Day 256: Windcatchers in the desert

The full moon rises behind mountains in the horizon, the twilight sky slowly turns dark. There’s no better soundtrack to this serenity than the soothing echo of songs coming from mosques left, right and center. It’s prayer time and the singing voices carry so much grace we are left silent standing on a rooftop overlooking a panorama of mud brown houses. We’re in Yazd, an ancient Silk Road city said to be one of the oldest in the world. There’s a lot of interesting things to see, from badgirs (windcatchers) to qanats (subterranean aqueducts) to traditional desert homes (or mansions, rather).

Under a domed passage in Yazd

“Fascinating…” I think to myself as we try to maneuver our way out of the old city’s labyrinth, twisting through mud-walled lanes and ducking into domed passages. Every now and then we’d pass a signposted traditional house-turned-hotel and pop inside for a peek. These homes are shielded from the public with high windowless walls and without seeing from the inside you would never have guessed how grand they were. Similar to the riads of Morocco, Yazd’s traditional house consists of rooms facing a massive internal courtyard floodlit with sunlight.

Seeing Yazd brings a new appreciation to the genius of ancient civilizations, this time the Persians.

Windcatchers standing on a rooftop

Houses in Yazd are kept cool, even today, by badgirs – an (ancient) air conditioner that catches wind, directs it down to the buildings whilst trapping hot air and directing it out via a different shaft. The air that goes in passes over a pool of water for additional cooling effect.

Qanat flowing through the cellar of a traditional house

There’s also a cellar for sleeping, eating, tea-ing, or whatever. Think of it as a chill room to escape desert heat. This subterranean chamber about 2 floors down has a small water pool fed by a qanat, aqueducts that are dug underground to lead water from a natural source to feed the city’s homes and water storage “reservoirs”. The qanat pool and subterranean level means the cellar is about 10ºC cooler than ground level.

The impressive Amirchakhmaq

And the qanats… like a Persian equivalent of the Roman aqueduct but cooler! These waterways are still being dug these days, and many Iranian towns & villages continue to rely on qanats for water delivery… Amazing.

Small courtyard of the Mehr Traditional Hotel

Travel Info
Spent a night at the Mehr Traditional Hotel, recognized by UNESCO for heritage preservation. US$40 for a double room (bargained down from US$70 because of low season), great atmosphere and worth the occasional splurge when you’re tired of dirty linen and squat toilets. The Mehr group has 2 other traditional hotels in Yazd, also worth checking out or staying at.

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