People, Travel

Nashtifan Windmills Grinding Slowly

 In 2002, the windmills were recognized as a national heritage site. In 2002, the windmills were recognized as a national heritage site.

In eastern Iran, in a tiny village in Khorasan Razavi Province, windmills that are over a thousand years old still stand, and thanks to the commitment of a single individual, they still turn.

In an article about the ancient windmills of Nashtifan, National Geographic contributor Brian Clark Howard writes how an ancient tradition may soon be lost forever.

Excerpts of the article, published online on Jan. 16, follow:

Mohammad Etebari serves as the last keeper of an ancient tradition. Now elderly, Etebari has dedicated his life to keeping the town’s few dozen windmills turning.

But Etebari does not know how much more time he has and none of the younger generation seem to be interested in the hard work of daily maintenance. Without his regular attention, the windmills that have put the town on the tourist map may one day stop.

“It’s the pure, clean air that makes the windmills rotate—the life-giving air that everyone can breathe,” Etebari says.

Made of natural clay, straw and wood, the windmills have been milling grain for an estimated 1,000 years. The vertical axis design is probably similar to the windmills invented by the Persians around 500 C.E.—a design that slowly spread through the world and which was later adapted by the Dutch and others.

There are approximately 30 windmills scattered throughout the area and can reach heights of 15-20 meters. They are located on hilltops—overlooking the city’s old cemetery—which can get the maximum of the wind power. With the speed of the wind at times reaching 120 kilometers per hour, the windmills are established perpendicular to the direction of the wind flow to maximize its output.

Each of the windmills of Nashtifan comprises eight chambers, with each chamber housing six blades. As the area’s strong, steady wind turns the blades, it starts moving the grindstones.

The region is so well known for its wind that the name Nashtifan is derived from words that mean “storm’s sting”.

The devices readily glean enough power from the strong wind to turn the stone. If they were hooked up to a generator, they would produce only a small amount of electricity, possibly not even enough for a light bulb. Today’s power-harvesting turbines have more efficient designs that take advantage of lift to attain higher speeds, and therefore produce much more power.

In 2002, the windmills were recognized as a national heritage site by Iran. Yet their future remains uncertain. There are easier ways to mill grain now and Etebari does not know if anyone will take up the mantle of keeping the windmills turning when he is gone. If that happens, a piece of living history would be lost.

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