Since Iran had always been attacked by hostile enemies, kings usually ordered the construction of huge and solid buildings so that they could defend themselves, their families, their Kingdome and their cities. Some of these structures were used militarily and some were built just to protect farmers and peasants, but all of them are only witnesses of wars and bloodshed throughout Iranian history. In this article we take a look at top ten of Iran’s ancient fortresses.
Fortresses have played an important role in strengthening nations throughout history and even in prehistoric times. Castles were usually protected by governments along important roads or cities. The castles in ancient times were mostly built on high mountains or rocky slopes that served as a natural defensive factor against enemies.
Iran is no exception and has a number of unique historical fortresses. In most cities of Iran, these historic castles are found and most of them can be visited.
At present, many of Iran’s prominent castles are regarded as valuable tourist attractions. Here is a list of the most spectacular castles in Iran:
Falak-ol-Aflak Castle, Khoram Abad, Iran
Meet the history in the high mountains
1Falak-ol-Aflak Castle | The Sassanian Legacy
Located on a high hill in Khorramabad, Lorestan province, one of the most historic castles in Iran, is a reminder of the Sassanid era. Falak-ol-Aflak castle is a symbol for rich history and culture of Lorestan and also Khorramabad city. The construction of Falak-ol-Falak castle –Originally called Shapur Khaast- dates back to the Sassanid era (3rd C) . The massive structure of the castle covers about 5300 square meters.
The castle is considered to be a masterpiece of Iranian creativity and intelligence. It has undergone transformations since the Sassanid period until Qajar Era (19th C) and has had multiple functions in different historical periods. Today, it is served as museums of anthropology and archeology attracting many visitors. The total area of the castle is 5300 m2 and the materials used in its construction are stone, brick, clay and a mortar made of plaster and lime. The entrance to the castle is built in the southwest tower with a width of 10 meters and height of 3 meters.
Over the centuries, the fort has been restored many times, with major changes during the Safavid and Qajar periods. According to local people and some historical documents, there used to be a two-tiered, adobe wall with twelve guard towers around the current building up to 100 years ago, of which only two towers has remained.
There are two courtyards in the castle, the first is surrounded by four towers. Two of these towers are located in the north and northwest and two in the southwest and south. The second courtyard has a similar structure to the first courtyard. On the four sides of it are large halls built into one another. This is where the museum exists today.
Left: Alamut Castle ruins, Alamut, Iran | Right: Imaginary picture of Alamut Castle
2Alamut Castle | The well-known survivor
Hassan Sabbah (1050–1124 AD) was a Shiite Ismaili leader, an Islamic sect that was persecuted by Iranian rulers. He gathered many supporters, as he was hiding in the valleys of Alamut. Originally, Alamut fortress was owned by local rulers but Hassan Sabbah and his followers came up with a plan that allowed them to take over the fortress without spilling a single drop of blood (Hassan reportedly even paid the repressed ruler for this place).
The castle became a stronghold for him and his men (later referred to as Assassins). They updated the castle’s water systems and fortified the defensive structures. And, perhaps most notably, they built an exquisite library full of books and scientific documents of astronomy, math, philosophy, and even alchemy.
Although today only little of this magnificent castle remains, it was once a magnificent Iranian fortress located in Alamut mountain area south of Gilan province near Rudbar. Alamut Castle has not only been an Iranian fortress to defense attacks and repel enemies, but also the magnificent libraries of Alamut Castle have been a heaven for top scientists, theologians, and philosophers of the time.
The castle is 120 meters long and is surrounded by fright-full valleys and the only access to it is from the northeast side of the Hudkan Peak. Alamut Castle has special features, such as a complex water supply system made with “Tarbushes” (earthen pipes under the floor and through the walls to let water pass) at a diameter of 10cm, which draws water from the “Koldar” spring into the fortress and flows into the rock basins. In the middle of the castle there is a pond that has never been empty.
3Narin Ghal’eh Castle | As old as history
Located in the beautiful city of Meybod, in Yazd province, Narin Ghal’eh A reminiscent of the Parthan and Sassanid era is standing magnificently above the central hill. The ruins of this huge castle reach a height about 40 meters. From the upper part of the castle, due to its high altitude, it is visible up to 70 km in any direction.
Narin Ghal’eh, locally known as Narenj Ghal’eh (Orange Castle), is one of the most significant surviving works of authentic Iranian architecture and after over two thousand years, is still depicting the historical and cultural identity of Yazd in everyone’s mind.
The castle dates back to the Parthian and pre-Islamic era and was repaired during the Muzaffarid period (14th c) . There is a moat around it, and the burrows below it sometimes extend up to few kilometers. Narin Ghal’eh has numerous interconnected rooms many of which are currently under excavation.
Built entirely of clay and mud, the castle was used as a government citadel or military stronghold in various historical periods. The peak of authority of this castle before Islam was in the Sassanid period and then in the Muzaffarid era. People from Maybod say there was an underground tunnel to the black stone mill in Bakhtar Abadi Bida village, 3 km west of Meybod.
Narin Ghal’eh Castle, Naien, Iran
4Bam Castle | Unforgettable Glory
Located near the current city of Bam in Kerman province, the Bam castle, also known as Arg-e Bam (Bam Citadel) is the world’s largest mud brick structure which served as the government center of old town of Bam. It is listed by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage Site “Bam and its Cultural Landscape”. The first construction of this huge citadel on the Silk Road probably dates back to the Achaemenid Era (sixth to fourth centuries BC) and was used until 1850.
On 26th Dec 2003, a severe earthquake struck the area and caused huge damage to the site.
The citadel is approximately 180,000 m2 and has walls of 2 to 7 m in height and 1815 m in length.
In the architecture of Bam ancient city, there are two distinct parts:
1) The castle or the government part located at the heart of the town within the inner walls, which includes a military fort, “Char Fasl” mansion, a barrack, a 40-meter deep well and a stall with a capacity of 200 horses.
2) The rural section surrounding the government section, which includes the main entrance to the city, the main route connecting the entrance to the fortress and the market along it, about 400 houses and public buildings such as a school, Bath and Gyms!
Bam Citadel, Bam, Iran
5Rudkhan Castle | Lost in Forest
A magnificent castle from Sassanid era, 20 km southwest of Fouman. The castle, known as Ghal’eh Hesami or Ghal’eh Rudkhan, is next to a village of the same name. Hidden in forests, with walls measuring 1500 meters long and 65 guard towers, it attracts numerous visitors who eagerly climb over 3000 steps in the mountain to reach the place.
The distance from Rudkhan castle to the town of Maklowan is 25 km, to Masuleh is 45 km and to Shaft is 20 km. The castle is located at a height of 665 to 715 meters above the sea level, next to a river of the same name.
For the first time in 1830, a Polish discovered the fortress while recording the location of the monument in his notes. He writes about it: “I found a fortress on top of a Guilan mountain in the upper part of Rudkhan river, its roof is made of stone and on both sides of the entrance there are two strong defensive towers. There is an engraved inscription above the main entrance mentioning that the castle was rebuilt for King Sultan Hussam al-Din Amir Aladin Ishaq.
Rudkhan Castle consists of two parts: Arg (the place where the ruler lives) and Barrack (the place where military activities and soldiers live). The Arg is a brick-made two-storey structure which is on the west side of the castle. The barracks, on the east of the site, have also two floors with multiple windows and holes to monitor the soldiers. There is also a spring in the castle. The Watch Tower surrounds the fort around the castle. It is said that no enemy could penetrate or conquer this beautiful castle.
Rudkhan Castle, Guilan, Iran
6Babak Fort | Symbol of courage and defense
Babak fort (Ghal’eh Babak or Babak Castle) is one of the largest castles in Iran, remaining from the Sassanid or Parthian period. This castle, located at the height of 2300 meters in Arasbaran forests, is the strategic place that “Babak Khorram din” and his companions settled in and defended themselves against the enemies.
It is also known as the Eternal Castle, Immortal Fort or the Republic Castle, and is referred to as a national symbol. The reason for the naming is because of the courageous defense of Babak to oppose the Abbasid Arab invaders.
Babak Castle has been refurbished several times over the centuries. Though there is not much left of the main structure, still we can imagine its glory in the past. The Babak Fortress was designed in a way that those inside the castle could defend themselves with a small number of troops against a huge army. This made Babak and his troops able to continue the struggle against the invaders for years. Like the castle of Alamut, it has only one entrance way and is surrounded by fright-full valleys. The path to Babak Fort is not easy and you have to cross some difficult passages to see this historic place. But it is still possible to reach this magnificent castle through its partially demolished stairs.
7Ghaleh Dokhtar | A thousand year old virgin
Ghal’eh Dokhtar, Dezh Dokhtar meaning “The Maiden Castle” is a castle built by Ardashir Babkan, the founder of Sassanian Empire in 209 AD.
Located 6 km from Firouzabad, on a slope in the heart of the mountains, Ghaleh Dokhtar was a stronghold and served as an important obstacle for the enemies to cross the “Tangab Gorge”. General architectural features of the palace inside this castle, in comparison with Ardashir palace in Firouzabad plain, show that the Maiden Castle was founded during Ardeshir I‘s wars with Parthians before his final victory over the last Parthian king, Ardavan V (Arthabanus V) in 224 AD.
The main fortifications of Ghal’eh Dokhtar include an outer wall that extends over a sloping cliff with an overall shape of a trapezoid. These fortifications started from the lower part of the “Tangab Gorge” and extended to the highest part of the mountain where the inner castle of the castle is located. The geometrical multi-level layout of the inner palace is in complete contrast to the non-geometrical mode of the castle itself, which is based on the natural shape of the mountain.
The Maiden Castle, Firuz Abad, Iran
8Citadel of Rayen | The second largest
Known as the largest raw brick building in the world after the citadel of Bam, Rayen raw brick citadel is Located 120 Km south of Kerman and occupies an area of 2,000 m². This citadel looks similar to the citadel of Bam and is located at the top of a hill near Hazar mountain. The presence of this citadel proves that the city of Rayen existed before arrival of Islam in Iran, and dates back to the Sassanid era. There were even older citadels in the area, which were destroyed after natural disasters over the centuries, however. Rayen Citadel also served as one of the fortresses of Governor Mirzâ Hossein Khân at the time of Nâder Shâh Afshâr and his son Mohammad ’Ali Khân.