Isfahan's Ancient Pigeon Towers
August 24, 2008 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Isfahan's Ancient Pigeon Towers were fabulously intricate works of architecture meticulously designed for the manufacture of pigeon guano.

Here are some pictures of them- there are over 100 in Isfahan alone.

More on 'dovecotes' in the western world.
posted by BuddhaInABucket (20 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
That's some amazing shit.
posted by billypilgrim at 9:38 AM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

So Iran is the reason we have all these flying rats around... now I understand why we want to declare war on them!

Still pretty cool.
posted by The Power Nap at 9:47 AM on August 24, 2008

First link starts a flash movie, usually nice to just mention that in the post
posted by mediareport at 9:47 AM on August 24, 2008

From the slideshow:
More importantly, if all the pigeons take flight at once then because of the phenomenon of resonance there would be the danger of the sound waves tearing up the birds, if the tower design had not been specially acoustically designed.

I can see the Fox News scroller now....

posted by xthlc at 9:49 AM on August 24, 2008

The idea that, with a different design, acoustic resonance would damage the pigeon's wings if they all took off together is nonsense, but the rest is very interesting. The circular interior is a veritable acoustic trap, if they were trying to avoid acoustic resonance the design would be quite different. Resonance would be more of a problem for the structure itself, not the pigeon's wings. Maybe their eardrums, but I find even that doubtful.

The 'architectural genius' of the pigeon towers rest in their ergonomics, not any special knowledge their builders might have had about acoustics or design, as everything appears to be based on practical use of materials rather than knowledge of obscure physical properties, but this media is promoting tourism, apparently, and talking-up Iran in general, so you can excuse a little hyperbole.

Very interesting, thanks.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 9:53 AM on August 24, 2008

I don't know why I thought they specified the wings, maybe I am mad.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 9:54 AM on August 24, 2008

Huh, neat. I must say, though, when the slideshow started out with "Pigeon towers are an intriguing and multi-faceted phenomenon" I was prepared for an undergrad paper.
posted by mendel at 10:35 AM on August 24, 2008

This is a very cool post. What a nice symbiotic relationship between pigeons and man, I would guess that PETA could find no reason to object. They really are handsome structures. When architecture combines utility with such eye pleasing style, I love it even more.

With all of the Iran hate and demonization so prevalent in the US today, its nice to see something that reminds us that most people all over that world are just trying to do their best with what they have. We have more in common than we have differences. Thanks for a nice post.
posted by Daddy-O at 10:38 AM on August 24, 2008

This was cool. It makes me want to visit Iran even more, and I feel like I'm in a bit of hurry before the Yanks turn it into Iraq II... :/
posted by Harald74 at 10:44 AM on August 24, 2008

Triumph the insult comic dog unavailable for comment.
posted by zippy at 11:20 AM on August 24, 2008

Well PETA might object because I think they also ate the birds.
posted by empath at 11:45 AM on August 24, 2008

This was fascinating and the structures are beautiful. Thanks for posting it!
posted by Heretic at 11:59 AM on August 24, 2008

What an awesome post. Thanks BuddhaInABucket. I never knew about these and love both the intelligence and beauty of the architecture. Wow, who would think such planning and excellent structural detail would go into pigeon housing?

I'm very fond of pigeons. They are elegant looking birds with an amazing ruff of iridescence. I think city pigeons are the only birds with that kind of variation in their feathers. Having lived in New Delhi for years I knew about the Muslim hobby of pigeon racing or keeping homing pigeons.

Did you know there are beautiful, parrot colored green pigeons? Check out this beauty, the white bellied green pigeon or this cool one from the Nicobars. And that pigeons feed 'milk' to their young?

Another little site with images of the Irani pigeon towers.

Columbaria in Wales ans England. Anglo Saxon culverhouses.
posted by nickyskye at 1:53 PM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Fascinating. A little google-search puts most of them in the 1500-1722 period of the Safavids, in case anyone was curious what "ancient" meant.

Also, my bet is that anywhere except a very oil-rich location (i.e. one rich in fertiliser feedstock) would be starting to turn back to this technology fairly soon.
posted by imperium at 2:35 PM on August 24, 2008

Today we call it the Senate.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:41 PM on August 24, 2008

Great post. Thank you.

In the coming age of scarcity, maybe these kinds of things will spread over the Western world, too. Pigeons eat seeds, including grains, so there would have to be some factor preventing the pigeons from eating up the crop, but after harvesting, pigeons cleaning up the gleanings would help suppress insect pests as well as providing fertilizer.

This post is making me see the tragedy of the passenger pigeon in a different light:

The passenger pigeon was a very social bird. It lived in colonies stretching over hundreds of square miles, practicing communal breeding with up to a hundred nests in a single tree. Pigeon migration, in flocks numbering billions, was a spectacle without parallel:

“Early explorers and settlers frequently mentioned passenger pigeons in their writings. Samuel de Champlain in 1605 reported "countless numbers," Gabriel Sagard-Theodat wrote of "infinite multitudes," and Cotton Mather described a flight as being about a mile in width and taking several hours to pass overhead. Yet by the early 1900s no wild passenger pigeons could be found. — The Smithsonian Encyclopedia[3]”

These billions of birds ranged over most of the United States East of the Rocky Mountains, living and breeding in forest habitats. I'm sure eating the seeds of plants on open ground transferred nitrogen from those areas into the forests, helping maintain an extensive forest cover, and possibly biasing those forests toward hardwoods with larger armored seeds (nuts).
posted by jamjam at 3:20 PM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Interesting stuff. Isfahan in general looks like a cool place. Thanks BuddhaInABucket!
posted by carter at 6:49 PM on August 24, 2008

Having lived in New Delhi for years I knew about the Muslim hobby of pigeon racing or keeping homing pigeons.

Yeah, this one's not so good. One of the problems with trying to save many threatened perdatory bird species is that fuckwad pigeon racers like to trap, shoot, and poison various endangered raptors.
posted by rodgerd at 7:47 PM on August 24, 2008

rodgerd, agreed. The Scottish government's on their side, too, depressingly.
posted by imperium at 5:30 AM on August 25, 2008

I wonder how guano compares to petroleum-based fertilizers - at what price per barrel would guano become competitive in cost and nutritional value (um, so to speak)? People went to great lengths to harvest seabird guano before the Petroleum Age; guano was collected from 1859 - 1870 on McKean Island, a desolate chunk of coral with no fresh water in the middle of the central Pacific, a thousand miles from nowhere. It must make pretty good fertilizer if it was worth going all that way to collect (admittedly, seabirds and pigeons probably make quite different guano, but still ...)

If there's a revival of the pigeon guano industry, New York City is sitting on a gold mine!
posted by Quietgal at 7:34 AM on August 25, 2008

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