Before the invention of the refrigerator, which is a relatively modern invention, ice was a precious commodity that couldn’t be easily obtained or made, especially during the summer. To preserve meat and other food items, huge blocks of ice had to be imported all the way from Scandinavian countries in the Arctic Circle or from mountain tops carefully insulated with straw. In the US, the UK and other countries in Europe, ice was brought in from Norway. The Russians collected ice along the Neva River while the Indians got their share from the Himalayas. The ice was stored in specially made buildings called ice houses and they lasted throughout the year.
The most common designs involved underground chambers, usually man-made, which were built close to natural sources of winter ice such as freshwater lakes. During the winter, ice and snow would be taken into the ice house and packed with insulation, such as straw or sawdust. It would remain frozen for many months, often until the following winter, and could be used as a source of ice during summer months. This could be used simply to cool drinks, or allow ice-cream and sorbet desserts to be prepared.
Ice-houses were known in Iran as early as the seventeenth century B.C., and these were used as recently as 50 years ago. Many disused egg shaped ice houses made from mud bricks still exist in Iran. Iranian ice houses are gigantic in size compared to those found in the west, and they were unique because of the way ice was obtained.
Iran is largely a desert where fresh water is rare and even in winter, when the temperature falls to freezing at night, the mid-day sun is hot. Huge quantities of ice would be needed to fill these vast, domed wells and this cannot be arranged to be transported from far off places. The ingenious Iranians, instead, made their own ice.
Behind each ice houses are long shallow channels where water is poured during the winter nights. The channels were protected from heat during the day by shade walls. At night, a thick layer of ice is formed over the surface. This was broken and collected before the sun could rise and moved to the ice houses. This was repeated each night until there was enough
Ice-houses were known in Iran as early as the seventeenth century B.C., and these were used as recently as 50 years ago.
ice to last the next summer. Several shaded walls, deep wells and cleverly constructed domes kept the heat out.
The well-known and existing Iranian ice houses are mostly in Yazd province, such as those in Islamiyeh Village of Taft, Meybod and Abarkouh.
Ice house in Yazd, IranMeybod Ice House
Located 60 kilometers to the north of the provincial capital of Yazd, Meybod is one of the most ancient historical towns of the province. The ice house in the city of Meybod is the most ancient and important monument.
The ice house includes a pond, an ice reservoir, a dome covering the ice reservoir and a freezing compartment.
Ice House in Meybod Iran
The large rectangular pond, half a meter in depth, is situated to the north of the monument. The elliptical ice reservoir of the ice house has been carved into the earth and is six meters deep.
The dome covering the ice reservoir keeps the ice frozen. The freezing compartment has a mud pond with an area of 800 square meters. It is half a meter deep, while its walls are two meters thick and eight meters high. It includes 14 vaults and 16 columns.
The freezing compartment of Meybod Ice House has attracted the attention of many cultural heritage experts. The monument has been repaired by the Yazd Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Department.
Inside the ice house in Meybod
In ancient times, a cold shadow was cast by the eastern, western and southern walls of the monument on its northern space in winter.
During the coldest days of the season, once the large shallow pond was repeatedly filled with aqueduct water overnight, large pieces of ice were formed. The ice was then broken into pieces and taken to the ice reservoir under the dome.
Similar to an ice flask, the unbaked mud-brick dome preserved the ice piles, which were used by caravans and people.
This historical monument is situated adjacent to the city’s historical Post Office (Chaparkhaneh) and Caravansary. It was registered on the National Heritage List in 1996.
The dome of ice house in MeybodAbarkouh Ice House
The ice house in Abarkouh is another cultural monument in the province, which is of historical importance.
The ice house is conical, made of unbaked brick and mud, and more than 25 meters high.
There are two more ice houses in the provincial town of Abarkouh and one in Sadouq, which date back to the Qajar era.
Ice House in Abarkuh, Iran
More than a hundred ice house can be found all over Iran, but very few exist in its original form and full extent. Unless a concerted effort is made in terms of restoration and preservation, the prognosis is not good for the majority of Iran’s ice houses. Sources: amusingplanet; cais-soas