August 20, 2017

The Historic City of Shushtar, Iran


The ancient Sassanian hydraulic system, designed and built by captured Roman soldiers




Pretty much at the point where the Karun River and Zagros mountains meet the flat fields of Khuzestan is the historic city of Shushtar, meaning “better than Susa.” Susa, also known as Shush, was the ancient capital of the ancient state of Elam and periodically also of the Achaemenid Persians.

History and Interesting Facts

The history of this city goes back at least to Elamite times when it was known as Adamdun. Centuries later it became a focal point on the Achaemenid Royal Road and was called Å urkutir; this important road connected the two Persian capital cities of Susa and Persepolis. Shushtar was also the site where Alexander of Macedonia crossed into the Persian heartland in December of 331 BCE during his conquest of the Achaemenid Empire. The city really took off during the Sassanian era when it became a fortress town and also served as a summer residence for various kings. Shushtar is also famous for its many old watermills that have been used for millenniums for irrigating the Khuzestan plains.

Sassanian-era buildings

Pol-e Shandravan and Band-e Kaisar (Valerian’s bridge/dam)
Band-e Kaisar in Shushtar, Iran

As mentioned above, the Roman Empire fought and decisively lost to the Sassanid Persians under King Shapur I at the Battle of Edessa in the year 260. The surviving Roman soldiers and their leader, the Emperor Valerian, were taken as prisoners by Shapur I and put to work on various construction projects including what has become known as the famed Band-e Kaisar, meaning “emperor’s bridge” in Persian.

It is believed that up to 70,000 soldiers were captured by the Sassanians including members of the highly-skilled Roman Engineering corps. Many were sent to work on construction projects in Shushtar including the Ab-e Gargara canal, the Band-e Mizan as well as Band-e Kaisar bridge and dams. The later two were able to direct the water flow of the Karun river to aid irrigation in what was at the time a major agricultural region of Iran. The Band-e Kaisar at one time contained 45 arches and stretched for over 500 meters. It was still in use up until about 100 years ago.

In 2009, the bridge and surrounding hydraulic system became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Salosel Castle

Historic Shustar was centered around Salosel Castle, known as Qal’eh Salosel in Persian. Set atop a high cliff overlooking the Karun River, this fortress was built up during Sassanian times and is believed to be the place where the Sassanian King Shapur I imprisoned the captured Roman Emperor Valerian after defeating him and his army at the Battle of Edessa.

Though there is not much left of it except for its subterranean chambers, Salosel Castle was vital to the defense of the city in Sassanian times right up until the Arab conquest of Iran. The Persian armies held out for two years within the castle until the Arabs were tipped off about secret tunnels running underneath the castle and were able to penetrate it from below. At certain times of the year, these subterranean chambers are opened up for the public to come and explore.

Another Sassanian-era construction is the 11-arched Lashgar bridge. It is walking distance from the Imamzadeh Abdullah, a shrine dedicated to a local holy man.

More information on Shushtar:

Shushtar – Livius.org

Travel Blog – Shushtar: In the care of the kings of hospitality


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