Esfahan province is located in the center of the Iranian plateau. It occupies an area of more than 100,000 sq. km and stretches for about 540 km from east to west and for 400 km from north to south. Its easternmost town is Khur-Biabanak, westernmost, Fereidun-Shahr, northernmost, Aran, and southernmost, Semirom.
Of two Iranian major mountain chains, Alborz and Zagros, the Zagros rims the Esfahan province in the west and provides it with a ruggedly mountainous and spectacular terrain. The Zagros stretches from the border of Armenia to the Persian Gulf, and then eastward into Baluchestan. As it moves southward, it broadens into a wide band of parallel, alternating mountains. It is drained on the west by streams that cut deep, narrow gorges and water fertile valleys. The land is extremely hard, difficult to access, and populated largely by pastoral nomads. The peaks of the Zagros range between 3,000 and 5,000 m. The highest of them are located in Chahar Mahal-e Bakhtiari and Lorestan provinces, culminating in the Zard-Kuh Peak (4,547 m), and in the Kohkiluyeh va Buyer Ahmad region, where the Dena Peak rises as high as 5,200 m.
The central mountains of Iran are a row of interrupted, rugged peaks stretching from Kashan into Baluchest start in the environs of Kashan and extend into Kerman. Their highest peak is Karkas (3,840 m) near Natanz.
A number of rather low mountains and hills also dot the Esfahan plain, among them the highest point of Esfahan - the Soffeh Mountain (2,240 m), A beautiful park has been laid out on the slopes of this mountain. Two water springs - Dervish and Pachenar (or Takht-e Solei man) - add to the beauty of the site. During the reign of Shah Solei man Safavid, the royal recreational pavilion existed here. Of this, only the round foundation has survived. Unfortunately, nothing has remained of the earlier structures, most of which were ruined at the order of Shah Abbas I. Only some scattered stone masonry indicates the existence of the Seljuk fort that was known as Qale-ye Dezh. On the hill to the west of the Soffeh Mountain, the ruins of the ancient tower called Takht-e Rostam can be seen. Some say that it was the place of the battle of Darius III Achaemenid and Alexander the Great.
|Zayande rood and Khajoo Bridge from over|
Two of the most important Iranian rivers take beginning in the Zagros mountains - the only navigable Iranian river Karun and the Zayandeh-Rud (pp126-127), the main river of the central Iranian plateau which waters the fertile plain of Esfahan. There is little water flow in summer when many streams disappear. Water is, however, stored naturally underground, finding its outlet in qanats and being tapped by wells.
Located about 120 km southeast of Esfahan, the site is composed of the Gavkhuni Lake and the marshes of the lower Zayandeh-Rud which extend for some 60 km upstream. The site occupies the area of about 40,000 hectares. The ' lake level is subject to seasonal variation, with floods sometimes extending as far as 5o km upstream in winter and spring. The lower Zayandeh-Rud marshes have formed in the floodplain of the river and are usually inundated in early winter, drying out gradually during the spring. Much of the marshland which once existed in the area has been converted to agricultural use to take advantage of the rich alluvial soil. The site is important for staging and wintering migratory water birds.
Qanats are subterranean aqueducts to which most of Iran owes its very existence. The inhabitants of the Iranian plateau resorted to digging qanats at least 2,000 years ago in order to gain access to underground water supplies. This method, which has endured many centuries and has found its way from Iran to the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and even Mexico, is still in use.
A qanat is tunneled at a great depth below the surface and may stretch for many kilometers. The process of construction is as follows. Experimental shafts are first sunk until a spring is tapped in the higher ground. Then the laborer begins at the other end, where the water is required upon the surface, or at intervening points, and digs a trench or cutting on a very slightly inclined plane, in the direction of the spring. As he goes further and gets deeper underground. circular pits or shafts are opened from above, at regular intervals, by which the excavated soil
is drawn up to the surface and heaped round the mouth of the shaft. In time the subterranean tunnel reaches the spring, the water flows down the nicely calculated slope to its destination.
The cost of the qanats is great and in the past, they were generally made by rich and influential people. The profession of a qanat-digger has always been surrounded by deep respect and some mystery. The qanats need constant care to prevent the endless passages getting choked up with earth.
|Maranjab Desert Close to Isfahan-Kashan-Aran-Bidgol|
On the east, the Esfahan region is bordered by deserts. These deserts are mainly wastelands that once held great lakes. However, over the centuries the lakes dried up, leaving silt and mud, overlaid by a thin layer of crystalline salts. Three types of the desert are distinguishable here: dasht with a firm gravel surface, gradually merging into fertile soil on the hillsides; kavir with a salt-slime, treacherous surface; and lut referring to any dry, uninhabitable desert country. Where fresh water can be held, oases have existed since ancient time, marking the ancient caravan routes. The most remarkable feature of the plateau is a salt waste known as the Dasht-e Kavir (a vast saline desert), and a practically inaccessible ocean of sand known as the Dasht-e Lut (largely a sand and gravel desert and one of the hottest deserts in the world). The northern Dasht-e Kavir, 800 km long and 320 km wide, supports some scrub vegetation.
The southern Dasht-e Lut, 320 kmlong and 160 km wide, is too hostile for life.
Whether they consist of salt marshes or bowls of sand and dust, the Iranian deserts are extremely uninviting. Unlike the Arabian or Sahara deserts, which are haunts of the wandering tribes, the Iranian deserts are practically empty of nomad activity, except on the fringes to which a few herdsmen come in winter.
* The travelers can venture into the desert, provided that they have a stout vehicle (four-wheel drive) and a guide. The best time is between October and December, though the variations in temperature are considerable. One of the most interesting trekking routes is from Aran to Maranjab (pp207-208).
The Salt Lake is located to the west of Dasht-e Kavir about 60 km from Kashan. Its longest north-south diameter is 55 km and the longest east-west diameter is 57 km. Its approximate total area is 3,100 sq. km. Several minor rivers empty into the lake, among them the Qareh-Chai River, the Sur River, and the Jajrud River. The spot in the northwest where the three rivers empty into the lake is the deepest, forming a permanent lake about 10 sq. km. The rest of the lake surface is dry, being occasionally covered with water in spring. It is divided into hexagons which are formed due to the dryness of clay through evaporation, which eventually cracks and fractures into hexagonal shapes. The lakeshore has no plant coverage. Its soil is a mixture of clay, salt and sand. The land surrounding the lake is almost completely barren, and only scarce shrubs of tamarisk or salt tree sporadically grow. In the south section of the lake is an island about 2 km by 1 km rising at its highest point at about 80 m. It is called the Sargardan (Wanderer) Island.
Several Safavid caravanserais have survived along the lakeshores. They were built on the route that joined Esfahan with the Farah Abad complex of palaces in Mazanderan. The most important of them are the caravanserais of Maranjab, Sefidab, and Abbas Abad. Located in the oases mainly watered by the qanats, these caravanserais served as places where travelers could rest and replenish their supplies.
Flora and Fauna
Topography, altitude, water supply, and soil determine the character of the vegetation of the Esfahan region. The Zagros Mountains are covered with broad-leaved deciduous forests, with oak, elm, maple, hackberry, walnut, and pistachio. Willow, poplar and plane trees grow in the ravines, as do many species of creepers. Thin stands of juniper, almond, barberries, cotoneaster, and wild fruit trees grow on the intermediate dry plateau. Dwarf scrub vegetation (Artemisietea herbaealbae iranica) is common and is very diverse; in non-saline areas, a variant with many thorn-cushions (Artemisietea herbae-albe astragaletosum glaucacanthi) is formed. There are acacia, dwarf palm, camel's thorn, and scattered shrubs. Under extremely arid conditions, a very open variant of the dwarf shrublands appears, he dominant species being sagebrush (Artemesia herba-alba). Groves follow he courses of surface or subterranean vaters. Oases support tamarisk, poplar, late palm, myrtle, oleander, acacia, willow, elm, plum, mulberry trees, and vines. In swamp areas, reeds and grass provide good pasture.
The wildlife of the Esfahan region includes wolves, foxes, jackals, squirrels, mongooses, porcupines, badgers, rabbits and hares, leopards, lynx, and cheetahs (the latter critically endangered). Wild goats, deer, endemic Iranian wild asses, and gazelles also abound. One of the most interesting creatures is the desert fox, which inhabits the driest and hottest adapted to this habitat by becoming entirely nocturnal. Rodents are ubiquitous, and about a hundred varieties of lizard are found. The four-toed or steppe tortoise inhabits areas of Artemisia steppe.
The birdlife of the region is varied, with magpies, blue rollers, bee-eaters, hawks, choughs, blue jays, red grouses, larks, and crows being most common. Flocks of pigeons are to be found everywhere. In spring, the storks nest on the gateways and ruined minarets of some of the towns, and Iranians call them hajji, because they say that they have spent the winter at Mecca, and are, therefore, entitled to the honorable sobriquet of "pilgrims". Among the less common birds are quails, partridges, falcons, vultures, black kites, and golden eagles. The rivers, streams, and swamps harbor ducks, teals, snipes, wild geese, herons and bitterns.
The reptile life is chiefly represented by lizards such as huge warans, which abound in the most desolated desert areas. Snakes (rarely poisonous) are sometimes found in gardens, attracted by the water. Iranians have a superstition that these reptiles are in the habit of guarding hidden treasure.
National Parks and Natural
Protected Zones The Esfahan province has one national park and two large protected areas that have been created to preserve the wildlife of the region.
They are generally closed to the public and can be visited only with an organized tour. Kolah Qazi National Park is situated about 25 km south of Esfahan. It occupies an area of 41,184 hectares and consists of a vast steppe, known as the White Desert, affected by the desert on the east and the Zagros ecosystem on the west. Plant species include almonds, pistachios, wormseed, wild tulip, clary, thyme, amaranth, flixweed, rhubarb, and different astragals. Mountains are home to wild goats (Capra aegagrus), while wild sheep abound the lower hills, and gazelles roam about the plain. There are also leopards, wild rabbits, wolves, hyenas, jackals, wild cats, foxes, hares, and woodmice, as well as partridges, sparrows, quails, wagtails, choughs, pigeons, owls, golden eagles, vultures, buzzards, falcons, and ravens.
Qamishlu Protected Zone, with the area of about 90,000 hectares, is the Iranian historical game reserve. Qamishlu was a favorite hunting place of Zel al-Sultan who built a fortified house there. Qamishlu has an impressive diversity of animal and plant life; there are 152 animal and 344 plant species, including 46 endemic species. Vegetation is generally steppe with astragal and wormseed, accompanied by pistachio, almond, Montpellier maple, rhubarb, primrose, poppy, salvia, camel's thorn, etc. Wild sheep (Ovis orientalis) is an indicator animal species. Other animal species include wild goats, deer, gazelles, partridges, quails, bustards, vultures, and carrion-kites.
Muteh Protected Zone in the northwest of the province covers an area of more than 200,000 hectares. Its vegetation cover consists of mountain almond, bear caper, Persian globe thistle , poppy, saliva, borage, goat's wheat, and different astragals. The area is particularly famous as a habitat of goitred gazelles (Gazella subgutturosa), Other species include wild sheep, wild goats, jackals, wolves, striped hyenas, brown hares, Indian crested porcupines, partridges, quails, magpies, and others.