Kish Underground City


Useful Information

Location: Near Safil, Kish Island.
Open: All year.
Fee: free.
Classification: SubterraneaQanat SubterraneaUnderground City
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: Ar=18,000 m², D=16 m.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: yes
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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8th century Harireh heydays.


The island of Kish, 93 km² in size and 18 km off the Iranian coast is Iran's first Free Trade-Industrial Zone. It is one of the nearest visa free zone exits from the United Arab Emirates, only 240 km from Dubai, and thus very popular for day and weekend trips. Beneath toll free shopping opportunities, there are numerous archaeological sites. The ancient cities Payab and Harireh, and Kish Underground City are the most poular archaeological sites on the island. About 75% of the visitors are from the UAE.

The Kish Underground City seems to have no real name. It is called Kariz, Underground Town of Cariz, or Qanat of Kish. But this are not really names, it describes what it is, an kariz or qanat. Both names mean the same, an underground structure which is intended to collect, purify and store water. Obviously this always was an important, sometimes an essential task, to allow life in this arid climate.

The kariz was started about 2,500 to 2,000 years ago, but got its current shape between 8th century and 12th century, by the inhabitants of Harireh city. The ancient water management system collected water from 274 wells in an area of 14 km² and conducts the water to a central filter shaft. The central shaft was filled with three layers of filter material. The top layer was coral gravel which was used to neutralize the acids in the water and filter bigger solids in the water. Then a layer of coral grit with clay was filtering fine solids, and the lowest lever was made of marn, a special sort of clay.

Obviously the amount of water which flows through the different layers decreases from top to bottom. Because of this, water was collected from different heights. After the first layer of filtration it was used for irrigating fields, and the best quality water at the bottom was for drinking. There were even underground tunnels which allowed sailing boats to enter the lowest level and collect drinking water from the lowest well. The vast underground structure was abandoned long time ago, when Harireh city was abandoned at least 800 years ago.

Modern technology allows filtering much more water but needs a lot of energy. The abandoned city was rediscovered in 1999, when a project was started to build an underground shopping complex. The complex was developed for numerous shops and restaurants, traditional tea houses, amphitheaters, conference centers, and art galleries. At first it had a size of 10,000 m², in 2006 it was enlarged to 18,000 m², about 16 m below the surface. Additional 60,000 m² of residential, shopping, and leisure centres are built on the surface above the underground structure.

As a part of the shopping center, providing some historical authenticity, the qanat with the original water filtering unit was renovated. It now works again, filtering continually water, which is used mainly for irrigation. The qanat is a part of the mall and was quite massively modified. The restauration project was financed by Mansour Haji-Hosseini, an Iranian who lives in Germany.