The Bam Citadel is, or was, one of the oldest standing fortifications on Earth, and possibly the largest mud-brick structure ever built. This magnificent hill-top fortress had dominated the ancient city of Bam from perhaps as early as 500 BC before being almost completely destroyed by an earthquake just a few years ago. An effort to rebuild this ancient architectural treasure is currently underway, although it is still uncertain what in the city and fortress can be salvaged. As of the current time, the Bam Citadel was still part of the Cultural Landscape of Bam UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Citadel of Bam may have been founded as far back as the 6th century BC as a waystation on a southern branch of the Silk Road. It was certainly around by the time of the Parthian Empire, who probably maintained it as an eastern base. Thanks to its out-of-the-way location, Bam and its fortress managed to avoid many of the wars and invasions that threatened Persia from the north and west throughout its history.
Being built of mud-brick, the greatest threat to the citadel throughout its history has been the elements, and it has been renovated on many occasions. The citadel as it stood in the 1990s essentially dated from the 16th century when it was rebuilt under the Safavids. During the 17th century, as the importance of the Silk Road waned, Bam grew less important. After an invasion from Afghanistan in the early 1700s, the town and fortress were largely abandoned. It wasn’t until the 20th century that Bam began to grow again as a major urban center. In the 1970s the citadel was used as a filming location for The Desert of the Tartars.
The Bam Citadel had survived for well over two thousand years, surviving time and war, before tragedy finally befell the fortress and the city. In December 2003 a magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck eastern Iran, with Bam close to the epicenter. The ancient city, built almost entirely out of mud brick, was effectively destroyed. The citadel was virtually leveled. Nearly thirty thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and another thirty thousand were injured.
At the present time, the future of the Bam Citadel is in doubt. Almost completely intact a few years ago, the citadel once drew tens of thousands of visitors annually. There is virtually nothing left now, and even the outline is barely discernable. However, thanks to donations and expert help from around the world, an effort is currently underway to see if any form of restoration may yet be possible for this ancient architectural treasure.
The Bam Citadel as it once stood covered a small hill at the very heart of Bam. Built primarily from adobe, the fortress was surprisingly big, with concentric walls, many towers, residences and barracks that could support and defend the local population in times of crisis. The fortress also featured a primitive air conditioning system consisting of clever wind traps.
The citadel was almost completely destroyed by the 2003 earthquake. Only small portions of the outer walls are still standing, and there is little to see besides piles of scenic rubble. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.tourismiran.ir (official tourism website of Iran).
While Bam Citadel is currently unvisitable, tourists can still visit nearby Rayen Castle, another adobe brick fortress in the Kerman province of southeastern Iran. Although less historic, Rayen is equally impressive, especially with distant snow-covered mountains as a backdrop. Further to the west in Fars province are the semi-ruins of the Ghal’eh Dokhtar Castle.