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Industrial Heritage of Iranian Railway

Date of Submission: 02/02/2017
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Iranian cultural heritage, handicrafts and tourism organization
State, Province or Region:
Mazandaran, Tehran, Khuzestan
Coordinates: N35 39 28 E51 23 50
Ref.: 6195
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

Introduction of modern industries and true effects of modernism on Iran began with Fatali Shah and Naserolddeen Shah’s travels to Europe but was seriously expanded only during the rule of Reza Shah. The period of transfer from an agricultural to an industrial society in Iran happened because of: Amir Kabir’s activities including the establishment of a poly-technique school called Darolfonun in Tehran, introduction of electricity and modern industries in an European style, appearance of modern methods and instruments, growth of technology, mass production of goods by big industries in new spaces, arrival of new modes of communication such as post and lastly a huge change in intercity relations because of railways. As a matter of fact, the idea of railways construction in Iran initially emerged in the second half of the 19th century during the Qajar era as a result of the expansion of political and cultural relations between Iran and Europe.

Railway can be regarded as a turning point for comprehensive developments in Iran. These developments include a wide spectrum of various economical, commercial, social, cultural and even political aspects in a sensitive and important period of contemporary world history. Under the Pahlavi regime, the process of moving towards modernism gained momentum and railway became the main pedestal of development in Iran. Consequently the 1394 kilometers long Trans-Iranian Railway was built with a width of 1435mm and 90 working stations along its route. It starts at a point north of Torkaman port located southeast of the Caspian Sea. After going through Sari and Qaem-shahr cities, the railway enters the mountainous region of Alborz through the high Firooz-kooh Pass which is linked with Tehran and Varamin Plain by numerous bridges and tunnels. Further on after crossing flat lands of Qom and Arak, the Trans-Iranian Railway penetrates into Zagros highlands in Lorestan Province and passing through a large number of tunnels and bridges reaches Andimeshk situated in the low Kuzestan Plain. Finally extending to the vicinity of Dezful, Ahwaz and its grand bridge on Karoon, the Trans-Iranian Railway is divided into two branches ending separately at Khoram-shahr and Imam-Khomeini ports on the Persian Gulf.

Among the unique characteristics of this route, mention can be made of geographical variety, specific landscapes of multiple climates of Iran as well as its amazing views. A complete collection of beautiful natural resources including mountain ranges, ponds, peaks, slopes, forests, plains and grasslands as well as deserts and steppes can be seen on this course belonging to a variety of weather conditions such as temperate, humid, arid and hot.

Thanks to the construction of the Trans-Iranian Railway, a new a genre of architecture was introduced which had a huge effect on the architecture of the time. Stations and residential structures related to railways were planned based on local and traditional architecture, craftsmanship and climate producing a specific kind of architecture. Location of railway stations, their affiliated architectural structures as well as their modern design has been aspired by the western influence mixed with indigenous Iranian architecture paving the way for future expansions and specific developments in architecture and urban planning on its course. Altogether the length of tunnels and bridges built for this route amount to more than one hundred kilometers. Major challenges facing the expansion of this network included natural topography, shortage of roads, lack of equipment and machinery as well as the necessity of creating basic infrastructures. Therefore, construction of a remarkable number of dykes, bridges and tunnels was considered as a great engineering achievement at the time. For example, despite the shortage of technical equipment and facilities at the time, bridges such as Veresk and Sekhat-tala with various heights and spans were built at hard-accessed points of deserts or highlands and they can be regarded as among the first bridge-building experiments in Iran based on modern technical and engineering calculations using construction materials like metal and concrete. Additionally, several bridges such as Goduk and Chahar-abdiz were built at various heights taking into consideration detailed calculations for various gradients and curvatures using minimal facilities. Therefore the above-cited instances can be considered as among technical and engineering masterpieces of the contemporary period of time.

By examining the effect of this branch of industry on general cultural, social and economic growth of Iran, its key role becomes even more evident. Construction of the railway not only accelerates transportation in economic and commercial spheres but also shows a new cultural influence coming from cultural interactions and social relations with distant western and European cultures. In addition to mutual effects on the most important civilization pillar i.e. architecture, the industry has deeply influenced the life of Iranians and their communication with the west resulting in the special cultural landscape of the railway across north and south of Iran. Actually the route encompasses many natural-historical monuments belonging to various western countries. These monuments have been transformed into a unique cultural-industrial landscape. Generally, the development process of the railway phenomenon has given rise to rural and urban expansions as well as exceptional cultural interactions which have carried different outstanding values in various periods of time.  Furthermore, this has played a vital role in the development and transformation of the fabric and form of towns and villages en route during several decades leading to the formation of modern industries in the majority of regions under its influence. During the execution and realization of this large scale national plan which acted as the infrastructure for many modern industries of Iran, numerous factories and facilities were established to serve its purposes representing part of the history of Iranian industry. Among them are: a large number of railway stations, hospitals, churches as well as several road building, metallurgy and sleeper (traverse) plants.

The first official document mentioning railway in Iran was the letter sent from Napoleon the third to Naserolddeen Shah in 1858 which pointed out the start of operations related to railway during the nineteenth century under the rule of Qajar dynasty although the construction phase began under the reign of Pahlavi dynasty. As a matter of fact, major operations began in Mehr 1306 SAH and culminated in 27th Mordad 1317 SAH following the linkage of northern and southern lines. Later on the Trans-Iranian Railway was officially inaugurated in 3rd Shahrivar of 1317 SAH and was open to public use. Since then, it has retained its key role on cultural interaction and development of urban, rural and tribal or nomadic life of Iranian people. Additionally, its historical, technical, engineering, cultural, economic and commercial values have been preserved within the framework of its main function.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Construction of railway in Iran has a long history whether sparsely or as a network. On the whole due to the geographical variety and biodiversity of the country as well as presence of numerous mountains and remote routes, the railway network can be considered as one of the exceptional engineering achievement of the world. Passing through such hard terrain with diverse climates and topographies requires high skills for subduing the nature and for creating cultural landscapes. The Trans-Iranian Railway also enjoys a touristic value because it passes through virgin lands with specific regional nature. Also thanks to technical and architectural infrastructures created at the time including grand bridges and tunnels, it has Outstanding Universal Values related to the industrial heritage of Iran. Presence of international experts and engineers in different periods of time aimed at expanding the route or for development reasons proves the significance of foreign interactions and its high cultural value. Historically the Trans-Iranian Railway has played a vital role in the Second World War delivering supplies to the Soviet Union and contributing to its final victory over Nazi Germany. Moreover, construction of stations, residential units for personnel, storerooms for goods and fuel as well as affiliated industries are worth mentioning. Most of the buildings existing on the northern axis have been constructed in a simple and modern western style but those existing on the southern axis enjoy Iranian style architecture while respecting the climatic and environmental variety of different regions. In this regard, many of the railway stations contain part of the architectural identity of each location due to the diversity of climatic conditions along the course. Additionally, the variety of facades and the architecture of inner spaces including the waiting hall, ticket booth, amenities as well as climatic coordination altogether are regarded as part of the existing technical and architectural values of the network.

Actually railway stations serve as contact points between modernity, modern living and many of its related concepts with architectural traditions of urban planning and even social customs of ordinary people. This served as a huge challenge for designers of the stations. In addition to Iranian architects, European architects also actively participated and gained remarkable successes in designing these link loops which enjoy outstanding values in the architectural history of the contemporary world. Despite the fact that technological and industrial standards imposed a certain form on these buildings, using indigenous construction materials and respecting local and traditional architectural customs of Iran produced buildings which have had a profound effect on their neighboring residences and towns. The existence of such buildings next to ancient cities with well-established traditional architecture or near small towns and villages and even in the heart of pristine nature represented an important phase in the architecture of Iran which was undoubtedly affected by the requirements of these huge changes. Generally the Trans-Iranian Railway serves as a unique heritage and industrial landscape still alive and is considered as a masterpiece of human ingenuity enjoying exceptional values.

Criterion (ii): the Trans-Iranian Railway together with all of its dependent ingredients not only acts as an art collection but also represents the simultaneous endeavor of Iranian architects and engineers collaborating closely with their counterparts coming from various countries of the world including: Germany, Austria, Britain, Denmark and Russia. The intelligent and strategic selection of routes in accordance with the diverse geography of Iran has been materialized in the construction of bridges, tunnels and stations even at hardly accessible points. The end result has been a creative architectural and engineering accomplishment which has developed in the course of later periods of time.

Criterion (iv): The architecture and technology of railway stations as well as the architectural structures of tunnels and bridges built on this route are regarded as creative and novel examples of their kind dating back to the late Qajar-early Pahlavi era. As a matter of fact, European architecture and engineering has mingled with indigenous and traditional architecture of Iran in a valuable and prominent manner resulting in a unique accomplishment under the influence of European architecture and engineering but with a tinge of the Persian architecture of that era.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity of the property has remained intact together with all of its dependent parts such as bridges, rails, dams, tunnels, etc. moreover its integrity has been preserved due to the execution of strict rules and regulations within the framework of integrity criteria of the property. Actually since its construction, integrity of the property has remained almost untouched thanks to the existence of rules concerning boundaries as well as the observance of functional, visual and technical requirements. Relevant regulations and conservation management have been implemented by the Ministry of Road as well as by Iranian Railway Administration. Functional maintenance and continued usage of the railway network has made conservation a high-priority issue.

On the whole, authenticity of the Trans-Iranian Railway has been preserved well from various points of view. Also it has continued incessantly to provide service to local people playing a major role in their economic and social life. Part of the network and its dependent buildings have been expanded consistent with present needs but its main design and architecture idea and function has been preserved and continued uninterrupted.

Comparison with other similar properties

The property can be compared with the following cases:

  • Semmering Railway, Austria
  • Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes
  • Mountain Railway of India

The existing Austrian railway is one of the examples of engineering in railway construction during the years 1848-54. The Indian railway is an earlier version of that but without doubt as these networks were built using the specific engineering of the 19th century; they are easily comparable with the example of Trans-Iranian Railway in various aspects. Also the railway network shared by Italy and Switzerland and dating back to early 20th century can be compared with its Iranian counterpart regarding historical, cultural and engineering dimensions. It should be mentioned that the Iranian network is one of the longest railway routes of the world and dates back to the 19th century but its main expansion has occurred later on in the 20th century. It has a length of about 1394 km extending from north to south of the country and is quite considerable concerning this aspect relative to other countries.

  • Semmering Railway, Austria: 41 km
  • Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes: 66/96 km in Albula line and 60/68 km in Bernina line
  • Mountain Railways of India: 96/60 km

Just like Semmerling line and the Albula / Bernina railway (shared between Switzerland and Italy) which are regarded as great achievements in linkage with the environment and natural landscapes, the Trans-Iranian Railway also serves the same purpose because many of its structures are in a harmonious combination with their surroundings not only the beautiful and virgin scenery of highlands but also narrow valleys and hot empty deserts. As a matter of fact, these diverse pristine landscapes are regarded as part of the cultural/natural attractions of the railway network. The scenery viewed from Veresk and Sekhat-tala bridges as well as the assimilation of such bridges and their tunnels with the surrounding mountains, valleys and foothills boasts historical/touristic significance. Furthermore the harmony between desert routes and the outer nature is quite breathtaking.

The Darjling Line of India is an old example in which steam locomotives dating back to the years 1889 and 1925 are still in use. The specific craftsmanship and architecture of the line as well as the narrow distance between its lines amounting to only 610mm have made this line a world known touristic destination. Likewise with its original length of 1394 km, the Trans-Iranian Railway has also retained its primary values and despite its construction in various seasonal and climatic circumstances across the country, it is still actively and regularly in use for transportation purposes and due to its preserving many of its principal characteristics also serves as a touristic attraction. The network is a true masterpiece of engineering and architectural creativity resulting from hard efforts of architects and engineers from Iran and several other countries. It provides fascinating views and a unique experiment for those traveling in the north-south direction and vice versa because it passes through various climates and terrains. Additionally its modern technology and architecture are in a harmonious combination with several traditional and regional values as well as with the indigenous art and architecture.