Damqan a city with 7,000 years history
By: Tahereh Sarfi, 2002
Seljuk minaret of the mosque at Damqan, Iran. The decorative effect achieved by the use of recessed bricks, forming highly original rhythms and geometric patterns, is characteristic of this 11th century Persian art.
Despite 7,000 years history Damqan, a twonship of the province of Semnan in the north-east of the central plateau of Iran, has been forgotten beneath desert sand duns, whilst it is one of the most ancient urban metropolis in the Iranian plateau and hides many secrets covered by sands. Damqan is sitting still for many years like a seaport without shore at the skirts of the scorching desert and even refused to beg rain from heaven. With over 7,000 years history and a many historical monuments including Tappeh Hessar which belongs to the Mades, Parthians and Sassanid periods -- the Tarikhaneh was built during the Sassanid period and beginning of Islam and many other historical buildings belonging to Seljuks and other periods -- Damqan has witnessed many historical epoches.
Historiographers ascribe the construction of Damqan to Hooshang, Kyoumars' great grandson and the founder of the legendary Pishidadi dynasty. The historical town has inherited various names such as Qoomes. Qoomes was a province stretching from Sabzevar to Garmsar, from north up to Alborz Mountain Range and to the Lut Desert in the south. Up to the 1st century A.D., Damqan was the capital of that great province. During Alexander's invasion into Iran the Greeks called it Hecatompylos. The Greeks called every big and important city as hecatompylos and they have recorded a similar big and bustling Egyptian city with that appellation.
Tappeh Hessar a treasure forgotten by the dust of history
Of historical treasures in Damqan one must refer to the valuable Tappeh Hessar which was constructed before the birth of Christ. Professor Hertzfeld (1931-1933) and Dr. Schmidt (1933-1938) were the first archaeologists who explored the Tappeh.
Tappeh Hessar with several layers of civilizations is hiding a long history in its bosom. Part of the layers in the Tappeh belong to the Mades dynasty which shared its civilization with Mesopotamia. Another layer covers the Achamanid, Parthian and Seleucid periods. Tappeh Hessar achieved its peak of glory during the Seleucid and Parthian periods. During the reign of Tirdates 1 (Arcase II), Damqan was the capital of the Parthian Empire in Iran. With the discovery of relics from that period one comes across another layer which is ascribed to the Sassanians. Historical excavations has shown that the history of Damqan starts thousand years before the birth of Christ. For example Carbon 16 isotope inspections in Tappeh Hessar have revealed items belonging to 7,000 years ago. Recently expansion of Tehran-Mashhad railway into double lanes the body of a woman along with her fetus was discovered with over 7,000 years age.
Scientists have discovered metal in her teeth which leads us to believe that she was the goddess Tootam. Tootam worship was a religion which prevailed among the Iranians, Egyptians and Indians many thousand years ago.
Tarikhnameh, the oldest mosque in Iran
Tarikhaneh Mosque is in fact the oldest mosque in Iran belonging to the 1st century after arrival of Islam which still preserves its original shape. Tarikhaneh and Nayeen Mosque in Isfahan are the only mosques in the Islamic World which resemble the Medina Mosque. This mosque was built during the 8th century A.D. by imitating Roman, Iranian and Arabic architecture. This is an Arabic design but the building material and architecture is Sassanid. This leads us to believe that originally it had been a fire temple during the Sassanid period, and later the mosque was built over its ruins. One column resembling Sassanian architecture at the eastern wing is a proof of this assertion.
Tarikhaneh Mosque is equipped with a square yard and a gallery with 18 columns facing the Qebleh and the three sides of the yard are surrounded by porticos. The minaret rising over the mosque is said to belong to Seljuks and the tiled inscription over the minaret is in fact the oldest tile work in Islamic architecture.
The prefix "Tari", a Turkish term, means God and "khaneh" means house so the word means the house of God.
City fortification a sassanid architecture
Walls or fortifications and battlements have survived in many parts in Damqan. As mentioned in the history the wall was very wide and enabled chariots to drive over it. The remains of that wall can be north and south of Damqan.
Much treasure has survived from the Seljuk period in Damqan. Peer-e Alamdar's Shrine (The Old Flagbearer's Tomb), Congregation Mosque, the minaret of Congregation Mosque, Tarikhaneh Mosque, Mansourkuh, Imamzadeh Jafar Tower and Chehel Dokhtaran Vault, etc. are buildings in which Islamic architecture from Seljuk period onward is notable. For the first time in Iran these buildings carry brick decorations to compensate for the monotonous and uniform rows.
Chehel Dokhtaran a family vault
Chehel Dokhtaran Vault is located at the center of Damqan and behind Imamzade Jafar, both of which belong to Seljuk period. A Kufi inscription in the edifice says the vault was built in 466 A.H. (1087 A.D.) and has survived without cracks although the city is lying on the earthquake belt.
What is more interesting in the vault is its onion-like dome which is adorned by bricks with artistic images and an inscription. The building which used to be a family vault is 14.8 m high and in its famous inscription the deceased have sought divine mercy in their lasting residence.
Mehrnegar Fort or Mansourkuh
This is a fort in north of Damqan mountains leading to Cheshmeh-Ali. This was one of the fortifications of dreaded Esmaeeli esoteric sect during Seljuk invasion and has been named Mehrnegar because of Princess Mehrnegar's love story.
This is one of the permanent springs in Damqan, 30 km north of the city. Thanks to its verdant foliage and pleasant climate this region has been frequented by people from ancient times. During the Qajar period many buildings were constructed in Cheshmeh-Ali among which the Fat'hali Shah and Aqa Mohammad-Khan palaces still stand erect. Fat'hali Shah's palace is built in the middle of a lagoon placed between the first and second spring and Aqa Mohammad-Khan's palace is facing opposite the former palace. Cheshmeh-Ali has always interested the visiting tourists.
Beside those mentioned above one might refer to the Gonbade Zangol, Toghrol's Tower, Qoosheh Amirabad Caravansary, historical hills and hazel-shaped castles around the city as well as Gerdkuh and Masoumzadeh Mehmandoust fortifications. Damqan's market contains tombs, old schools, baths and the like. Out of historical monuments in Damqan which has always interested foreign archaeologists many relics have been unearthed which are deposited in the British and French museums and display ancient Iranian civilization.
Damqan, 360 km northeast of Tehran and falling in Semnan Province, shines like a bezel in the desert region. With its ample cultural heritages and authentic background Damqan's ancient civilization is undeniable and each relic in the city can substantiate its genuine past.
But rubbing the dust of forgetfulness off this shining bezel we can display Damqan's ancient shining face to the world and introduce it as an important tourism and sightseeing place in Iran.