Journey to The Great Wall of Gorgan or the “Red Snake”
It is known that THE greatest fortress in the world or the largest wall of defense is the Great Wall of China, but did you know there is another great wall that’s possibly just as extensive as the Great Wall of China? In fact, the wall I am writing about is older than the Great Wall of China. Could you’ve guessed that this wall is in Northern Iran? The Islamic Republic of Iran is full of surprises, and one which still begs so many answers, along with its lingering mysteries, is the Great Wall of Gorgan in Golestan province.
I was humbled and honored to be one of the few outsiders and possibly insiders to explore this magnificent piece of history–which some historians suggest is over 2, 200 years old, or more accurately 2,215 yo. Others theorized it was not constructed until the Sassanian period of Iran. One thing I do know for sure is: my journal entry today will bring you an intriguing history and my memorable journey to the Great Wall of Gorgan, or if you prefer a cooler name it is also known as the “Red Snake.” It is my desire to show you how great and deep Iranian history is and how advanced ancient civilizations of Persia were. Enjoy this journal entry along with my photos and captions.
For me the Red Snake is one of the most captivating sights in Iran that I’ve dropped in on to date. The defensive wall surrounds some of the most mystifying and fruitful lands of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is my desire to decode the past by getting familiar with these beautiful lands through exploring places such as the Great Wall of Gorgan. I often set out understand the mysteries that lie beneath me or perhaps right in front of me. There is no doubt, Iran has an array of attractions for any sort of day-tripper. However, visiting the “red snake” could appease just about every type of tourist. Personally, exploring the ruins of the historical bastion, uncovered by archaeologist, was like observing a grand mystery unfurl; which, has left me with an urge to explore the several other parts and fortifications that make it a whole unit. This goal may take me years to complete, as of now, 40 known fortifications or castles are connected, reaching out with extensions of red bricks for almost 200km at the least – all of which compromise this one colossal wall. My advantage, of course, is that most parts of the wall are hours or less from my home. So why not make it an objective of mine to get a little familiar with the history in my region? I set out for this adventure regarding the Red Snake over a year ago.
Looking for a wall location was not an easy achievement. Our small group traveled to unheard of villages–what we would call the “boondocks” in USA. We walked miles in the heat, through desert like terrain in the Gonbad region, looking for a glimpse of this magnificent piece of history. At one point, we found only a small portion of the red bricks that characterized the Red Snake. The bricks were stacked in layers right off a road side–just as described in a map–near an ancient irrigation canal that had been there since the construction of the wall.
The first section of the wall that we visited was unmarked, making it difficult to locate. We had to put our heads together with a vague map and the locals who knew the area– few of which even knew the fortress existed. It was not so astonishing, as you can see in the pictures. It was, however, remarkably in tact for being so old! If there was more to see it had not been uncovered at this point, possibly roadways now covered sections of the wall. Disappointment befell me and my group of explorers Mohsen, Ali and Mr. Maroufi. This tiny bit of uncovered brick was not what we expected from something called the “Great Wall.” By the time we found this small portion of the Red Snake we had endured hours of travel and hiking. My group pretty much wanted to end this little planned adventure. Nonetheless, being the stubborn lady that I am, I refused to waste the time and hours invested towards this journey. Moreover, I felt that if we found this small unit of the wall, there just had to be more. We were close to something that might be greater. I put up fight like a “goonie” gave the guys my spill, and said “there has to be more, this can’t be it!” I also put on my “puppy dog” face, and soon after they were back in the game.
Soaking wet with sweat, we continued down a path in a new direction. Then like a sign from the Almighty we crossed a sheep herder, and from him we got the 4/11! He pointed us towards the direction we were to go in. He warned us of the narrow paths that we had to follow in order to reach to the castle’s location. For a moment we hesitated, it was on a mountainside where river water was rapidly flowing. A steep drop off was below us, however, we came so far and only had a few miles or less to go. We proceeded carefully along the trail, enjoying the fruits and berries that hung from the trees and the wild life. We walked, investigating trees and fauna further along the ledges. Water was filling up around both sides. Again just as it has been described, “a fortress with a canal along side.”
“The ‘Red Snake’ in northern Iran, which owes its name to the red color of its bricks, is at least 195km long. The point of origin lays underwater beginning at the Caspian Sea. A canal, 5m deep or more, conducted water along most of the Wall. Its continuous gradient, designed to ensure regular water flow, bears witness to the skills of the land-surveyors responsible for marking out the Wall’s route.” “In 1999 a logistical archaeological survey was conducted regarding the wall due to problems in development projects, especially during construction of the Golestan Dam, which irrigates all the areas covered by the wall. At the point of the connection of the wall and the drainage canal from the dam, architects discovered the remains of the Great Wall of Gorgan. The 40 identified castles vary in dimension and shape but the majorities are square fortresses, made of the same brickwork as the wall itself and at the same period. Due to many difficulties in development and agricultural projects, archaeologists have been assigned to mark the boundary of the historical find by laying cement blocks.”
I became obsessed with finding the wall and probably quite delirious due to heat and lack of hydration. I kept going, perhaps it was the ancient spirits that encouraged me to continue. (I did mention, I was delirious from the heat too). I felt a force pulling me, calling me from the direction of the castle. It was in that moment once more, everyone was about to give up and go home. They became worried about it getting too late. I stayed persistent, along with my husband, looking for something greater. Suddenly, one of our men, “Ali” stopped dead in his tracks. He yelled for us “bia inja” he said, he was ahead about 1km. We popped some figs that we found growing wild and ran to Ali; and we too were stupefied, cornered by amazement.
Salawat. Just as we looked on… there was not a word of grievance. We had a moment of silence and prayer before we ran around the castle, in and out of cubicles, exploring every area possible. We were like children intrigued with a new toy.
We forgot about our worries and took in all that pleasurable feeling of amazement, which only comes a few times in your life if you’re lucky. Such ancient history stood before us, whether the wall was built initially by the Parthians or the Sassanians it was ancient–older than the times of Caesar perhaps. We talked about the kilns, which some suggest were for fire worship, but most likely they were for producing the red fired bricks, assembled to construct the massive fortress. “The fired bricks were made from the local loess soil, and fired in kilns along the line of the wall.” You can see these kilns in my photos. We took every moment in, appreciating the intellect of my husband’s ancestors and exploring what remained.
The area I visited near the Gorgan River, was more than likely one of these locations for making the bricks for the wall. Overall, my visit to the Red Snake was simply mesmerizing. I drew a lot of positive energy from this sight. It was breathtaking and magical to see something so profoundly ancient still intact. I hope to go again and possibly picnic at the Red Snake — with my family or friends — for another full day of adventure.
Tip: If you ever care to visit one or several fortifications of the Great Wall: I recommend that you find a guide who knows it well and has been there and done that. Or you can contact me by using one of the widgets (links) on my blog for twitter, instagram or facebook.