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Kish, Iran

Kariz-e-Kish

Hydraulic systems in an ancient underground Iranian city. 

The Iranian island of Kish in the Persian Gulf is not known for its history or its architecture. The island is actually more similar to Miami and is marked with luxuriant beaches and shopping malls. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Middle East, yet most tourists seem to overlook a beautiful work of Persian architectural history, the Kariz-e-Kish or Kish Qanat.

Before the Roman aqueduct, the people of pre-Islamic Iran had developed their own hydraulic system called a qanat. A qanat is a series of vertical wells, built along a gentle slope to filter water toward arid areas. The Kish Qanat is an excellent example of this ancient technology and provides visitors with an opportunity to get face to face with the infrastructure of this amazing hydraulic system.

The Kish Qanat is over 2,500 years old and filters water from the mountains to the dry valleys below through layers of the coral that comprise the island’s foundation. Kish is one of the only islands in the world that is made up of coral, and tunneling into the earth there allows for a unique look at the usually underwater specimen.

Sixteen meters below the coral island, a series of tunnels near the wells snake through the earth for more than five miles. As the tunnels cut below the world, the Kish Qanat begins to look more like a massive underground city. Lately, architects hoping to draw tourists to the attraction have embraced that idea even more.

Along with the historic coral walls around the qanat, workers have reinforced the tunnels with mortar and stone to create a subterranean world. Soon, visitors can peruse an update on the early hydraulic system that will feature vendors selling typical Iranian gifts along with a few subterranean restaurants and an amphitheater. Strangely enough, the unique historic element of the island is slowly mimicking its inner tourism side.

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