At a time when Iran’s cultural heritage is under dire stress, the Ministry of Oil has rushed to the rescue of Persepolis and the Bistun inscription.
Mehdi Hojjat, the deputy of Iran's Cultural Heritage and Tourism Department, says the Oil Ministry has signed an agreement to support a series of Cultural and Heritage action plans both in terms of protection and promotion. In addition, the two entities are to invest in the establishment of a Museum of Oil.
Hojjat stated that in other countries, different government bodies invest in cultural activities; therefore, the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Department decided to secure the support of the Ministry of Oil in restoring various ancient locations.
Problems at Persepolis and Bistun
Persepolis and Bistun are amongst Iran’s most famous ancient sites; they are also included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. However, both of these sites and a number of other historical sites in Iran are facing serious erosion due to natural and sometimes human causes.
Persepolis has faced serious problems with rapid rock erosion. During the rainy season, parts of the structure, especially the ancient treasury, face such severe pooling of water that at times the area has to be pumped out.
Archaeologists say that during the Achaemenid period, Persepolis had an advanced system for disposing of surface water and sewage; therefore, restoring the ancient structure could resolve the current problems. However, this would require comprehensive research followed by a significant restoration and protection project.
The Bistun stone inscription is also facing severe erosion due to natural factors; water has penetrated behind the stone, causing the gradual disappearance of the Cuneiform inscriptions and accompanying etched images.
The Bistun stone inscription dates back to 520 BCE. It depicts the victories of Darius I of the Achaemenids. In 2006, Bistun was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. There is an immediate need to divert water to keep it from pouring over the inscription, and stones overhead must be restored so that water no longer flows onto the etching.
Hossein Raii, the director of Bistun World Heritage headquarters, announced earlier that most of the Elamite inscriptions are fading away due to water erosion. Therefore, the University of Dresden in Germany has begun a process of scanning the inscriptions in order to document the images and the writings. The laser mapping of the area will also identify the cracks and spots where water is penetrating into the rocks.
Another historic site faces the same threat as Persepolis and Bistun: the tomb of Cyrus the Great, the first Achaemenid king and founder of the Persian Empire, located in the city of Pasargad. Experts have warned about ice and vegetation growth eroding the structures at the Pasargad site. In addition, holes in the stairs leading to the tomb turn into puddles in the rainy season and later freeze, creating cracks in the structure and eroding the stones.
Meagre Budget of Cultural Heritage Department
Despite the immediate need for restoration and protection, the Cultural Heritage Department has too meagre a budget to begin any long-term project to save Iran’s world-famous ancient sites.
Mehdi Hojjat has spoken out about the lack of adequate budgeting for his organization. Regarding the 100-day report of the Rohani administration, Hojjat spoke of the attempt to revitalize cultural heritage bases. He said, however, that such a plan requires the participation of other government bodies. Hojjat has complained that thousands of historical pieces were added in bulk to the Cultural Heritage list and then simply abandoned.
The report also indicates that many restoration workshops are failing to pay workers their wages due to insufficient budgets.
Shortage of expertise in the Cultural Heritage Department
The Cultural Heritage Department is also facing a serious shortage of expertise in its workforce. The head of the Cultural Heritage Department, Mohammad Ali Najafi, told a gathering of the organization’s research branch that over 60 percent of the organization’s employees have no more than a high school diploma. He also complained that the organization’s research results are not readily accessible and he called for a new approach in this regard.
The organization has often been criticized in the past for failing to publish the results of its research or share reports with other researchers and aficionados.The involvement of the Ministry of Oil with the Cultural Heritage Department has thus generated new hope for the country’s ancient sites that have long been in need of expert restoration and protection.