Bam is located on the southern edge of the Iranian plateau, in a desert environment.The creation and growth of the city was based on the underground irrigation canals, the qanāts of which Bam has preserved some of the earliest evidence in Iran. The archaeological discoveries of ancient qanāts in the south-eastern suburbs of Bam are datable to the beginning of the 2nd century BC.

There is no precise archaeological dating of the buildings of the Citadel of Bam. But through historic sources and ancient texts, the first human settlement in the area can be traced back to the fort built by the Achaemenians around 579-323 BC. Some of the citadel’s features such as its establishment on a platform combining a natural hilltop and a manmade terrace have been compared by archaeologists to the Achaemenian model of Persepolis.
During the Parthian rule, the fort was expanded and became Arg-e-Bam, the Citadel of Bam. A comparative study titled “Bam and a Brief History of Urban Settlement and Planning in Iran” concluded that the essential core of the city of Bam and the Governor’s section were built during the Parthian era.Under the Sassanids, the castle was seized by Ardeshir Babakan. New fortifications and walls were constructed between 224 and 637 AD. A few years later, in 645 AD, the Kerman region was conquered by the Arabs and Arg-e-Bam probably suffered damages during the war. One of the Arab commanders established the Al Rasoul mosque, one of the first mosque built in Iran in the early Islamic era.
In 656 AD, the Khavarej, a group of fanatic Moslems defeated by Imam Ali, escaped to Kerman and Bam were they settled in the Arg-e-Bam.In 869 AD, Yaqoob Laith Saffari who was fighting the Abbasids, defeated the Khavarej and took over the Arg-e-Bam. It then became his permanent base camp.The name of Bam is mentioned for the first time by Islamic writers in the 10th century. According to these authors, Bam was then a well established market place surrounded by a wide agricultural area. The city was famous for its elegant/tasteful cotton fabrics, its supposedly impregnable fortress, its busy bazaars and its palm trees.
After the Mogul invasion of lran, Bam and the Kerman region were turned over to the Qarakhataian dynasty who ruled the region from 1240 to 1363 AD.Bam benefited from a strategic location on the spice route connecting the region to the Silk Road. The city was renowned for silkworm breeding and a flourishing silk industry.During the Safavid rule (from 1502 to 1722), Iran went through a period of relative calm and stability. Arg-e-Bam was considerably developed, as well as the rest of the country. The Four Seasons Palace was built during this period.
Towards the end of the Safavid period, Arg-e-Bam was conquered by the founder of the Qajar Dynasty, Agha Mohammad Khan, who used the citadel as a strategic point to fend off Afghan and Baluchi incursions and thus turned it into a military complex.In 1839, Agha Khan Mahallati, founder of the Esmaili sect, rose up against Mohammad Shah Qajar and took refuge in Arg-e-Bam, until prince Firooz Mirza who was later to be known as Farman Farma (the Ruler of Rulers) arrested him.The increasing military presence within the walls of Arg-e-Bam gradually led people to settle outside the limits of the ramparts: in l880 Firooz Mirza wrote that only military personnel were residing within the citadel area and he suggested that the old and abandoned city sitting at the foot of the citadel be demolished and the area turned into a garden.
In 1900, the construction of the new city of Bam began and people progressively left the old Bam.Arg-e-Bam, the citadel, was used a garrison until 1932 but it seems that no one was living in the old city at the foot of the citadel anymore. Arg-e-Bam and the old city have therefore been totally abandoned since 1932.In 1953, the site became recognized as a nationally significant historic site and a gradual process of conservation and restoration began but most of the work was carried out from 1973 onwards.
After the Islamic Revolution, Arg-e-Bam was placed under the responsibility of the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organisation (ICHO). In 1993 the citadel was designated as one of the most significant project of the National Cultural Heritage Organization.
During the last few decades, the restoration work attempted to respect the existing structures, which is the basis of restoration ethics.Attention was mostly paid to get back these buildings as close as possible to their former aspect.An exceptional work was conducted on several buildings, and the results were quite impressive.The main problem of these restoration works was that they had not the foresight to strengthen the old structures. No bond had been made between the damaged structures and the repairs.
Especially, the wall basements had not been strengthened when they were eroded due to dampness and rainwater splashing. Covering them with new adobes or plasters did not give back their former stability and strength, but rather overloaded the original structure.
Thus, the restoration has been more a cosmetic approach: new facades were done on ruins without giving back the structural strength of the walls. Nearly all original vaulted roofs were either severely damaged or collapsed, and the ones which had been rebuilt were resting on structurally weak walls.
Before the earthquake, most of the city area inside the citadel was in the condition shown in both photos above. Unrestored walls showed the typical erosion at their base due to dampness and the rainwater splashing. They were fully eroded on top and there was only little remaining of the original vaults and domes.In an attempt to fully respect the original remains (as suggested by conventional conservation norms), all repairs were done without linking the original ruin and the new wall. Therefore, the old wall was not reinforced, neither the new addition actually resistant.
In some cases, these claddings were possibly detrimental to the original walls, as they overloaded them and increased the stress on the walls during the earthquake. This becomes obvious when comparing the behavior of structures in the various parts of the city: Konariha quarter which was not modified suffered much less, as well as the Zoroastrian temple, just behind Arg-e-Bam.
On December 26, 2003 at 5:26 AM local time, Bam was struck by a major earthquake. The United States Geological Survey estimated its magnitude at 6.6 on Richter’s scale. It had also a vertical acceleration of 1G. About 142,000 people were living in the Bam area. The extremely destructive quake killed about 26,200, injured thousands and left more than 75,000 homeless. Approximately 70% of the buildings were destroyed.The earthquake was wrenching because its hypocenter was located just below the city of Bam, at around 7 Km depth.The Bam area has an underground made of a series of faults. The main one called Bam Fault had been inactive for a very long time.
Though the earthquake was on the southern part of Bam, the main direction of the horizontal motion of the waves was East-West and was perpendicular to the direction of the main fault located around 3 Km East of Bam. It seems that the Bam Fault channeled the energy of the earthquake in its direction, North-South, but in the same time it acted like a boomerang or amplifier by sending back the energy on an East-West direction.
This was noted on the various sites where buildings which were mostly ruined had their main axis oriented North-South (Arg-e-Bam, Bam and the villages on the East of Bam). Therefore they could not withstand the waves coming from the East (Bam) or West (villages east of bam) and perpendicular to them.
Buildings that had their main axis oriented East-West were in the same direction of the seismic waves and they responded much better: some of their parts were damaged but they were not totally ruined. They also presented the typical shear cracks when the ground motion is in the direction of the wall plane.The structures that had been maintained and repeatedly modified or expanded over time fared much worse than did the ancient structures that had not been maintained, modified or restored. The same intriguing phenomenon could be observed on the structures partially or entirely strengthened and restored during the late 20th century.
In large earthquakes, the destruction of earthen and masonry structures is widely accepted as being unavoidable. When analysing the causes of such damage, it is tempting but deplorable to stop with the analysis of the lateral forces measured against the capacity of the unreinforced earthen structures without consideration of other factor such as pre-existing pathologies.
In the case of Bam, one particular aspect needs to be pointed out: the ancient structures suffered a lot less damages than the recently maintained or restored ones.
The citadel, including the governor’s residence, the main tower, the Four Seasons palace and the hammam, were nearly totally destroyed especially because of their location on top of the hill. The rocky hill concentrated the energy of the earthquake. In addition, these buildings collapsed because their foundations were resting on an inhomogeneous ground, made of rocks and earth filling. The earth filling slipped with the ground motion.Paradoxically, this part of the city had less damage than the part which had been restored, though the ramparts all around collapsed. Only a few walls collapsed and some debris of already broken vaulted roof fell down.The city at the foot of the castle was nearly flattened, especially the parts that had been restored. Most of the vaulted roofs were cracked or severely damaged because the walls below suffered too much.
Arg-e-Bam has been an archaeological museum for the last fifty years and at the time of the earthquake (5:36 AM) no one was in the citadel but three employees.

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