The story of how ancient Iranians harnessed the power of the wind
TEHRAN – The wind has fed our world for thousands of years. Humanity has harnessed it as a form of energy to propel ships as early as 5,000 BC. Later, simple wind-powered water pumps were used in China, and windmills made from woven reed blades began to grind grain in Iran.
Nashtifan still has some of those windmills alive under the auspices of an elderly caretaker, Ali-Mohammad Etebari, who has dedicated his life to spinning the city’s few dozen historic windmills.
Honored as a living human treasure, Etebari has long taken on the hard work of daily inspections and maintenance of the mills, which are locally called Asbads. In addition, its regular attention paid off in putting the city on the tourist map.
“If I don’t take care of them, the young people will come and mess it up and break it all,” Etebari said in an interview with the International Wood Culture Society.
Nashtifan is located in a windswept semi-arid plain in northeastern Iran, some 40 kilometers from the Afghan border. Along its southern edge, an imposing earth wall houses a series of vertical axis windmills used to grind grain into flour.
The area is known for its strong seasonal winds, and in fact the name Nashtifan is derived from words that translate to “storm sting.”
Built of clay, wood and straw, these ancient gears inherited from previous generations, are perched on a cliff overlooking the village, molding the grain for centuries.
Technically speaking, unlike European windmills, the Persian design is powered by blades arranged on a vertical axis in which wind energy is transferred downward without the need for any of the intermediate gears found on windmills. horizontal axis.
Experts believe that such primitive but brilliant machines are a testament to human adaptation to nature by turning environmental obstacles into opportunities.
The development of Asbads took place due to strong and continuous 120-day winds, which sweep the east and south-east of the Iranian plateau every year from late May to late September.
Iran is seeking recognition from UNESCO for the sets of its ancient windmills that can be found in the provinces of Sistan-Baluchestan, South Khorasan and Khorasan Razavi. In 2002, the windmills were recognized as a national heritage site by Iran. The Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts has almost completed preparations for a chain of old vertical axis windmills to eventually become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
UNESCO claims that Asbad is a smart technique for grinding grain, a technique that dates back to ancient times when the inhabitants of eastern Iran, with the aim of adapting to nature and transforming environmental obstacles into opportunities, have succeeded in inventing it.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the earliest known references to windmills are those of a Persian mechanic in AD 644 and the Seistan windmills. [Sistan], Iran, in 915 CE. At the beginning of the second millennium, some eastern and western states acquired the technology of manufacturing mills from Persia, although the design of the prototype has constantly undergone changes over time.
The sad part of the story is the uncertain future of windmills. Without special attention, they can fall apart, perhaps due to the diverse beliefs and tastes of the younger generation.