Bam, Iran, the world’s oldest mud fortress

Twenty years ago, while racing across country to get out of Iran before our visas expired (now there’s a story for another day), we came across the world’s oldest mud fortress, the Citadel of Bam, just as the last of the afternoon sun was hanging over the horizon.

Glowing red in the sunset light as we drove up, and quickly falling into the gloom of dusk, we sprinted through it’s 2000 year old streets and wound our way up to the very top of the citadel. The view was like something Hollywood might dream up, falling away beneath me in all directions were the streets and buildings of a city made entirely of mud bricks, clay, straw and the trunks of palm trees.

A city had stood there almost two thousand years, and the citadel and surrounds that I was looking at had been built 400-600 years previously – all in mud, surrounded by desert. It was a fleeting visit to somewhere so unique that I would never forget it.

In 2003 Bam was hit by a large earthquake, which killed 25,000 people and destroyed 80% of the citadel and old fortified town, as well as much of the new town that had grown around it.  A horribly sad, tragic event.

The experts say there is some optimism that an international effort to excavate the site and slowly rebuild parts of the Citadel will one day restore at least part of its former glory. In the meantime the earthquake exposed the older layers of mud brick structures which is extremely useful for archaeologists. I have a sad feeling that travellers now will never have the opportunity for the same awe and wonder that we felt when we first spied Bam.