City of Mud: Arg-e Bam, Iran

You wouldn’t think a mud-brick building, much less a city built of mud bricks, would last for more than 2000 years. The Arg-e Bam or Bam Citadel in Iran would prove you wrong. Were it not for a devastating earthquake in 2003 that almost completely destroyed the entire medieval town, this city of mud would have stood in the deserts of Kerman in southeastern Iran more or less intact since the time it was built by the Achaemenid Empire around 500 BC. Fortunately, extensive restorations started shortly after the earthquake has brought this masterpiece back to its original state.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Arg-e Bam is a fortress town comprising government and residential buildings, military quarters, and the citadel itself, but because the citadel dominates the ruins, the fortress is now named after it.

The entire town covers an area of 180,000 square meters or nearly 34 football fields and is surrounded by gigantic walls each 6 to 7 metres high and 1,815 metres long. It is a fine example of a structure known as an adobe (an Egyptian word for buildings composed of mud bricks).

Bam Citadel reached its peak in the 7th to 11th centuries when the city of Bam found itself on the crossroads of major trade routes, including the famed Silk Road. Its decline after the 11th century mirrored the gradual diminished importance of these trade routes.

The ancient city of Bam at sunset. Image by George Steinmetz/Corbis

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