Oldest Living Iranian

The tree that nourishes the spirit and feeds the imagination


Oldest Living Iranian
by Ryszard Antolak

On the Silk Road from Yazd to Shiraz, in the desert city of Abarkuh, stands the oldest living being in Iran (perhaps in the whole world) . It is at least five thousand years old, and some say eight thousand. Ancient and mysterious even to botanists (who cannot decide on its true age), the Cypress Tree of Abarkuh is surrounded by legends and revered by countless visitors.

To anyone approaching it, the tree appears more mineral than vegetable. You are confronted by a wall of massive trunks - 19 meters thick - packed together tightly like the tentacles of a giant squid, each one vying with others for space and for sky. Thirty metres above your head they finally explode, showering a canopy of lingering fragrance and delicious shade down onto the earth below.

The tree stands next to an old caravanserai, surrounded by a low circular hedge of manicured privet (sometimes also with a small pool of water). Visitors come in their hundreds, their hands immediately drawn to stony surface of the trunk. They feel along it for a time, as if searching for a concealed entrance or a living heart. They circle it in wonder like pilgrims round the Kaaba, constantly touching and caressing. The tree is very much loved. Some visitors bring coloured ribbons to hang on the lower branches as signs of reverence or supplication. At these times the tree resembles a woman in a Qashkai skirt, her hands raised to her hair, ready to perform a dance. Or perhaps a decorated Christmas tree. Other visitors spread out blankets and eat watermelon in the delicious cool of its shade.

An ugly green information sign once gave visitors statistics about this cypress, but it has been removed recently (perhaps to make way for a new one). The height of the tree is 30 metres and the width of its trunk is 19 metres in diameter. When it was first mentioned in 1335 AD (by a certain Hamd-Allah Mostawfi), the tree was already “famous throughout the world”.

Cypress trees (cupressus sempervirens) are native to Iran. They were carried by travellers to Europe in the distant past, and then spread to other areas of the world. Mediterranean cypresses seldom survive longer than two thousand years. In their homelands on the plains of Iran, they can can grow to many times that age.

Cypresses were once revered all over Ancient Iran. Saints and sages were buried in their hollowed-out trunks, the bark carefully replaced so that they would continue to grow. (1)

There is a legend that Zoroaster planted two famous cypresses in Khorassan, both of which grew to enormous proportions: the Cypress of Kashmar (near Mashhad) and the Cypress of Faryumaz (near Sabsevar) (2). When the local king Gushtasp accepted the religion of the prophet, Zoroaster ordered the trunk of the former to be inscribed with the words, "Gushtasp accepts the Good Religion". And from that time onwards, cypresses were planted at the doors of many Zoroastrian temples and became a familiar feature of the Iranian landscape. Their slender pyramidal shapes were likened to living flames, burning and transforming the face of the earth. In time, they came to represent the Iranian prophet himself.

Islam too, lays claim to this particular tree. A persistent cluster of legends links it to Abraham, (who is said to have planted it), and other local traditions and geographical features around Abarkuh are associated with the life of this patriarch. From at least the twelfth century AD, Abarkuh was known as the City of Abraham. (3)

In the pages of the Avesta, the Cypress is listed first among the trees that “give no fruit to man”. But anyone who rests for a short time beneath its shade soon discovers the opposite. The water in the pool is brown and warm. Frogs brood nearby and swallows swoop low in the branches. Light yawns its way out of the desert hills and lies smoothly down with the dappled shade. The tree may not feed the body, but it nourishes the spirit and feeds the imagination.

Plans have been drawn up to develop the area around the cypress as a park to protect the tree's future. UNESCO is involved in the planning. A slender young cypress has been planted nearby so that when the old tree sickens or falls, the younger will take its place. There is likely to be a cypress tree at Abarkuh for many centuries to come.

Iran is a country full of remarkable monuments and architectural marvels. But all of them are lifeless. The Cypress Tree of Abarkuh is a living monument, an ancient noble organism well worthy of celebration and protection.


1 . In this way we can better understand legends of Cypress trees singing in human voices. Two cypresses speaking in a human voice are said to have foretold the death of Alexander. And in the Testament of Abraham, a cypress tree prophesies the patriarch's death etc.

2. When the latter tree was cut down in 847 AD on the orders of the Abassid caliph Al Mutawakkil, earthquakes shook, buildings fell and a swarm of birds filled the night sky screaming with rage. It was cut down in sections and transported on more than 300 camels to Samarra. The Abarkuh cypress is older than the cypress of Kashmar.

3. Two hills of ashes in Abarkuh were once associated with the “Fires of Nimrod” into which Abraham was thrown. The patriarch is also said to have prophesied that rain would never fall within the walls of the city, and that its inhabitants would never raise cows.


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Feelings for the oldest living tree

by Ramona on

I wonder how you felt when you touched her?


Private Pilot


by Private Pilot on

Thank you so much for sharing.  It's so refreshing to see pieces like this once in a while on this site which is mostly filled with angery political pieces by those who don't know anything about it anyway.

 Thansk for a odnerful piece.

Private Pilot

ebi amirhosseini

Dear Ryszard !

by ebi amirhosseini on

 Thanks for the story.I have visited the Famous" Sarv-e-Abarkuh" many times .One should be next to this tree ( If possible),to feel,why Sypress was the " Tree of Life",in ancient Iranian culture ( In Apadana Palace main staircase you see that  each Parsi (Achamenid) prince & Mede Prince are joined by a "Sypress or tree of life".

A lot of stories ( no historical proof ) about it in different sites:



"Russian scientist Alexander Rouf has estimated the tree's age to be between 4000 and 4500 years, and with a height of 25 meters and a trunk 11.5 meters around, this massive tree definitely deserves preservation and a chance to shine on the list of world heritage".

The 4,500 yr old Cypress Tree in Abarkuh.



Mona 19

It's nice story...

by Mona 19 on

It reminds of the book that I was reading to my daughter when she was younger "The Giving Tree", and thanks for sharing.


Mona ;)


Thank you Ryszard

by serious reader (not verified) on

Maybe when some day sanity returns to the world Iran will honor you with a shenasnameh as Honorary Persian Sarv.


Great story

by farokh2000 on

Thanks so much for sharing this.

Great history.

I am surprised the Mullahs have not claimed it yet and even more surprised they have not sold it to anyone.



Oldest Living Iranian

by Faribors Maleknasri M.D. (not verified) on

Mr./Mrs./Miss Ryszard Antolak
Thank you very much for the informative report.
Usually is "IRANIAN" dominated by a lot of wise men and women who know what is good for Iran and what is bad. One reads offen the same words as are said in CNN or in other Laudspeakers and newspapers of strangers. Who apparently does not mean it good with Iran and Iranians. News from Iranian News agencies are very rare and when i can read hier only which accident is happend and who is killed and which young man/girl has got longtime jail and who will be shut down as next, although she/he is not old enough to get punished. what is done is naturally never mentioned.
Under these circumstances it is for me a real satisfaction to read about YOUR SARVE NAZ. You write absolutly neutral without any hate about Iran or Iranians, you give no Lectures in Politics, your words are for me a Relaxation. may be you can continue sending such positive reports from Iran. Greeting

Ryszard Antolak


by Ryszard Antolak on

We're not related. Just good friends.



by manesh on

This is a beautiful story.  If only this tree could talk!  Thank you Ryszard.  Reading your writings, I can not help but fanticize you and the tree are related somehow. It comes across.