• Keywords: Iran, Cultural Landscape, Kuh-e Khuaja, Ghaga-shahr, Mount Khwaja or Mount Khwajeh, citadel, city-fortresses, Parthian, Sassanid, architectural decoration, frescoes, stucco, Sistan area, Islamic pilgrimage site, the tomb and shrine of Khwaja Ali Mahdi, The fire temple, Kok-e Zal, Chehel Dokhtaran, Qal'a-e Kafaran, Qal'a-e Sam, Zoroastrian legend.

1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES

1.1 National and International Classification Lists

Kuh-e Khuaja Cultural Landscape is in the Tentative List of UNESCO (named: “Kuh-e Khuaja”), date of submission: 08/09/2007, criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv), category: Cultural, ref.: 5184.

1.2. Cultural Landscape Category/Tipology

Organically evolved landscapes
Relict (or fossil) landscape
Associative cultural landscape
1

1.3. Description and Justification by Med-O-Med

Description

Covering over 5 hectares atop Kuh-e Khuaja near Zabol, stands as one of the most important Iranian historic city-fortresses and an important unfired (place) brick ensemble of pre-Islamic and early Islamic Iran in the region. It includes remains from the Parthian, Sassanid and the early Islamic periods which feature outstanding architectural decoration (frescoes and stucco carvings). Historically and artistically, this site bears quasi-religious value. The site is compared with the Citadel of Bam and the fortress of Bampur. Bam is classified by UNESCO as a Cultural Landscape, so Med-O-med has resolved to define Kuh-e Khuaja as a Cultural Landscape too, attending to its cultural and natural heritage: -Its Natural Heritage Components: Mount Khwaja or Mount Khwajeh is a flat-topped black basalt hill rising up as an island in the middle of Lake Hamun, in the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan. The trapezoid-shaped basalt lava outcropping, located 30 km southwest of the town of Zabol, rises to 609 meters above sea level and has a diameter ranging from 2.0 to 2.5 kilometres. It is the only natural height in the Sistan area, and is named after an Islamic pilgrimage site on the hill: the tomb and shrine of Khwaja Ali Mahdi, a descendent of Ali ibn Abi Talib. -Its Cultural Heritage Components: Mount Khwaja is also an important archaeological site: On the southern promontory of the eastern slope, the ruins of a citadel complex – known as the Ghagha-Shahr – with its remains of a fire temple attest to the importance of the island in pre-Islamic Iran. The special setting of Kuh-e Khwaja, the marshes and the mountain, makes comparison with other sites difficult. Because the architecture of Ghaga-shahr is a specific response to a unique location, parallels with other structures will be sought on a somewhat wider scale than might be expected. There are also legends and spiritual meanings associated to this site, as the Zoroastrian legend.

2. NAME / LOCATION / ACCESSIBILITY

  • Current denomination Mount Khwaja or Mount Khwajeh, Kuh-e Khuaja (locally: Kuh-e Khvājeh).
  • Current denomination Mount Khwaja or Mount Khwajeh, Kuh-e Khuaja (locally: Kuh-e Khvājeh).
  • Original denomination Mount Khwaja or Mount Khwajeh, Kuh-e Khuaja (locally: Kuh-e Khvājeh).
  • Popular denomination Mount Khwaja or Mount Khwajeh, Kuh-e Khuaja (locally: Kuh-e Khvājeh).
  • Address: Zabol, Sistan and Baluchestan Province
  • Geographical coordinates: 30°56′21″N 61°14′44″E
  • Area, boundaries and surroundings: Mount Khwaja or Mount Khwajeh is a flat-topped black basalt hill rising up as an island in the middle of Lake Hamun, in the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan.
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KUH-E KHUAJA CULTURAL LANDSCAPE (IRAN)

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KUH-E KHUAJA CULTURAL LANDSCAPE (IRAN) 30.939167, 61.245556 KUH-E KHUAJA CULTURAL LANDSCAPE (IRAN) (Directions)

3. LEGAL ISSUES

  • Owner: Iranian Government.
  • Body responsible for the maintenance: Iranian Government.

4. HISTORY

The citadel complex was first investigated by Marc Aurel Stein in 1915-1916. The site was later excavated by Ernst Herzfeld, and was again investigated in part by Giorgio Gullini in a short expedition of 1960. Initially, Herzfeld tentatively dated the palace complex to the 1st century CE, that is, to the Arsacid period (248 BCE-224 CE). Herzfeld later revised his estimate to a later date and today the Sassanid period (224-651 CE) is usually considered to be more likely. Three bas-reliefs on the outer walls that depict riders and horses are attributed to this later period. Beyond the citadel at the top of the plateau are several other unrelated buildings, of uncertain function and probably dating to the Islamic period.

  • Oldest initial date /building and inauguration date: See previous point.

5. GENERAL DESCRIPTION

5.1. Natural heritage

  • Heritage: Archaeological
  • Geography: High Mountain
  • Site topography: Natural
  • Geological and Geographical characteristics: Mount Khwaja or Mount Khwajeh is a flat-topped black basalt hill rising up as an island in the middle of Lake Hamun, in the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan. The trapezoid-shaped basalt lava outcropping, located 30 km southwest of the town of Zabol, rises to 609 meters above sea level and has a diameter ranging from 2.0 to 2.5 kilometres. It is the only natural height in the Sistan area, and is named after an Islamic pilgrimage site on the hill: the tomb and shrine of Khwaja Ali Mahdi, a descendent of Ali ibn Abi Talib.
Water resources:
Lake Hamun.
Land uses and economical activities:
Tourism. Agriculture.
Summary of Landscapes values and characteristics:

The special setting of Kuh-e Khwaja, the marshes and the mountain, makes comparison with other sites difficult. Because the architecture of Ghaga-shahr is a specific response to a unique location, parallels with other structures will be sought on a somewhat wider scale than might be expected. No Near Eastern site has a generally comparable situation, and none such a subtly modulated approach. The Athenian Acropolis is one of the other rare sanctuaries in which the main focus of the approach, the Parthenon, is visible at a distance, disappears as one climbs upward, and then suddenly reappears as the viewer passes through a clearly defined gate.

5.2. Cultural Heritage

A) Related to current constructions, buildings and art pieces in general

Architectonical elements /Sculptures:

The main ruins of Kuh-e Khwaja, called Ghaga-shahr are distinct from the other remains on the mount, are approached by a narrow path that zigzags through the ruins of the lower slope to reach the east side of an almost triangular terrace. Supported at least in part by vaults, this terrace once bore an arcade along its edge, but the eroding mud brick made details of plan and elevation difficult to determine. Near the northwest corner of the terrace, a sequence of two high vaulted rooms, called by Herzfeld the South Gate, formed a passageway between the terrace and the open court, one of the major features of the complex. The first room was in a state of partial collapse, with only a thin arch remaining over its entrance. Nonetheless, remnants of crenellations could be seen along the parapet at the top of this arch, and a thin rectangular opening remained high on the east side of the gate. The exte- rior of the South Gate was also notable because the bricks had deteriorated at a more rapid rate than the mortar, leaving the horizontal lines of the courses in relief against the eroded brick. In an early phase, one door jamb of this entrance bore a decorative stucco panel with bands of geometric patterns. The second room of the South Gate, rectangular in plan, retained more of its vaults. The central square was covered with a dome on hooded squinches and was lighted by four arched windows. The remaining space at each side was covered with a tripartite vault constructed in the pitched technique. The upper story of each side was enhanced by a continuous series of round niches framed by thick, applied colonnettes that supported a simple molding around the arch of each niche. A stringcourse ran above the niches at some distance. Weathering subsequent to Herzfeld’s visits has revealed that this ornament was added later, and in fact covered wall paintings in the upper story. While the ground plans of the two rooms of the South Gate show them to be rectangular, the domes and vaults delineated spatial squares within the rooms, and, at least in the structure’s later phase, the colonnettes and niches in the upper story reinforced the verticality of the spaces. The viewer, then, moved from the open, “external” space of the terrace, through the tall constricted entrance rooms, to the open, “internal”space of the courtyard. This courtyard, originally some thirty meters long and twenty wide, was edged on all sides with small chambers, presumably vaulted, that had been worn down to stubby mounds of disintegrated mud brick. No clear evidence remained to indicate the exact height of these rooms, or their exterior ornament, if any. These rooms were interrupted on the east and west sides of the court by two huge eivans (rectangular vaulted rooms left open on one of their shorter sides, in this case the side of the court), whose main supporting walls jutted into the court. When the vaults, built by the pitched-brick method, were intact, these eivanswould have been the dominant feature of the courtyard. Their placement, slightly off center to the south, and their projection into the courtyard suggest that they were an addition to the original plan. The construction of the eivans altered the symmetry of the court and diverted the viewer’s eye from the logical focal point, the north wall of the courtyard with its terrace, stairs, and domed buildings. The north wall, some seven meters high, was the primary view as the observer moved through the South Gate into the courtyard. The north face of the courtyard, like the east and west sides, had been changed from its original appearance. At first it was a mud-brick wall articulated with applied “Doric”columns having bases and capitals of baked brick. These columns supported a simple architrave with a narrow scroll or volute pattern in white plaster, fragments of which remained above the two center columns on the eastern half of the wall in 1929. Each intercolumniation was pierced by a window with an elliptical, offset arch only half as high as the columns. The wall above the windows was slightly recessed. On each side of the door was a life-size stucco figure modeled in very high relief. Only drapery fragments of the westernmost figure survived, but the opposing image was better preserved, retaining portions of the left shoulder, arm, torso, and leg, as well as a mass of curly hair and several ribbons. The plastic modeling of the figure, the thin clinging clothing with its rippling edges, the vigorously modeled curls, and the animated flutter of the ribbons are all characteristics of Sasanian rather than Parthian style. Since the ornamental straps crossing the torso are a royal Sasanian device, the figure may be identified as a Sasanian king. The chronological implications of this identification are crucial to the dating of the Painted Gallery and will be discussed later. At some later time, the entire north wall was covered with a double arcade some five meters deep. The vaulted chambers formed by this addition were connected by small doorways in each pier. The new facade was decorated at least on the portion that still remained in the northwest corner of the court- yard-with vertical moldings and a horizontal course of thick, doughnutlike forms that marked the division between the stories. This frieze was still visible in 1961. The arched windows of the earlier phase were sealed and the stairs were modified into a single straight flight. Whatever the aesthetic reason for this major change, there may have been a structural one as well. The north side of the court supported a terrace that was itself partially hollow. A vaulted gallery rather like a Roman cryptoporticus ran the length of the north side. Lit by the windows of the first phase and ornamented with extensive wall paintings, the narrow Painted Gallery, about two and one-half meters wide and three high, was at some point reinforced internally with mud-brick walls whose bricks were narrower and thinner than usual. These secondary walls covered not only the paintings but also the simple two-step molding that marked the springing point of the vault. On the terrace, there are recorded another set of buildings whose state of extreme disintegration obscured their plans. The best preserved structure, its main entrance directly in line with the stairs and the South Gate, featured a square central room once covered with a dome. Both the domed room and the chamber behind it were encircled by a corridor or ambulatory that also connected with a small domed structure on the western edge of the terrace and, through a series of doors and small rooms, with the east side of the terrace. This domed Temple with its reliefs, elevated above the north wall of the courtyard, was the ultimate goal of any progress through the complex from the outer terrace. The entry to the Temple was framed by a pair of buttresses decorated with shallow semicircular niches. Each niche had a simple three-step profile modeled into the surface coat of clay.The western wall of the Temple facade bore blurred remnants of a stucco relief showing a horseman meeting the attack of a rearing feline. The horseman faced away from the entrance to the Temple. The motif of a horseman facing an attacking lion was popular in Iran and neighboring regions during the first millennium B.C. The scene appears on such disparate objects as the chalcedony cylinder seal of the Elamite Ayanakka (seventh century B.C.), the Oxus scabbard (sixth century B.C.), and an amphora now in the Archaeological Museum, Ankara (fourth century D.C., 1966). An adjoining wall farther west had an equally worn relief of three horsemen facing in the same direction as the equestrian hunter. One wonders if these figures are responsible for the association of the site with the Magi. Equestrian processions however, are known in Iranian art as early as the seventh century B.C., to judge from a carved ivory plaque said to have been found at Ziwiye. While stately processions are a major feature of the Achaemenid reliefs at Persepolis, no mounted figures appear there. A procession of female riders does occur on an Achaemenid relief from Eregli in Anatolia, male figures in line ride around the edge of a knotted carpet from the tombs at Pazyryk, it is likely and that other Achaemenid examples once existed.

Art pieces, artesany, furniture and other elements:

See previous point.

In the case of gardens: original and current style:
It is not the case.
B) Related to ancient remains

  • Archaeological components:

    The fire temple is on a terrace behind high walls and is protected by two forts, whose remains are respectively known as Kok-e Zal and Chehel Dokhtaran. Collectively, the ruins are called Qal’a-e Kafaran “Fort of Infidels” or Qal’a-e Sam “Fort of Sam,” the grandfather of the mythical Rostam. Both names reflect pre-Islamic heritage. The walls of the temple were once extravagantly decorated with murals, some of which are now on display in museums in Tehran, Berlin, New Delhi and New York. The citadel complex was first investigated by Marc Aurel Stein in 1915-1916. The site was later excavated by Ernst Herzfeld, and was again investigated in part by Giorgio Gullini in a short expedition of 1960. Initially, Herzfeld tentatively dated the palace complex to the 1st century CE, that is, to the Arsacid period (248 BCE-224 CE). Herzfeld later revised his estimate to a later date and today the Sassanid period (224-651 CE) is usually considered to be more likely. Three bas-reliefs on the outer walls that depict riders and horses are attributed to this later period. Beyond the citadel at the top of the plateau are several other unrelated buildings, of uncertain function and probably dating to the Islamic period. ***For further information, see point 5.2.1

  • Traces in the environment of human activity: Archaeological remains.
C) Related to intangible, social and spiritual values

  • Languages and dialects: Persian
  • Lifestyle, believing, cults, traditional rites: According to Zoroastrian legend linked to this site, Lake Hamun is the keeper of Zoroaster's seed. In Zoroastrian eschatology, when the final renovation of the world is near, maidens will enter the lake and then give birth to the saoshyans, the saviours of humankind.

5.3. Quality

Condition: environmental/ cultural heritage degradation:
The walls of Ghaga-shahr were once extensively decorated with paintings, but by 1929 most of the ornamentation had vanished. The extant paintings were concentrated in two main areas, the South Gate and the Painted Gallery under the terrace on the north side of the courtyard. A few small fragments could also be seen in little rooms on the northern and eastern walls.
Perspectives/Views/ Points of interest/Setting:

The complex at Ghaga-shahr is further distinguished by the fact that, once inside the court, the viewer continues to ascend, from the court to the terrace and from the terrace to the Temple.

6. VALUES

Tangible

  • Aesthetic
  • Archaeological
  • Architectonical
  • Geological/Geographical
The main tangible values of "Kuh-e Khuaja Cultural Landscape" are: -Aesthetic/Geographical: The special setting of Kuh-e Khwaja, the marshes and the mountain, makes comparison with other sites difficult. Mount Khwaja or Mount Khwajeh is a flat-topped black basalt hill rising up as an island in the middle of Lake Hamun. No Near Eastern site has a generally comparable situation, and none such a subtly modulated approach. -Archaeological/Architectonical: Mount Khwaja is also an important archaeological site: On the southern promontory of the eastern slope, the ruins of a citadel complex - known as the Ghagha-Shahr - with its remains of a fire temple attest to the importance of the island in pre-Islamic Iran. Because the architecture of Ghaga-shahr is a specific response to a unique location, parallels with other structures will be sought on a somewhat wider scale than might be expected.

Intangible

  • Historical
  • Religious
The main intangible values of "Kuh-e Khuaja Cultural Landscape" are: -Historical: Covering over 5 hectares atop Kuh-e Khuaja near Zabol, stands as one of the most important Iranian historic city-fortresses and an important unfired (place) brick ensemble of pre-Islamic and early Islamic Iran in the region. It includes remains from the Parthian, Sassanid and the early Islamic periods which feature outstanding architectural decoration (frescoes and stucco carvings). -Religious: Historically and artistically, this site bears quasi-religious value. It is the only natural height in the Sistan area, and is named after an Islamic pilgrimage site on the hill: the tomb and shrine of Khwaja Ali Mahdi, a descendent of Ali ibn Abi Talib.
Authenticity:
Satements of authenticity and/or integrity (UNESCO): Archaeological studies and excavations carried out in the present century and the architectural and art history studies, and extant organic values.
Universality:
No Near Eastern site has a generally comparable situation, and none such a subtly modulated approach. The Athenian Acropolis is one of the other rare sanctuaries in which the main focus of the approach, the Parthenon, is visible at a distance, disappears as one climbs upward, and then suddenly reappears as the viewer passes through a clearly defined gate. The complex at Ghaga-shahr is further distinguished by the fact that, once inside the court, the viewer continues to ascend, from the court to the terrace and from the terrace to the Temple. This rhythmic progression, alternately forward and upward, from open spaces to enclosed transitional zones, stands in contrast to the simple, direct approach more common in Near Eastern religious architecture. Med-O-Med agrees to the UNESCO criteria (ii, iii, iv) defined for this Cultural site: ii) The site became an outstanding example of the interaction of the various historical and cultural influences. iii) Kuh-e Khuaja Cultural Landscape includes remains from the Parthian, Sassanid and the early Islamic periods which feature outstanding architectural decoration. iv) Covering over 5 hectares, Kuh-e Khuaja near Zabol, stands as one of the most important Iranian historic city-fortresses and an important unfired (place) brick ensemble of pre-Islamic and early Islamic Iran in the region.
Values linked to the Islamic culture and civilisation:
This historic city-fortresses and the important unfired (place) brick ensemble are pre-Islamic and early Islamic. It includes remains from the Parthian, Sassanid and the early Islamic periods Beyond the citadel at the top of the plateau are several other unrelated buildings, of uncertain function and probably dating to the Islamic period.

7. ENCLOSURES

Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):

Kuh-e Khuaja Cultural Landscape is one of all of the cultural landscapes of Iran which are included in The Cultural Landscape inventory runned by Med-O-Med.

Bibliography:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5184/ http://whc.unesco.org/venice2002 http://iranian.com/Feb97/History/Hamun/Hamun.shtml -Faccenna, D. (1981). A New Fragment of Wall Painting from Ghaga Sahr (Kuh-i Hvaga-Sis- tan, Iran). East and West. -Ghirshman, R. (1962). Persian Art: The Parthian and Sassanian Dynasties, 249 B.C.-A.D. 65I, trans. Stuart Gilbert and James Emmons (New York). -Gullini, G. (1964). Architetturairanica dagli achemenidi ai sasanidi: II palazzo di Kuh-i Kwagia (Turin). -Harper, O. (1978). Art of the Sasanian Empire. The Royal Hunter.(New York). -Harper, O. et al (1981). Sasanian Period: I. Royal Imagery (New York). -Herrmann, G. (1977), The Iranian Revival. (Oxford). -Herzfeld, E. (1935). Archaeological History of Iran (London). -Herzfeld, E. (1941). Iran in the Ancient East. (London). -Kawami, T. et al. (1987). Monumental Art of the Parthian Period in Iran (Leiden). ISMEO-Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, Rome. -Rosenfield, J. (1968). The Dynastic Art of the Kushans. (Berkeley). -Stein, A. (1928). Innermost Asia: Detailed Report of Explorations in Central Asia, Kan-su and Eastern Iran, Carried Out and Described Under the Orders of H.M. Indian Government (Oxford). -UNESCO. (2001). Convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage. World Heritage Committee. 25 session. Helsinki, Finland. -UNESCO. (2002). Cultural Landscapes: the Challenges of Conservation. Associated Workshops, World Heritage. Ferrara, Italy.

Compiler Data: Sara Martínez Frías.