The City of Yazd is located in the middle of the Iranian plateau, 270 km southeast of Isfahan, close to the Spice and Silk Roads. It bears living testimony to the use of limited resources for survival in the desert. Water is supplied to the city through a qanat system developed to draw underground water. The earthen architecture of Yazd has escaped the modernization that destroyed many traditional earthen towns, retaining its traditional districts, the qanat system, traditional houses, bazars, hammams, mosques, synagogues, Zoroastrian temples and the historic garden of Dolat-abad.
The City of Yazd is located in the deserts of Iran close to the Spice and Silk Roads. It is a living testimony to intelligent use of limited available resources in the desert for survival. Water is brought to the city by the qanat system. Each district of the city is built on a qanat and has a communal centre. Buildings are built of earth. The use of earth in buildings includes walls, and roofs by the construction of vaults and domes. Houses are built with courtyards below ground level, serving underground areas. Wind-catchers, courtyards, and thick earthen walls create a pleasant microclimate. Partially covered alleyways together with streets, public squares and courtyards contribute to a pleasant urban quality. The city escaped the modernization trends that destroyed many traditional earthen cities. It survives today with its traditional districts, the qanat system, traditional houses, bazars, hammams, water cisterns, mosques, synagogues, Zoroastrian temples and the historic garden of Dolat-abad. The city enjoys the peaceful coexistence of three religions: Islam, Judaism and Zoroastrianism.
The historic city of Yazd bears witness to an exceptionally elaborate construction system in earthen architecture and the adaptation of the ways of living to hostile environment for several millennia. Yazd is associated with the continuity of traditions that cover social organization. These include Waqf (endowment) benefitting public buildings, such as water cisterns, mosques, hammams, qanats, etc. as well as developed intangible and multi-cultural, commercial and handicrafts traditions, as one of the richest cities of the world entirely built of earthen material, a quality which contributes to the creation of an environment-friendly microclimate. It reflects diverse cultures related to various religions in the city including Islam, Judaism and Zoroastrianism, which are still living peacefully together and having a combination of buildings including houses, mosques, fire temples, synagogues, mausoleums, hammams, water cisterns, madrasehs, bazaars, etc. as it can be seen in their traditional crafts and festivities.
Yazd is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement which is representative of the interaction of man and nature in a desert environment that results from the optimal use and clever management of the limited resources that are available in such an arid setting by the qanat system and the use of earth in constructing buildings with sunken courtyards and underground spaces. Besides creating pleasant micro-climate, it uses minimum amounts of materials, which provides inspiration for new architecture facing the sustainability challenges today.
From the 1930s onwards, several policies were established to modernize the city. That led to the creation of a few wide commercial streets and provision of easy access to “modern” housing. This happened mostly outside the historic city. Contrary to some intentions including those belonging to higher classes, the populations of Yazd, as well as the city decision-makers, have managed to maintain large zones of the historic city intact, including the restoration and conservation for a number of large houses.
Today, Yazd possesses a large number of excellent examples of traditional desert architecture with a range of houses from modest ones to very large and highly decorated properties. In addition to the main mosque and bazaar which are in a very good state, each district of the historic city still has all its specific features such as water cisterns, hammams, tekiehs, mosques, mausoleums, etc. In the city, there are still many streets and alleys which have kept their original pattern, having also many sabats, i.e. partially or entirely covered alleys, and series of arches crossing them for protection from the sun. The skyline of the city punctuated with wind catchers, minarets and domes of the monuments and mosques offer an outstanding panorama visible from far away, from inside and outside the historic city.
Being a living dynamic city, Yazd has evolved gradually with some inevitable changes. However, there are still many qualities which allow Yazd to meet conditions of authenticity, including those related to the continuity of its intangible heritage.
This has had a positive influence in terms of authenticity linked to location, setting, form, design and materials. Apart from the changes that have occurred throughout the 20thcentury, the property boasts plenty of well-preserved buildings and public spaces. In all interventions, priority has always been given to traditional techniques whenever restoration works were needed.
Protection and management requirements
The Historic City of Yazd was listed as a national monument in 2005, which provides legal protection according to the Law for Protection of National Heritage (1930) and the Law for Establishing Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization (1979). The property is also subject to laws and standards for the protection of historic cities.
The management of the property is centralized in Iran’s Cultural Heritage Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO), who is the national body responsible for World Heritage properties, including reporting to UNESCO World Heritage Committee, and who coordinates efforts with local and national authorities as well as non-governmental organizations, the traditional waqf system, and the local communities. ICHHTO has a number of policies that underpin the management system for the property.
Efforts which have been made by the local population, in some instances under the districts organizations and social structure of Waqf (endowment), as well as efforts by Yazd Municipality, ICHHTO, and local representatives of the Government of Iran (Ministries of education, health, etc…) have still to be promoted.
All these partners have joined efforts to elaborate a new management mechanism that will allow directing their capacities towards common goals. This has been facilitated by the creation of a steering committee in charge of defining general orientations for the management and conservation of the historic city.
A technical committee has also been established with representatives of the major stakeholders, who will work under the direction of specialized working groups to identify, study, and monitor different kinds of projects.
ICHHTO has decided to establish a specific office (Base) that will have the responsibility to coordinate the meetings of these two committees and to organize the monitoring of the historic city regarding its state of conservation.
The training of the ICHHTO staff should continue specially on relevant conservation philosophies, and the impacts of different interventions on the integrity and authenticity of the inscribed property.
Guidelines for the use, maintenance and conservation of earthen historic buildings, with attention to interiors, should be elaborated in order to assist private owners of historic buildings.
Risk preparedness research should be conducted for the property with regards to earthquakes.
Analytical studies of the Historic City of Yazd, elaborating the relationships between the intangible aspects of each district (including social, cultural and religious dimensions) and the tangible aspects (such as the qanats, water cisterns and religious structures) should be undertaken.