For countless centuries the world’s largest adobe building was the Bam Citadel in the southeast of modern-day Iran, begun before 500 BC and still in use as late as 1850. This splendid complex on the famed ‘silk road’ connecting China to the Mediterranean was at the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the modern town of Bam grew up around the citadel’s impressive 7 m (23 ft) walls. Sadly, the word “was’ must be used because this magnificent ancient structure was virtually destroyed in 2003.
The Bam earthquake struck in the early hours of December 26. It measured 6.5 on the Richter scale but destruction was much greater than an occurrence of that magnitude might suggest because many buildings, including the citadel, were built of mud bricks. This construction technique had traditionally been used in surrounding villages and was continued as the city expanded. Iran introduced new building regulations designed to minimize earthquake damage in 1989, but by then it was too late for most of Barn’s buildings – especially housing.
Because the city’s population was asleep when the earthquake struck, more people were killed than would have been the case had everyone been out and about. Over 26,000 died on that terrible night, while about another 30,000 were injured in and around Bam – a fearful regional toll as the population of Bam itself was just 43,000.
A massive relief effort was mounted with the support of many countries and a meticulous reconstruction of the Bam Citadel was initiated by the Iranian government with help from the USA, France, Italy and Japan. A concurrent plan was devised to rebuild the devastated city. This did not meet with the general approval of survivors, but nonetheless proceeded along lines determined by central government.
When: December 26 2003
Where: Bam, Kerman Province, Iran
Death toll: The official casualty figure is 26,271.
You should know: In March 2007 Mother Nature delivered a reminder of her powers to survivors of the 2003 quake – a sandstorm whipped up by 130 kph (80 mph) winds that enveloped Bam, suffocating three children, causing fatal car accidents and injuring a dozen or more residents of the re-emerging city.