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Shushtar is a city in southwestern Iran, located 90 km north of Ahvaz. In most historical periods from the Sassanid period to the early Pahlavi period, this city was the capital of Khuzestan province. The city of Shushtar owes much of its fame to the ancient water supply system in which it is located. The system was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2009 and is considered a creative masterpiece.

This water structure, which is one of the unique works of the Achaemenid period, provides us with good information and statistics from ancient Iran. Also, this work, according to the time of construction and the period in which it was built, is one of the technical and engineering masterpieces in the world.

Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System
Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System – by Razie Amirian

History of Construction of Shushtar Water Structures

The initial construction of this complex dates back to the fifth century of the Achaemenid period and the reign of Darius the Great, but most of its construction was in the Sassanid period with the aim of optimal use of water and its purification by ancient methods. Shushtar water structures are a collection of bridges, ponds, dams, canals, and tunnels. Even this place is considered as the largest industrial complex before the Industrial Revolution.

The oldest artifacts found in this area date back to the Paleolithic and prehistoric times. Due to the Karun River being located next to the city of Shushtar, the ideal location and living conditions were provided in this place and different tribes also wanted to stay in this place. According to the documents obtained, the city of Shushtar was very important during the Elamite period due to its proximity to the Choghaznabil temple.

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During the reign of Ardashir I, this city was rebuilt and became an island in the waters, which increased the importance of building a huge complex of water structures in Shushtar. With the construction of this complex, the face of the city was changed, of course, its initial cornerstone was laid by Darius the Great, who achieved significant development during this period. The city of Shushtar was chosen as the capital of the local rulers of Khuzestan during the Parthian period and was one of the important centers of Khuzestan during the Sassanid period.

This city reached the peak of its fame during the time of Sassanid Shapur and was in its most glorious historical period. Currently, the city of Shushtar is referred to as the Museum of Buildings and Structures, which is why it is described as a unique city in the world.

Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System
Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System – by Darafsh

How Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System Works

Karun is one of the largest and most important rivers in Iran, which before entering Shushtar is divided into two branches called Gargar and Shatit. Gargar is an artificial river that belongs to the time of Ardashir I, the founder of the Sassanid Empire. Three tunnels carry water from the Gargar River to water structures. The incoming water is divided through several channels, turns the mill wheel, and then flows into the pond in the form of a waterfall.

The ancient hydraulic system of Shushtar has an amazing view and is one of the masterpieces of civil engineering in the world. The Sassanids used ancient techniques to share river water between different parts of Shushtar and even some nearby cities, part of which still work centuries later.

The buildings in the ancient site of Shushtar water structures are divided into three parts:

Eastern area: There are about 10 mills in this area. Some of them are the mill of two brothers, Darab Khan, Haj Mendel, Rataq. Each of these mills has two millstones. The water required for these mills is supplied in addition to the entrance tunnel.

Shushtar Watermills
Shushtar Watermills – by youngrobv

Northern area: In this area, in addition to Khodayi mills, Reza Golab or cheese mill, and Rezvan mills, there are facilities related to the Mostofi power plant, which was built in 1332 and a pump house that supplied water to the city.

Western area: There are 21 mills in this area, and the water required for these mills was supplied through a three-furnace tunnel. The way to enter the western area is through a bridge called Duplon. The mills of this area are made in two types of slope and oven models. In addition to the mills, there is an ice factory and a water pump house.

Below the stairs in the western area (this staircase was the way to connect the old part of the city with the western area) and on the roof of the mill called Luali is a building with a square plan and a domed roof in the style of fire temples, which is attributed to the prayer hall. It is located at the end of the area called Sika. The entrance to these chambers is provided by stairs that are built into the rock.

Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System's waterfalls
Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System’s waterfalls – by Derafsh Kaviani

Shushtar mills and waterfalls are one of the most unique examples that have been used for the optimal use of water in ancient times. This area is a complex of dams, tunnels, canals, and watermills, which is an industrial-economic complex and is part of the large complex of water structures in Shushtar, which is frequently mentioned in historical books. The basis of the complex is that the Gargar Dam blocks the river route and raises the water level to draw water from three tunnels dug in the boulder. The three tunnels direct the water to the complex and are divided into several canals that, after turning the mills, the water flows in waterfalls into pool-like areas.

One of the most prominent features of the complex of mills and waterfalls is its proximity to the historical part of the city of Shushtar. In addition to industrial uses, this area also provided the water needed by the residents on days of water shortage. A very beautiful and unique visual feature that exists in this collection and gives it a special effect is that the effluent of the mills flows in the form of beautiful artificial waterfalls into the pond-like areas, which creates an eye-catching and pleasant view.

Shushtar Hydraulic System
Dams in Shushtar Hydraulic System- by Elaheabed

How Shushtar Water Structures Index Works

Shushtar water structures in the UNESCO World Heritage List include several works that we are going to introduce:

1. level dam: As you know, for agriculture, the land must be irrigated with river water, and due to the low level of the river from the land, the water must be raised. Today, water is pumped from the river, but in the past, there was no pump! So they created a structure called a dam, which is built perpendicular to the river and keeps its surface high by blocking the flow of water.

2. Pergola Tower: This tower was built in the Qajar period and is located next to the Shatit River. This place was the place where the Roman emperor or Sassanid Shapur supervised the river and the work of the workers. Of course, some consider it a place to monitor the amount and intensity of river flow.

3. Gargar River: This river was dug in the north of Shushtar city during the Achaemenid period for the development of water structures in the city. Reasons for the construction of this river include reducing the volume of water in the Karun River, irrigating the lands above the Karun River and the security of the city.

The Band of Mizan (Mizan Dam) on Gargar River
The Band of Mizan (Mizan Dam) on Gargar River – by Derafsh Kaviani

4. Gargar Bridge: The history of the construction of this bridge dates back to the Sassanid period and the reason for its construction is to divert the water route from the handmade and historical river Gargar and the water to the windmill tunnels.

5. Waterfalls and water mills: The most significant parts of this complex are located next to the Gargar Bridge and along the Gargar River. There are a large number of windmills in this complex, which is a clear example of using water force to rotate windmills. The complex is divided into three parts: the eastern courtyard, the northern courtyard, and the western courtyard.

Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System's Waterfalls
Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System’s Waterfalls – by youngrobv

Other buildings of this huge and large complex include the Ayar or Sabi Tower bridge, which is located on the Gargar River and at the bottom of the waterfalls, which was built during the Sassanid period. Shushtar Salasel Castle is also a very large fortress which is located next to the Shatit River and has various sections including several courtyards, barracks, stables, baths, naves, towers, gardens, tin house, shrine house, kitchen, and multiple gates. Salasel Castle is the official residence of the governor of Khuzestan and is located on a mountain that is like a small plateau and has been renovated many times.

Shadorvan Bridge is another part of Shushtar’s huge collection of water structures, some of which are called the oldest bridges in the world. The bridge had 44, of which only 16 spans with arches and 8 spans without arches can be seen. Shah Ali Bridge is also left from the Safavid period and is located on Daryoun Creek. This bridge, which is no longer used after the construction of the new bridge between Ahvaz and Shushtar, had several arches, of which only 3 arches remain today. The Lashkar Bridge, which dates back to the Sassanid period, is located next to one of the six historical gates of Shushtar.

Currently, this bridge is considered to be the healthiest bridge left from the Sassanid period, which is visited by many tourists.

Shushtar mills and waterfalls are one of the most technical and engineering masterpieces in the world due to their construction time. This engineering masterpiece is unique both in Iran and in the world. And always a large number of tourists visit these magnificent historical monuments. You can also buy your Iran tours from the To Iran Tour’s website to see these historical structures and experience a pleasant trip.


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