Yazd is a Puzzle.
She sits dead centre in Iran. A city of a half a million people, inhabited for 7000 years. But in a desert, with not a river in sight!
Why! Why? Why, here in the glaring white of a desert? Why not, faraway there, along the green and blue hues of a river!
A Puzzle! But as the desert dust settles, she bares herself. Unhurriedly! One piece at a time falls, each simple and elegant. Her four pieces fit flawlessly; EARTH, WIND, WATER and FIRE!
Yazd rises, not like a Phoenix, but like a belch from the desert. “Oops, excuse me” she says. A long, slow burp of buildings; all in the colour of the EARTH she stands on.
She is made entirely of EARTH and organic materials. Mud-brick. It also goes by names of rammed earth, cob, adobe! Rectangular bricks, small enough to dry quickly without cracking, hold together with a plaster of mud. And thick walls, small windows and inner courtyards keep her cool. An entire city made of EARTH, with only a few recent exceptions.
But wait, there is more! Everywhere, across Yazd, towers pop up and out. Not just the elegant spires, in praise of Allah. But the top-heavy towers, with featureless slits, to catch the WIND. Badgirs, WIND-catchers, a Persian invention, are the world’s first air conditioners! They catch cold WIND and dispel hot WIND in four, six, and eight directions. Their shafts catch the lightest breeze; their shelves hold onto hot air and their flaps direct circulation. Yes, WIND-catchers mark all her EARTH coloured buildings of import.
And they rarely stand alone. WIND-catchers circle domes. And domes hide the WATER reservoirs beneath them. Yes, out-of-sight, the WATER-y underworld of Yazd slithers and snakes with shafts and qanats and reservoirs and canals and sluice gates and pools and clay pots and jugs. And the first, amongst these equals, is the Qanat. The underground water channel; another Persian invention! This one works water since 1000 B.C. Qanat workers bleed water tables in faraway higher mountains. And their qanats escort this water, inch by slow inch with gravity. Drop by lazy drop, to reservoirs in Yazd. She has about 70 qanats, one as long as 120 km. And our Yazd still relies on many of them.
Yes, Yazd lets slip her first three pieces! EARTH, WIND and WATER! And Yazd is as CooL as can be. Together, they keep the basements of her houses just above freezing. In a desert!
Three pieces; the know-HOW pieces. But, we still do not know-WHY? For heaven’s sake, WHY in this deadly desert?
Then Yazd reveals her last piece …
Yes, Zayd has this too! A fire burns still, for 1548 years; since 470 AD. We see it flicker and flame in Yazd. Her Fire Temple!
It is Zoroastrians that diligently feed this fire, every day. They have no symbol or icon, but they have fire. And FIRE burns in their Fire Temples. And nowhere more attentively than in Yazd! There are only 150,000 Zoroastrians left in the world, but 4,000 of them are in Yazd. And Yazd burns brightly!
A legend tells of a Zoroastrian princess that flees the Arab invasion in 637 AD. She and her followers have nothing, not even water. And near Yazd, at Chak Chak, in desperation she throws her staff at a cliff and … water begins to drip, drip. Then and there, she and her followers feel FIRE in their bellies. They begin to imagine a new reality! They dream of Yazd, a home in the desert, free of persecution. As desert dwellers before them, and the Silk Road governors after them, YAZD burns brightly in their mind’s eye.
And the know-HOW pieces, Earth, Wind and Water … follow … FIRE.
There, the puzzle that is Yazd, complete and perfect.