Mohammed tried to explain where he was taking me next but I couldn’t really understand what he meant.  Near the Harireh ruins we went to what looked like a small cement bunker with a stairway leading underground.  I looked down the long walkway into the earth and I had no idea what was down there.  He made his way down the stairs and I followed and as we neared the bottom I couldn’t hardly see a thing at all.  After a minute or two my eyes adjusted to the dim light from the stairway and I could see that we were inside an underground cistern.  I had read about these fresh water wells in the guide book and I was surprised at how elaborate they were in design.

What is most amazing is that there is any fresh water here at all.  The entire island can’t be but 10′ (3 meters) above the ocean – I would think that the sea water would leach into the spring water.  But this is what makes this island so unique: cool, clear, fresh water percolates up from deep under ground.  In ancient times the Persian residents of this island would trade fresh water in jugs to other communities nearby receiving in return fish and vegetables.  It seems that in a desert habitat like this water would be worth its weight in gold.

Before I finished descending the steps I took a photo of Mohammed at the bottom of the well.  My actual view was limited due to the darkness and it was only the flash of the camera that made the photo possible.  The water must be high in mineral content as – over the years – it formed a stalagmite at the bottom of the well – it looked a bit like a mushroom of hard water deposits.

Kish no longer uses the water from this well for drinking.  Instead, they use a desalinization plant and convert ocean water to drinking water by utilizing fossil fuels.  This water is from this well is used for irrigation and to water the gardens at the Derakht-e-Sabz Park.

When I finally made it down inside of the cistern I looked back up to the desert where I could see the bright sun beaming down the long stair shaft.  It was humid but remarkably cool inside.  In the foreground on the photo below you can see the hard water stalagmite that has grown from the underground water that has come from deep under the earth.

The world “Payab” in Persian means “the bottom of the ocean,” and I wonder if the early people thought of this water as coming from below the sea.  I could see why they might think this considering the flatness of the island and the surrounding ocean.

Back up on the surface I examined the steps a little more closely and saw that they are made up of pieces of coral.  I noticed again and again that coral is used to make up many of the older structures on this island.  It appeared as though the coral was held together with cement and it seemed structurally sound.  What was best was that it had a built in “grip” and even if it was raining you could have a sure footing on these stairs.  I did see many modern buildings being made with cement and rebar materials but the island is made of a coral bed and it is a readily available building material.


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From my hotel on Kish Island, I woke early and headed straight to breakfast – the “all inclusive” visa tour included airline tickets, transfers, hotel and meals.  The night before, I’d arranged with my hotel to have a driver and car waiting for me and as I only had one full day on the island, I wanted to see ALL of the sites.  Many of the other folks on my trip opted for the “cheaper” bus tour that made a stop here or there but in my experience, hiring a car and guide is a much better bang for your buck as you’ll see twice as much during your visit.  If you ever go on a cruise, try to avoid the packaged bus tours and instead hire a driver from the pier or rent a car – you’ll see and experience a lot more.

I met my driver in the lobby & we were introduced by a hotel staff member.  Of course his name was Mohammed (the most common name in the world) and while he didn’t speak much English, I have to give him points for trying.  He showed me his Farsi/English phrasebook; Mohammed said that he studied from it each day for at least 1/2 hour, usually while waiting for fares.  I am not even sure what the bus tour costs but my cost for Mohammed and his taxi cab was $20 for the whole day!

Mohammed asked where I wanted to go and I told him that my first interest was the ancient city of Harireh.  He put the car into gear and we were on our way.  Kish is a relatively flat island and it seemed that if the sea level rose one or two meters the entire island would disappear.  The entire island is a build up of coral and everywhere I walked I could see small broken pieces of sun-bleached coral.  All of the roads and buildings were built from coral that was cemented together and even the desert was full of coral that created a while looking landscape.

We arrived at the Harireh complex, parked the car and began walking towards the ruins.  We came to a magnificent garden called the Derakht-e-Sabz Park that was full of all sorts of plants and flowers .  Local workers were tending the garden and watering and weeding the beds of plants and flowers.  The workers were all very friendly and they smiled and waved at me as we walked through.  Just before we arrived at the ancient city we came to a Banyan tree that Mohammed wanted me to photograph.  I didn’t realize the significance of this tree (top photo) until he began writing some notes about it.  It seems that this tree is the oldest on the island and is believed to be over 600 years old.  It is a native Banyan species called the Lour (Ficus Benghalensis) and is known for its unusual root structure; the Lour tree’s roots spring from its branches and trunk and grow down into the ground.

Mohammad and I enjoyed the garden view and then walked a little further until we reached Harireh.  At once I was greeted by some pillars that were said to be intact from the original days of the city.  It is believed that a massive earthquake destroyed the city 800 years ago causing the remaining survivors to flee.  It appeared as though quite a bit of reconstruction was underway and it was difficult for me to tell what was original building and what was reconstructed.  Some of the buildings were clearly rebuilt and the workmanship of the reconstruction was inferior to the original work; it was hard to believe that 800 years didn’t add much to the building process here.

Like I had seen in the Greek ruin of Akrotiri on the island of Santorini, the houses here enjoyed indoor plumbing.  People were able to cook, bath and visit the “facilities” without having to go outside.  While the drain covers have been removed, the sewage/water lines still show in the foundations of the buildings and you can see where the water run off leads down and out of the buildings.

I didn’t really have much supervision and I was free to climb and explore all over the complex.  I went up on the roof to get a better idea of what the city looked like.  I tried to imagine what the city looked like with each building having an intact roof and each of the buildings was likely covered in stucco or limestone.  With coral/cement streets and a few green trees I am sure that this must have been a beautiful city in the 1200′s.  The tall archways give some idea as the height of the rooms and I wonder if any of the insides of the buildings were covered in paintings or frescoes.  I looked and looked for a museum official or tour guide but there was no one.

The city was quite expansive and I could have easily spent the entire day there.  It do believe that the earthquake and evacuation hypothesis is accurate; everywhere that I saw unexcavated areas (piles of dirt) I could see plates, saucers, pitchers and drinking glasses sticking up out of the sand.  It looked as though the residents had dropped what they were doing right at that moment and then fled.

I was quite horrified when I saw a worker dig up a pile of dirt to move it and I watched as he crushed dozens of vases, drinking pots and dishes.  It seemed that the artifacts where so common that the workers didn’t mind to preserve them.  The way that this complex was being rebuilt was haphazard at best and screamed “amateur” in the nature of the work.  I saw workers taking old bricks and were using them to “reconstruct” walls using modern cement with no apparent design to recreate the original look.  They just seemed to be interested in getting the wall up as quickly as possible so that they could get paid.  In the meantime, artifacts were crushed and the walls looked as though they were built in any 3rd world country.

I found a corner of the city where I could see a wider angle view and I had Mohammed take my photo from the wall of one building.  Along the northern edge of the city were magnificent Persian Gulf views and I wondered if the rents were higher there.  I am sure that they were – some things never change.  As I looked around it seemed that much of the reconstruction was haphazard and I wondered how much of this city actually looked in the 13th Century like it does today?  I don’t think UNESCO will be granting a heritage status to this site as it is not conforming to the original style & design of building.  It seemed as if the officials here were in some “hurry” to get this place built up to accommodate tourists or a VIP visitor.  I wasn’t sure but I was sad to see a beautiful historic site take on the designs of some commercial project.

After I finished touring the city I came to an ad hoc museum that was full of pottery, vases and wall carvings that had beautiful designs and Persian writing on them.  There didn’t seem to be any organization to the pieces and they seemed to be just jumbled into the open room like so much junk.  I asked around for a museum official or complex officer but I could find none.  I could only find laborers who were busy reconstructing walls and moving sand and coral around.  It didn’t seem that anyone was in charge.

As I watched the workers crush so many antiquities as they scrambled to build ugly walls I wondered why they didn’t dig up these saucers and plates, issue licenses and sell them to tourists.  The income that they could generate by selling some of the broken antiquities would certainly pay the salaries of the employees and further reconstruction efforts.  It seemed like a smarter thing to do than smash them with a dozer and shovels.

Harireh was an interesting site and I am glad to have visited it but I think that (archaeologically speaking) the curators there could make some improvements.  If you ever visit Kish Island, I certainly recommend that you make a stop; despite Hirereh’s shortcomings it was still an interesting site.


Stories, posts, reports, photos, videos and all other content on this site is copyright protected © and is the property of Scott Traveler unless otherwise indicated, all rights reserved. Content on this site may not be reproduced without permission from Scott Traveler. My contact information can be found on the home page.

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