Great Wall of Gorgan: A Sassanid-Era defensive system

Walls have always been one of the most important defense elements of any city to block enemies. There are famous walls in the world. The largest defense wall in the world is the Great Wall of China, followed by the White Wall of Germany. The third one is the Great Wall of Gorgan (Iskander’s Great Wall, the Red Wall), which is registered as a national monument in Iran.

This wall is named Red Snake in old texts. Also, its location has been very strategic. Now, this entire wall is almost gone; only small parts of it have remained, which are buried under the soil, reported.

The Great Wall of Gorgan has been mentioned in many historical writings.


Dimensions and sizes


There are various figures on the length of this structure. Some historians have estimated the length of this wall to be one hundred and eighty farsang (old Iranian unit of measurement equal to 6.24km). Many believe that this wall is part of a larger wall.

The Great Wall of Gorgan has a length of about 200km, and a width between two and 10 meters. Also, its possible height was six to eight meters. Its main material is red brick with lime mud mortar, and in some places saruj (traditional Iranian cement).

Also, this wall has beautiful decorations with plaster mortar in some places. Along its route, this work has related facilities such as moats, forts connected to the wall, brick kilns, an earthen dam, water supply channel, and the castles of cities adjacent to the wall on the north and south sides of the wall. Also, in terms of fortification and defense structure, it is more advanced than the Great Wall of China.


Construction materials


There are various estimates about the type of other materials in the wall. Some consider it to be stone and lead; others say brick and lime, brick and plaster, stone and plaster, marble and baked clay. A part of the wall has been unearthed in the village of Gogjeh (north of Kalaleh). This part is made of big bricks.

Researches by archaeologists from the universities of Edinburgh and Durham show that tens of millions of bricks were used in the construction of this wall. There were many kilns and brick-making workshops along the wall. This indicates a very large industrial workshop for the construction of the Great Wall of Gorgan. According to estimates, 30,000 soldiers could be stationed along the wall.


Reason for its construction


Human life throughout history has always been affected by accidents. Therefore, solutions have been devised to deal with these risks. Hundreds of years ago, many hazards of natural or human origin were able to destroy the lives of many people. Also, these dangers could remove signs of life from an area.

Based on this, the need to observe preventive measures to protect people from possible dangers has always been taken into consideration. The Great Wall of Gorgan is one of these arrangements for defense.


Geographical location


This Great Wall starts from the Caspian Sea in the Gomishan area and continues to the Golidagh Mountains in northeast of Kalaleh. The railway line of Gorgan to Central Asia cuts a part of the north and south parts of the historical wall of Gorgan. Therefore, this wall is divided into two halves.

In terms of climatic conditions, this wall is located in the mountainous and vast plains of Gorgan, in the current Turkmen Sahra region. Gorgan River is the longest river in Golestan Province. The direction of this river is east-west, and it is located along the southern side of the Gorgan Wall. Therefore, it played an important role in the construction of the Great Wall of Gorgan.


Historical background


The Sassanid Empire, named after the House of Sassan, was founded by Ardeshir I in 224 CE, after succeeding the Parthian Empire, and grew to a territory that stretched from the eastern Mediterranean to present-day Pakistan and from parts of southern Arabia to Central Asia.

The empire is considered the last Persian imperial dynasty before the Muslim conquest, 633-651 CE, and represents the peak of ancient Persian culture (influencing European and Asian medieval art).

Most historians consider Anushiravan, a Sassanid King, to be the founder of this wall. In some other sources, the beginning of the construction of this structure is attributed to Yazdgerd I (another Sassanid king), and its completion to Anushiravan. It is agreed that this wall was built to prevent invasion by desert tribes.

Many experts believe that the Great Wall of Gorgan was built at the same time as the Great Wall of China. Also, both are made to confront a group of attackers called Hephthalites. Ibn Esfandiar, a great historian, and Rabino, the Western writer about the Qajar Period, attributed this wall to Farkhan the Great.

Archaeologists estimated the age of the wall to the fifth and sixth centuries CE (Sassanid Period) by taking samples and testing the remaining ashes and coals. At that time, the Sassanid Empire had constant wars with the Eastern Roman Empire.

Also, the residents of this region from Iran were facing the threat of Huns and other northern tribes. Therefore, the Great Wall of Gorgan could block the penetration of these tribes into Iran. Therefore, the huge structure of the Gorgan Wall was created between the Caucasus Mountains and the coastline of the Caspian Sea.

Pirouz, the Sassanid king, spent some time in the Gorgan region between 459 and 484, when he was fighting the White Huns. So probably he or another Sassanid king (before or after him) built this wall. Their goal was to protect the fertile plain of Gorgan as a strategic area.

The forts or barracks of the Great Wall of Gorgan show that it was active for at least a century after it was built. Signs of the presence of soldiers can be seen in it. But after that, it was abandoned.

Among the reasons for the abandonment of these defensive facilities could be the need for more soldiers to be present in the battle with the Byzantine Empire, or to resist the Arab attack.

This wall is longer than Hadrian’s Wall, which was built by Emperor Hadrian on the border between England and Scotland. Also, this massive defensive wall is more than 1,000 years older than most parts of the Great Wall of China. It took 90 years to build this wall. The Great Wall of Gorgan used to be the longest brick wall in the world.

Iranian engineering during the Sassanid Empire competed well with Roman Empire engineering. It even exceeded it at times.

The photo of this wall was first recorded by American archaeologist Eric Schmidt. In 1936 and 1937, Schmidt photographed the ancient sites of Iran by plane. In Gorgan, he saw a red wall that stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Golidagh Mountains. He took photos of this wall, which became a document for the research of Iranian and foreign archaeologists.


Visiting the Great Wall of Gorgan


Due to the destruction and burial of the Gorgan Wall under soil and sediments over time, it is difficult for tourists to access it. But four points along the path of the Gorgan Wall have been excavated by archaeologists. These four points can be visited; to visit the Great Wall of Gorgan, it is enough to visit one of them.