Great Wall of Gorgan, One of the 3 Great Walls of Ancient Times

The Great Wall of Gorgan
The Great Wall of Gorgan
The Great Wall of Gorgan
The Great Wall of Gorgan

Walls have always been one of the most important defense elements of any city to block enemies. There are famous walls in the world. The largest defense wall in the world is called the Great Wall of China, followed by the White Wall of Germany. The third one is the Great Wall of Gorgan (Iskander’s Great Wall, the Red Wall), which is registered as a national monument in Iran.

This wall is named Red Snake in old texts. Also, its location has been very strategic. Now, almost all of this wall is gone, and only small parts of it have remained, which are buried under the soil.

Other names of this structure are Dehestan Wall, Gomishan Wall, Tajanbar, Red Snake, Iskander Great Wall, Iskander Dam, Anoushirvan Dam, Firouz Dam, Gorgan Defense Wall, Qezal Elaq, Qezal Alang and Alan (in the Turkmen language) and Red Wall. The names of Dehestan and Gomishan are given to it because of the location of this wall.

The Great Wall of Gorgan as Mentioned in Historical Writings

The Great Wall of Gorgan has been mentioned in many historical writings. Among them:

  • 864 AD: Balazri in the conquest of Al-Baldan
  • 903 AD: Ibn Faqih in Al-Baldan
  • 912 AD: Ibn Khurdadbah in Masalak and Al-Mamalek
  • 982 AD: The boundaries of the world from the East to the Maghrib
  • 10th century AD: Ferdowsi in Shahnameh
  • 11th century AD: Thaalabi, the pride of Persian kings and Sirham
  • 1051 AD: Gardizi, Zain al-Akhbar
  • 1208 AD: Mohammad Najib Bakran, Jahannameh

Some of the books of contemporary historians who have written about the Great Wall of Gorgan:

  • Marquardt in the cities of Iran
  • Rabino in his travelogue of Tabaristan and Estrabad
  • Roman Girshman in Iran from the beginning of Islam to the Sassanids
  • Saeed Nafisi in the history of the civilization of Sassanid Iran
  • Masih Zabihi in Estrabad Name
  • Asadullah Moeini in the historical geography of Gorgan and Dasht
  • Amin Goli in the political and social history of Turkmens
  • Lestrange in the lands of the Eastern Caliphate

Dimensions and Sizes of the Great Wall of Gorgan

There are various figures about the length of this structure. Some historians have estimated the length of this wall up to one hundred and eighty Farsang (old Iranian unit of measurement equal to 6.24 km). Many believe that this wall is part of a larger wall.

The Great Wall of Gorgan has a length of about 200 km and a width between 2 and 10 meters. Also, its possible height was 6 to 8 meters. Its main material is red brick with dimensions of 40X40X10 cm with lime mud mortar and in some places Saruj (traditional Iranian cement).

Also, this wall has got beautiful decorations with plaster mortar in some places. Along its route, this work has related facilities such as moats, forts connected to the wall, brick kilns, earthen dam, water supply channel, and the castles of cities adjacent to the wall on the north and south sides of the Gorgan wall. Also, in terms of fortifications and defense structure, it is more advanced than the Great Wall of China.

Constructional Materials Used in the Wall of Gorgan

The brick of the great wall of Gorgan
An exposed brick of the Great Wall of Gorgan

There are various predictions about the type of other materials in the wall. Some consider it stone and lead, others consider it brick and lime, brick and plaster, stone and plaster, marble and baked clay. A part of the wall has been unearthed in the village of Gogjeh (north of Kalaleh). This part is made of big bricks.

Researches by archaeologists from the universities of Edinburgh and Durham show that tens of millions of bricks were used in the construction of this wall. There were many kilns and brick-making workshops along the wall and in close proximity to it. This issue indicates a very large industrial workshop for the construction of the Great Wall of Gorgan. According to estimates, 30,000 soldiers could be stationed along the wall.

The Reason for the Construction of this Huge Ancient Wall

Human life throughout history has always been affected by accidents. Therefore, solutions have been devised to deal with these risks. Hundreds of years ago, many hazards of natural or human origin were able to destroy the lives of many people. Also, these dangers could remove signs of life from an area.

Based on this, the need to observe preventive measures to protect people from possible dangers has always been taken into consideration. The Great Wall of Gorgan is one of these arrangements for non-functional defense.

The Geographical Location of the Wall

The Great Waal of Gorgan starts from Kamesh Tepe beach, south of Atrak River and north of Turkmen Port. But the end is not exactly clear. The mouth of the Gorgan River, Khoja Ler village, Glidagh mountains or Aliabad Katul mountain peak are one of the destinations of the Gorgan Great Wall.

This Great Wall starts from the Caspian Sea in the Gomishan area and continues to the Golidagh Mountains in the northeast of Kalaleh. The railway line of Gorgan to Central Asia cuts a part of the north and south part of the historical wall of Gorgan. Therefore, this wall is divided into two halves.

In terms of climatic conditions, this wall is located in the mountainous and vast plains of Gorgan in the current Turkmen Sahra region. Gorgan River is known as the longest river in Golestan province. The direction of this river is east-west and it is located along the southern side of the Gorgan wall. Therefore, it played an important role in the construction of the Great Waal of Gorgan.

The Historical Background of the Wall

Part of the Great Wall of Gorgan
Part of the excavation of the Great Wall of Gorgan

Most historians consider Anushirvan, the Sassanian King, the founder of this wall. In some other sources, the beginning of the construction of this structure is attributed to Yazdgerd I (another Sassanian king) and its completion to Anushirvan. It is agreed that this wall was built to prevent the invasion of the desert tribes.

Many experts believe that the historical wall of Gorgan was built at the same time as the Great Wall of China. Also, both of them are made to deal with a group of attackers called Hephthalites. Ibn Esfandiar, the father of Mazandaran history, and Rabino, the western writer of the Qajar period, attributed this wall to Farkhan the Great.

Archaeologists estimated the age of the wall to the 5th and 6th centuries AD (Sasanian period) by taking samples and testing the remaining ashes and coals. At that time, the Sassanid Empire had constant wars with the Eastern Roman Empire.

Also, the residents of this region from Iran were facing the threat of Huns and other northern tribes from the north. Therefore, the great wall of Gorgan could block the penetration of these tribes into Iran. Therefore, the huge structure of the Gorgan wall was created between the Caucasus mountains and the coastline of the Mazandaran sea.

Pirouz, the Sassanid king, spent some time in the Gorgan region between 459 and 484 when he was fighting the White Huns. So probably he or another Sassanid king (before or after him) built this wall. Their goal was to protect the fertile plain of Gorgan as a strategic area.

The forts or barracks of the Great Wall of Gorgan show that it was active for at least a century after it was built. Signs of the presence of soldiers can be seen in it. But after that, it was abandoned for certain reasons.

Among the reasons for the abandonment of these defense facilities could be the need for more soldiers to be present in the battle with the Byzantine Empire or to resist the Arab attack.

This wall is longer than Hadrian’s Wall. Hadrian’s Wall was built by Emperor Hadrian on the border between England and Scotland. Also, this massive defensive wall is more than a thousand years older than most parts of the Great Wall of China. It took 90 years to build this wall. The Great Wall of Gorgan used to be the longest brick wall in the world once.

Iranian engineering during the Sassanid Empire competed well with Roman Empire engineering. It has even exceeded it in some cases.

The photo of this wall was first recorded by American archaeologist Eric Schmidt. In 1936 and 1937, Mr. Schmidt photographed the ancient places of Iran by plane. In the Gorgan region, he saw a red wall that stretches from the Caspian Sea to the Glidagh Mountains. He took photos of this wall and these photos became a document for the research of Iranian and foreign archaeologists on this wall.

Visiting the Great Wall of Gorgan

Gorgan Great Wall Excavation Site
A view of an excavation site of the Gorgan Great Wall

Due to the destruction and burial of the Gorgan wall under soil and sediments over time, it is difficult for tourists to access it. But four points (excavation workshop) along the path of the Gorgan wall have been excavated by archaeologists. These four points can be visited (find the map of these points on the relevant specialized site) and to visit the Great Wall of Gorgan, it is enough to visit one of them:

  1. Yasaqalq exploration workshop, Yasaqalk Bala village, Kalaleh city
  2. Qara Dib exploration workshop, Kasr village, Kalaleh city
  3. Gargar exploration workshop, Qara Yasar village, Kalaleh city
  4. Exploration workshop of Sari Su, Tamar village of Qaraqozi, Kalaleh city

“Destination Iran” recommends studying more about this wall to understand the climatic, historical, and geographical conditions of the region better. This will make your trip a conscious one. During your trip to this area, learn more about the tourist attractions of Gorgan.

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