This post is part photoblog, part history lesson. What the hell are the Towers of Silence? Essentially they are a Zoroastrian structure used for excarnation of the dead. More on this later!
There are two Towers of Silence located on the outskirts of Yazd, 10km or 15mins drive from the city centre. Both of these towers can be seen in the image above. The tower on the left is a little higher than the one on the right.The image above, gives a fantastic aerial view of one of the towers of silence. The tower shown here is the one from the right hand side of the first image.
After entering the complex you will need to walk through a small grouping of abandoned buildings and then you have the option of climbing the tower on the left or right. Of course if you have enough time you can climb both!
So now, back to ‘excarnation‘. Excarnation is essentially the de-fleshing of a dead body and traditionally part of the funerary process for Zoroastrians.
Dead bodies would be placed inside the pits atop the Towers and left exposed to the elements. As the bodies break down, carrion birds, Vultures typically, would perform the excarnation.
When you reach the tops of the towers, you walk out onto a large circular platform with a pit in the middle. This pit is where the bodies would be placed to be excarnated.
This explains a little of the purpose of the towers, but it doesn’t explain why the pit needs to be located atop a tower built on a hill. For this, a little understanding of Zoroastrian doctrine is required. Firstly, Zoroastrian tradition considers a dead body to be unclean and with the potential to contaminate everything it comes into contact with. Secondly, both earth and fire (see Zam and Atar) are considered sacred and therefore must not come into contact with a dead body, lest they be contaminated with this uncleanliness. This makes both cremation and underground burial difficult in Zoroastrianism.
These days, the Towers of Silence are not used to dispose of bodies. The Towers ceased to operate after the 1970’s. There are few reasons for the discontinued use.
At one point, the Towers were placed well outside of the city of Yazd. But as the city grew, Yazd began to encroach on the Towers and now reaches right to their foot. This encroachment, as well as a general belief among Zoroastrians that the system was outdated resulted in the Towers being closed. These days the bodies are buried in graves lined with rocks and plastered with cement to prevent direct contact with the earth.
After the sun has gone down, it is worth wandering around the ruins at the base of the two towers. The twilight provides an eerie setting in which to explore the area and take photos.
My travel friend in Iran is shown exploring the ruins in these photos. You can check out her blog at TravellingTheWorldSolo.com. She is also behind the camera in any of the photos that contains me!
The easiest way to get to the towers is by taxi. Any taxi off the street in Yazd will be able to take you here for around 100,000 – 150,000 IRR (less than 4 euro). Lots of backpackers in Iran are going here so it’s easy to share a ride. The best time of the day to visit is around sunset. If you do, it is wise to speak to a taxi driver near the entrance and arrange for him to wait for you to finish and then take you back to your hotel/hostel afterwards.