These 600 year-old wind turbines in Iran are still in operation. But their fate is uncertain.
Blowing in the wind at Nashtifan, Iran, near the borders of Afghanistan and Turkhmenistan, they are believed to have been erected during Iran’s Safavid dynasty, 1501-1736. The design of the windmills, with their vertical shafts, goes back even further than the Safavid era. Some historians believe as far back as 500AD, more than 1,500 years ago.
For all those years the windmills have been tended by windmill keepers, sort of like lighthouse keepers. The current custodian is a man named Mohammad Etebari who has dedicated his life to keeping the historic sails turning. Sadly, but not surprisingly, there are no young people interested in carrying on when Etebari is gone.
Watch the National Geographic video below to see the windmills in action and see Mohammed speak so eloquently about the “life giving air” that powers these ancient wonders.
Mohammed Etebari is the current custodian
The area is noted for its strong winds and Nish Toofan means ‘storm’s sting’ so its easy to see why these windmills were placed here.
They were (and still are) used to grind grain. No one knows how many there were in Nashtifan in the past, but there are now about 30, each of them about 65 feet (20 metres) tall.
Each windmill has eight chambers and each chamber has four to six blades.
The grindstones for the milling are housed in the clay buildings underneath the turbines themselves. (Yes, turbine doesn’t refer to the electricity-making part of a windmill, it just means a machine that turns because of a moving fluid or gas.)
In an ingenious design twist, vibration caused by the spinning of the shafts moves around grain in a holding container and it gets sifted down to the grinding stones to be made into flour.
In 2002, the windmills of Nashtifan were recognized as a national heritage site by Iran.They are also on the Tentative List of UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Mohammed Etebari continues to look over and after these historic machines. Hopefully someone will carry on the tradition when he is gone.