Kandovan is a unique cave village located in the northwestern province of East Azerbaijan, Iran. The village is famous for its extraordinary architecture, where people have carved their homes into cone-shaped rocks, creating a spectacular landscape.
The name “Kandovan” is derived from the Persian word “kando,” meaning beehive, which perfectly describes the village’s appearance with its many cave houses. Before it became a popular tourist spot due to its cave homes, Kandovan and its founders had a rich and fascinating history.
Origins of Kandovan: A Historical 10,000-Year Overview
Kandovan is a historic village located in the Sahand Mountains of Iran. Archaeological evidence suggests the history of Kandovan dates back over 10,000 years, to the time when the region was first settled by prehistoric people. The area around Kandovan has been inhabited by various groups of people over the millennia, including the Medes, Achaemenids, Parthians, and Sassanids , who left behind traces of their civilizations in the form of ruins, pottery, and other artifacts.
It wasn’t until the Mongol invasion of Iran approximately 700 years ago that the current Kandovan village became established, and it’s been inhabited ever since.
As time passed, the village expanded with more people settling in the area, leading to the expansion and development of cave homes to accommodate larger families. The villagers also created a system of water channels to bring water from nearby springs into the village for drinking and irrigation.
During the Islamic Golden Age , the region around Kandovan was a center of scholarship and learning, attracting many notable scholars and philosophers. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the Seljuk Turks established a powerful empire in the region, with Kandovan likely serving as a strategic location due to its proximity to the Silk Road trade routes.
Since then, Kandovan has undergone many significant social and economic changes, especially in the 20th century. During this time, Kandovan became much more modernized and urbanized, making it more suitable for families in the area.
Details of the doors and windows on the traditional homes in the old village of Kandovan in Iran. ( naytoong/Adobe Stock)
Cone-Shaped Cave Homes: Designed and Constructed Out of Volcanic Rock
The unique design and construction of Kandovan’s cave homes are the village’s main attraction. The homes are carved out of the soft volcanic ash and rocks that make up the cone-shaped formations in which they are located. The Kandovan villagers carved their homes by hand, using simple tools such as hammers, chisels, and picks. They would first select a suitable location, usually a soft volcanic ash and rock formations that could be hollowed out without collapsing.
The villagers would then use a combination of manual labor and basic tools to carve out the cave homes, working slowly and carefully to create the desired shape and size. They would typically start by digging a small hole into the rock face, and then gradually expand the space, removing the rock bit by bit. The process of carving out a home could take several years, and it was a labor-intensive task that required great skill and patience. Once the cave home was completed, the villagers would typically add a door and windows, using the same techniques to carve them into the rock.
Each home is essentially a cave that has been hollowed out of the rock, with a door and windows carved into the rock face. The interiors of the homes are typically small, with one or two rooms. The interiors of the cave homes were typically decorated with traditional Iranian furnishings , such as rugs, cushions, and colorful tapestries, and they were equipped with simple amenities such as wood-burning stoves for cooking and heating.
Kandovan Home Design: Natural Insulation and Earthquake Resistance
Kandovan’s homes are naturally insulated due to the unique properties of the rocks that make up the cone-shaped formations in which they are located. The rocks are made of volcanic ash and tuff, which are soft and porous, and they provide excellent insulation against both heat and cold.
The thick walls of the cave homes, which are made entirely of natural rock, act as a barrier against the elements, helping to keep the interiors cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The insulation properties of the rock are particularly effective in the winter months when temperatures can drop well below freezing.
In addition to the insulation properties of the rock, the Kandovan villagers have also developed other methods to keep their homes warm in the winter. One common technique is the use of wood-burning stoves, which are typically made from clay or metal and are used for cooking and heating. The stoves are positioned in the center of the homes, with flues leading out through the rock walls to vent the smoke.
Interior of one of the cave houses in the famous Kandovan village. ( Mazur Travel /Adobe Stock)
Kandovan’s homes are also earthquake-resistant since the natural rock is strong and flexible, making them an ideal choice for the region. The homes are connected by a network of narrow streets and alleys, which create a labyrinthine feel to the village.
Sustainable Living in Iran’s Prized Cave Village
The cave homes of Kandovan are a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the village’s inhabitants, who created a unique and sustainable way of living in the harsh environment of the Sahand Mountains.
Today, the village is still inhabited, and the residents make a living from agriculture, animal husbandry, and handicrafts. They are welcoming to visitors, and some of the cave homes have been converted into hotels and guesthouses, providing a unique and memorable experience for tourists. For those interested in history, architecture, and nature, Kandovan is a must-visit destination.
Top image: Cliff dwellings in Kandovan village, Iran. Source: Left; knovakov / Adobe Stock, Right; naytoong/Adobe Stock
By Lex Leigh
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