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The Natural-Historical complex of Karaftoo is located to the North of Kurdistan Province, about 72 km to the northwest of Divandarreh, to the east of Saqez Township, in an area called Havatu. It is in the form of a giant rock of limestone in a 45 degree slope surface, having 1500 meters length and 700 meters width.
This complex is situated in a preserved region called Abdurrazagh, which is considered one of the most valuable and richest environmental regions to the West of Iran which is home to more than 120 animal species and various local plants. This area, along with other historical places such as the historical castle of Zivieh, and the historical complex of Takht-e soleiman, has formed a cultural-historical triangle, to the northwest and west of Iran, a tourism attraction for Domestic as well as foreign tourists. One of the wonders of this complex, is Karaftoo cave, locally called “Qaleh Karaftoo” (Karaftoo castel), and in Kurdish dialect “Qeh Lay ke Rah Ftoo”, which according to Geology studies, was formed in the Mesozoic Era. This cave had been a human settlement from 3000 years ago till Islamic Era. The height of cave entrance (the current entrance), is about 20-25 meters long.
There is another natural rock to the south, opposite to the natural rock in which situated Karaftoo cave, which altogether formed a synclinal valley. There has been made some irregular small and big columns by mechanical erosion, to the southwest and east, the most important of which is “Panje” heights. There are three columns to the south of “Panje”, attraction more attention than the other columns. These three columns look like human figures from far away, called locally “seh Kenishkan” (three girls) which are tourism attraction of this area.
Karaftoo cave consists of 2 parts/section, natural part and carved part (Troglodytic architecture). The Troglodytic part includes 4 floors, in which floor there are nested rooms, corridors and stairs, carved in stone, to connect the floors. Therefore technically and geometrically, it quite has engineering structure like the structure of the buildings made by construction materials, which made it renowned amongst caves with Troglodytic architecture all over the world.
The most outstanding section of this Troglodytic architecture is the third floor of the cave, where there has been made special accuracy in carving rooms, the special form of ceilings, (Roman- Arc arch), windows, entrances and stairs. There are ornaments above windows, reliefs in the form of circle, comparable to architectural ornaments in Nooshijan Tepe, Hamedan Province, in Median Era. There are also various human, animal, plant and geometric patterns/motifs, on the walls of some rooms and corridors of all 4 floors, which have been the subject of research and investigation of many researchers. It is noteworthy that there is graffiti by Russian Orientalist Khanikaev carved on the wall of the corridor, connecting the first floor to the second, mentioning his visit to the cave in 1917. There is also a Greek inscription over the entrance of a room on the third floor, mentioning the God/hero Heracles; “this is the home of Heracles, whoever enters is safe”. Some researchers believe that this cave was temporarily inhabited by Seleucids (successors to The Alexander), who had moved to the west of Iran, after the time the Parthian king, Mehrdad II, conquered the territory. Because of this, many believe this cave was Heracles sanctuary/Temple. Also there are researches mentioning that it was a place where Mehr (Mithra) had been worshiped. There are many legends and stories regarding the creation and formation of the cave among local people, mentioning the impact of this cave and the surrounding nature on the folklore of the region.
This cave has been the subject of study and research by Iranian as well as foreign scholars from a long time ago, for instance in “ worship places, in Karaftoo rocks near takaab, (west Azarbaijan)” by Vongull, in researches by Chormic (1819), kerporter (1818), Rawlinson(1838), Khanikaev (1917), Sctien (1963), Prof Nawman (975) etc. Each one of these scholars, according to his studies and observations described the cave, drew the plan, and explained the characteristics and function of it.
Troglodytic architecture of Karaftoo complex, carved in special and creative structure in 4 floors, including 9 rooms, corridors and passageways connecting the floors, was used for various functions during history. It was a special type of architecture in the historic Era and a Prototype of settlements, temples and sanctuaries of its own time. Carving places as crypts in natural stone rocks is characteristics of the architecture in the first millennium BC, especially in Median Era. The plan of the temple of the cave is the prototype of the Mehr cave temple in Iran which had a significant role in investigating Mehr temple cave in Iran. As a memorial of an important historic era, the Mehr temple among ethnic groups of India, Iran, Europe, North Africa, Armenia, and Anatolia, in different periods or at the same time, has had a special and sacred role and is of significance in studying the history of Mehr worshiping Mehr. Karaftoo is a symbol of exchanging supreme religious human values in a cultural zone, in relation to the specific rituals. The specific architecture of Karaftoo, and the evidence inside (including motifs and reliefs) is of great significance in archaeological studies, beautiful valuable nature increased its importance. The natural beautiful landscape and the special landscape of Karaftoo area, its geographical location in the preserved environmental region of “abdurrazagh”, which is home to 120 animal species and local plants, has made it an outstanding natural-historical area to the west of Iran.
Criterion (ii): Troglodytic architecture of Karaftoo complex, during various historic eras, from Median and Achaemenids to the late Islamic period (Ilkhanids) had been used as shelter, settlement, temple and crypt. The creative architecture and specific plan of the cave including more than 9 rooms and numerous corridors and passageways as well as reliefs with human, animal and plant patterns / motifs represents the human creativity and genius in constructing a settlement. In studying the history of Mehr worshiping, Karaftoo has a significant position, therefore Karaftoo can be considered as a symbol of interaction of supreme human values in a specific period, in an universal cultural zone in relation to specific religion and rite.
Criterion (iii): The cultural and natural landscape of Karaftoo bears exceptional and even unique testimony to the evolution over centuries of a traditional way of life in close interaction with nature. It bears testimony to significant social and religious activities from the ancient times.
Indeed, in a relatively limited area, this cultural landscape comprises a significant range of elements and man-made structures, representing different stages of human life evolution. These include shelters for humans and religious spaces.
Karaftoo cave, is the prototype of cave-like Mehr temples of Europe and is considered as few spaces demonstrating part of Greek culture. In ancient Rome, worship of Mithra was in a particular way which similar to that cannot be found in Iran while there has been found evidences of worshiping of Meh in Karaftoo cave, dating back to a century before its roman way of worshiping, therefore it can be considered the prototype of cave-like Mehr temple of Europe.
Due to the importance of Mehr worshiping, its ritual had been performed in specific spaces dedicated to it , before it was held in caves. At the end of Median period, and political changes at early Achaemenid periods, especially at the reign of Darius, a new religion emerged and was defined for the empire, which resulted in enclosure and suspension of Mehr worship and temples, As the real believers of Mehr, were not assumed the new, they surreptitiously worshiped Mehr in dark sanctums of caves. Thus, this kind of worship was transferred to Rome in the early years after the Christ. Karaftoo cave is a special type of theses temples and rituals, with a very long history to the west of Iran.
Criterion (iv): Troglodytic architecture of Karaftoo complex is very special and in fact is an outstanding type of architecture, the natural and cultural landscape of which had been in use during history and various periods .The nominated property is an outstanding example of a cultural and natural landscape that illustrates significant stages in the development of human habitat and settlement and dated initially to the median and Achaemenid periods. The troglodyte residences of Karaftoo illustrate the evolution of such habitat from the use of natural caves and simple holes dug into the ground to more elaborate man-made troglodyte spaces for a diversity of purposes, including residences and religious spaces.
Criterion (v): Karaftoo is also an outstanding example of a specific natural landscape that has been transformed to a new manifestation as the result of humans’ interactions with the nature.
Criterion (vii): Karaftoo is formed in limestone, and its location in a giant rock , has an outstanding perspective, demonstrating a very beautiful natural landscape including more than 120 animal species and plants, (a type of golden head eagle, at the threat of extinction, , Egyptian vulture, bats and a type of white mouse of the cave, ). There are springs inside and outside the cave, multiplying the beauty of the space. Karftoo is located in a special geographical region, in one hand, it is located between two present provinces of Kordestan and Azarbaijan and, on the other hand, it is in the middle distance between ancient Median Empires and Athropaten monarchies from the historical perspective.
Criterion (x): Karaftoo complex, is located in a very important and special preserved area, called abdulrrazagh, comprising of 120 animal species and local plants, exclusive to the mountainous regions, some of which are at the threat of extinction. Therefore preserving these area is of great significance for preserving these species as well as the whole landscape.
Karaftoo cave, due to its great significance, was inscribed on the national cultural property list in 1940 )1318 SH( no: 330 and from then on, its outstanding values has been preserved under the legal and preservation guidelines. The cultural landscape and troglodytic architecture of karaftoo, has maintained its authenticity in the plan, form, materials, location and intangible perspectives, in a way that it has remained unchanged, keeping its primary form and strength.
The cultural landscape of Karaftoo has also maintained its integrity in relation to natural environment, visually and structurally, till present. Since the natural landscape of this region is protected under the preserved area of Abdurrazagh, all its natural and cultural values, considering the authenticity and integrity guidelines have been preserved therefore this site enjoys an acceptable degree of favored condition.
Karaftoo cave, considering the style of architecture, is similar to some properties inside and outside Iran. This cave, from the point of Troglodytic architecture, utilization as settlement, castle, shelter, the beauty of natural landscape and location, is similar and comparable to Chele Khane cave, located 70 KM to the Borazjan village, Saad AAbad city, Bushehr province. Ghale Joogh cave, 65 KM to Hamedan city, also Ghale Joogh village in Famnin Township, Hamedan province have a two floor architecture and carved rooms in the mountain, architecturally comparable to to Karaftoo complex. The cave of Maraghe observatory, caves called Kaferkeli caves in Haraz valley, caves in Lorestan province, (especially ghokan cave, also Khoorbas cave, nearby Khoorbas village in Geshm island, (as Anahita temple) are comparable to Karaftoo cave in natural landscape , location and using as temple. This cave is also comparable to some similar sites outside Iran, such as Magao Caves and Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape and Cueva de las Manos, Río Pinturas in criteria and style of Troglodytic architecture, Function, utilization as temple, natural landscape, also evidences of reliefs and religious memorials- Greek inscription and Islamic Mehrab (sanctuary) in Mongol period.
Magao Caves: This cave, located in china, undoubtedly is an outstanding example/site from the point of space organizing, art and wall paintings, which played a significant role in interaction of China, central Asia and India during a millennia. It is also an example of Buddhists stone paintings, although Karaftoo cave has been a human settlement from approximately 3000 years ago till Islamic era and during different periods was used as Temple (Mehr, Mithra), crypt, shelter, human settlement, a place for keeping herds, also a castle for residence of local people. Therefore different and various utilization and function of Karaftoo cave is of importance. It is also noteworthy that there is a connection between nature and man-made/ human art and is a universal example demonstrating human-nature interaction. Furthermore in studying the history of Mehr worshiping, Karaftoo has a high position. Mehr was a powerful and influential God amongst ethnic groups of India, Iran, Europe, and north of Africa, Armenia, and Anatolia, which during different periods was worshiped. As a result, karaftoo played a significant role in universal interaction in a specific period of time.
Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape: This cave is also comparable to Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape, from the point of natural landscape and location. This landscape located in Republic of Azerbaijan, comprising of a valuable collection of 6000 stone reliefs represents cultural continuity and integrity from pre-history to middle ages. This site also includes the remnant of caves and townships representing a civilization. This site is comparable to Karaftoo cave from the point of natural landscape. Karaftoo cave, with various functions, had been in use as a temple, settlement, and shelter. The special perspective and landscape, springs inside and outside cave, animal species and local plants, (a kind of golden head eagle, in danger of extinction, Egyptian vulture, bats and a kind of white rats ) has multiplied its values.
Cueva de las Manos, Río Pinturas: This cave, located in Argentina, comprises of an exceptional collection of cave paintings, performed and drawn from 13000 to 9500 years before. There are a great number of paintings of animals and hunting. These magnificent paintings are surrounded by a beautiful landscape, including a river running through a deep narrow valley. This area is considered as one of the most important sites of primitive hunters in South America. Karaftoo cave also enjoys a high position geographically and its preserved environmental area, includes more than 120 animal species and local plants. These two landscapes have been always the subject of archaeological studies and researches, indicating their natural- historical values. The limestone structure of Karaftoo among giant rocks , special perspective and geographical location of the region has made karaftoo cave considerable and attracted much attention to the area.