The oldest aqueduct in Tehran, built by a Zoroastrian lady

Indeed, Iranian civilization could not form and could not last unless the intelligence of the Iranians created the “kariz” or the aqueduct because our land is water-scarce and, in many parts, desert. It was the proper and careful management of the waters of this land that, over millennia and centuries, formed one of the most brilliant civilizations in the world. Part of that water management went back to the construction of the kariz. Kariz was made from Iranian awareness and genius and was our gift to the world. In Tehran, which has been known as the center of the country for two centuries, karizes have played a fundamental role in the lives of the people of the capital. The oldest kariz in the city, which is 700 years old, was built by order of a Zoroastrian lady. That kariz is called Mehrgard and still has signs of its watery past.  

Kariz has been one of the most critical water supply sources in Tehran since it was chosen as the capital of Iran until the last forty or fifty years. Even before Tehran became the capital, the city had a large number of karizes. Based on the research of Javad Safinejad, who is one of the prominent experts in kariz, 572 karizes have been created in the history of Tehran! This number of kariz is genuinely remarkable. Although many of Tehran’s karizes were lost over time, by the 1330s SH, the capital’s karizes were still prominent, reaching 29 disciplines. However, the pipeline system eliminated the need to dig the kariz, reducing the number of kariz in Tehran.

In a simple definition, Kariz means the use of underground water. This is achieved in a way that recognizes Iranian creativity and art more than anything else. As mentioned, the number of karizes in Tehran, like other large and small cities in Iran, was enormous. The kariz or the qanat water of Sanglaj, which could be seen in the city park, and it was so full of water that it was not lost even with the destruction of the Sanglaj neighborhood in the first half of the fourteenth century; Sardar Kariz in einoddoleh Street (the present day Iran Street) that would supply water to the whole neighborhood; Bagh Saba kariz would supply water to the Old Shemiran Ave., Darvaze Dowlat, and the surrounding streets and neighborhoods; the important and very valuable kariz of Haj Alireza, which would pass by the front of the parliament and would supply water to Udlajan and the whole area around chal Meydan;, as well as the karizes of Elahieh, Baha Al-Mulk, Baharestan, Beryanak, Pamanar, Jalalieh, Nezamieh, Jamshidabad, Farmanfara, Yusefabad, Behjatabad, the Russia embassy kariz, the British embassy kariz, Jalalieh, and many other karizes. Among these two kariz’s were more important: first was the Mehrgard Kariz and the second was the Nasserite Kariz. These two are worth giving more details on.

Mehrgerd, the oldest kariz in Tehran

Mehrgard kariz is the oldest kariz in Tehran. It was sometimes called Kariz Mehran because its mother well (main well) was in Mehran Village, a part of Shemiran and Tajrish district, and this kariz spread to the present Zarabkhaneh, seyed Khandan and Majidieh areas. Historical signs and documents show that this kariz was made by order of a Zoroastrian lady. Although her name remains unknown, this benevolent lady is mentioned several times in ancient writings.

Nasserite Kariz would supply quite a significant part of Tehran’s water. During the Qajar period, the Shah and his court maintained and supervised the Mehrgard kariz. After that, it became one of the royal assets of the Pahlavi dynasty.

In the past, the abundance of water in the Mehrgard waterway was such that its surplus reached the areas of Bazaar and Oudlajan. Mazhar. The first opening of Mehrgard Kariz, called mazhar, was located on Nasser Khosrow Street and the gush of water from its canal could be sent in the streams in this building.  Its other branch started from Alborz High School on College Square and, and went along Ferdowsi Street to the lower zones of the city.

With the expansion of Tehran and especially construction of the telecommunication building in Toopkhaneh Square, and later, the construction of one or two metro stations, the first opening (mazhar) to Mehrgard Kariz was destroyed and now it cannot be found. However, there are still signs of water in the Mehrgard waterway when digging underground for underground construction projects.

It should also be noted that the 700-year-old kariz of Mehrgard drained 200 liters of groundwater per second with only the force of gravity and without any maintenance. Such a mechanism has been described as an “engineering masterpiece.” Although the dredging of Mehrgard has been forgotten for decades and constructions all over have blinded its entrance (mazhar or the first opening), yet signs of life of this kariz can be found, and if just an effort is made to revitalize it, one of the important signs of civilization in Tehran will not be lost.

Nasseri is one of the most important karizes in the capital

Most of the karizes in Tehran belonged to those with wealth and power, and they were built to irrigate their gardens and lands, and if there was a surplus of water, it would be directed to lower lands, which belonged to the people. There was a unique example. That example goes back to Kariz Shah (Nasiri). This kariz was built by order of Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar, and he had ordered it to be dedicated to the people.

After providing the water need for Golestan Palace complex, the Nasseri Kariz would flow to the southeast of the city, forming a settling called Qanatabad.  This kariz was in use until the early 1330’s, but then it was abandoned when water pipelines began to be drawn in Tehran, in those years.  Another use of this Kariz was to provide water for the 10 indoor baths of Golestan Palace during the reign of Nasser Eddin Shah.

Current karizes of Tehran

Now, in these recent years, the number of Kariz’s in Tehran has decreased a lot. Failure to dredge and fill the wells of the karizes is one of the reasons for the loss of these valuable water resources. Digging deep wells, which began in 1342, and increasing their number day by day, reduced the use and maintenance of Tehran’s kariz’s.  Digging subway tunnels was another reason for the drying up of running springs and as a result the blocking of water flowing into the canals.  At a time, the flow of water in the city was such that the humidity of the running water would affect surrounding houses and would make the walls damp, sometimes right upto the roof, forcing the inhabitants to move to other neighborhoods.  It did not take long before there was construction on top of the Kariz.  Now, the problem of these areas is subsidence of land. The karizes were a sign of Tehran’s prosperity and greenery; They were also considered a sign of wealth in other towns and settlements of our land. But urban renewal and modernism destroyed those ancient signs of civilization. Was what we gained enough to lose our karizes and water resources?

* Using: The article “Mehrgard is the oldest living aqueduct in Tehran” written by Narjes Zivodar in Iranshahr Intellection Magazine (Winter 2017); Nasrollah Haddadi’s note on “Iran Newspaper Website”; As well as “City Headline” websites; “Tehran Nameh.”

Negar Jamshidian

The oldest aqueduct in Tehran, built by a Zoroastrian lady

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