AFP: Reconstruction of Bam a year after the Iranian city was hit by a devastating earthquake is progressing slowly, with the historic citadel looking like it’s been hit by heavy artillery and thousands of people still living in makeshift housing.
by Laurent Lozano
BAM, Iran – Reconstruction of Bam a year after the Iranian city was hit by a devastating earthquake is progressing slowly, with the historic citadel looking like it’s been hit by heavy artillery and thousands of people still living in makeshift housing.
Shortly before 5:28 am (0158 GMT) on December 26, 2003 the citadel was the world’s largest mud-brick edifice: a complex of mosques, traditional houses, a bazaar and surrounding ramparts, all made from a mixture of mud and straw.
Today it looks like a pile of red sand.
Along with Persepolis and Isfahan, Arg-e Bam was one of Iran’s most grandiose sites. Just after the quake, President Mohammad Khatami promised that the prime example of pre-Islamic architecture would be rebuilt “whatever the cost.”
But those who hoped to see a resurrected citadel rising from the desert some time soon will be disappointed.
Work has been done to preserve those parts of the edifice still standing, continually threatened by aftershocks.
But removal of the rubble only began three months ago, says renovation director Eskandar Mokhtari.
“We’ve cleared an 800-metre (yard) swathe and it will take around two years to clear everything,” he says.
And while today’s authorities stand accused of taking their time to rebuild the modern city of Bam, here the guilty are also past generations, as records of what the citadel used to look like are surprisingly patchy.
Nevertheless, Mokhtari says his team has been collecting ground and aerial photographs and films for months. A French digital three-dimensional mapping of the citadel and a similar Japanese project also help.
But it has yet to be decided whether the restored edifice should be an exact copy of what existed before or not.
Experts talk rather of a “recovery” of the complex than a “restoration” or “reconstruction”.
The citadel will also serve as “a school for archaeologists,” says Mokhtari.
The one good thing to come out of the quake are the treasures revealed under devastated buildings, such as the tombs of children believed to have been buried during a 19th century siege and Iran’s oldest irrigation system discovered by Chahryar Adle.
At the site of a sixth-century BC fort “there are so many pottery fragments that you can’t walk without breaking them, the extraordinary thing is not their discovery but who could we have missed them before?” says Adle.
As a result, the citadel’s revised UNESCO world heritage site now covers 25 square kilometres (10 square miles).
Without the quake which “did the job of an archaeologist” by revealing various artefacts, a new highway was set to pass close to the citadel and “urban development would have destroyed the sites,” says Adle.
The modern city of Bam was similarly devastated, besides the human loss of 31,000 dead. Many were buried on the spot or simply covered in cement.
“The government promised to pay for tombstones, but we’re still waiting, so I decided to do it myself,” says Mohammad. He paid the small fortune of 12 million rials (1,300 dollars) for 13 relatives’ graves.
“They haven’t stopped lying to us,” he says, adding that the cemetery and the rest of the devastated city has been tarmacked and trees and flowers planted, but only because Khatami was expected for Sunday’s anniversary.
Streets have been cleared and a few houses have been rebuilt, but at least 37,000 inhabitants still live in temporary housing outside of town, says Bam Governor Mohammad Rafizadeh.
He says he “understands people’s impatience”, blaming the inadequacy of the loans system set up for reconstruction or people’s refusal to move into smaller homes.
“Over seven million cubic metres of rubble have been removed,” says Rafizadeh, adding that now that a reconstruction plan has been drawn up “things will move faster”.