Meymand (also spelt Maymand and Maimand) is a village of troglodytes – cave dwellers – located in the south-eastern Iranian province of Kerman. Meymand (Maymand, Maimand) village has been continuously inhabited for 2,000 to 3,000 years making it one of Iran’s four oldest surviving villages. By contrast the troglodytic village of Kandovanin northwest Iran is said to have been inhabited for 700 years. Some claim that Meymand / Maymand village has been inhabited for 12,000 years, that is, since the middle stone ages, making it a mesolithic village. Reportedly, 10,000 year old stone engravings and 6,000 year-old pottery have been discovered at the site.
The village is a UNESCO world heritage site and was awarded UNESCO’s 2005 Melina Mercouri prize. UNESCO compares Meymand / Maymand with villages of Kandovan, Hille Var, Sour, Ghorveh, Vind, Tamin, Kharg Zoroastrian hypogea, Zoroastrian houses around Tabas, Jahlkhaneh in Bushehr, Kapadocia, Metra, some regions in south of England, Jordan and China.
While many Iranian desert villages are fairly non-descript in appearance most of the time (their beauty is found within the courtyards and homes), Maymand is in comparison stark in appearance and perhaps even unattractive in the usual sense. The villagers have done little to add colour to the natural earth tones of the landscape. Their homes and streets have no potted flowers or ornamental plants. The village’s stark appearance is complimented by Spartan life of its inhabitants. Adults wear sober coloured clothes and visitors have noted in their travel logs that they could hear no music.
The village has a present peak population of between 130 and 150 people many of whom are semi-nomadic shepherds, living in the village caves during the winter when the population is at its highest and migrating to higher pastures in the summer leaving about 60 residents in the village.
Links to Zoroastrian and Pre-Zoroastrian Customs
According to local tradition, Maymand was a Zoroastrian settlement before the advent of Islam and that prior to become Zoroastrian, the residents worshipped the sun. (We have not come across reports about the villagers’ present beliefs.)
One of the cave units is that is now a museum has a sign post stating that was an Atash-Kadeh, a fire temple [also called Kicheh Dobandi, kicheh means cave-dwelling (see Construction of the Cave Dwellings below) and dobandi means two bands perhaps signifying two enclosures], and there are claims that the ancient inhabitants also worshipped pre-Zoroastrian Mithraism.
It is said that the original inhabitants did not bury their dead, but placed them in crypts carved into the mountainside. In addition, the village contains a 400 square metre complex of fifteen circular rooms where bones and personal belongings have been found, suggesting that it too was used as a crypt or even an ossuary.
The local language retains elements of Sassanian Middle Persian (sometime called Pahlavi).