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The village of Meymand (also known as Maymand or Maimand) in Iran is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The village consists of about 350 hand-dug houses. It is about 930 kilometers (578 miles) southeast of Tehran in the southeastern province of Kerman. As a matter of fact Meymand is a village of troglodytes-cave dwellers. And on 4 July 2015, the village was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. The village of Meymand in Iran

Although it has been continuously inhabited for the last 2,000 to 3,000 years, archeologists estimate the village to be between 8,000 and 12,000 years old. It is the fourth oldest continuously inhabited village across the country.

Meymand covers 12,241.2 acres and it’s a mountainous village. It has cold winters and hot, dry summers. Concerning the weather, the best time to travel to Meymand is early spring and early fall.

Etymology of Meymand

Meymand is derived from two words in Persian; “Mey” meaning wine, and “mand” meaning drunken and drunkenness. Some people believe the name comes from the ancient inhabitants who would drink wine and when they were drunk, they would dig holes in the mountains. The current inhabitants also believe it. Others, however, believe Meymand means benevolent and blessedness.

The village of Meymand in Iran is an UNESCO World Heritage Site
The village of Meymand in Iran is an UNESCO World Heritage Site

How old is Meymand?

By examining the petroglyphs found in the village, the French archaeologist André Leroi-Gourhan (1911-1986) estimated that Meymand has been inhabited for about 6 to 12 thousand years. About 35 years ago, a French team studied a petroglyph of a hunting scene 5 miles south of Meymand. They estimated the age of the village to be 12,000 years old.

10 stepped Villages in Iran

Additional evidence of the age of the village comes from pottery from the Meymand Fortress. The pottery dates back to 2 to 3 thousand years ago. Petroglyphs and rock reliefs in this area, with hunting scenes, also date the history of Meymand several thousand years. In addition, examples of various periods, including Parthian, Sassanid, and Islamic, have also been found in the region. There are various scenes among 65 petroglyphs found in and around Meymand, including scenes of hunting, war, animals such as dogs, horses, and goats. But two of these petroglyphs are considered unique. One is a colorful carving and the other depicts a hunting scene with a bow and arrow.

The village of Meymand in Iran
The village of Meymand in Iran

Theories about building Meymand

Nobody knows how and by whom Meymand was built, and what their motives were for constructing this village, but experts have suggested two theories.

According to the first theory, a group of the Aryan tribe built this village about 800 to 700 years B.C. And at the same time, the Medes were building prototypes of rock architecture in the western part of Iran. Remains of the Medes’ works are still there today. The village of Meymand in Iran

It is possible that the cliff structures of Meymand were built for religious purposes. Worshippers of Mithras believed that the sun is invincible and this guided them to consider mountains as sacred. Hence the stone cutters and architects of Meymand followed their beliefs in the construction of their dwellings.

Based on the second theory the village dates back to the second or third century A.D. During the Arsacid era (247 BC-224 AD) different tribes of southern Kerman migrated in different directions. These tribes found suitable places for living and settled in those areas by building their shelters. They developed the whole place in time into the existing homes.

The Meymand Fortress includes more than 150 circular rocky rooms, which appear to be catacombs for the dead people (ossuary). The existence of this structure strengthens the second theory. In fact, the presence of these ossuaries is a sign of the Sassanid era (224 AD to 651 AD). According to the tradition of the time, the catacombs should have been built in a mountainous region. They have been away from the city and place of residence. Besides, the distance between these catacombs and Meymand is a strong evidence of this practice amongst inhabitants.

Melina Mercouri International Prize

Meymand was the seventh cultural, natural, and historical heritage of the world that won the Melina Mercouri Prize. The Ministry of Culture of Greece awards this prize in collaboration with international cultural associations such as UNESCO and ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites to various cultural landscapes. The village of Meymand in Iran

These landscapes should have unique cultural, natural and historical conditions. And in 2005, Meymand succeed to receive the Mercouri Prize for the safeguarding and management of its cultural landscapes.

The village of Meymand in Iran
The village of Meymand in Iran

Modern Meymand

Many of the 673 residents (according to the 2006 census) of the village of Meymand are semi-nomadic shepheards. In the spring, the villagers take their livestock to the plain. And during the summer they move their herds to higher and cooler elevations in the mountains. Villagers also engage in other forms of agriculture. The inhabitants of Meymand spend the cold winter days weaving carpets, kilim, felt and baskets.

Architecture of Meymand

It is the unique structure of the village’s houses that make it an UNESCO site. By digging into the soil to make its houses, this settlement has seen less physical and social changes throughout history.

There are no houses built with stones, bricks, or wood or other typical housing materials. Huge amounts of soil have been taken out to make Meymand a dwelling place; Man has taken the masses out of the ground and progressed to create such a masterpiece without the need for clay, brick, and mortar. Houses are located in the cliffs of the tuff (volcanic ash), and the roof of each house forms the floor of another. The tuff is below the layers of conglomerate (coarse gravel). Wind and rain caused small and large holes to form on the slopes of the mountains, and then people expanded them.

Although walking in the village and watching houses and its unique architecture is exciting, there are other sights as well. These are such as Meymand Hammam (bath), the school, the mosque and Meymand Hussainiya (a congregation hall for Shi’i commemoration ceremonies) which are worth visiting. The village of Meymand in Iran

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