Man and nature have joined hands to create one of the world’s most amazing and extraordinary places in southern Iran.
Meymand Village attracts thousands of tourists eager to see its cavern-like houses and experience the traditional rural culture of the region.
The ancient village is located in the southern Iranian province of Kerman, some 35 kilometers from the historical city of Shahr-e Babak, which is said to be the birthplace of the founder of Sassanid dynasty, Presstv reported.
Meymand dates back to the time when the inhabitants of the Persian plateau placed their dead inside crypts carved into mountains.
The traditional houses of the village are hewn into rocks and include corridors, pillars and a stove, which is used for both cooking and heating the home during the freezing winters.
Locals say their ancestors did not use hammer and chisels, but a type of hard pointed stone to carve images into rocks. The method is still practiced in the region today.
The current inhabitants of the village build their cave houses, known as Kicheh, by chiseling six- to nine-meter horizontal cuts into the hillside’s soft sedimentary rock.
Meymand’s sedimentary rocks are soft enough to be shaped by hand and hard enough to support the roof of cave units.
There are about 400 Kichehs in Meymand. Each Kicheh spans an area of about 16 to 20 square meters and is nearly two meters high.
The houses are built one on top of one another and accommodate 130 to 150 people, many of whom lead a nomadic life and escape the area’s warm weather by moving to higher pastures in summer.
Their houses usually consist of a single square or round room with windows carved wherever possible. Some dwellings are windowless and dark due to lack of natural light and soot-coated walls.
Larger houses have more than one room and sometimes an adjacent stable or animal shelter. Doors are usually rectangular and made of wood, with a latch that locks onto a hole drilled into a stone frame.
Thresholds of Kicheh doors are raised some 15 to 20 centimeters above the ground to keep water from flowing into the alley.
In lower units, there is often a trench before the entrance with walls tall enough to accommodate a dwelling unit.
In some parts, the lower units are made in groups so that the entrance trenches of up to five houses open onto a terrace known as a Dalan.
Dalans are used for family and social gatherings. Villagers also use round sedimentary rocks to build dividing walls and buildings on the valley floor.
Types of Shelter
Those who spend summers in the village build special dwellings called Kapars, which allow the circulation of air to cool the interior.
Meymand villagers use another type of shelter known as Gonbeh that are not as cool as Kapars.
Gonbehs are circular structures with stone walls and a conical roof made of wooden rafters.
The nomads of Meymand also make different types of shelters outside the village, such as Aghol, Abadi and Pollas. These shelters are usually made of wood and stone.
Aghols are constructed as semi subterranean buildings, similar to a Gonbeh in appearance. Abadis are built above the ground while Pollas is a type of tent made of a white fabric with cotton warps and wefts made of goat wool.
Tourists, who arrive in the village can either stay in an eight-room guesthouse or enjoy staying in cozy cave houses.
Guesthouse rooms are covered with pressed wool felt, called Namad in Persian, and carpets. Beds are carved into the walls and there is lighting and hot water.
Meymand also has a public bath, school, restaurant, museum and a number of shops mostly offering herbal medicine and traditional handicrafts.
The village has maintained its original architecture and traditions, and the language, which has barely changed due to the isolated location of the village, still contains Sassanid and Pahlavi words.
Meymand might appear rather stark and unattractive at first sight compared to similar villages in Iran and other countries, as there is no sign of any flowers and villagers have not tried to decorate or add color to their few alleys and rocky dwellings.
The outfits used by villagers are somber in color and usually no music is heard in the village.
The people of Meymand usually eat simple meals consisting of flat bread, yogurt and a thin soup made of milk and dried herbs.
Dairy products, nuts and traditional breads are also part of their diet.
The main sources of income for Meymand villagers are farming, animal husbandry and carpet weaving. Meymand carpets are famous for their beauty and quality.
Carpet weaving has generated many other related jobs in the area such as wool dyeing, felt making, Kilim weaving and crocheting.
Situated between a desert and a mountain, Meymand enjoys a mountainous climate with freezing winters and hot summers.
Most of Meymand’s semi-nomadic shepherds spend winters in the village and move with their herds of goat and sheep to the plains in spring.
Villagers spend their summers in higher altitudes around Meymand picking wild herbs, nuts and seeds such as wild pistachio, almond, walnut, cumin seeds, black thyme, rosemary, yarrow, cumin, hollyhock, buttercup, fennel, peppermint, liqorice and astragalus, which has medicinal properties.
Mulberry and blackberry trees can be found all around the village, while seasonal rivers and springs provide villagers with rich sustainable agriculture.
The amount of rainfall is usually between 300 and 500 mm per annum and villagers use two traditional underground water systems or qanats to irrigate their lands.
There are many tiny oases in the ravines around the village, where hazelnut, vines, jujubes, almonds and other trees grow.
Meymand has been continuously inhabited for the past 2,000 to 3,000 years, which makes it one of Iran’s oldest surviving villages.
Archeological finds date the site back to 12,000 years or the Middle Stone Age. Excavations have yielded 10,000-year-old stone engravings and pieces of earthenware from 6,000 years ago.
Meymand used to be a Zoroastrian settlement and one of its cave units, which is now a museum, was once a fire temple.
Some 15 circular stone rooms stand in an area of around 400 square meters in the village, where skeletal remains and various objects were found.
Archeologists have also found a piece of land three kilometers northeast of Meymand, which is filled with fragments of ossuaries decorated with rock art.
Locals believe the ossuaries date back to the Zoroastrian and Sassanid eras.
Rock art has also been found in Eshkaft grotto, a shallow cave with a large mouth, which is located eight kilometers north of Meymand.
It is said that visitors light and place candles beside the rock art.
Meymand Village received UNESCO’s 2005 Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes.
The award is given by the Greek government, in collaboration with the UNESCO, to reward outstanding examples of action to safeguard and enhance the world’s major cultural landscapes.
Meymand is believed to be similar to Kandovan Village in Iran’s East Azarbaijan province, Cappadocia in Turkey and the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.