Kangan and Banak, Iran

Kangan and Banak, Iran

Reza Shafaei

This chapter will explore the notion of urban identity in a specific locality in Iran, especially in regard to the role of sustainable development within current conditions of globalisation. Urban identity is a theme closely related to the culture, climate and lifestyle of the people who live in that particular town or city. Two settlements will be investigated: Kangan, a coastal port on the Persian Gulf in south-western Iran, and Banak, a smaller inland town that is almost attached to Kangan.1 As in effect a linked settlement, it sits on the main coastal road that connects two major sea ports, Bushehr (some 210 km to the north-west) and Bandar Abbas (about 400 km south-east).

Iran is one of the most politically significant developing countries in the Persian Gulf. It is also culturally and climatically diverse, and considered to be a family-based and religious society with its own traditional social structures. Iran has an oil-dependent economy and is recognised as one of the major oil producers as well as main fuel consumers in the world. After the Islamic Revolution 1979, the state has tried to establish a democratic-religious system. In doing so, it has adopted a closed policy towards the global marketplace and has encouraged resistance against any cultural, economic and political influences from western nations. Although these conditions have left Iran less influenced by external forces, the country with its very young population has experienced internal unrest in recent years, which can be interpreted as a search for a contemporary identity and a demand for liberal democratic policies. The social movements that spread around Arab countries, and became known as the ‘Arab Spring’, hint at more changes in the future of the region. Iran will not be immune.

In addressing urban development at the private, public and global scales, this chapter explores themes of cultural identity and climatic comfort as well as economic status in relation to global changes. This will be done by analysing transformations in the socio-cultural environment as well as the physical environment. In particular, the chapter will ask a number of questions. Firstly, how is global capitalism affecting or changing Kangan and Banak, whether as a result of economic boom or recession? Secondly, how are new conditions of globalisation affecting or changing traditional architecture there? How does the local community deal with issues of cultural identity in light of global social changes? How does the community try to represent and symbolise its cultural identity? How does the community use the settlement and what are the everyday patterns of habitation? How do people deal with the local climatic conditions? And lastly, how is climate change affecting or changing the specific town or city, and what steps are being adopted to deal with this problem? (See Plate 21)


13.1 Linked cities of Kangan and Banak on the eastern coastline of the Persian Gulf


Kangan and Banak are located in the extreme south-eastern end of Bushehr Province, and they form the heart of Kangan County. At an average altitude of just 9 m above sea level, both settlements are very low-lying. Kangan is a port neighboured by the waters of the Persian Gulf to the west and the Zagros Mountains and city of Dashti in Fars Province to the east. Banak, meanwhile, is a town which is now all but linked to Kangan, with the consequence being that both settlements profoundly interact with each other. As a stopping point on the coastal road in southern Iran, as well as a seaport connected to others in the Gulf region, the combined Kangan-Banak settlement acts as a halfway-house for people and products which come, stay or leave. Their combined settlement area is 1,402 km2, nestling on the spot where the gentle slopes of the Zagros Mountains meet the sea.2 The port has a harbour that is 9 m deep, making it one of the most suitable places for sea-related activities in the area. However, large ships cannot land in Kangan, and instead it is used for fishing boats and smaller ships known as lenj.

Kangan County is a largely traditional area, with Kangan only being officially a municipality since 1953 (i.e. for only 60 years). It is also one of the most interesting areas along this northern coast of the Persian Gulf due to its natural and cultural attractions. In fact, the settlement of Kangan-Banak ‘plays an important historical, economical and strategic role in the region’.3 As Sani Al-Doleh writes in his invaluable book, Merat Albaldan, the historical background of this region dates to 336 BC when Alexander the Great sent food supplies to his troops via the port of Siraf (now Bander-e-Taheri), some 40 km to the south.4 Siraf was for a long period an important trading and commercial harbour for the Persian Gulf, and, as historians note, Kangan only began to develop after Siraf was heavily destroyed in the 10th century AD. By 1916, albeit still a small settlement, Kangan had grown enough to have its own customs house.5 As well as the wonderfully fish-populated sea, the beautiful inland mountains are the other key natural resource, along with the Mianloo mineral thermal springs to the north-east and Mond River to the north. Traditionally, the local architecture has adapted itself to the natural environment and climatic conditions: Nasoori Castle in Siraf’s old port is one of the most fascinating examples and has survived for hundreds of years.6


13.2 Palm trees as the main greenery in the area


13.3 Impact of recent droughts on the local environment


The climate of the Kangan and Banak area is hot and humid with extreme summers and mild winters. Statistics report that the highest temperature reaches 52°C, and can go as low as 0°C in winter.7 In the summer, a wind called the ‘120 Day Wind’ blows across the region. It is a dry and harsh wind described as Tash Bad – which means ‘Fire Wind’ in local terminology – and it sometimes impacts strongly on urban life and human comfort. In addition, earthquakes and floods are two of the major natural threats which need to be considered in designing any development.8


13.4 Old and new generations reflected in their attitude and clothing

Due to its seafront location, Kangan is especially sultry, with high humidity. The region has a low level of precipitation which only lasts for four months from December to March, meaning that Kangan and Banak are constantly confronted by a lack of water resources. There is no surface water or permanent river flowing through the settlements, although, since it is situated between mountains and sea, a number of seasonal rivers do occur, even if they are mostly completely dry. This condition, coupled with physical interventions made to the waterways, has caused seasonal flooding especially in recent years. Mountain trees in the forest park to the east, along with some areas of green croplands to the west, next to the coast, add to the natural potential of Kangan and Banak. Any agricultural production, however, needs to be based on tapping into underground water resources, and indeed local people have traditionally built down water shafts to acquire water. Typical crops include tomatoes, dates, wheat, barley, onions, aubergines and other vegetables. Otherwise, because of the poor soil quality and climatic conditions, the natural vegetation of the area consists of short plants with rough leaves.


According to the last official statistics from 2006 there were 95,349 people in Kangan County, constituting about 10 per cent of the population of Bushehr Province.9 Just over half of this population (52 per cent) reside in urban centres in the province whilst the remainder (48 per cent) are in rural areas. In comparison to surrounding counties, agricultural lifestyles thus play a more significant role in Kangan County. In addition, more than 80 per cent of the people, especially men, have only a basic education. The lack of higher-level educational institutions results in a heavy dependence on other cities within Bushehr Province as well as an inability to provide a suitably qualified workforce for local industries. The fact that 44 per cent of the population are between 15–29 years old reveals that Kangan County has the highest proportion of young people in Bushehr Province, creating a real need for proper action to meet their needs in terms of education, jobs, entertainment etc. In addition, it appears from the 2006 census that Kangan itself contained around 24,000 permanent inhabitants occupying 3,035 housing units.10 A further sizeable number of the local population in Kangan County, around 12,000 men, were temporary skilled and unskilled labourers who worked mostly in the Pars-e-Jonoubi gas field or the industrial zone in the Assalouyeh corridor to the south. Today, it is estimated that Kangan’s population is still around the 25,000 mark, thus making it significantly larger than Banak with just 9,000 inhabitants.


13.5 Pottery as a traditional local micro-industry

The vast majority of the people in Kangan and Banak are Shi’ite Muslims, and a minority are Sunni Muslims, as is usual in Iran. The spoken language is mostly Farsi (Persian) with a local dialect. Due to the close economic relationships with Arab countries on the other side of the Persian Gulf, a fair amount of local people also speak Arabic. Having experienced often volatile histories, a diverse range of ethnic and religious groups have settled in Kangan and Banak at various times, leaving their physical and cultural traces. For example, in Kangan there is an old Jewish temple which has been destroyed recently but which remains a visible trace of other cultures that have marked the place. This multicultural experience in collective memory enables inhabitants to adapt the culture of ‘others’ with less resistance. In his book on The Persian Gulf in the Age of Colonialism, Valara has noted: ‘In 1911, two hundred and fifty new family units settled in Kangan port; while two hundred of them were Jewish and the rest were Arab or non-Arab (Fars).’11 Today, however, almost all people are Fars, i.e. Persian Muslims, and there are no more Jews at all.


13.6 National gas industries are turning Kangan-Banak into a heavily industrialised area


The initial core of Kangan was composed of two main districts: Mahaleh Arabha (‘Arab area’) and Mahaleh Koozehgari (‘Pottery Area’). Despite a generally peaceful relationship between religions, this urban division was apparently based on the grounds that the ‘Arab area’ was settled by Sunni Muslims and the other by Shi’ite Muslims. According to the latest master-plan for Kangan, once the old town developed, it became divided into six districts, nine urban areas and one urban centre.12

Due to its coastal location, the main economic activity in Kangan is fishing and sea-trading – with, as noted, a small amount of agriculture next to the settlement. Industrial expansion in Kangan County generally has already begun to grow due to its close proximity to Iran’s largest gas and petrochemical industries. The huge gas facility at Pars-e-Jonoubi is one of the largest energy sources in the world, transforming this region rapidly from sea-based activities to becoming one of the main industrial poles of Iran in recent years. Assalouyeh is one of the ‘special economic zones’ (SEZ) and it contains the largest concentration of industrial functions in Bushehr Province. A second industrial zone, called the ‘Kangan Site’, and planned to become twice the size of Assalouyeh, has been started just 10 km from Kangan. Furthermore, one of Iran’s most important cement factories, Sarooj-E-Kangan, is situated 12 km from the town, and is heavily involved in exporting to Europe and Asian countries. All these initiatives have attracted huge amounts of economic investment, turning the image of Kangan County into an industrial region. Liberalised trade policies in the free-trade zones along the southern Iranian coast have resulted in a surge in imported foreign products, and indeed the SEZs were set up especially to encourage the transit of goods by freeing them from normal taxation duties.

Bearing in mind the presence of these mega-plants along the coastline, and the fact that about 50 per cent of local people are now involved in related service trades, there are no sizeable industrial activities within Kangan itself. For many years, handicrafts were prevalent in Kangan County, particularly in rural areas, and a few fascinating but small industries such as pottery can be still found in the town. Due to the importance of water in this hot region, pottery production has generally focussed on jugs, water jars, pitchers, and ghelyan.13 But it is still sea-related occupations that form the economic backbone of Kangan, with 35 per cent of its inhabitants being involved in fishing and sea trading, 10 per cent in agricultural activities, and 5 per cent in governmental activities.14 Yet research also shows that new factors such as consumerism are increasing fast, meaning that productive trades such as pottery, baking and livestock rearing are declining. Recent economic changes have also caused many sea traders to switch to property investment because of the high demand for properties in the area.


13.7 Example of a self-made shop built by local merchants


13.8 Newly-built market using concrete and steel which is very quiet during the day as it is so hot

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Oct 25, 2020 | Posted by in General Engineering | Comments Off on Kangan and Banak, Iran
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