it’s a unique and complete hydraulic system. It traces back to Darius the Great in 5th century B.C and operates at full capacity by the 3rd, 4th and 5th century. It diverts a river, dams its water and raises its level by 2 meters. Then two canals chute water to a downstream basin. Via two feeder tunnels that control the speed of water to 14 watermills. Some watermills pound away at hard stuff like grains, beans and nuts. The others blend softer things like pulses and vegetables. And there – a vast plain becomes fertile and Shushtar grows and prospers ….

The Ziggurat at Choqa Zanbil – 3000 years old!
And about 60 km away is a ziggurat. A what? A ziggurat is a massive stone structure, a terraced compound. Its levels recede to look like a mountain. The ancients worship mountains and if you don’t have one you simply build one. It houses temples and tombs. And cuneiform, the world’s spiky first alphabet, chisels around its sides. Its 3000 years old, but disappears under the sand for 2500 years! BP, then Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, discovers it in 1935 during an aerial survey.

We leave a very dry western Iran and head 1000kms towards …

… an equally dry eastern Iran … but …

… we first we have to cross the hot and dry Zagros Mountains ….

… and at last some signs of water …

A dam trapped in the folds of the Zagros Mountains … and the beginnings of this dates back to 5th century B.C …

… and what a difference a dam makes …

… we see welcome signs of agriculture …

… and bits of greenery for animals …

And at last, that very same water finds its way to Shushtar, thanks to an ancient and ingenuous 5th century B.C. hydraulic system of diverted river and water channels …

… and this bridge cum weir that raised the water level by 2 meters for an impressive network of watermills …

… a breathtaking view of 14 watermills that operate at their peak in the 3rd, 4th and 5th century A.D …

… just imagine how wildly busy it would have been …

Look carefully and see the various chutes of water …

… that would have powered …

… the paddle wings of this and many other mills …

… and produced, for example, flour from wheat between grinding stones …

Some mills ground hard grains and beans while others ground softer things like pulses and vegetables.

This diagramme illustrates it quite nicely.

And about 60 km away from Shushtar this 13th century B.C Ziggurat greets you. It is 3000 years old and was covered by sand for 2500 of those years.

An impression of what the Ziggurat looked like in its heyday. A terraced complex of temples and tombs made to look like a mountain in a mountainless landcsape.

A square with each side 105 metres long. Here the sand that hid it for 2500 years is clearly visible.

The red mud brick is so well preserved it almost looks brand new.

See the cuneiform, the first alphabet of the world, chisselled into this row of bricks.

The only other visitor is an inquisitive chameleon in the lower right hand corner.

We dash from shady spot to shady spot. It is about 45 degrees and it is not even mid summer yet.

But these World Heritage Sites are nothing without the locals that busy around them. Shushtar has 180,000 inhabitants. And they charm the pants off us. They are the yeast for all that flour ground at the watermills. They are the icing on the cake, the CherrY on ToP.

Fancy; the awesomeness calls but it is the ordinariness that delights.

We stay in this small hotel, a renovated old traditional house with courtyard. When our bikes are not in the shade, someone covers them with a tarpaulin.

Sadly, we are the only guests. Here Harry sits at a breakfast table waiting … for only me.

The owner invites us to the opening of a small museum celebrating the heritage of Shushtar.

And we meet the delightful Aziz, who has written a 500 pg book on the history of Shushtar. He cannot get it published, he believes because of references to the Reza Shah.

These guys at the local motorbike shop make really good company.

And we become very fond of these two young bread bakers.

And we visit this Iranian canteen everyday for 5 days for supper. We relish these daily interactions with these wonderful young people.

We work our way through the Iranian menu.

Fancy, long ago these grains, beans, nuts and spices would have been pounded by those ancient watermills down the road.

Yes, the splendid antiquities at Shushtar have the MOST SPLENDID of descendents.

13 Responses to The Cherry on Top … at Shushtar

  1. Anonymous

    Very dry and hot there in Sushtar, can’t imagine trying to sleep in hot conditions like 45 degrees in the day. Also very rocky pics and looks like very friendly people around. enjoy the trip Debbie – Durban.

  2. Colin

    Interesting post. Sushtar also has heat problems. Very hot environment with 45 degrees in the day. I thought Durban was bad. Enjoy the rest of your trip. When are you guys returning to Port Elizabeth?
    All the best Colin from Durban.

  3. Naude.K

    It just don’t end – the great experiences and fantastic stories.

  4. Wendy

    The sites covered with sand for so many years leaves one seeing – but not being able to comprehend what you see.

    I almost want to think that in terms of sight seeing , this trip was the most amazing. Again realise how small my world of travel is- and that my “fears” of leaving my comfort zone make me so much poorer – but thank you to our wonderful, brave and fearless Harry and Linda – we too can be exposed to worlds that would never never have been known to us. Thank you and WELL DONE.
    You deserve the world record and gold medal o travel!!!!!!!!

  5. Wendy

    What an experience. Definitely save the best for last!!!!!!!!! Linnie and Hobbie – that mountain pass that you had to traverse- my friends you are amazing and brave and courageous and FEARLESS. Shoo makes the Swartberg Pass look lie a primary school outing!!!!! Harry I am so very pleased that you have at last bought into Wendy- style accommodation LOL LOL!!!!!!!!!! Suites you my friend!!!!!!!!!

    Linda you look so elegant in the head scarf- also in previous postings. You embrace cultural values and differences with such poise and grace.
    Wends and Amelia

  6. Anonymous

    The Zagros mountains and the view onto the dam is spectacular! I hear you describe those temperatures, and I’m silently pleading for just a little warm to be sent this way to heat my iced fingers and toes (suffering artic temps in my house). And then more bread. I’ve visions of delicious Persian wraps and spicy delights. And then more of an insight into a life relatively unchanged for thousands of years in the harshest of conditions in the middle of nowhere, ancient irrigation systems, and not a tourist in sight. Bliss. A delightful read to start my morning!!! I am oh so curious as to whether they have deciphered the cuniform?

  7. Jim and Muriel xx

    Hot stuff indeed ! What an insight into all of this——so splendidly done—thank you !
    Take care and love as aye Jim & Muriel xx

  8. Mike

    Very dry and barren until you get to a true oasis, must have been a sight for sore eyes. Once again, the terrain reminds me of Southern Namibia. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Derek Lubbe

    Thank you

  10. Anonymous

    You make our overcrowded Roman mosaics, chateaus, and castles seem like nonsense tourist traps. Lots of love.

  11. Anonymous

    You make our overcrowded Roman mosaics, castles, museums and villages in Europe seem like pathetic insignificant modern tourist traps! Wish we were there. Lots of love.

  12. ndaba ndzombane

    Stunning and majestic

  13. gail van der mey

    Another fantastic post incredible from beginning to end. You don’t miss a thing including the cuneiform letters and the cameleon. Once again a true treat to feast on. THANKS

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