Reflections: Iran – The Earthquake of Bam and Destruction of The Arg-e Bam Citadel

A view of the Arg-e Bam CitadelThe Middle East has always been a subject of great fascination to many travelers throughout the centuries, and Liza and I were no different. Whilst over-landing from Europe to Australia in the 1995, we made our way from Eastern Turkey and into ‘The Islamic Republic of Iran’. At this time (as I would also presume today) there were all but a trickle of western travelers making there way across this arid and expansive country. The route we took was a well beaten path during the sixties and seventies, with many travellers hitching their way along the so called ‘Hippe Trail’, heading for the many delights and pitfalls of India, and the Far East. During our time in Iran everywhere we went, we were made to feel like royalty. The people of this nation were extremely polite, well educated and as curious of us, as we were of them. Our stay lasted a total of 21 days, made up of a 14 day transit visa, with a 7 day extension. (this was the longest any westerner could stay in Iran at this time.)

Iran has much to offer anyone who manages to deal with the red tape and bureaucracy of gaining entry into this mysterious land.

The view of the ancient town of Arg-e Bam

A view from the top of the Citadel looking down upon the city that laid behind the fortified walls.

During our stay we visited some truly remarkable UNESCO World Heritage sites, many of which I had no idea existed before our arrival. From the historic Bazaar of Tabriz and the ancient ruins of Persepolis, to the beautiful blue mosaic tiles of Isfahan’s Jemeh Mosque. It’s tall and tapered minarets and large dome, would reflect both the afternoon sun, and the artificial lights that would illuminate its exterior, each and every night. These names bring back vivid and lasting memories of my time in Iran all those years ago, but there was one site we visited that stood above all others. That was the fortified medieval Citadel of Arg-e Bam, found in the remote south eastern corner of the country (as shown in the picture above).

In 2003, approximately eight years after our visit, the modern city of Bam and surrounding areas of the Kerman province were hit by an horrific earthquake, the killed more than 26,000 people, and injuring a further 30,000.

The Bam Earthquake Killed More Than 26,000 People

This equates to almost half of the cities population being killed, and the other half injured. The standard construction method of the city was the not much different than that which built the ‘Arg-e Bam’ citadel some 1500 years previous. The viscous 6.6 magnitude quake tore through the city and leveled most of the buildings and infrastructure there by reducing much of the city to ruble. As well as the massive loss of life that occurred, the Arg-e Bam was also all but destroyed, and has lay in ruin ever since. The Iranian government has vowed to rebuild the citadel, but it’s main concern (as it should be), was always going to be the reconstruction of the city of Bam, and to help rebuild the lives of those who survived.

A view of the Iranian Citadel of Arg-e Bam

A view of the Citadel from a distance. This shot gives you some perspective on how big the site was.

On the day we visited the Arg-e Bam, we basically had the place all to our selves. Besides the two guards at the ticket booth and two or three local toursits, we were on our own. We spent the afternoon exploring this impressive mud-brick constructed fortress, and all of it’s nooks and crannies. Getting lost as we worked our way around the site, taking in the views of the surrounding mountains. The citadel was perched at a high vantage point on a rocky hilltop, with the town below it being guarded by huge walls (over eighty feet high in some parts). In years gone by, the tops of these walls would be covered in archers, who would fine upon those foolish enough to attack the city. It was a memorable afternoon, and to think that others who come to this region in the future will not be able to have an experience like this, as the Arg-e Bam has more than likely been lost forever.

Has anyone else ever been so fortunate as finding them selves in a place such as this, and being able to explore uninhibited without the mass of people that you come to expect at an historical site as significant as the Arg-e Bam.


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     About the author

Jason has traveled the world extensively during the last 20 years, with overland journeys on six continents and across over 90 countries. This site serves as a chronicle of the images and tales from these journeys, as well as offering advice and general information for other like minded travelers.

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  • Anonymous

    You are right in that you are very fortunate to have visited here before the quake. It looks like an absolutely magnificent place. I am really hoping to be able visit Iran in the future and your post just reinforces that desire. Cheers

  • Jason

    Hey Guys, Yes it truly was a brilliant place to visit, and to see a place such as the Arg-e Bam without anyone around also gave the visit more significance. Iran is a fantastic place to visit, and the people of this country will greet you with open arms. We were forever given food, and offered the best seats on the buses, and help everywhere we went.

  • Dave from The Longest Way Home

    Great post, and again brought back memories. I passed through in 2007 and indeed Bam was quite flat. The upper citadel area is like a broken sandcastle. Restoration seems held up by the construction materials themselves. And, whether or not to even restore it.

    I don’t entirely blame them. A few decades of reconstruction, and it could be flatten again. There are other mud cities in Iran too. Truly a great country to travel. The people are just so friendly, in the east it was great.

  • Jason

    Thanks for the thumbs up on this one Dave. I quite enjoy reminiscing about places such as the Arg-e Bam and I don’t think I could believe my eyes if I sore it in ruins. My personal opinion, is it will be many years before any real restoration takes place and as you point out you can’t blame them.

    I believe the other site you are referring to is the Arg-e Rayen, that also lies in the Kerman province in South Eastern Iran. This site is on a smaller scale that the now destroyed Arg-e Bam, but from all accounts is still in good condition. Hopefully people that are making their way overland into Pakistan in the future will pass it by and pay a visit. Thanks for your input, I appreciate it.

  • Andi Perullo

    Truly, what an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience! Fingers crossed I get to that part of the world sooner than later.

  • Jason

    Hey Andi, Yes Iran is a place where the traveler is made to feel quite special, and I couldn’t speak highly enough of the people we met. There is also many great places to see, and it’s well worth the effort of obtaining a visa.

  • Steve

    You’re very fortunate to have visited before the earthquake. This story just shows that it is better to travel soner rather than later. It looks like such an amazing place. I hope the city and the people there get everything back to the way it was soon.

  • Jason

    Hey Steve, Yes we were quite fortunate to see this place when we did, and it was a great experience to be in a place such as this and having the place all to our selves. The tragedy that took place in Bam was horrific, You’re right when you say, do things sooner rather than later, cause you just never know whats around the corner. Thanks for your comment mate.

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