Masjed Soleiman (also spelled as Masjed Solaiman, Masjed Soleyman, Masjed-e-Soleiman, and Masjedi- Solayman) is a city in the Khuzestan province in southwestern Iran. It is documented that the first large crude oil fields of the Middle East were discovered in the vicinity of Masjed Soleiman. Crude oil or Petroleum (in Persian: Naft) is defined as the dark thick oil obtained from under the ground, from which various substances including petrol, paraffin and diesel oil are produced.
In this article, the Early History of Oil Discovery, the History of Masjed Soleiman, the Famous Sights of Masjed Soleiman, and the History of Oil Exploration in Masjed Soleiman are studied and discussed.
THE EARLY HISTORY OF OIL DISCOVERY: Petroleum, in some form or other, is not a substance new in the History of the World. More than four thousand years ago, according to the Greek Historian Herodotus and confirmed by another Greek Historian Diodorus Siculus, asphalt was employed in the construction of the walls and towers of Babylon, and there were oil pits near Ardericca, a place located not far from Babylon. Ancient Persian tablets indicate the medicinal and lighting uses of petroleum in the upper levels of the Iranian society at the time.
In the 9th century, oil fields were exploited in the area around modern Baku, Azerbaijan, to produce naphtha. The historian and geographer Hasan Masudi (896-956) described those fields in the 10th century, and Venetian trader and explorer Marco Polo (1254-1324) in the 13th century described the output of those wells as hundreds of shiploads. Iranian Chemist Zakariya Razi (865-925) distilled petroleum in the 9th century, producing chemicals such as kerosene.
The modern history of petroleum began in 1846 with the discovery of the process of refining kerosene from coal by Canadian Abraham Pineo Gesner. In 1854, American Benjamin Silliman (1770-1864), a science professor at Yale University in New Haven (USA), was the first to fractionate petroleum by distillation. These discoveries rapidly spread around the world, and Russian Meerzoeff built the first Russian refinery in the mature oil fields at Baku in 1861. At that time Baku produced about 90 per cent of the world's oil. By 1910, significant oil fields had been discovered in Canada (specifically, in the province of Ontario), the Dutch East Indies (1885, in Sumatra), Iran (1908, in Masjed Soleiman), Peru, Venezuela, and Mexico, and all of them were being developed at an industrial level.
A HISTORICAL NOTE ON MASJED SOLEIMAN: Masjed Soleiman is situated to the north of the Khuzestan province, and has common borders with Esfahan and Chahar Mahal va Bakhtiyari provinces. It accounts for being an important area as the Winter Residing Quarter for the Bakhtiyari Tribes (in Persian: Ashaayer-e Bakhtiyari). The Bakhtiyari Tribes mostly populate Masjed Soleiman with the estimated population of about 128000 in 2005. This township is located in the mountainous areas as well as the plains, with moderate winters and warm summers. Its center is the city of Masjed Soleiman, which lies at a distance of 1030 km from Tehran. Masjed Soleiman is one of the important cities of Khuzestan Province regarding the Oil Industry.
According to archeological discoveries, evidences relative to the pre-historic ages and cavemen have been observed here. Furthermore, it is believed that legendary Hushang Pishdadi by the means of two flints (stones) discovered fire in this area. In the article of a Historical-Poetical Note on Sadeh, this author noted that, 'In Persian mythology it is believed that King Hushang, the son of Siamak and the grandson of Kayumars, has established it (Feast of Sadeh). The King wanted to hit a small dragon with a stone. The dragon escaped but the stone fell on another stone and fire broke out. Iranian epic poet Ferdowsi referred to the myth and composed the following verses: Foroughi padid aamad as har dou sang. Del-e sang gasht as forough aazarang'. Masjed Soleiman held importance during the various reigns such as, the Elamits, Medes, Parsees, Seleucidians, Parthians and the Sassanids. It is speculated that this vicinity was the birthplace of Chish Pesh Parsi, the father of Kuroush or Cyrus the Great.
In the ancient times, this area was known as Tolqor, but in 1924 after the visit of Reza Shah Pahlavi (ruled 1925-1941), and upon his suggestion to the Iranian Parliament, this vicinity was named as Masjed Soleiman in the year 1926 by the approval of the parliament, and today it is one of the thriving and industrial cities of the province.
FAMOUS SIGHTS OF MASJED SOLEIMAN: The famous sights and the most important historical monuments of Masjed Soleiman are as follows:
A. Bard Neshandeh Temple: Bard Neshandeh is one of the places of worship in ancient Iran where religious rituals were held in an open area. The structure of this relic belongs to the Parsee and Achaemenian periods, while the embossment works on stones dates back to the Parthian era. The statue of Heraclitus or Hercules, with the height of more than 2 meters was excavated from this temple. It should be noted that Heraclitus or Heracles was the greatest of the Greek heroes, and he was also known as Hercules, with whom the later Roman Emperors often identified themselves.
In an article on Masjid-e Solaiman, Jona Lendering wrote that, 'All this leads one to the conclusion that Masjid-e Solaiman is a sanctuary, built by a legendary Achaemenid ruler like Cambyses, Aryaramnes, or Arsames'.
B. Kolgah Zarri Hill: The ancient hill of Kolgah Zarri is situated to the south of Masjed Soleiman city, in the vicinity of 'Kolgah' region. This monument dates back to 3rd millennium BC. An engraving inscription about the Prophet Abraham reveals the adherence of its inhabitants to the religion of this prophet at that time. This inscription is 6 meters in length and 4 meters in breadth, which has been sculptured on a huge rock. In this area, relics from the Sassanid and Parthian periods have also been discovered, and during the Achaemenian age it was also considered vital.
C. Bardi Castle: This castle is accounted as the first permanent settlement place for Parsee tribes, as well as the birthplace of Cyrus the Great. It is located in the Andika sector of Masjed Soleiman. The Bardi castle is a huge structure, which was built during the Elamit period and made of large slabs of stones (without mortar). At present the untouched walls of the castle have been remained.
D. Simband (Taqa) Castle: The same is a little tower or turret with one room, located on a hill in a part of Andika in Masjed Soleiman. It was in this vicinity that the Elamit captured a number of Anzanis (possibly the members of Bakhtiyari Tribes), and imprisoned them.
E. Sefeh-ye Sar Masjed: On the top of a hillock over looking a locality named Sar Masjed, relics of a palace or temple has remained which dates back to the 7th century BC. Irregular polished rock stones, broken round pillars as well as arched ceilings are also scattered in this area.
F. Masjed Soleiman Dam: This dam is constructed on Karoon River and located to the northeast of Masjed Soleiman. The dam is 200 meters in height and its crown is 380 meters in length. The lake forms an excellent area for water sports and tourism exploitations. Jafari and Davoodi studied the dynamic characteristics evaluation of Masjed Soleiman Dam in 2006.
THE HISTORY OF OIL EXPLORATION IN MASJED SOLEIMAN: As a result of the concession granted to William Knox D'Arcy by Mozafaredin Shah Qajar (ruled 1896-1907) in 1901 for the exploration of oil in Iran (excluding the 5 northern provinces), drilling bits rotated for the first time in the Middle East, registering Iran as the premier birthplace of Middle East Oil Industry. It is documented that the entrepreneur William Knox D'Arcy (1849-1917), known as one of the main founders of the Oil and Petrochemical Industry in Iran, was born in Newton Abbot, England, and he was the son of a solicitor. He attended Westminster School until 1866 when the family immigrated to Australia, settling in Rockhampton, Queensland.
The first phase of drilling operations carried out on the basis of 1901 concession in Ghasr-e-Shirin and Chaah Sorkh were not very satisfying either. Although drilling activities had proved the existence of oil, the wells' output ratio did not justify continuation of operations there. Drilling rigs were moved further south, to Shooshtar area. Experts were optimistic about the outcome of drilling operations in that region, but major obstacles were the insufficiency of D'Arcy's finances. Related projects required heavier investments, for which, D'Arcy was personally unprepared. By 1904, he had spent 220 thousand pounds, which was a huge amount of money at the time.
The impediment was removed by a Scottish oil company, which had obtained a concession in Burma, and had constructed a refinery in Rangoon. At the same time, the British admiralty had decided to replace coal with oil, to fuel its warships, and hence, needed 50 thousand tons of oil per year. The British government resorted to the Scottish entity, the Burma oil company, to procure the required amount of oil. That company's oil reserves, however, were not sufficient enough to enable it to undertake a long-term commitment. Technical experts did not recommend a further expansion of oil operations in the Burmese concessionary area. D'Arcy had a much better concession for the solution of the British admiralty's problem, provided Burma oil company's financial capabilities were diverted to his area for further investment. Negotiations of D'Arcy and the Burma oil company resulted in the establishment of the Concessions Ltd. In 1905 its headquarters was in Glasgow, Scotland. The syndicate was to carry on with drilling operations in Masjed Soleiman area, with the financial support of the Burma oil company. To that end, the syndicate negotiated a contract with Bakhtiyari Tribal Chieftains (in Persian: Khaan haa), and they established the Anglo-Bakhtiyari Oil Company. Bakhtiyari Tribal Chieftains agreed to guard and protect the company's properties and installations in return for a set amount of funds.
Meanwhile drilling operations continued in several spots. Two wells drilled north of Ahwaz did not show favorable results. A well drilled in Masjed Soleiman, however, struck oil on 26 May 1908. Tests proved that experts had come to what they were looking for. Second and third wells were also proof of a huge oil reservoir, and as a result, Masjed Soleiman was registered as the first Middle East Oilfield in the Oil History of the World.
According to the News reported by Iran Daily, 'On May 26th, 1908, following some 18 months of drilling, the first drill head in the Naftoon region of Masjed Soleiman hit oil of Asmari Oilfield and Iran's first oil well was born. That was also the Middle East's first oil well, also known as Masjed Soleiman?s Number One Oil Well'.
1. In his poem of My Iran, this author referred to the oil fields of Masjed Soleiman. A part of that poem reads as follows:
From Samangan to Kenareh through Chaloos
Over the green stones of the Mountains of Zagros
Under the starry sky of the city of Kerman
To reach the oil fields in the hills of Masjed Soleiman
(View the full text here)
2. May 26, 2008 marked the 100th year anniversary for the first Oil Exploration in Masjed Soleiman (Iran) and in the Middle East. It should be remembered that ever since the discovery and production of oil in Masjed Soleiman, the political, and the socio-economical status of the country have been in a way interlinked with the Oil Industry.
Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD
Cambridge Dictionaries Online (2008): Online Definition of Petroleum.
CHN Website (2008): Online Article on Khuzestan.
Fateh, M. (1958): Fifty-Year History of Oil Industry in Iran: Panjaah Saal Naft-e Iran, ed. (in Persian), Tehran, Iran.
Iran Daily Website (2008): Online News on 100 Projects Begin.
Jafari, M. and Davoodi, M. (2006): Dynamic Characteristics Evaluation of Masjed Soleiman Dam Using in Situ Dynamic Tests: Canadian Geotechnical Journal, Volume 43, Number 10, pp. 997-1014.
Lendering, J. (2008): Online Article on Masjid-e Solaiman.
NIOC Website (2003): Online Article on Breif History of Iran Oil.
Official Website of Iran Tourism & Touring (2008): Online Notes on Sights of Masjed Soleiman.
Rezakhani, Kh. (2004): Online Notes on Chish Pesh Parsi.
Saadat Nouri, H. (1976): Safar Nameh-e Wilson (in Persian), a Translation of South West Persia: Letters and Diary of a Young Political Officer 1907-1914 by Arnold Talbot Wilson, ed., Vaheed Publications, Tehran, Iran.
Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Online Article on Razi, the First Iranian Famous Chemist.
Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Online Article on the First Iranians who lived on the Iranian Plateau.
Saadat Noury, M. (2008): Online Article on First Iranian City where Largest Oil Field of Middle East was Explored.
Stronach, D. (1997): 'Anshan and Parsa: Early Achaemenid History, Art and Architecture on the Iranian Plateau', In John Curtis ed. Mesopotamia and Iran in the Persian Period, British Museum Press, London.
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2008): Online Notes on Masjed Soleyman, William Knox D?Arcy, and Petroleum.
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