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.
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