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    Dakhme or Towers of Silence, Yazd, Iran

    / 19th century
    Yazd - Dakhme or Towers of Silence, Yazd, Iran


    • Price: 4 $
    • Best Time to Visit: spring, before sunset
    • Working Hours: 8 am. to 6:30 pm.
    • Plan Your Visit: Half to one hour

    Dakhma (Persian: دخمه ; Avestan: lit.  “tower of silence”), also called a Tower of Silence, is a circular, raised structure built by Zoroastrians for excarnation – that is, for dead bodies to be exposed to carrion birds, usually vultures.

    The English language term "Tower of Silence" is a neologism attributed to Robert Murphy, a translator for the British colonial government of India in the early 19th century.

    There are two towers near Yazd, built in the nineteenth century according to a design from India, where many Zoroastrians live. At the terrace at the top, the dead were exposed, and devoured by birds. In this way, neither the earth nor the sacred fire were soiled.



    In Parsi Zoroastrian tradition, exposure of the dead is also considered to be an individual's final act of charity, providing the birds with what would otherwise be destroyed.

    Although the towers date back to the nineteenth century and are influenced by the practices of Indian Zoroastrians, the custom to expose the dead on towers is mentioned in the late Sasanian age.

    Zoroastrians believe that physical and spiritual corruption go hand in hand and therefore when one draws their last breath, the body falls under the evil influence of decomposition and becomes the center of impurity. The dead body must be destroyed to prevent the spread of impurity. As a Zoroastrian must not contaminate any of the elements, the corpse cannot be burned, or given to water or buried in the ground. Instead corpses were carried to the top of a hill or low mountain away from centers of population and sacred natural elements, and exposed to the sun in structures known as Towers of Silence. The corpse was usually moved to the tower within one day of death and during the daylight hours. The body was carried by an even number of people, even if the deceased was a child who could easily be carried by one person. The only people allowed to touch the corpse were those clothing it and the corpse-bearers. If by accident someone touched the corpse they were prohibited from coming into contact with other persons until they underwent a purification ritual that entailed ritualistic washing of the body. In the exposure procedure called ‘Khurshed nigerishn,’ which in Pahlavi means ‘beholding by the sun,’ the dead were placed on top of the tower, which has an almost flat roof divided into three concentric rings with a perimeter slightly higher than the center and is open at the top to give access to the body to birds. The bodies of men were arranged around the outer ring, women inside the second circle, and children in the innermost ring. When the sun disintegrated the body and birds stripped it of flesh, the remaining bones were placed in the Ossuary Well. Towers of Silence were built of mud brick, stone and stucco to protect the ground from contamination. Dakhme is located outside the city and built with precise calculations so that the wind would not carry pollutants back to the city. Ever growing  cities and  towns that placed Towers of Silence within city limits resulted in the Zoroastrians of Iran to stop using these towers in the 1970s and to begin using new burial methods such a laying the body of the deceased in plastered graves lined with rock to prevent the contamination of the earth.



    The decision to change the system was accelerated by three considerations: The first problem arose with the establishment of the Dar ul-Funun medical school. Since Islam considers unnecessary dissection of corpses as a form of mutilation, thus forbidding it, there were no corpses for study available through official channels. The towers were repeatedly broken into, much to the dismay and humiliation of the Zoroastrian community. Secondly, while the towers had originally been built away from population centers, the growth of the towns led to the towers now being within city limits. Finally, many of the Zoroastrians themselves found the system outdated. Following long negotiations between the anjuman societies of YazdKerman, and Tehran, the latter gained a majority and established a cemetery some 10 km from Tehran at Ghassr-e Firouzeh (Firouzeh's Palace). The graves were lined with rocks and plastered with cement to prevent direct contact with the earth. In Yazd and Kerman, in addition to cemeteries, orthodox Zoroastrians continued to maintain a tower until the 1970s when ritual exposure was prohibited by law.

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    This workshop is designed according to the UNESCO World Heritage Education Programme in order to give young people a chance to voice their concerns and to become involved in the protection of our common cultural and natural heritage. It seeks to encourage and enable tomorrow’s decision-makers to participate in heritage conservation and to respond to the continuing threats facing our World Heritage. The idea of involving young people in World Heritage preservation and promotion came as a response to Article 27 of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention). Furthermore, Patrimonito means 'small heritage' in Spanish and the character represents a young heritage guardian. Patrimonito has been widely adopted as the international mascot of the World Heritage Education Programme.
    Date: 29th December
    Number of trainees: 7
    Duration: 3 hours

    The workshop of "Patrimonito" was held on 29th of December. Participants arrived around 10:30 and they were welcomed by hot chocolate and Persian cup cakes. After a little introduction by trainers and trainees, the process started by making two groups and letting them choose a name for their group, each group was accompanied by a mentor then each group was given some images of world heritage sites in Iran and some descriptions, each group was asked to match images and descriptions, the mentor was guiding them throughout the activity. All trainees were participating actively and trying to remember their experiences about their travels to these places. When they were done with the activity, the mentors started giving the answers and a brief explanation about each site; mentors were using trainees’ ideas and experiences to complete their tasks.

    Shortly after that, the second part started which was a presentation done by two of mentors. The aim of this presentation was to define the value of these world heritage sites and duties of each person as a "Patrimonito", and what happens if there is no "Patrimonito" and nobody cares about our tangible or intangible heritage. In this part trainees started questioning and understanding the whole concept of being a "Patrimonito", they also added their own suggestions on how to protect our heritage and by the end of this part, they were completely aware about their role as a "Patrimonito".
    Now it was a best time to have a short break, during the break trainees were introduced to some of intangible heritages as they were served by traditional food and snacks and even they way of serving was according to traditions and everyone had this opportunity to discuss about intangible heritage while enjoying some traditional food and snacks.
    When the break was done, everyone was asked to choose a heritage either tangible or intangible and they had to introduce their chosen heritage to a tourist by making a postcard using what they have learnt. They were given all of necessary tools such as color papers, color pencils, glue, scissors, images of heritage and a mentor was with them in order to help them completing the task.

    When they were done, they handed out their postcards and with the mentors they sat together and spent a few minutes asking and answering about what they have learnt. Then they were told to say their vows for protecting their heritage and caring about it, the mentor said the vow and the trainees repeated after her and they officially became a "Patrimonito".

    The last but the best part was when they were given the certificates, and they were told that since they are aware of the value of the heritage and they know how to protect it, they are chosen as "Patrimonito" and they should continue their mission by introducing the value of heritage to others. They were granted certificates and labels and the workshop of "Patrimonito" was finished by taking some memorial photos.