BAM (2)


BAM (in Arabic, Bamm), a town in southeastern Iran, located on the southwestern rim of the Dašt-e Lūt basin at an altitude of 1,100 m.

i. History and modern town.

ii. Ruins of the old town.


i. History and Modern Town

Bam is a large oasis that owes its existence to the runoff from the Jabal Bārez mountains; during the wet season rivers such as the Tahrūd, which traverses the town, provide enough flow to run the mills. However, since the dry season lasts most of the year, particularly important to the town’s survival is its system of twenty-five qanāts. Though Bam, at 1,100 m altitude, is generally considered garmsīr (hot region), it is known for a variety of sardsīr (cold region) produce.

The town may owe its name to the term “vahma” (prayer, glorification; W. Tomaschek, “Zur historischen Topographie von Persien II,” Sb. Kaiserl. Akad. Wiss., Phil.-hist. Kl. 108, 1885, p. 585). Whatever the case, Bam, which appears for the first time in 9th/10th-century Arab geographies, was founded by the Sasanians during their settlement of Kermān and southeastern Iran. It seems to have been a walled stronghold in a region plagued by repeated incursions and banditry; Eṣṭaḵrī (p. 166) characterizes the citadel as impregnable. Aside from date farming, Bam’s economy was chiefly based on cotton, which sustained a prosperous artisan class. Durable and prized cotton fabric, embroidered veils, cloaks, kerchiefs, and fine turbans were produced in Bam and exported to Khorasan, Mesopotamia, and even as far as Egypt (Ebn Ḥawqal, p. 223; cf. Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, tr. Minorsky, p. 125). In addition to its citadel, Bam also boasted three Friday mosques, two of which served the orthodox community, the other the small but well-off Kharijites. Moqaddasī (p. 465) mentions Bam’s foul-tasting water and notes that qanāts provided the principal supply. The accounts of Arab geographers are repeated more or less by subsequent authors (cf. Nozhat al-qolūb, ed. Le Strange, p. 72; tr. p. 139), and it is not until 1810, when Lieutenant Henry Pottinger (1789-1856) visited the town, that an original description of Bam appeared. During the entire intervening period, the town was a strategically important projection of Iranian power, serving first as an Il-khanid and later a Safavid outpost in Baluchistan.

In the 18th century, Bam’s role as a frontier fortress became paramount. After being occupied by Afghans twice in 1719 and during the period 1721-30, Bam emerged as the forward Iranian position vis-à-vis the Ḡelzay tribe, which probably with Nāder Shah Afšār’s authorization had established itself in neighboring Narmāšīr. The Shiʿite Ḡelzays seemed to have been on friendly terms with the Zands, for Loṭf-ʿAlī Khan Zand fled in their direction after the fall of Kermān (1794). In 1795, the governor of Bam captured Loṭf ʿAlī Khan and turned him over to the founder of the Qajar dynasty, Āqā Moḥammad Khan, who, to commemorate his victory over the last of his Zand rivals, erected a pyramid of their skulls (still visible to Pottinger some nineteen years later, Travels in Beloochistan and Sinde, London, 1816, p. 202). The Ḡelzays were driven out from Narmāšīr in 1801 and replaced by Baluchi tribes, but the town was strongly fortified in 1810 and remained so during the first half of the 19th century due to the insecurity of the region.

Bam was occupied once again by Āqā Khan Maḥallātī (q.v.) during his 1840-41 insurrection and remained in an unsettled state until around 1855 (A. Gasteiger, Von Teheran nach Beludschistan, Innsbruck, 1881, p. 77). The restoration of peace allowed the town to grow beyond its walls, and a new settlement was founded along the river in enclosed gardens and date groves 1,000 m to the southwest.

Unfettered by walls and fear of invasion, Bam expanded rapidly at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. In 1881, though Bam lost its status as Baluchistan’s governor’s seat, the governor, who normally resided in Bampūr, preferred the milder summers there. Population estimates vary from E. Smith’s eight to nine thousand (F. Goldsmid, Eastern Persia: An Account of the Journey of the Persian Boundary Commission of 1870-72, London, 1876, p. 244) to O. B. St John’s two thousand families (ibid., p. 86) to Gasteiger’s six thousand in 1881 (Von Teheran, p. 78). In 1895, P. M. Sykes estimated the population to be thirteen thousand (Ten Thousand Miles in Persia, London, 1902, p. 217), and the same figure was cited by A. Gabriel in 1928 (Im weltfernen Orient, Munich, 1929, p. 195). Commercial activity also grew apace during this period; Bam’s bāzār, considered “small and poor” by O. B. St John (Goldsmid, Eastern Persia, p. 85), “miserably small and insignificant” by E. Smith in 1872 (ibid., p. 196), and “little” by E. Sykes in 1895 (Through Persia on a Sidesaddle, 2nd ed., London, 1901, p. 195), seemed bustling to A. Gabriel in 1928 (Im weltfernen Orient, p. 195). The covered bāzār consisted of two distinct parts and of a separate Zoroastrian section occupied by some fifty Parsi merchants (according to the 1966 census, Bam had 156 Zoroastrian inhabitants). The site of felt hat (kolāh) and sandal (mal(e)kī) manufacturing, the bāzār also served as a central distribution point for the region’s agricultural products and handicrafts. Henna, indigo, rice, and dates were exported to Kermān, and from Bam objects made by artisans in Yazd and Kermān reached the rest of Iranian Baluchistan.

Today Bam remains an important commercial hub and has an enhanced administrative role as the seat of its own šahrestān. As of 1973, the bāzār contained 576 commercial establishments, 105 itinerant merchants, and several small-scale building-material factories and produce-processing plants (primarily dates and citrus fruits). The overall population has grown from 15,737 in 1956, to 21,761 a decade later, and in 1976 reached 30,422, most of whom were engaged in agriculture. In contrast to Narmāšīr with its highly diversified agriculture, over the last quarter century Bam agriculture has come to be virtually dominated by date and citrus farming, the produce of which is marketed mainly in Tehran. In recent years, however, certain grains and alfalfa have been cultivated among the fruit trees, providing many yearly harvests of winter feed necessary for livestock (principally sheep and goats).



General: L. Lockhart, “Bam,” in EI2 I, p. 1008.

H. Gaube, Iranian Cities, New York, 1979.

Schwarz, Iran III, pp. 236-38. Le Strange, Lands, p. 312.

19th-century travelogues and descriptions other than those mentioned in the text: K. E. Abbott, “Geographical Notes Taken during a Journey in Persia in 1849 and 1859,” JRGS 25, 1855, pp. 1-78, esp. pp. 42-43.

F. Farmānfarmā, Safar-nāma-ye Kermān wa Balūčestān, ed. M. Neẓām Māfī, Tehran, 1342 Š./1963, pp. 6-8.

G. Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question, London, 1892, II, p. 252-54.

P. M. Sykes, Ten Thousand Miles in Persia, London, 1902, esp. pp. 216-18.

Contemporary descriptions: E. Ehlers, “Die Stadt Bam und ihr Oasen-Umland,” Erdkunde, 1975, pp. 38-52.

Great Britain Naval Intelligence Geographical Handbook Series, Persia, Oxford, 1945, pp. 44, 106; pls. 8, 71, 73, 75, 76, 100.

P. Fešārakī, Ābādīhā-ye ḥawża-ye ābgīr-e lūt-e jonūbī, Tehran, 2536 = 1356 Š./1978.

Idem, “Les oasis des plaines de la région de Bam et du Narmachir,” Les Cahiers d’Outre-Mer, 1976, pp. 70-101.

Āmār-nāma-ye ostān-e Kermān, 1356, Tehran, 1359 Š./1980, pp. 3, 4, and passim.

Razmārā, Farhang VIII, pp. 51-53.

(X. De Planhol)


ii. Ruins of the Old Town

The Citadel of Bam (arg-e Bam), the ruins of a once large settlement built on a hill at a maximum height of about 200 m and a radius of about 1.5 km was, until a century ago, the principal residence of the inhabitants of Bam. Surrounding the citadel was a deep moat which is partially intact. Inside the moat are the citadel’s first wall and ramparts, behind which are the ruins of buildings that were evidently where the middle class and the citadel’s guards made their homes. Next comes a second wall behind which were the homes of the aristocracy and the wealthy, and finally, protected by a third wall, on the highest point in the citadel, were the seat of government and the residences of its leaders.

Of the three walls and battlements, the third, which defends the citadel’s highest point, has seen the least damage; it is also apparently the oldest part, for it is constructed of bricks that date back to the Sasanian era. Remains of the second round of walls can still be seen, especially its several gates. The outer walls have suffered the most damage because of the spillover of rain from the citadel’s higher points and particularly because local farmers used the ancient earthworks as a source of fertilizer.

A building with four open corner rooms (čahār faṣl) stands at the highest point in the citadel, and next to it are the remains of a watchtower (this tower apparently once consisted of seven stories, three of which Fīrūz Mīrzā destroyed during the Qajar period [p. 8]). The tower was used to send signals with fire by night and smoke by day to the surrounding countryside, and thus came to be known as the “fire tower” (ātaš-ḵāna). The name may also be related to a fire temple and a place where a sacred flame was tended.

The čahār faṣl and the mosque adjoining it have been repaired several times, once some thirty years ago (Bāstānī, Wādī-e Haftvād). Surrounding this building are several caved-in ruins which presumably were a stable, a government storehouse, and the quarters of officials and those affiliated with the government.

At its midpoint, the width of the citadel’s outer wall is fourteen ḏaṛʿ, while its ramparts are ten ḏaṛʿ wide; it is built from a hard clay which is so durable that, according to Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana (p. 293), “no matter how hard one struck it with a pick, from morning until night, not even one ḏaṛʿ would be damaged.”

The moat around the citadel was quite deep; when it was under siege, the defenders would feed water from the Abāreq river into it. Once during the Saljuq period, the inhabitants of Bam brought water from as far away as twenty farsangs (ca. 120 km) to fill the moat, but this precipitated the ruin of the rabaż and the city wall (Ḵabīṣī, p. 103). The present city of Bam is located to the south of the citadel; apparently, its development took place during the last century when security provided by the a strong central government in Iran made the sanctuary of the citadel’s thick walls unnecessary.

Local legend has it that the citadel of Bam was the capital of Haftvād of Kermān (q.v.). It is also said that Haftvād resided in Kermān’s Qaḷʿa-ye Doḵtar and built the present city of Kermān with the riches that he acquired because of the Kerm (“Worm”; S. M. Hāšemī, in Našrīya-ye farhang-e Bam, p. 53; Bāstānī Pārīzī, Rāhnamā-ye āṯār-e tārīkī²-eKermān, p. 6). If Haftvād was indeed the citadel’s founder, then the earliest record of it dates back to around a.d. 224. At that time Ardašīr Bābakān, by conquering Kermān, put an end to the rule of Haftvād, who was an historical figure whose minted coins are extant (Pīrnīā, p. 2680).

Above the citadel is a place still famous as “Kot-e Kerm”; Wazīrī (Tārīḵ, p. 263) refers to the gate of “Kot-e Kerm”; Kot in local parlance means “hole or refuge.” Ḥamd-Allāh Mostawfī (Nozhat al-qolūb, p. 140) relates “Bam was the place where the Haftvād burst.” Near Kot-e Kerm is a gate, through which one enters a second citadel.

The gates to the citadel were of course limited in number, consisting of the Kot-e Kerm, Šāhnešīn, Qūrḵāna, and Ḡolām-ḵāna gates, the names of which go back to Qajar times. Moqaddasī (p. 465) speaks of four gates: the Narmāsīr, which undoubtedly faced east; the Kūsakān; the Esbīkān, which probably faced the famous city Espehka of Baluchistan to the southeast; and the Kūrjīn. Unlike citadels in wetter regions, in which reservoirs were used to provide water, at Bam water was supplied by means of an underground channel known as a šotorgalū, for its curving course (Sayf-al-Dīnī, in Našrīya-ye farhang-e Bam, p. 35). There were also wells on the grounds of the citadel that could be tapped during emergencies. According to Wazīrī (Joḡrāfīā, p. 92), above the fort there was a well more than 200 ḏaṛʿ deep, which contained the most appetizing water. Quoting the now apparently lost Bam-nāma of Šams-al-Dīn Bamī, Wazīrī attributes the digging of the well to the prophet Solomon (Tārīḵ, p. 246). In an account contemporary with Wazīrī’s, Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, who devotes more scrutiny to the matter, wrote (p. 293) that the well was 40 gaz deep and that a second well, at a lower level, was 30 ḏaṛʿ, and a third was 27 ḏaṛʿ; water was brought up from these wells with buckets weighing 135 kg (45 man-e tabrīzī), which, though used a thousand times daily, would not show defect or wear. Sykes (p. 250) curiously puts the depth of the second well at only 54 m. More accurate than these sources are local reports that state that drinking water was extracted from these wells by means of a water wheel which supplied the needs of the citadel’s inhabitants at a flow rate of two sangs. In 1258/1842, ʿAbbāsqolī Khan Javānšīr reexcavated one of the wells that had silted up (Bāstānī Pārīzī, Farmānfarmā-ye ʿālem, p. 363).

Situated above the citadel was a windmill that ground grain for the populace; this mill continued to function until about a century ago (Wazīrī, Joḡrāfīā, p. 94). Owing to the region’s perpetually strong north wind, the mill was always in operation. According to Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, the mill was last repaired in the time of Ebrāhīm Khan Sarhang Asʿad-al-Salṭana by Moḥammad-Qāsem Khan Bamī. The millstones were about 10 ḏaṛʿ (ca. 3 m) in diameter and about 75 cm thick (Merʾāt al-boldān, p. 293).

The citadel contains a relatively small enclosure which was probably a monastic retreat or a school or a place where religious ceremonies were held (takīa). There is also a pavilion that housed a gymnasium (zūr-ḵāna) whose exercise pit was sunk 1.5 m below the surface of the fort. The Mīrzā Naʿīm takīa, which may also have served as a religious school is located in the citadel next to a small mosque. This mosque, which is not the citadel’s principal one, may have been built in Safavid times. The bathhouse, which also may be Safavid in origin, was located behind the citadel’s large west tower; the remains of the bath’s two reservoirs are still discernible. The bāzār is situated where the citadel’s entry gate begins and at the end of an open space, in which, in addition to commercial sites, were places for religious ceremonies and public mourning. The dimensions of the shops and merchants’ compartments (ḥojras) located at the beginning of the bāzār differ from those found at the end of it. In the center of the bāzār was an intersection (čahār sūq) in which the (dārūḡa) quarters of the police official and a bakery are discernible. The roof of the bāzār no longer exists.

The building of the citadel’s mosque is attributed to ʿAbd-Allāh b. ʿĀmer, who captured Bam in 29/650. He reportedly blessed the mosque by placing in its sanctuary a piece of the tree under which the pledge at Ḥodaybīya had been made. According to Wazīrī (Tārīḵ, p. 280), the mosque, known as Masjed-e Ḥażrat-e Rasūl, still stood, in good shape, outside the citadel in 1291/1874. According to the Bam-nāma (in Wazīrī, loc. cit.), ʿAbd-Allāh built a second mosque inside the town, using a donation by an old woman who had converted to Islam, but no trace of this mosque remained in Wazīrī’s time. The Ḥodūd al-ʿālam (ed. Sotūda, p. 128) states that there were three congregational mosques in Bam: one for the Kharijites, one for the Muslims, and the other within the walls. If the temple converted to a mosque was indeed that of Ebn ʿĀmer, then that mosque must have been within the walls; however, if the mosque, which is known today as the Masjed-e Rasūl is meant, then it was outside the walls of the citadel. (See also Survey of Persian Art II, p. 930.)

A group of Kharijites, who were hounded out of Iraq by Ḥajjāj b. Yūsof Ṯaqafī, found refuge in the deserts around Kermān, especially in Bam and Jīroft. For years they resisted Ḥajjāj under the leadership of a certain Qaṭarī, who was killed around Jīroft in 75/694. The Kharijites remained in Bam, maintaining a mosque and practicing their rite, until Yaʿqūb b. Layṯ Ṣaffār fought and defeated their leader Esmāʿīl b. Mūsā in 254/868, when they were completely wiped out (Bāstānī Pārīzī, Yaʿqūb Layt¯, p. 211). Around this time the citadel of Bam fell into the hands of Yaʿqūb Layṯ, who was also in the process of subduing the Bārez and Qofṣ tribes and captured the Qofṣ chief, holding him hostage in the citadel (Afżal Kermānī, ʿEqd al-ʿolā, p. 123). The citadel appears in the Saljuq-era sources when it was controlled by princes or such men of the first rank and viziers as Abu’l-Mafāḵer Żīaʾ-al-Dīn (Afżal Kermānī, Badāyeʿ, p. 41). One of the amirs who lived at the close of the Saljuq era in Kermān, Sābeq-al-Dīn (ʿEqd al-ʿolā: Šāyeq-al-Dīn), was partly able to check an invasion of Ḡozz by holding the Bam citadel (Moḥammad b. Ebrāhīm, pp. 90ff.). He was the citadel keeper (kūtvāl) of Moḥammad Shah b. Bahrām Shah, the eleventh king of the Qāvordīān (Ḵabīṣī, p. 91).

The Qarāḵatāʾīān (Qara Khitay) also strove continually to make Bam the stronghold in the east and southeast regions of their holdings. The citadel was also the focus of wars fought between Moẓaffar-al-Dīn Moḥammad Shah Qarāḵatāʾī and the Sīstānis, which were prolonged principally by the citadel’s sturdiness (Monšī Kermānī, p. 82). Aḵī Šojāʿ-al-Dīn, an ʿayyār and a ṣoʿlūk, was able to hold out against Amir Moḥammad Moẓaffarī in the citadel. Finally in 743/1342, after Amir Moḥammad diverted a river into a channel aimed at the base of the walls and the ramparts of the citadel fell, Aḵī Šojāʿ-al-Dīn emerged with his sword and shroud draped about his neck (Wazīrī, Tārīḵ, p. 485; Kotobī, p. 34). At the end of his life Amir Moḥammad Moẓaffarī was arrested by his sons, blinded, and imprisoned in the citadels of Ṭabarak in Isfahan, Qaḷʿa-ye Sang in Sīrjān, and finally of Bam, where he passed away in 765/1364. His body was carried to Meybod for burial (Wazīrī, Tārīḵ, pp. 485, 516).

During the time of Tīmūr’s successors, Prince Abā Bakr ruled over Bam and became involved in hostilities with Sultan Oways Tīmūrī. Abā Bakr wished to rebuild the citadel’s tower and ramparts; however, Sayyed Šams-al-Dīn Bamī, one of Bam’s noted gnostics, persuaded him not to do so, as it would keep the people from their farms (Maqāmāt, p. 180). This caused Abā Bakr to be defeated by Sultan Oways, who, after his victory, ordered the citadel to be repaired. He then rounded up the survivors in the citadel and had his opponents killed; over the ruins of their homes within the walls, the victors planted barley (Našrīya-ye farhang-e Kermān, p. 42; Wazīrī, Tārīḵ, p. 568). Oways’s repair of the citadel is mentioned in an inscription on the mosque dated 810/1407. E. Schröder (Survey of Persian Art II, pp. 943f.) believes this mosque to be Saffarid in origin; however, it seems more likely that it was built over the foundation of a fire temple. The citadel continued to serve as a center of resistance: Pīr Moḥammad, a rebellious Timurid amir, held the fort for many years (Maqāmāt, p. 124), ultimately yielding to the authority of Mīrzā Alvand Beg.

During the Safavid era, the citadel served as a staging area and headquarters for the army of Ganj-ʿAlī Khan, whose incursions into Baluchistan during the reign of Shah ʿAbbās I form a full chapter in the history of Kermān (Bāstānī Parīzī, Ganj-ʿAlī Ḵān, p. 42). During the time of Karīm Khan Zand, the citadel fell into the hands of Sīstānī and Owḡānī tribesmen; Aʿẓam Khan Owḡānī and Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Khan Sīstānī with their many sons held sway over the fort and the eastern territories for a long period. The ruler of Kermān’s attempt to oust them at Dīvār-e Boland came to naught (Bāstānī Pārīzī, Wādī-e Haftvād, p. 171). When Āqā Moḥammad Khan Qājār conquered Kermān, Loṭf-ʿAlī Khan Zand made it to Bam, where the Sīstānis allowed him to stay outside the walls of the citadel. They finally turned him over to Āqā Moḥammad Khan, thus temporarily strengthening their position in Bam (Bāstānī Pārīzī, Āsīā-ye haft sang, p. 220).

The English traveler Pottinger, who passed through Bam during the time of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah (ca. 1231/1816) on his way to India, visited the citadel, which he describes in some detail.

During the reign of Moḥammad Shah, Āqā Khan Maḥallātī’s (q.v.) taking refuge in the citadel and his familial ties with the Sīstāni rulers of Bam caused Fīrūz Mīrzā to lead an army there and besiege the citadel. After resisting the attackers for a time, Āqā Khan surrendered and emerged from the citadel with a Koran and his sword draped around his neck and was sent to Tehran (1254/1838; Aḥmadī, p. 77). Several years later Āqā Khan revolted once more and went to Kermān and Bam. Driven from Bam by Fażl-ʿAlī Khan Qarabāḡī and Amir Ḥabīb-Allāh Khan Tūpḵāna, he escaped to India. From that time it was forbidden to reside in the citadel, which was converted into a garrison (Bāstānī Pārīzī, Farmānfarmā-ye ʿālem, p. 315). Wazīrī, who visited the citadel a year later wrote, “now but for two platoons of soldiers, an officer, a few cannoneers, two artillery pieces with their attendants, and about fifty cavalry whom the provincial government of Kermān has ordered to protect it, the citadel is deserted” (Joḡrāfīā, p. 94). Fīrūz Mīrzā Noṣrat-al-Dawla, who revisited Bam forty years after his first incursion, wrote in his travel diary (Safar-nāma, p. 7), “the fort’s garrison, arsenal, and armory are still in place; however, the city [i.e., the citadel’s settlement] is completely destroyed . . . the engineering aspects of the citadel are astonishing . . . the walls are wide enough to accommodate two artillery pieces. It has a considerable moat. The city walls have been built on a height which even at a gallop is not easily climbed.” Immediately after the defeat of Āqā Khan in 1259/1843, minor repairs were made on the fort by ʿAbbāsqolī Khan Kord Jehān-Bīglū (Hedāyat, X, p. 273).

Percy Sykes, the British officer who was successful in forming the South Persia Rifles Brigade in southern Iran, visited Bam in 1320/1902. At the time the city had but 13,000 people, two gates, and a bāzār 600 ḏaṛʿ long.

In recent years (1337 Š./1958), the National Monument Council of Iran (Anjoman-e Āṯār-e Mellī) instituted repairs on the citadel’s pavilion (Rūz-nāma-ye Haftvād 90, 1337 Š./1958). The entire citadel was placed on the historical monuments list and was protected from further destruction. Throughout its history, the citadel was protected by the collective efforts of the people of every class; each person who had a residence and property outside of the fort was also required to maintain his own special room within the walls. Both before and after wars, villagers and city folk always undertook the repair and reconstruction of the citadel; farmers, laborers, and builders would come from all around and work on the structure. During times of siege, the inhabitants of the town would repair to their rooms within the walls, bearing their precious possessions, and bolt the doors. Until recently, it was proverbial among the people of Kermān that one did not give his daughter in marriage to someone who did not have a room within the citadel.



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A. ʿA. Ḵ. Wazīrī, Joḡrāfīā-ye Kermān, ed. M.-E. Bāstānī Pārīzī, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1353 Š./1974.

Idem, Tārīḵ-eKermān, 3rd ed. [Tehran], 1364 Š./1985.

See especially H. Gaube, Iranian Cities, New York, 1979, pp. 99-132 (richly illustrated; references to Western sources).

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(X. De Planhol, M.-E Bāstānī Pārīzī)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: December 15, 1988