Yakhchal: The Ancient Refrigerator

12-04-2023 Wednesday 11:00 GMT+06:00
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Yakhchal: The Ancient Refrigerator
Rajeya Sultana


_The refrigerator is one of the most indispensable appliances of modern life. it’s almost unthinkable that a person can live with one or at least have other means to keep their food refrigerated.In that case ancients were wiser than some today believe.


When it comes to engineering, architectural wonders are omnipresent on almost every continent, whether that be the pyramids of Egypt, even entire underground cities such as Derinkuyu in Turkey’s Cappadocia region. One great example of smart and sustainable engineering brings us to the Middle East, a realm noted for being one of the cradles of civilization and developing human cultures.


The yakhchal (meaning ice pit) was a type of ancient refrigerator built in the deserts of Persia (now Iran), which was made without electricity, modern coolants, or most elements of modern refrigerators. It demonstrates the ability of humans to find solutions to problems with any materials or technology they have available.

By 400 BC, Persian engineers had mastered the technique of storing ice in the middle of summer in the desert. The ice was brought in during the winters from nearby mountains in bulk amounts, and stored in a Yakhchal, or ice-pit.


The Yakhchāl, an ancient Persian refrigerator, were used primarily to store ice for use in the summer. These edifices store not only ice but also many types of food that would otherwise quickly spoil at hot temperatures in the hot, dry desert climate of Iran. The ice was also used to chill treats for royalty during hot summer days and to make faloodeh, the traditional Persian frozen dessert.


Adjacent to some yakhchals, an east-west oriented wall would be built on the south side of the refrigerator and water would be brought into the yakhchal from the north side of the wall.


The reason for this was to keep the water cool during the middle of the day as it entered the yakhchal.


Yakhchal: The Ancient Refrigerator

Aboveground, the structure consists of a large mud brick dome, often rising as tall as 60 feet tall. Below are large underground spaces, up to 5000m³, with a deep storage space. The space often had access to a Qanat (A qanat is a system for transporting water from an aquifer or water well to the surface, through an underground aqueduct; the system originated approximately 3,000 years ago)or wind catch and often contained a system of wind catchers that could easily bring temperatures inside the space down to frigid levels in summer days.


The Yakhchal have thick mud brick walls that are up to two meters thick at the base, made out of a special mortar calledSarooj composed of sand, clay, egg whites, lime, goat hair, and ash in specific proportions, and which was resistant to heat transfer. This mixture was thought to be completely water impenetrable.

The massive insulation and the continuous cooling waters that spiral down its side keep the ice stored there in winter frozen throughout the summer. These ice houses used in desert towns from antiquity have a trench at the bottom to catch what water does melt from the ice and allow it to refreeze during the cold desert nights. Once the water was frozen, it would be cut up into blocks so that the water could be easily transported out of the yakhchal for drinking and other purposes. In addition to storing drinking water, the yakhchal was also used to keep food such as fruit, dairy products, and probably meat cool so that it would last longer.


Many Yakhchals in Iran, Afghanistan, and other parts of west and central Asia are still standing even after thousands of years. They represent the remnants of ancient Persia and are a part of the cultural heritage of Iran.

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