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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