Experts, including Japanese team, restore unique quake-damaged monument

Iran rebuilding famed Bam citadel

AFP-JIJI

While Iran’s Bam citadel will never be returned to its past glory, experts who are painstakingly rebuilding the architectural masterpiece after an earthquake destroyed it a decade ago are hopeful they will be able to restore some of it.

Situated about 1,000 km southeast of Tehran, the pre-Islamic desert citadel was the largest adobe monument in the world made of unbaked clay bricks. But it was reduced to rubble on Dec. 26, 2003, when it was hit by a major quake that killed 26,000 to 32,000 people, according to various estimates.

“Bam will never be rebuilt exactly the way it was,” said Afshin Ebrahimi, the manager of the reconstruction project.

Still, a senior Iranian official said Thursday that the citadel will again be a major tourist attraction by 2016.

“Over the next two or three years, Arg’e Bam will be rebuilt so it again becomes a major tourist attraction,” Fars news agency quoted Mohammad Ali Najafi, head of Iran’s heritage organization, as saying when he visited the site on the 10th anniversary of the quake.

Najafi expressed satisfaction with the pace of the rebuilding work, saying that “on average, some 80 percent of the reconstruction of Arg’e Bam has been completed.”

Hailing international aid to rebuild both the citadel and the city, Najafi said, “Arg’e Bam is a symbol of international cooperation to revive a global monument.”

He also praised the efforts of Bam’s residents in helping to rebuild it.

On top of all the international aid, the government in Tehran granted loans to survivors so they could rebuild their homes. But Najafi admitted that many people are still having problems repaying these mortgages, and pledged that “the government will not abandon them,” Mehr news agency reported.

The citadel can be traced back to the sixth century B.C. but reached its apogee from the seventh to 11th centuries as it sat on the crossroads of the Silk Road and other trade routes.

A decade after the quake, only part of the massive site has been rebuilt, while wooden scaffolding is propped up against most of it and gaping holes can be seen along the outer walls.

“We are not aiming at rebuilding the citadel as it was before the quake. We can never do that,” Ebrahimi, who is carrying out the work for Iran’s culture and heritage authorities, said. “The quake, like the local architecture, is part of our history.”

Two rows of arches a hundred meters from the entrance give visitors a glimpse at the work being done. On one side they can see the original architecture and on the other the renovation.

More than 100 people work at the site each day, alongside 20 Iranian experts and others who have come to lend a hand from France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

Japan contributed $500,000 through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and provided equipment for clearing the rubble and carrying out the restoration work.

The Japanese experts are working on making a 3-D map of the site, while their French and Italian counterparts are focusing on making mud and cement bricks designed to endure future quakes.

“The work will never end,” said Ebrahimi. “We are trying to preserve the sites but, if it rains on an adobe wall, we must rebuild it all over again.”

He says the reconstruction drive has had a positive impact on residents of the modern city of Bam, which lies at the foot of the citadel.

Survivors who lost family members in the quake are still haunted by memories of the tragedy, Ebrahimi said.

“To see the citadel being reborn has a soothing effect. This is a very special project, it is very emotional. It is not just a renovation workshop,” he added.

Ebrahimi hopes that restoring the citadel will bolster tourism in the city, which is also home to some 150 lesser-known archeological sites.

Bam Gov. Hossein Zainol Salehi expressed satisfaction with the pace of the work, saying reconstruction must be done in a “prudent” fashion.

UNESCO officials said there have been improvements in the site’s management and conservation, and it has removed Bam from the body’s list of World Heritage in Danger.