Man and nature have joined hands to create one of the world’s most amazing and extraordinary places in southern Iran.
Maymand is a very ancient village which is located near Shahr -e- Babak city in Kerman Province, Iran. Maymand is believed to be a primary human residence in the Iranian Plateau, dating back to 12,000 years ago; it is still home to nearly 150 people (most of whom are elderly), many of whom live in the 350 hand-dug houses amidst the rocks, some of which have been inhabited for as long as 3,000 years. Stone engravings nearly 10,000 years old are found around the village, and deposits of pottery nearly 6,000 years old attest to the long history of settlement at the village site. Living conditions in Maymand are harsh due to the aridity of the land and to high temperatures in summers and very cold winters. In 2005, Meymand was awarded the Melina Mercury International Prize for the safeguarding and management of its cultural landscapes
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, or the city of Babak, which is said to be the birthplace of the founder of the Sassanid dynasty.
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, escaping the warm weather by moving to higher pastures in summer.
The 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 which 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.
Those who spend summers in the village build special dwellings called Kapars, which are made to allow the circulation of air to cool the Kapar temperature.
Meymand villagers use another type of shelter known as Gonbeh which 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, 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. 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 guest house or enjoy staying in cozy, soot-stained 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, a school, a restaurant, a 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 colored and no music is usually 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 the regular daily meals.
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.
Some of Meymand’s troglodytes, most of whom are semi-nomadic shepherds, spend winters in the village and move with their herds of goat and sheep to the plains in the spring. They go to higher pastures and cooler climes during the summer.
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, liquorice, 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 hazel trees, vineyards, jujubes, almonds and other trees grow.
Meymand has been continuously inhabited for 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 ago 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 Maymand, 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 the Kandovan village in Iran’s East Azarbaijan Province, Cappadocia in Turkey and the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.