ĀB-ANBĀR i. History

The āb-anbār was one of the constructions developed in Iran as part of a water management system in areas reliant on permanent (springs, qanāts) or on seasonal (rain) water. A settlement’s capacity for storing water ensured its survival over the hot, dry season when even the permanent water supply would diminish.


ĀB-ANBĀR “water reservoir.”

i. History

The term āb-anbār is common throughout Iran as a designation for roofed underground water cisterns. In Turkmenistan the term sardāba is found for similar structures (see, e.g., N. S. Grazhdankina, Stroitel’nye materialy sardob Turkmenistana, Izvestiya Akademii Nauk Turkmenistanskoi SSR, 1954, no. 4; G. Pugachenkova, Puti razvitiya arkhitektury yuzhnogo Turkmenistana pory rabovladeniya i feodalizma, Moscow, 1958, pp. 243, 394). Early Islamic sources in Arabic appear to use the words eṣṭaḵr for a covered tank or cistern (Le Strange, Lands, pp. 276, 285); and in 14th to 16th century texts, maṣnaʿ can be understood as designating a cistern (Jāmeʿ al-ḵayrāt, p. 28; Vaqfnāma, p. 875; Tārīḵ-e ǰadīd-e Yazd, p. 129).

The āb-anbār was one of the constructions developed in Iran as part of a water management system in areas reliant on permanent (springs, qanāts) or on seasonal (rain) water. A settlement’s capacity for storing water ensured its survival over the hot, dry season when even the permanent water supply would diminish. Private cisterns were filled from qanāts (man-made underground channels) during the winter months before the floods, while surplus flood water could often be stored in open tanks, as well as in the large, public, covered cisterns (Wulff, Crafts, p. 258; Pugachenkova, Puti, p. 243). Water was brought to the cisterns by special channels leading from the main qanāt or holding tanks and was controlled by sluice gates. The āb-anbār, a ventilated storage chamber, could then provide cool water throughout the summer months. Often rooms or pavilions were built within the complex of the cistern to provide a comfortable resting place as well.

While private houses may have had their own cisterns, filled in turn from the qanāts or streams, in desert towns like Yazd or Ṭabas the more noteworthy and elaborate structures were built for public use, often as part of a vaqf, within towns as well as on caravan routs (see e.g., A. U. Pope and E. Beaudouin, “City Plans,” in Survey of Persian Art, pp. 1391-1410). Two types of structures have been noted, a cylindrical reservoir with a dome and a rectangular one supported by piers or pillars (see M. Siroux, Caravansérails d’Iran et petites constructions routiers, MIFAO, Cairo, 1949). Each was marked by a portal, often with an inscription giving the name of the benefactor (builder or repairer) and the date (see, e.g., examples in H. Narāqī, Āṯār-e tārīḵī-e šahrestānhā-ye Kāšān o Nāṭanz, Tehran, 1347 Š./1968). The portal opened into a steep, barrel-vaulted passageway, leading down to the reservoir.

Although a detailed study of all variations of construction techniques of the āb-anbār in Iran still remains to be done, Grazhdankina’s analyses of similar structures in Turkmenistan, as well as observations by Beazley, Wulff, Siroux, and Sotūda (see below), allow a general outline of the technique. The prime objective in constructing an āb-anbār is to provide a totally waterproof container for a large volume of water while allowing for proper ventilation and access. The excavation was lined with overfired brick set into a sand and clay mixture. It was then covered with a layer (about 3 cm) of waterproof mortar, sārūǰ (see Grazhdankina, Materialy, for specific analyses of the mortar). Larger cisterns were often lined with an additional double layer of bricks, covered with another layer of sārūǰ of slightly different composition, and finished with a hard plaster coat.

The early history of covered cisterns in Iran has not been studied, although it is possible that a major elaboration of construction techniques may have taken place during the Parthiann and Sasanian periods, when water management constructions (dams, weirs, qanāts) were built extensively. The geographers of the 10th century apparently described a fully functioning system of cisterns. The Ardestān desert road, as well as the road from Isfahan to Nāʾīn, was lined with open tanks and domed cisterns. In fact, these domes often served as the only sure markers on desert routes. ʿAżod-al-dawla (A. D. 943-89) built an enormous vaulted cistern at Eṣṭarḵr.

Investigations in the ceramicists’ qaurter of 11th-12th century Marv have revealed a cistern located in close proximity to the mausoleum of Moḥammad b. Zayd. Its cylindrical reservoir had a 6.1 m diameter, and was apparently ventilated by a pair of window-like openings. Its covering has not survived or may not have existed. The cistern next to the rebāṭ al-Taḥmalaǰ, datable by its brick size to the same period and covered by a dome (17 m in diameter and 8 m deep), had a capacity of 150,000 liters (Pugachenkova, Puti, pp. 244, 394). Similar structures have been found recorded by Masson on the major desert routes of Central Asia and Turkmenistan, though most extant examples are of a considerably later date. The cistern associated with the 861/1456 mosque at Anaw is 6,5 m in diameter and was fed by three channels (Figure 8).

Regional surveys of the Yazd and Kāšān regions have listed scores of āb-anbārs, located either within settled areas or along caravan routes. While there are one or two earlier ones, most are dated or datable to the 18th and 19th centuries (see Narāqī, Āṯār-e tārīḵī; Tārīḵ-e ǰadīd-e Yazd; Jāmeʿ-e Mofīdī in bibliog.). The earliest dated āb-anbār is in Yazd, behind the masǰed-e ǰāmeʿ, and is dated 878/1473 (Ī. Afšār, Yādgārhā-ye Yazd I, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969, fig. 166).

Āb-anbārs of the Safavid and later periods were built with two or more ventilating towers (bādgīrs). The āb-anbār of the moṣallā at Nāʾīn, most likely a nineteenth century building, illustrates the typical use of the towers for the ventilation, as well as the relationship of the cool room pavilion to the āb-anbār (Figure 9). The āb-anbār of Ḥāǰǰī Sayyed Ḥosayn Sabbāḡ in Kāšān dated by its inscription 1240/1824 is a more elaborate example of a rectangular hypostyle type. Built within the main bazaar, it has a large portal decorated with moqarnas and glazed brick and tile inlay. A set of pavilions or rooms built above the reservoir and cooled by it has a separate access from a series of workshops (Narāqī, Āṯār-e tārīḵī, pp. 306-308; Siroux, Anciennes voies et monuments, p. 125). The use of bādgīrs was particularly well developed in Yazd, where there are several āb-anbārs with four bādgīrs as well as the famous āb-anbāršaš-bādgīrs with six.



Jāmeʿ al-ḵayrāt (the vaqf-nāma of Sayyed Rokn-al-dīn Ḥosaynī Yazdī), ed. Ī. Afšār, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962.

Vaqfnāma (of Amīr Čaqmāq and Settī Fātima) in Mofīd Mostfwī Bāfeqī, Jāmeʿ-e Mofīdī, ed. Ī. Afšār, Tehran, 1343 Š./1964, I, pp. 871-939.

Aḥmad b. Ḥosayn b. ʿAlī Kāteb Yazdī, Tārīḵ-e ǰadīd-e Yazd, ed. Ī. Afšār, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966.

H. Wulff, The Traditional Crafts of Persia, Cambridge, Mass., 1977.

M. E. Masson, Problemy izucheniya tsistern-sardoba, Tashkent, 1935.

E. Beazley, “Some Vernacular Buildings of the Iranian Plateau,” Iran 15, 1977, pp. 97-101.

(R. Holod)

Originally Published: December 15, 1983

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 1 pp. 39-41


R. Holod, “AB-ANBĀR i. History,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, 1982, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ab-anbar-i-history