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More than oil
Briefly: Ahvaz & Chogha Zanbil

By Satgin Seraj
April 8, 2004

During childhood trips to Khuzestan, the things I witnessed and heard about sparked a deep interest within me regarding the region. I knew that Khuzestan is well known for its abundant natural resources, especially huge reserves of crude oil and natural gas. But, what I did not know at the time is that it has a rich history. Khuzestan was home to one of the oldest human civilizations dating back at least 6000 years to Shoosh (Susa). As a result of the precedence of human civilization in Khuzestan, there are many ancient and magnificent wonders in the region. These wonders can be found throughout the Province, including in Ahvaz and Chogha Zanbil.

Ahvaz is an oil center and an industrial city with vast petrochemical industries. It is also an ancient city that is considered to be one of the oldest in Iran. It is believed that the city is built on the site of the ancient city of "Taryana." Ardeshir Sassanide I rebuilt Taryana and named it "Hormozd Ardeshir." During his reign and that of his successors, the city prospered, and instead of Shoosh (Susa) the Ahvaz became the capital of "Suziana" (Khuzestan). When the Arabs gained control of Suziana, Hormozd Ardeshir was re-named to Soq-ol-Ahvaz, meaning the market of Khuzis or Hoories.

During the period of Omavi and Abbasides Caliphs, Ahvaz flourished. However, due to the upheaveals of Saheb-ol-Zanj, at the end of the third century the city experienced a decline. Nonetheless, Ahvaz was able to flourish again, because of the construction of the Suez Canal, improved trade and shipping on the Karoon River and reformation of Bandar-e Naseri as a port during the Qajar era.

Moreover, the discovery of oil nearby in the early twentieth century restored the city to its former importance by helping foster strong economic growth. Its final name change occurred during the Pahlavie era, when it was given the name Ahvaz.

Chogha Zanbil
Chogha Zanbil is considered to be the largest man made structure in Iran. It is a breathtaking and truly astonishing site. Its size and splendor were both intended to manifest the power of King Untash Napirisha. The ziggurat of Chogha Zanbil is the best surviving example of the Elamite architecture in the world and is registered with UNESCO. However, it was unfortunately lost to the world for approximately 2500 years, until it was accidentally discovered in 1935.

The well-preserved ziggurat was built at Dur Untashi, a city near Shoosh (Susa), by Untash-gal, Kind of Elam, 1250 BC. It served as both a temple and a tomb, comprised of five towers of varying heights, each uniquely constructed inside the other. It is believed to be the largest ziggurat discovered in the region of Iran and Mesopotamia with a base of 105 meters square. It is part of a complex system that includes an outer wall 1200 x 800 meters, which is constructed around a sacred enclosure. The enclosure held three temples, paved courtyards and storehouses. Moreover, remains of three Elamite Palaces have been found nearby, one of which has subterranean tombs.

The building materials in Chogha Zanbil are comprised mainly of mud bricks and baked bricks. The monuments were well built and beautifully decorated with glazed baked bricks, gypsum, ornaments of faience and glass. Thousands of baked bricks bearing inscriptions with Elamite characters were all inscribed by hand, ornamenting the most important buildings. Glazed terracotta statutes such as bulls and winged griffins guarded the entrances to the Ziggurat. When standing before it, one can truly feel its magnificence, understand its historical significance and imagine what the entire area was like during the height of its splendor.

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