Shushtar is an ancient fortress city, approximately 92 km from Ahvaz, in the center of Khuzestan Province. Much of its past agricultural productivity has been derived from the irrigation system centered on Band-e Kaisar or ‘Caesar’s dam’, which is an ancient arch bridge and the first dam-bridge in Iran, built by a Roman workforce in the 3rd century AD.
Band-e-Kaisar, an approximately 500-meter long Roman weir across the river Karun, was the key structure of the complex which, along with the Band-e-Mizan, retained and diverted river water into the irrigation canals in the area.
The Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System is a complex irrigation system from the Sassanid period . It was inscribed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 2009, as Iran’s 10th cultural heritage site to be registered on the United Nation’s list.
As mentioned in a book called ‘History of Shushtar’, in the reign of Ardeshir I, also known as Ardeshir-e Babakan, the founder of the Sassanid Empire, the man-made river of Gargar was in fact built to carry the water from the east to the west of Shushtar to help boost agriculture.
Later a weir was constructed on the river Gargar to dam the water and to connect Shushtar to the east side, to the cities of Ahvaz and Masjid Suleiman. Some archeological excavations date the building around the Gargar River to the Achaemenid era.
How It Works
Parts of the irrigation system are said to date back to the time of the Achaemenid king, Darius the Great. It partly consists of a pair of primary diversion canals in the Karun River, one of which is still in use today and delivers water to city of Shushtar via a route of supplying tunnels.
The area includes the Selasel Castel, which is the operating axis of the hydraulic system. It also consists of a tower for water level measurement, along with bridges, dams, mills, and basins.
The water subsequently enters the plain south of the city, and irrigates farmland over a vast area referred to as Mianab – a name given to the entire area between the two diversion canals of Shutayt and Gargar on the Karun River, as well as an island that has Shushtar city at its northern end.
The Gargar Weir was built on the watermills and waterfalls and has a function similar to the dams today, which leads water into the tunnels of watermills.
‘Bolayti’ canal is situated on the eastern side of the water mills and waterfalls. The function of the canal is to direct water from behind the Gargar Bridge to the east side of the water mills, and channel any surplus water away to prevent damage to the mills.
The tunnel of Dahaneye-Shahr or ‘city opening’ is one of three main tunnels which channels the water from behind the Gargar Weir into several water mills, and the ‘Seh koreh’ Canal channels the water from behind Gargar Bridge into the western side.
The Shushtar waterfalls and mills are unmatched examples of its kind, engineered on such a scale and constructed to optimize the water use during ancient times. The site includes a collection of dams, tunnels, ancillary canals, and watermills used for industrial and economic purposes.
Shushtar has be referenced in world renowned history books and travel logs including those by French archaeologist,
explorer, novelist and journalist Jane Dieulafoy and Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta. It is referred to as “a masterpiece of creative genius” by UNESCO.