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IRAN: Was ancient fortress temple destroyed to make room for Basiji prayer center?

September 6, 2010 |  2:21 pm

51721-83326 Conflicting statements have emerged over whether the remains of a 2,000-year-old Parthian fortress known as Tappeh Dokhtar, or the "Virgin's Mound," dating from Iran's pre-Islamic past were recently demolished in the Iranian city of Hamadan to make room for a mosalla, a Muslim prayer center often used by hard-line supporters of the government.

An official in Hamadan told Babylon & Beyond over the phone that the remains of the monument, which stood on a hilltop in the area known as Tappeh Mosalla, were still "intact" and emphasized that "no damage" had been caused to it.

But statements from other local officials and researchers on Iranian cultural heritage sites suggest otherwise.

"Until two years ago the remains of the ruins of the fortress, which was possibly Parthian, was standing and was destroyed when the construction of the mosalla began," Mehrnush Najafi-Ragheb, spokeswoman for Hamadan's Municipality Islamic Council, told Iran's Culture Heritage News Agency.

Babak Maqazei, spokesman for an Iranology association in Hamadan, also claims that the last remnants of Tappeh Dokhtar have been flattened, but rather in a bid to create more public infrastructure.

"Unfortunately the historic mound has been destroyed, excavated, and buried under a newly built library and residential area," he told Babylon & Beyond.

The allegedly ill-fated monument is said to once have been a grand edifice used as a strategic defensive structure until the late 1700s, when members of the Qajar royal dynasty brought the city of Hamadan to its knees and left Tappeh Dokhtar in ruins.

Some experts also suggest it once served as a temple for the Zoroastrian goddess Anahita because Iranian monuments that carry the name "dokhtar," meaning "daughter and virgin," usually refer to the deity, according to the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies, an independent London-based research society and education program on ancient Iran and Iranian civilization.

The purported demolishing of the historic mound reflects an ongoing struggle over Iran's pre-Islamic past and has drawn anger from Iranian heritage advocates.

Shaqayeq Fatullahzadeh, a campaigner for the preservation of Iranian culture heritage sites, told Babylon & Beyond that she has kept busy calling up officials in Hamadan to protest the demolishing of Tappeh Dokhtar. 

Whatever the fate of it, Maqazei said that an increasing number of Iranian heritage sites are being torn down and overrun to make room for various building projects.

He gave the example of another pre-Islamic historic site near Hamadan, which he says is nowadays almost entirely covered by water due to the building of a water reservoir nearby.

"Under the pretext of building dams or dikes the ancient site is being destroyed forever," he said.

Dr. Hoshang Tale, an expert on Iranian pre-Islamic history, claims the ruining of Iranian cultural heritage sites has become a systematic practice among opportunistic local officials in hopes of making an extra buck.

"Unfortunately, the destruction of Iranian ancient artifacts is carried out in a well-organized manner," he told Babylon & Beyond. "The top officials in the capital sometimes react and prevent the further destruction of the historic sites but it is in many cases too late. Regrettably, the local managers in the provincial towns do the destruction ... and gain something for their own pockets at the expense of destruction of historic places."

-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: An undated photo of the site where the last remains of a fortress from Iran's pre-Islamic era allegedly were demolished recently to make room for an Islamic prayer-place. Credit: Iran’s Cultural Heritage News Agency