In ancient Iran, many innovations were created to adapt to the hardship of life in the desert climate of central Iran. Structures such as wind towers of Yazd, underground man-made channels called Persian Qanats, as well as Iranian Ice House known as yakhchāls for storing ice in the hot seasons of the year. The Ice house was a kind of clay ice storage that was used to store ice.
What is an Ice House?
The Iranian old ice houses, dating back centuries, stand as witnesses to a bygone era. Originating from a time when refrigeration was a luxury, these structures served a crucial purpose in preserving ice, especially during scorching summers.
This type of adobe structure consisted of a pool, a deep dome-shaped tank and a long shade wall and fence. The shade wall that was built for this type of old ice house was very high and could cast a shade on the pool during the winter days and prevent it from direct sunlight. In ancient times, ice formed in the pool in the winter, which was broken and kept in the vault so that they could use it in the summer and hot seasons.
The ice house in Kashan – Iran
History of Iranian Ice House
Understanding the historical use of ice houses in Iran has proven challenging, with accurate information elusive until the Safavid Empire. Despite frequent mentions of ice in historical texts, stories, and poems predating the Safavids, details about its production methods remain absent. The earliest documented insights emerge from the travelogue of the French traveler and explorer Jean Chardin during the Safavid era.
Chardin’s 1711 travelogue provides intriguing insights into the preparation of ice in the Iranian Ice houses of Isfahan city. The architecture of the ice house and their construction techniques stands out, showcasing the precision and skill of the architects behind these units. Key considerations in these structures encompassed building insulation, ensuring optimal cold conditions for ice storage, selecting appropriate materials, and detailing the process of ice preparation. The travelogue unveils a meticulous approach to managing and utilizing natural resources for the preservation of ice in Isfahan’s historical ice houses.
Also Read : Architectural Features in Ancient Persia
Anatomy of an Iranian Ancient Ice House
An ice house comprises three integral components:
The layout of an Iranian ice house
Long Shade Wall
This serves as a protective barrier, providing shade and contributing to the overall functionality of the ice house. The shade wall is about 50 m long and sometimes up to 10 meters high. It prevents the sun from shining on the frozen waters in the ponds during the day. The shading walls are thick at the bottom and their diameter gradually decreases in the upper parts.
Ice Production Pools
These are designated areas where the process of ice production takes place in freezing desert winters; forming a crucial part of the ice-making infrastructure. The ice-making pool is a rectangular pit that is dug near the shade wall and in its northern part. Its length is slightly less than the length of the wall and its depth is 30 to 50 cm.
The storage facility for the produced ice, where it is preserved for later use. There are two prevalent types of ice tanks:
Dome-shaped Tanks: These exhibit a wide conical cover, contributing to their distinctive appearance.
Tunnel-shaped Tanks: These take on the form of an elongated rectangular atrium, showcasing an alternative design for ice storage within the ice house structure.
How an Ice House Works?
Addressing the inquiry on how to cool the old ice house reveals a fascinating procedure. To prepare ice during winter, pools were ingeniously constructed behind the tall shade walls. A specific quantity of water was poured into these pools. As the nights brought about chilly temperatures, the water in the ponds naturally froze. This cycle persisted until a considerable layer of ice formed, reaching the desired diameter.
In daylight hours, the proprietors of the ice houses would venture to the ice formed in the ponds. Armed with tools, they crushed the ice. Using ropes and chains, they adeptly transferred the ice to the ice house they had prepared in advance, tossing the crushed ice into the storage tank. In the warmer months, people could readily access the stored ice. Wheat hay or straw was strategically placed on top and between the ice layers for insulation. Subsequently, the ice was extracted from the pit and transported to the market for sale. These antiquated refrigeration systems provided a year-round supply of ice, catering to the diverse needs of the community.
Building materials for Ice House
In the construction of ice houses, particularly in desert regions, the primary building materials are clay and mud. Their prominence stems not only from their ready accessibility but also from their exceptional insulation properties. Serving as effective barriers, these materials excel in preventing the transfer of heat from the exterior to the interior and vice versa. Thatch further contributes to insulation, acting as a formidable shield against the infiltration of moisture from snow and rain. Moreover, the earthy tones resulting from coatings or clay play a dual role by diminishing the reflection of intense and sometimes harsh sunlight.
Stone and brick play pivotal roles as affordable and readily available building materials in the creation of refrigerators. Typically, stone forms the base, while brick is employed in crafting arches. To complete the structure, the exterior of the refrigerator is often adorned with a covering of straw. Furthermore, the walls of the ice pit itself are constructed using stone or brick, shielded by a layer of straw. This strategic use of materials not only ensures functionality but also harmonizes with the arid landscape, creating a seamless integration between architecture and the natural elements.
Famous Ice Houses of Iran
Learning from the past is vital for a sustainable future. Iranian ice houses offer lessons in cultural and historical preservation, serving as tangible reminders of the importance of sustainable practices. Here is a list of famous Iranian ice houses that you can plan to visit in your Iran Classic Tour.
Mo’ayedi Ice House – Kerman
One of the oldest historical attractions in Kerman , Iran, is Mo’ayedi Ice house that was registered as a National Heritage list in 1999.
Mo’ayedi ice house is one of the relics of the late Safavid period and like other historical Iranian ice houses, it was used to store ice for summer days. The name “Mo’ayedi” derives from a famous Qanat nearby, from which the water for ice making was supplied. Mo’ayedi is also the name of this neighborhood in Kerman, where part of the old lands and aqueducts are located there.
Standing at a height of 20 meters, the Yakhdan-e Moayedi held immense significance as a vital urban structure in Kerman. Its role extended beyond a mere refrigeration facility, becoming a focal point of life in the region. The ice house not only served as a crucial element for preserving perishables but also doubled as a recreational center.
In the scorching heat of the seasons, locals sought refuge in the comforting shadow cast by the towering structure. It became a communal haven, providing respite from the sweltering temperatures. A distinctive feature of these moments was the enjoyment of Kermani Faloodeh, a beloved local icy snack, adding a flavorful touch to the shared experiences beneath the protective shade of the Moayedi Ice House.
Moayedi ice house, Kerman, Iran
Meybod Ice House – Meybod
Meybod Ice house is one of the most beautiful clay ice houses that has remained in the ancient city of Meybod from the Safavid period. This structure was registered as one of the national works of Iran on 16 January 1999 with registration number 1826.
Meybod ice house is a type of domed man-made refrigerators, which is considered the largest among this type of refrigerators in terms of dimensions. The thickness of the dome shell at the lowest height reaches 240 cm and at the top of the dome it is as long as a brick (20 cm).
Abarkuh Ice House – Abarkuh
The Abarkuh clay Ice House stands as a distinctive cone-shaped structure, crafted with a circular plan and an intriguing stepped design. Its impressive features include a circumference of 64 meters, a towering height of 22 meters, walls with a diameter of about 3 meters, and a reservoir depth reaching 4 meters. Notably, the inner floor of the ice house is intentionally fashioned deeper than its outer surfaces.
This clay marvel encompasses four primary components: the reservoir, the ice tank, the expansive dome atop the storage, and the enveloping shading walls. What sets the Abarkuh ice house apart is not just its dimensions but also its innovative design and construction form. Most ice houses in the Yazd province, measuring around 20 meters in height, trace their origins to the Qajar era. Some are linked to the prosperity of the Silk Road, while others are believed to hail from the time of the ruler Azd al-Dula Deilmi (r. 936-938 AD). Each stands as a testament to the historical richness of the region.
Also Read : Yazd Water Museum
Iranian Ice House – FAQs
Q. Did Iranians invent the fridge?
The Ice house or yakhchāl is indeed an ancient Persian innovation, but it is not a refrigerator in the modern sense. It was more of an above-ground structure designed to store and preserve ice, rather than a device for actively generating cold temperatures. Yakhchāls were typically used to store ice and chilled water, and they took advantage of passive cooling methods.
Q. Are Iranian old ice houses still in use today?
While not actively used for their original purpose, some have been repurposed, and efforts are underway to preserve them.
Q. How does a Persian Ice house work?
During winter, ice or snow was collected and compacted in the subterranean chamber, insulated by a combination of heat-resistant materials such as straw, mud, and clay. The conical structure above ground featured vents at the top to allow hot air to rise and escape, promoting natural convection. As the temperature rose outside, the subterranean chamber maintained a lower temperature, preventing the stored ice from melting quickly. Additionally, the thick walls and insulation minimized heat transfer.
Q. Did the ancient Persians make ice?
There is no historical evidence to suggest that ancient Persians discovered a method to create ice from water during the summer. The traditional method of storing ice in underground pits, known as ice houses or yakhchal, was widely used in ancient Persia. However, this method involved collecting and storing naturally formed ice or snow during the winter months to preserve it for use in warmer seasons.
Q. How can I contribute to the preservation of Iranian ice houses?
You can support local conservation initiatives, spread awareness, and engage in responsible tourism.
Q. Do other countries have similar structures to Iranian ice houses?
Yes, many cultures worldwide have historical structures dedicated to ice preservation, each with its unique characteristics.
Q. What challenges do ice houses face in the era of modern refrigeration?
The ease of modern refrigeration has led to neglect, making preservation efforts crucial to prevent the loss of cultural heritage.
Q. Can I visit Iranian old ice houses as a tourist?
Some ice houses are open to the public, offering a fascinating glimpse into Iran’s cultural and architectural history.