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24.1.05

Will Bam Be Rebuilt?

Other articles:

Afzal Khan, U.S. University Offers Help for Earthquake Damage in Bam, Iran (Payvand's Iran News, December 23, 2004)

Renee Montagne, Iran's Bam Earthquake Revisited (NPR Morning Edition, December 30, 2004)

Persepolis and Bam Citadel to Go Online (Iranian Cultural Heritage News Agency, January 23)

Japan to Donate 1 Million USD to Rebuild Bam Citadel (Iranian Cultural Heritage News Agency, January 24)



Bam, Iran, before the earthquake
The devastating earthquake that leveled the ancient Iranian citadel of Bam, some 600 miles southeast of Tehran, may have far-reaching cultural consequences, as well as having caused some 50,000 human deaths. After the destruction of the pre-Islamic site (founded in the Sassanian period) in December 2003 (look at these satellite images), Iranian president Mohammad Khatami promised to reconstruct what was lost "no matter the cost." It was the largest monument in the world made of a type of mud brick, mixed from the local red sand and straw, and experts estimate that 80% of the citadel was destroyed (it has been described as "a pile of ocher-colored sand blown apart by heavy artillery"). (Here's a video what the site looked like in 2002.) An article (Bam: la citadelle sera-t-elle redressée ?, January 17) from France 2 Cultural news asks the question of whether President Khatami's pledge is realistic.
A passageway has been thrown up over the ruins. Conservation and safety work have been undertaken to save the remains of the entrance from collapse. The threat of collapse from more seismic activity is always present. Work was begun only three months ago to remove the debris, according to the project's director, Eskandar Mokhtari. "A band of 800 meters [0.5 miles] has been cleared, and it will require about another two years to clear everything away," he explains. [...]

While trying to put together an application to list Bam as part of UNESCO's worldwide patrimony, archeologists "fell upon Iran's most ancient irrigation system." They also uncovered undiscovered remains. On a fort going back to 600 B.C., "there were so many pottery shards that it was impossible to walk without breaking them. What is extraordinary is that that we discovered them, it was the way that we could have missed them until now," explains one of the workers on the restoration operation.
In other words, the experts are not even interested in "rebuilding" Bam, since it's hard to know exactly how that could be done. They are more interested now in gleaning what archeological evidence they can from the site, more of which was actually revealed by the earthquake. In fact, one researcher there speculates that the earthquake ultimately saved Bam. It is now a UNESCO site, and without that protection a highway was planned to go near the site, which would have swallowed it up quickly in urban development.

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