Rare “Divine” Ancient Fire Temple Found in Iran
The remains of an ancient mountain fire temple have been discovered in Iran. While archaeology knows of almost 200 fire temples around the world this one is special because it displays a rare ancient Iranian “divine” architectural format.
A team of Iranian archaeologists unearthed relics at the ancient fire temple in Savadkuh county, in the center of the Alborz mountain range. The temple was discovered about five kilometers from the historical Espahbod Khorshid Cave and Professor Mehdi Abedini Araqi, the leader of the archaeological survey, told the Tehran Times that the fire temple dates from the Sassanian Empire (224-651 AD) period.
While there are many fire temples that have been unearthed in Iran, this temple is very special because it was designed around an ancient Iranian building format that is most often seen attached to larger buildings, and seldom seen standing alone.
Burning fire in the Zoroastrian fire temple of Yazd, Iran. (Adam Jones / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
The Special Chartaqi Fire Temples Of Ancient Iran
The recently discovered Iranian fire temple stood in a region known as the “cradle of civilization.” A 2017 Tasnim News Agency article explained that human settlement in the Mazandaran (also known as Tabarestan) region of modern-day Iran dates back at least 75,000 years.
The fire temple was found about five kilometers from "Dej-e-Afsanehie," an ancient cave that was first discovered by archaeologists in 1956 on the route from Qaemshahr to Tehran. Archaeology News Network explain that the recently unearthed fire temple was constructed in the Chartaqi form, which was a prominent element used in ancient Iranian architecture . The Chartaqi architectural style literally meaning "having four arches," and is an architectural unit consisted of four barrel vaults, and a dome.
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Before we look at the special Chartaqi design and explore the function of fire temples, let us first explore the cave near where it was unearthed to put the new discovery in historical context. The vast Espahbod Khorshid Cave site was at one time a ruined castle and tower created with stone and mortar. At 15 meters (49 feet) high, with a 115-meter (377-foot) corridor and stairway connecting the existing two floors, the structure has 10 rooms covered with a timber roof structure. People lived in this cave during the Sassanid era.
According to the Tasnim News Agency it was “probably the defense center of the Espahbodan of Mazandaran in the past.” The Sassanian Empire was the main Iranian dynasty from 224 to 651 AD, and after the Sassanid era in Mazandaran, the Muslims would come to rule over entire province.
The outlines of the discovered remnants of an ancient Iranian fire temple in Savadkuh county, recently unearthed in the heart of Iran’s Alborz mountain range. ( Tehran Times )
A Unique “Stand Alone” Zoroastrianism Fire Temple
The archaeologists discovered the fire temple was built in the shape of a “ chartaqi,” which was a prominent element in Iranian architecture for around 1,500 years. The Chartaqi divine building unit essentially comprised four barrel vaults and a dome, symbolically representing the four corners of Earth and the heavens above. The most celebrated example of a chahartaq in Iranian architecture is found at the Palace of Shapur I at Bishapur in Pars.
However, this newly discovered fire temple is special in another way. While many pre-Islamic chahartaqs have survived, they are generally parts of larger complexes, but in the latest discovery the chahartaq stands alone.
What happened at ancient Iranian fire temples? Under Sasanian rule the territory that is today Iran was swept by nationalism and Zoroastrianism became the state religion. According to Michael Shenkar in his 2007 paper, Temple Architecture in the Iranian World before the Macedonian Conquest , the fire temple was known as the “ Agiary,” where followers of Zoroastrianism brought together water and fire as a powerful purifier of the ritual environment. But fire was also connected with the future happiness of the worshipers.
A relief at Naqsh-e Rustam in modern-day Iran showing Ardashir I and an unidentified cavalier. This Persian rock relief depicts Ardashir I's coronation scene, as the first king of the Sassanid Empire of Iran. Ardashir I receives the cydaris ring of power, the Zoroastrian symbol of kingship, from the spirit of Darius the Great of the Achaemenid dynasty. The inscription in Persian, Parthian, and Greek, reads: This is the image of the Hormizd-worshipping Majesty Ardashir, whose origin is of the gods. (Ginolerhino 2002 / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The Zoroastrian Yasna Texts and Ceremonies: Fire, Ash, Water
The “ Yasna” is the Avestan name of Zoroastrianism's principal act of worship and the word also represents the primary liturgical collection of Avesta texts, which are recited during yasna ceremonies. This religious doctrine states “Clean, white ash for the purification ceremonies [is] regarded as the basis of ritual life.”
Furthermore, the rites conducted at fire temples were designed around “the tending of a domestic fire, for the temple [fire] is that of the hearth fire raised to a new solemnity.”
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Getting personal, the Yasna states that the “one who sacrifices unto fire with fuel in his hand ..., is given happiness.” Therefore, we can conclude that the ritualistic goings on at this ancient site probably culminated with a dampening of the flames and a sense of having cleansed the past and prepared the future, for bringing happiness into one’s life.
All this said, don’t you be thinking for as second that ancient temples are secular to Iran, as archaeologists have discovered 177 different fire temples around the world. In each instance, the mystical orange ghostly element, fire, was associated with purification rituals and the coming of future light, universally across the Sasanian Empire, and personally within the hearts of the individual fire worshippers.
Top image: Altar in the Zoroastrian Chak-Chak fire temple in the mountains near Yazd, Iran. Source: Konstantin / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie