Mills driven by the wind
To add to the other work on this site about Iranian crafts and craftsmen; this posting is about some old windmills – vertical-axis windmills, just like the world’s very oldest.
On 1 Nov 644, the caliph Omar is reputed to have asked a Persian slave, Abū Lo’lo’a, about a boast he had made that he would build a mill driven by the wind. The slave answered “By God, I will build this mill, of which the world will talk” – and talk the world still does, especially since Abū Lo’lo’a stabbed the Caliph to death on the following day. Al-Masudi (c.956) quotes Tabari (834-922) with this story.
Al-Masudi, his contemporary Istahri (c.951), and then the later geographer Al-Qazvini (d.1283) all wrote about Sistan, in eastern Persia, as the land of wind: “There the wind is never still”. The ruins of one of the massive, isolated mills in Sistan remains from the “prosperous days” of Malek Ḥamza (1619-45), the so-called ‘Chigini’ windmill: click here for a photo (scroll down to Figure 498)
In fact the famous 120-day-wind (bād-e sad-o-bīst rūz) affects both eastern Khorasan and Sistan (in the late summer and early autumn); and there are still some vertical axis windmills (called asiabad locally) in Khorasan – perhaps most famously in Nishtafun. When I first saw these, 4 or 5 years ago, only one was (very) occasionally operational. Although Iran’s Cultural Heritage News Agency (CHN) reported on the threat facing ‘the world’s oldest windmills’ in 2006; the video here – my 27 SECOND recommendation – shows windmills operational in Nishtafun (maybe in 2008?).
You can see how these windmills work if you click here – the wind is screened off from the sails except to propel them round. The animation does not show how the wind entry often has to be moderated using reeds or a curtain over the wind-slit: the wind locally is often at galeforce. And if you want to see how the actual milling parts work, click here, and find the second Figure, Fig 52.
If you want to know exactly where the windmills are, simply search for ‘nishtafun’ on Google Earth: you can then clearly see the three banks of mills (90m, 55m and 15m), just to the west of where Google Earth will take you. Notice the blank area just behind the mills, allowing for the wind to blow unimpeded. If you don’t have Google Earth, you’re missing lots – and it wouldn’t take much time (or computer space) to install – but if you’re resolute, try the good .