Almost any Yazd travel guide offers a visit to Sarv-e Abarkuh or the Cypress of Abarkuh, is one of the oldest trees in the world. Nobody knows how old this tree is and there are different estimates around this. The tree is also known as Parsik and grows very slowly. It stands next to a very old Qanat. This tree is always green, and it blooms in the middle of spring. It’s worth applying for an Iran visa to see this great mystery.
Cypress is present in Iranian history and Persian poetry as a long-standing symbol. Since it is ever-green and usually very tall, it has come to represent everlasting beauty in Persian literature. Many poets have used Cypress as either a symbol or a metaphor to talk about their beloved. Saadi, one of the greatest poets of all time, uses Cypress frequently to represent a beloved who is tall, beautiful, and proud. A very famous poem of his starts by “O tall cypress, O friend/how beautiful your face is”. Other poets, such as Hafez and Bidel, too, used cypress in similar ways.
In a broader sense, cypress represents life in Persian culture. A life that is evergreen, and glorious in all aspects. In a more historical context, you can see cypress on the walls of Persepolis. This alone shows that even back then, Cypress held a respected and celebrated place in Iranian culture. Cypress is also present on “Termeh”, a luxurious handwoven cloth, and in Persian miniature paintings, as a significant symbol of life.
The height of Sarv-e Abarkuh is 25 to 28 meters, and its perimeter is 11.5 meters at the trunk, and it becomes larger, at 18 meters, up around the branches. From afar, you can see a huge green sphere-like shape. As you get closer, it looks like a green cascade falling from the sky, but it’s actually just one tree.
There are many myths and legends revolving around the origin of the Cypress of Abarkuh. The main question which has dazzled people over time is how this tree has survived for such a long time. Some believe that Noah the prophet planted the seed of this cypress. Others, however, believe that the prophet Noah’s son, Japheth, planted the seed.
There is another story that tells Zoroaster planted the tree. This theory is a bit stronger because there is a very old mosque near the tree which belongs to the followers of Zoroaster and has certain associations with the tree. To the followers of Zoroaster, cypress was also symbolic of everlasting life, just like fire. However, all these are myths and we cannot be sure if they are true. The important thing is that this cypress continues to live and amaze people.
When researchers from around the world first studied this cypress, those from Japan and Russia came to the conclusion that the cypress is about 8000 years old. More detailed studies, however, after the Russian scientist Alexander Ruff’s study, revealed that the Cypress has been around for about four and a half thousand years.
As mentioned, there are many myths about this tree. Some people believe that Sarv-e Abarkuh has a spirit of its own. Nobody knows the exact origin of this story. But they say this spirit has been the protector of the tree for years. The spirit has kept the tree alive and will continue to do so. They even believe that the spirit is also the protector of Abarkuh itself.
Some others believe that Sarv-e Abarkuh makes their wishes come true. They tie small ribbons to the branches of the tree. When the wish comes true, they untie the ribbon.
A lot of people in the city believe that the tree is sacred, and they pray in front of it. It doesn’t mean that the tree has a specific place in their religion, of course. They might be Muslims or Zoroastrians. The tree inspires awe and respect in them.
Earlier, we mentioned that the cypress tree holds a symbolically significant place in the Persian culture. Sarv-e Abarkuh, as the oldest cypress of the world, is reasonably symbolic of many ideas in the Iranian literature and culture.
For one thing, the tree symbolizes freedom and liberty. The fact that it has survived all ups and downs of Iranian history makes it a symbol of freedom, resilience, and strength. It is also symbolic of old age. With old age comes wisdom and a treasure of life experience. The tree is also a symbol of justice and hope due to the respect it inspires in people and the fact that it’s always green.
Sarv-e Abarkuh is not a UNESCO heritage. It is still a huge tourist attraction. The tree has been an Iranian National Heritage since 2007, and its value is recognized by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Tourism, and Handicrafts.
The secret of the long life of Sarv-e Abarkuh is the climate in which it lives. In fact, the climate makes it very difficult for erosion to happen, both to the natural and man-made phenomena. Cypress is generally able to tolerate a dry climate. Abarkuh is close to the mountains, but it is a mainly desert-dominant area. It rains very rarely in Abarkuh, and there are moderate to strong winds. Being close to the mountain makes the area protected against harsh storms, and this highly reduces the probability of erosion. There is, however, enough subterranean water for the tree to remain alive. This is also a highlight of the area because there are many Qanats in and around Yazd. Also, some fences with the purpose of protection have been embedded.
So far, we established why cypress is important to the Iranian people. Then, there is no wonder why different kinds of cypress are present in Iranian gardens. Other than those in Yazd, Shirazian cypress is also famous and popular in Iran. You can find it, especially in Eram Garden in Shiraz. It’s actually the one that Saadi and Hafez refer to. But other kinds of cypress, such as False cypress, Fujian cypress, and Guaitecas cypress are also part of Iranian gardens.
There are other old trees in the world and Sarv-e Abarkuh is the third one. The other two trees are “Great Basin bristlecone pine” and “Methuselah” which are in order 5,062 and 4,845 years old. They are “Pinus longaeva” species and both of them stand in California’s White Mountains.
The other tree, which we can hardly remove from our memories, was The Senator. The Senator was 3500 years old. It was the biggest of bald cypress trees. Two people smoked inside the tree in 2012 and left their cigarettes inside it. The fire burnt it from inside. Another one is The Gran Abuelo, the oldest living tree in South America. This tree is in Chile, and its name means “the great grandfather”. It is 60 meters tall and almost 3600 years old.
Abarkuh is the oldest city in Yazd province, Iran. This city is on the Yazd-Shiraz highway. Also, the geographical location of this ancient city is in the middle of the three historical cities of Iran, namely, Isfahan, Yazd, and Shiraz. That means it is approximately in the triangle made by these three cities.
The name of the city means something close to “the town upon the mountains” in the Iranian language. The origin of the name goes back to the Sassanid era. It was originally “Bar Kooh”, and the Arabs pronounced it “Bar Ghoo”. Historians believe that, over time, the name changed to become “Abarkuh”.
Abarkooh is home to many historically significant places.
Aghazadeh Mansion and its famous windcatcher belong to the Qajar Dynasty. This is a national historic monument in Iran. You can see the picture of this building on the 20,000 rial bills in Iran.
The windcatcher is 18 meters high and covers an area of 18 square meters. It can adjust the air even if there is no wind out there, and even its appearance is different from the usual windcatcher. They made it in the form of a two-story structure, which is not typical of windcatchers. Iran tour packages for Yazd usually include a visit to this Qajar mansion.
Ice-house was a brilliant invention that was used before the refrigerators were built. This circular building is 12 meters tall. They used to keep ice in this well-engineered place. The one in Abarkuh belongs to the Qajar era. It has four parts, namely, the pond, the ice store, the shadow-casting walls, and the dome.
This historical monument goes back to the era of Daylamites in the 5th century AD. It has remained almost untouched and attracts many tourists each year. It is, in fact, a tomb belonging to the son of the governor of the time. The building is 22 meters high and stands on a mountain that you can easily see from afar. Visiting this place is usually part of any Iran tailor-made tour, and is highly recommended.
So, whether you’re fascinated to go and see the deserts in the world, ancient places, or even the oldest trees, Abarkuh is a great place to visit. Next time you travel to Iran, make sure you don’t miss visiting the oldest cypress of the world in this mysterious town.