NOTE: This article defines the city of Bam as the "old city" contiguous with the Arg-e Bam, comprising the original settlement around the fortress contained within the largest of the old city walls. "North" is here defined as plan north, with the Rud-e Posht river running north of the citadel complex. All use of the present tense is historical, and refers to Bam as it existed prior to the 26 December 2003 earthquake, which leveled the city.
The city of Bam, one of the first urban centers in Iran, is located to the southeast of modern-day Kerman. Thought to have been built in the Ashkanid (248 BC - 226 CE) period, Bam has functioned as a major trade center since the pre-Islamic period, basing its economy on the silk trade and agriculture. Bam is located on both the Silk Route to China and the overland trade and sea routes to India, and its famous weaving industry produced the finest silk and cotton materials.
Bam's geography was decisive in its settlement: the city was built just 100 meters south of the Rud-e Posht ("back river"), and the Nahr-e Shahr ("town canal") was the city's main water carrier. Although both the river and the canal would dry up in the summer months, this water source was crucial to the city's survival between two major mountain ranges in arid and hostile desert terrain. Many streams (qanats) and wells provided the city with a good water supply, which, combined with Bam's good climate and fertile soil, favored its agricultural development.
The old city of Bam itself was laid out as a rectangle, with the citadel elevated approximately 5 m. on an artificial hill above the surrounding urban fabric within the northwestern quadrant of the old city. The citadel area itself measures approximately 315 meters east-west by 270 meters north-south. The outermost city wall, enclosing the citadel and the old city together, is Bam's principal urban element. This wall surrounds the working-class neighborhood (rabaz) on the south, east, and west, and rings the citadel to the north. At its highest point, this wall was eighteen meters in height, with a breadth of six meters at its widest. Two gates into the city of Bam were located on its southern walls, and it is estimated that the eastern and western walls also contained two gates. In the nineteenth century, all gates but one in the southern wall were closed for security reasons. Wells, gardens, and livestock pens were also kept within the city walls for optimal self-sufficiency.
Bam provides a good model for understanding the traditional Iranian city. In both ancient and Islamic Iran, cities were composed of four zones, known as the "kohandezh" (citadel), "shahrestan" (wealthy neighborhood), "rabaz" (middle-to-working-class neighborhood), and "roosta" (rural areas, located outside of the city itself). The kohandezh of the old city of Bam contains the citadel and the residence of the governor, while the rabaz bounds the sharestan. Its roosta surrounds the walled city on its south, east, and west, and the river borders it to the north. The rabaz, which comprises seven different neighborhoods, contains the bazaar, the Friday Mosque, a husseiniyeh, a hammam, a water storage facility, a synagogue, a madrasa for dervishes, a gymnasium, and approximately four hundred houses. The rabaz is entered directly from the portal projecting from the southern (outermost) defensive wall.
Composed of two parts, this portal houses the main entry to the city, presenting a pointed arch with a blind arch above it and bastions on either side to the outside. These two flanking bastions blend back into a wall leading to an intermediate chamber between the main portal and the city wall itself. This level boasts two more bastions, taller and wider than those preceding, and a crenellated parapet wall identical to that of the outer portal.
Upon entering, one sees the first of three major roads, the bazaar road, running north. The backbone of the city, Bam's bazaar provides a covered pathway to the fortress in the form of a line of small, formerly vaulted shops originally divided internally into front and back rooms.
Continuing along the bazaar for approximately 120 meters north of the entrance portal, one arrives at the Tekkiyeh square. This square served the dual public function of bazaar and religious amphitheatre, particularly during the annual festival of Muharram, when a temporary stage would be constructed for a re-enactment of the death of Hussein (the Ta'ziya), an important Shiite festival.
The Tekkiyeh square also marks the intersection of the two major N-S and E-W throughfares. Continuing north from this square, one finds the Hammam-e Arg (citadel bathhouse) on the western side. Facing this hammam on the east is a small mosque called the Al-Rasoul (Prophet) Mosque.
Still following the north road toward the citadel, one enters an open space delimited by the citadel's stables to the west; to the west of these stables one finds the city's caravanserai, which formed part of the bazaar system. This open square to the east of the stables preceded the gate to the governor's residential complex, and also housed administrative and governmental activities.
Returning back south to Tekkiyeh Square and moving east to the road's end, one finds a hub of important structures in the southeast quadrant of Bam. The Friday Mosque (Masjid-e Jame) is found to the south of the road, with the Mirza Naim complex directly to the north. This Friday Mosque was last used 40 years ago; originally built in the Shabestani style, it may be one of the oldest mosques in Iran.
The Mirza Naim complex, named after the son of its builder, Haj Seyyed Mohammed (a prominent Bam religious figure), comprises a religious theatre, a madrasa, Mizra Naim's private residence, and four courtyards. Immediately northeast of the Mirza Naim complex is the plaza "Maidan-e Zur-Khaneh," with its attendant gymnasium, the "zur-khaneh."
The Jewish quarter, possibly one of the oldest neighborhoods, is also located in the eastern quadrant. It contains a synagogue as well as a covered elevated "road" which connected the upper floors of residences.
Residential structures in old Bam can be categorized by space and income into three types. Within the rabaz, one finds smaller homes of 2-3 rooms. Larger homes of 3-4 rooms, often with verandas, were intended for the middle class, in the shahrestan, and the largest homes possess multiple rooms, oriented differently and intended for occupation during different seasons. These homes also boast large central courtyards and animal stalls.
The buildings in the old city boast a highly developed environmental design sensibility. Wind-towers (badgir) protrude from buildings to catch the wind, directing it into the building interiors. Other badgir were designed to direct air over water basins, which cleansed and cooled the air stream. In general, badgir were utilized in different ways according to building function; four-directional badgir, which caught winds from each direction in each season, were employed for larger, more important buildings. Smaller structures would have a single, uni-directional badgir.
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