The Director of Shahr-e Rey’s National Cultural Heritage Base has officially initiated a significant restoration and preservation project for Iraj Castle, recognized as the world’s largest adobe castle.
Situated in Shahr-e Rey, in southern Tehran, this historic effort, as disclosed by Qadir Afrund in an exclusive interview with Iran Daily, will encompass architectural reconstruction and rescue missions aimed at revitalizing sections of the castle that have endured substantial damage over the years.
Iraj Castle, renowned as both the largest adobe castle in the world, and one of the world’s oldest ancient fortresses, has faced extensive deterioration, particularly in recent decades. As a result, urgent preservation measures are essential, with some sections of the castle having suffered such extensive damage that even experts and visitors struggle to discern architectural elements, making architectural reconstruction an imperative step, Afrund emphasized.
Elaborating on the initial phase of this operation, Afrund revealed that a budget of approximately 10 billion Iranian rials (about $20,000) has been allocated to kick start this ambitious undertaking. Initial preservation and conservation activities are already in progress.
According to Afrund, Iraj Castle’s historical significance traces back to the Parthian and Sassanian eras, classifying it as a hill-fort city from that time, as indicated by archaeological assessments. Spanning an impressive 200 hectares, the castle’s construction was a complex and resource-intensive endeavor, employing locally available natural materials to accommodate its vast size.
Breaking down the castle’s dimensions, Afrund explained that it encompasses an internal area of 175 hectares, with an additional 25 hectares dedicated to towers and trenches, resulting in a total castle area of 200 hectares. The remaining sections of the castle reach a towering height of up to 15 meters. Along the castle’s perimeter, there were originally 148 semicircular towers, spaced at 30-meter intervals, though some have been lost to time.
Furthermore, Afrund noted that the castle’s length extends to approximately one and a half kilometers, with a width of 1.2 kilometers. The longitudinal walls contain 36 semicircular towers, while the transverse walls feature 32 towers, all integral to the castle’s defensive mechanisms. Additionally, four prominent circular towers of considerable size grace each corner of the castle, with two additional towers flanking the entrance gate, bringing the total number of towers to 148.
Afrund continued, providing insights into the castle’s construction, explaining that the wall thickness measures about 20 meters, comprising an initial six meters of clay and a subsequent nine meters constructed using adobe bricks measuring 40 x 40 x 10 centimeters. A broad and deep trench encircles the castle, collectively emphasizing its vastness and grandeur.
A corridor and walkway encircle the castle’s walls, commencing from the half-wall upward. This corridor once served as a secure location for guards to monitor and protect the castle. Interestingly, certain sections of this corridor and guard rooms have endured, offering an appealing experience for modern-day visitors.
Speaking about the history of Iraj Castle, Afrund said, “The castle derives its name from Iraj, the son of Fereydun, a legendary figure in Iranian mythology, which underscores its ancient lineage.” However, further archaeological and research endeavors are required to uncover the precise purpose and origins of the castle.
Afrund added, “In the Avesta, the primary collection of religious texts in Zoroastrianism, there is mention of a city or land called ‘Varena,’ or ‘Four-point Varena,’ identified as the 14th city created by Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord. Many mythologists and archaeologists posit that Iraj Castle corresponds to the ‘Four-point Varena,’ as referenced in the Avesta.”
In conclusion, Afrund speculated that architectural structures may not have initially existed within the castle’s enclosure, possibly serving as a campsite where tents were pitched. This conjecture suggests that the castle functioned as a central military command center, obviating the need for extensive architectural construction within its walls.
The restoration and preservation initiative for Iraj Castle, with its rich historical significance, represents a critical undertaking aimed at safeguarding this iconic cultural heritage site for future generations, while deepening our understanding of its historical context.